Wordy Wednesday


WORDY: using or containing many (usually too many) words

I see Wordless Wednesday blog posts and often think, “I should do that.”  But then I remember that I’m terrible at taking pictures.  So, I embrace Wednesdays in my own way.  In lieu of a photo, I offer you this random collection of other people’s words that impacted me this week as well as a handful of new words I added to my vocabulary.  I acknowledge that I am offering you less than the going exchange rate of 1,000 words per picture.  Forgive me.

Other People’s Words

This week, I was the fortunate recipient of my brother-in-law’s summer stash of The New Yorker.  I devoured months’ worth of great writing from the other coast.  Here were some highlights:

From John Green as quoted in a profile piece (The Teen Whisperer) by Margaret Talbot1:

“I love the intensity teen-agers bring not just to first love but also to the first time you’re grappling with grief, at least as a sovereign being – the first time you’re taking on why people suffer and whether there’s meaning in life, and whether meaning is constructed or derived.  Teen-agers feel that what you conclude about those questions is going to matter.  And they’re dead right.  It matters for adults, too, but we’ve almost taken too much power away from ourselves.  We don’t acknowledge on a daily basis how much it matters.”

From a piece about discovering forgotten books (Ghosts in the Stacks) by Christine Smallwood1:

…The number of Americans who read books has been declining for thirty years, and those who do read have become proud of, even a bit overidentified with, the enterprise…the merchandising of reading has a curiously undifferentiated flavor, as if what you read mattered less than that you read…

…Shelves and open stacks offer not only immediate access to books but strange juxtapositions.  Arbitrary classification breeds surprises – Nikolai Gogol next to William Golding, Clarice Lispector next to Penelope Lively.  The alphabet has no rationale, agenda, or preference…

From a critique of the 9/11 Memorial Museum (Stones and Bones) by Adam Gopnik2:

…The idea that we celebrate the renewal of our freedom by deploying uniformed guards to prevent children from playing in an outdoor park is not just bizarre in itself but participates in a culture of fear that the rest of the city, having tested, long ago discarded.

The site contains more contradictions, unresolved and perhaps unresolvable, than any other eight acres in Manhattan.  A celebration of liberty tightly policed; a cemetery that cowers in the shadow of commerce; and insistence that we are here to remember and an ambition to let us tell you what to recall; the boast that we have completely started over and the promise that we will never forget – visitors experience these things with a free-floating sense of unease…

…Happiness writes white, and pluralism builds poorly…

…And so the double bind we find ourselves in is even more double and more binding than we knew.  On the one hand, no agreed-on figural style can any longer represent a society so plural and so quick to take offense at “partial” representations; a sublime minimalist reticence seems the best we can do.  On the other hand, the pressures of lives require feeling, and so the minimal isn’t good enough; we bring American relics and personal scraps, the roadside fold-memorial style, to the temples of sublime simplicity.  The American memorial style is powerful as an engine of pathos but is obviously limited as a language of representation.  It feels, but it cannot show…

From a piece about justice in the age of viral videos (Instant Replay) by Margaret Talbot3:

More and more often, when someone behaves badly in public, someone else is there with a cell-phone camera to record it, and a video goes viral. Watching such videos turns us into witnesses after the fact, but it also turns us into ersatz judges and jurors. There’s a tendency to compare and rank the wrongdoing we see on our screens, and the comparisons make us more aware of the jaggedly uneven distribution of consequences and, at the same time, less able, from the discomfort of our living rooms, to do much about it…

…Videos that do show crimes in progress may be helpful in identifying perpetrators or in drawing attention to an injustice that might have been neglected.  But the proliferation of those videos can have a numbing effect.  There they are on YouTube, or on Twitter, scrambled together with celebrity gossip and cat antics, administering brief shocks, then slipping from the grasp of our compassion.  They seem at once urgent and very far away…

If you liked Talbot’s essay, you might also like my essay Consequences: Then and Now featured on Brain, Child Magazine’s blog last summer.

 1 From the June 9 & 16, 2014 issue of The New Yorker

2 From the July 7 & 14, 2014 issue of The New Yorker

3 From the August 11 & 18, 2014 issue of The New Yorker

Words I Had to Ask Webster About

    • Elegiac: expressing sorrow often for something now past
    • Ersatz: being a usually artificial and inferior substitute or imitation
    • Panoptic: presenting a comprehensive view
    • Reify: to regard (something abstract) as a material or concrete thing

2 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday

  1. I really enjoy these Wordy Wednesday posts and this one made me long to renew my very old subscription to the New Yorker 🙂 I know I can read it online but there’s something better about having it in hand. Great picks!

    1. Lisa – I agree. I love actually flipping the pages…though not so much that I am ready to splurge on a subscription of my own. I am happy to wait a few months to thumb through the pages of my brother-in-law’s cast offs.

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