10.8.2021 – relentless, grotesque

relentless, grotesque
debasement of language
search for type of grace

Came across this quote the other day:

And I began to wonder if just the decision to be free on his own terms isn’t, in itself, defiantly political. And I wonder if his search for some type of grace – and his celebration of beauty where he can find it – is not also deeply political. Particularly now, and at the time when we were making this film, when in the US there was this relentless, grotesque debasement of language, of thinking, of journalism, specifically of writers. I wonder if the celebration of those things is not, in some ways, a manning of the barricades in and of itself. Maybe it’s one of the most powerful things we can do, when faced with as much vulgarity as we’ve been faced with in the last few years.

It is a quote from the actor, Jeffrey Wright.

Mr. Wright was commenting on the role he plays in the upcoming movie, “The French Dispatch.

The movie is reported to be a look at the workings of the New Yorker Magazine in the 1930’s.

(I am really looking forward to this movie.)

Mr. Wright plays a character modeled after writer James Baldwin.

James Baldwin is the HIS in the above quote, ‘free on HIS own terms.’

I have so many thoughts about this movie and the people in it and Mr. Baldwin and everything else that there may be 10 or 20 posts for this quote.

But for today it is the thought on language that I want to focus on.

Today makes the 1st anniversary of the day I ended my 20 year career in television news.

In the world of Journalism I was a technician who worked to make the news available online.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t care about the content.

I wanted GOOD stories and more than that, I wanted them written well.

Often I felt I was a lone voice in the overwhelming babble of words spilling out of news rooms.

I will long remember talking to another staff member who came out of a meeting with a news director with a big smile.

“I just got this great tip!” he said, “SVO!”

SVO I said to myself.

LOL, IMHO, SMH but SVO?

So I asked,

SVO?

“SUBJECT, VERB, OBJECT!”, he replied.

Hours little I was still at my desk with tears coming down my cheeks.

Tears of pain, laughter and frustration all at once.

I think back to Professor Henry Higgins and why can’t we learn to speak.

I fought this battle for 20 years.

I totaled up nothing but losses year after year.

Not only was I fighting our education [sic] system.

I was fighting online news (FAST and FIRST) as well as the inventions of texting and tweeting and saying everything in 140 characters.

Spelling and grammar didn’t even make into the life boats.

The line of Mr. Wright’s that says “in the US there was this relentless, grotesque debasement of language.”

Was?

IS!

Often I love to reading someone’s writing just for the way it is written as much as what was written about.

Often I love to watch movies just to watch the acting in the movies as much as what the movie is about.

It is a craft.

I remember this story told by Winston Churchill.

I want to say it was John F. Kennedy who said (which means it was speech writer Ted Sorensen who wrote) that Churchill, “Armed the English Language and sent it into battle.”

Not to pick on JFK for using other writer’s stuff.

FDR is reported to listened to a speech of Mr. Churchill’s and said, “He is great. Find out who writes his stuff.”

Thinking about stuff got me to thinking about stuff.

Back in the day I worked at bookstore named Waldenbooks in North Kent Mall on the North End of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

After many years, I actually made it to being the store manager.

My dear friend Denise was the store manager at the Waldens in Woodland Mall on the south end of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The two malls were as different as the airports at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson and the one on Hilton Head Island.

One Christmas season I was told that to send someone on my staff out to the Woodland store to help out.

If you worked at North Kent Mall your biggest challenge might be staying awake to the end of your shift.

If you worked at Woodland Mall you had to be nuts.

Well, maybe you did not have to be, but it helped.

When I was told that I had to send some of my staff to Woodland, I had to tell my District Manager that I asked but no one on my staff would do it.

He then told me that I would be working at Woodland.

Which was okay with me.

Most folks will agree I WAS a bit nuts.

And after years in working in a mall retail bookstore I liked to think that I had developed a high level of customer service along with the ability to ‘read my audience.’

I had got to the point that I enjoyed the holiday rush.

Yes, I WAS nuts.

I could keep a line of customers moving, keep an eye on my staff and maintain an entertaining (well at least to me) course of continuous banter with the people in line.

I had an apt comment about the purchase, the season, the weather and the time of day.

It was like a long string of one liners that I could recycle over and over as the audience constantly changed.

I was able to involve the customer who was leaving, the customer currently being waited on and the next customer in line in a rolling show that lasted as long as my shift.

I was happy to take my show on the road and try it out on the Woodland Mall folks.

As I remember it the time I spent at Woodland Mall that Christmas was a lot of fun.

As I remember it, the staff at the Woodland Mall Waldenbooks had never worked with someone quite like me before and they were both amused and amazed at what I could get away with in my sales desk banter.

I clearly remember working with the manager, my friend Denise (who was a high level professional bookseller in her own right – as an accolade from me, they don’t come much higher) and we got to a lull.

We stepped back from the counter and she said something along the line that working with me was … an experience.

“You know what?’, I said, “I am using my best stuff and only the customers in line get to hear it.”

Denise looked at me for a second or two and started laughing and shaking her head.

“You,” she said, “are the only sales clerk I ever heard of with ‘STUFF’.”

But I digress.

Mr. Churchill was a lot of things, some acclaimed and some not.

For his writing, (Dear Winston, Thank you for your latest book. I have put it on the shelf with the others. Sincerely, King George V), I think there is universal admiration for his craft.

How did Mr. Churchill acquire this craft?

Mr. Churchill himself wrote that while in school at Harrow:

“being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys.

They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that.

But I was taught English.

We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell — a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great — was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing — namely, to write mere English.

Teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing.

Namely, to write mere English.

S.

V.

O.

QED.

*[SIC] used in this case with the meaning, ‘as it is understood‘. I adapted this from the student publications of The Georgia Institute of Technology who, to this day, embrace this usage in print with such terms as ‘The University [SIC] of Georgia

**Please honk if you get the wit here

*** … don’t worry of you don’t honk. Along with the debasement of language, I also mourn the decline of true wit in America. One of the last known uses of wit I am aware of concerns, to my dismay but giving credit where credit is due, the Michigan State University [SIC] Basketball Band. Back in the FAB FIVE era, Michigan’s Fab Five, depending on the story you read, was accused of ‘taking beer from a store without paying’ and ‘stealing beer’. The next time Michigan played at MSU, as the team ran out on the court, the MSU Basketball band played ‘Roll Out the Barrel’. To this day, I wonder who thought that one up for them.

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