The Selfish Self

I’m thinking about words. I’m thinking specifically of my ability to string words together to form a sort of communication. If I wanted to express and transmit an idea or thought, I need to find the right words, the words that can be understood at the other end. If I don’t consider the recipient, then my intention may be valid, but the success is questionable.

I have often recalled a story about Leonard Cohen while he was composing a song. The melody was complete, the lyrics were nearly done, it would seem like the song could be in the next album. It did not happen, Leonard was unhappy with one word, he was one word shy of completing the song. It remained uncompleted for 18 months.

At some point one could wonder if the right word existed in common language. Perhaps something not in English? And then, of course, because it was part of a lyric, the number of syllables in the word were an issue. And perhaps the perfect word can only be assessed by the artist.

I don’t write songs, but sometimes I put words together without regard to the audience. I am at times a selfish purveyor of words.

There is a “common fact” that the Eskimos have a 147 words for snow. It’s not a fact. It was only said that there were “many more” words for snow. And then somehow the amount was 50 words, which was then changed to over 100 words. Actually, in the Sami language of the Laplanders there are over 300 different words for states of snow.

And yet we try to live with “love” and a few adjectives.

And then it comes down to this- how is it that poets, songwriters, authors… how is it that they succeed? Not only do they succeed, but they soar!!

“I heard of a man

Who says words so beautifully

That if he only speaks their name

Women give themselves to him.

If I am dumb beside your body

While silence blossoms like tumors on our lips

It’s because I hear a man climb stairs

And clear his throat outside our door.”

Leonard Cohen spoke this between sets at a concert I went to. I was floored and wondered “What song is this?” It wasn’t a song, it was a short poem he had written fifty years earlier. I found it published in his first book.

“Blago bung, blago bung

Basso fataka”

From Hugo Ball and Karawane

I am reduced to quoting bits and pieces, the scraps of what I remember, from works that express the meaning where I have no words of my own. A serial quoter coming from the paucity of connection. (Okay, well, those three words were pretty good.)

Maybe the answer is in my motive. I reference back to the phrase, “I am a selfish purveyor of words” I spew for my own amusement”, I create only for my own pleasure. But I secretly wish that others would peak through the curtain.

Time to end this thread.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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