Quote of the Day

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


"I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything."
~Stephen Wright

As far back as I can remember I've had a love affair with the English language. I don't know, maybe it's genetic from having two English majors for parents and a journalist/poet grandmother, or perhaps just ingrained in me from a very early age, but it seems like from start I could never get enough. Yes, I was that freakish, nerdy kid who was the only student not groaning when it was time for a vocabulary quiz, who aced almost every spelling test, who preferred to play Scrabble over Monopoly or Candyland or Operation.

Because I just can't help it, I love words. Words by themselves, their meanings and histories and the way they sound rolling off the tip of my tongue; words strung together, the endless combinations and possibilities they present for one to express oneself. I believe that there's actually a lot of truth to that infamous quote, "The pen is mightier than the sword." I think maybe we don't always realize the power of words; on their own they may seem flimsy or unimportant, "sticks and stones," we say, "they're only words."

But words can lift you up and they can cut like the sharpest dagger. Words can set you free or they can crowd up in your head but be impossible to get out of your mouth and can drive you mad. And words, when put together in the right way, when in the hands of someone who knows how to use them, can touch a person's soul, bring forth tears of sadness or laughter, persuade someone to change their entire life, incite a revolution. The power of words, of language, is immense.

I find myself in complete and slightly envious awe of poets and authors so adept at wielding words, at manipulating the English language. I suppose writing is somewhat like sculpting with language; in the same way an artist takes a simple block of wood or clay or marble and turns it into something beautiful, the writer can can take a set of what you would think of as perfectly ordinary words and somehow transform them into something profoundly magical, something completely unexpected and extraordinary.

So when a friend announced that his apartment was throwing a "What Did You Want To Be When You Grew Up?" party last weekend, I decided to go as "The Great American Novelist". Ok, technically as a child I never stood up and announced that I wanted to be such a thing (if I had even known what it was), or even a writer, at that. Technically as a child I suppose I wanted to be either a veterinarian, or for a while the person at Marine World who chilled with the tigers on "Tiger Island" (sweet gig, right??) I think I may have even gone through a brief wanna-be ballerina phase before I got tired of being the chubby kid in the leotard.

But even in elementary school I always enjoyed reading and relished the creative writing assignments I was given, always going pages and pages over the minimum requirement (yes, extreme verbosity has been a chronic problem for me). And I'm pretty sure I went through a period in high school where I dreamed of someday writing the Next Great American Novel (I blame my Junior year English class). So that seemed close enough.

And am I really "grown-up" now anyway? There are certainly times I wonder, though I do try and at least make a good show of being an adult. But this, I think, is a greater question that I don't want to tackle at the moment. Regardless of whether or not I am currently a "grown up", I am certainly not what I want to be in the long run. I may have a job, and a good one at that, but I don't have a career, and I've got a long way to go in figuring that out.

But I digress. The truth is, I'm pretty sure that this blog is about as close as I'll ever get to being a novelist, Great American or otherwise. Ok, I may love words, and I may be able to turn a nice phrase now and then, but I never had much of a knack for plot. Or persistence. Not to mention that I seem to lack the apparently necessary proclivity for suicide and capacity for extreme alcoholism.

Isn't it sad that genius so often seems to be accompanied by an immense drive for self-destruction? So many of the great writers, musicians, artists, etc. seem to have been plagued by mental illness and other inner demons, or maybe by just too violent a passion for life... but I suppose it only makes sense that extraordinary things should come from brains that operate so differently from the status quo.

Indeed, I sometimes think that I would like to be a genius, and a genius writer at that, but I'm afraid that I may just be too balanced (wow, never thought I'd be saying that!), and perhaps I value my sanity and my health just a bit too much. So I suppose I'll just have to settle for playing the part for a night, and continuing to enjoy the written genius of others. Mustachioed or not.


  1. i saw that photo on facebook well before seeing it here and now it makes so much more sense.

    kurt vonnegut didn't kill himself. and even the pall malls didn't kill him. i believe he threatened to sue pall mall for falsely advertising the 'fact' cigarettes would cause cancer and kill him one day.

    if it makes you feel any better, i do drink a lot of alcohol and yet i'm still only "alright" at every single thing i do. i'm never beyond alright at it. so that just makes me a mediocre drunk.

  2. Oddly, you look good with a mustache. Maybe it's the tie.

  3. Mr. Pres - au contraire, my friend, I believe that would actually make you a far above average drinker... one might even say a "great drunk", so none of this "mediocre" shit, one must embrace greatness in whatever form it takes.

    Tom- why thank you, I think it actually is the awesome 70's Salvation Army tie. I really kind of want to rock a mustache more often though, just for the priceless looks I got while casually walking down the street and enjoying a nice sushi dinner. Very entertaining.