Words, like birds, have wings. Pin them down and they die.
I can remember the precise moment when I realized this.
On winter days there was always a very simple sight that fascinated me in the slowly approaching twilight at dusk as I stared at the Manahttan skyline from the opposite side of the Hudson river. The grandness of the sharp, metallic edges of that skyline got muted in the soft light of the dying day reducing the urban, precisely arranged quality of the vista somewhat in the evenings.
Against the wide expanse of the darkening sky and river, a host of birds would suddenly arrive out of nowhere flying back home wherever home was. They would, at first, be a series of dots in the sky in the distance growing bigger and bigger as they flew towards me until a simple pattern would become evident. The birds would fly right across my view of the water and then make a sudden stop all together. Then, in a coordinated movement, as though responding to the invisible hand of a master conductor, they would bend in their collective design, change direction and fly out of sight.
In the slight, sweet melancholy of the dying day those birds would leave me with the quiet, silent pattern of their subtle visual music in the half light of dusk.
When I think of those birds now, I realize that the best things in life are simple. Truth, people, relationships, even confectionery (think of the smell of freshly baked simple vanilla cake just out of the oven). If it isn’t simple, it isn’t real, it isn’t true. You need to cut through all that complex noise to get to the heart of the matter to find the simple truth. Simplicity doesn’t mean easy, simplicity doesn’t mean lack of complexity. It just means the light touch of that master conductor who is in harmony not because he is in control but because he is one with the object of his composition.
As a writer, I knew then, you have to relinquish control; you need to arrange words with the light touch so that we, your readers can make your words our own without sinking too far into the scrapbook of your dead where you have pinned your words into neat little boxes where they are supposed to be.
For words, like people, have wings. If you love words, you have to liberate meaning. Meaning can’t be tethered, no matter how hard you try. The more you tether words, the more they sink into your waxboards behind your glass cases where you can have your name etched to prove ownership but you can’t bring them back to life so people can feel with them. Your complicated polysyllabic acrobatics only twist those words out of shape so they stare at you with their dead eyes right from above your precise captions that make them say exactly what you mean but rarely able to make them mean what they say.
Someone shared these oft-quoted lines from Maya Angelou with me the other day and I thought of those birds, about writing and about my love for words.
You see, love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says I love you, I love you if you’re in China, I love you if you’re across town, I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you, I’d like to have your arms around me, I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now. So, I love you.
That’s what birds, people and writing for me are all about. What about you?