one word at a time
by tobias crabtree
i haven’t been able to write lately. oh, i write, but it’s all pithy blather and i throw it out. that delete button is handy. i do believe that in order to understand how to say things, one must practice even when it seems useless. and then sometimes you just gotta go and do other things. there will always be things to say and there will always be the words that say them the best, i’m the little idiot running wildly with a butterfly net trying to catch and deliver meaning, maybe with some semblance of intelligence as well as a good old fashioned helping of soul. it’s possible, i know, i just have my ups and downs. lotsa downs.
so it figures that when i awoke this morning and decided to draw some stuff, i had no sooner sat down with pen and paper that i began to feel the need to write some thoughts. writing is such a jealous lover. and fickle. she will wait until interest is bent in some other valid fashion and she will walk out all arrayed in beautiful style, words flashing like sparkles in a fountain. ideas and wonder moving like the shadows of trout in some colorado mountain stream. she is beguiling and breathtaking. there is much to be felt and transferred but there is nary a promise. i will say this, when she wants to dance, you’d best dance or she will leave and you’ll be left with vague memories of beautiful things that might have been.
i jumped on my bike. 5:21a.m. it’s raining this morning in santa cruz. i criss-cross puddles on the way to buy cream for my coffee. i am thinking of words. and words and words. these symbols of sounds that send thoughts to other minds. they whirl in many forms and are used and misused for good and bad. there are somewhere around 7,000 languages. think about all the words! an italian fella named roberto, whose story is as broad and spectacular as his mind, swims in the ocean at china beach. we spoke after a swim one day when the sun was just barely warm enough to stay undressed and wait, like turtles, for the heat. he told me a bit about his life. i was asking about the language of his birth. in a non-bragging way he finally admitted to knowing 5 languages. i learned spanish when i was 33 and i still speak with less fluidity than the average 5 year old that was born into it. language is wonderful. words are brilliant. think about it, allow yourself the freedom to imagine; there is this thought in your mind, some bright and shining thing that you would like to share. so, you create the way to say things that will turn this thought into a shape that will be discernible to another mind. there is care to be taken. proper craftsmanship is not a requirement, obviously, but a thought well-crafted will hold up better under scrutiny. for an example of what the shoddy use of language will get you, think about how many times you’ve been misunderstood in a phone text. when care is taken, less words need be spoken and, in turn, there is better communication. in other words, we are better understood when we think about what we say.
i read that by the year 2100 between 70% and 90% of all the languages spoken at the beginning of this century will be extinct. words are dying. when they aren’t used, they just go away. all those native expressions that said it from the level of the earth will be lost forever. they become the past. skeletons of the thoughts of the ancient ones. i don’t like it. not at all.
my gramps used to speak choctaw. he would say mentay elientempa, ysiki soma…i don’t know how to spell it, nor do i know exactly what it meant, but when he said it, and when he pointed those words at me, i squealed and ran to him and he hugged me. he said the names of animals in his native tongue. it was pure magic. i was my light. he shone his language of the past into my heart and i became a part of his tribe. i cried for the birds and the sky. i ran with sharp sticks. i was convinced that, one day, i would ride off on a pony into the mountains where the cities dropped back and the drums of the tribes would guide me in. and fires and stars. and dances in the sweet grasses and skins stretched and painted with all manner of symbols. and caves and trees and feathers and the old way to love. the light from my grampa’s words still heat my heart. i feel the fire from his ways burning in me even now. it will never go out…not if i can help it. i give it to the kids, to the ones that hear me. the rubys the rowans the leithians the lochlans the masons the tuckers the hudsons the bellas the santi’s the m’sos the josh’s the cannons the olivias the luc’s the seidels…and i could go on. some will respond and carry the old fire and, with it, the wonders of the earth.
could it possibly be that simple? probably not. but it’s a start. i think that when kids are officially starting to grow up is when they stop saying what they think. ever been called wrinkly? or fat? or weird? kids’ll call that shit out. at some point they realize that there are things that hurt and things that could be left out in order to be in a better space. some of it’s tact and some of it’s manipulation. so much to sort through in order to be accepted and understood. the world is at the mercy of the humans it has spawned. in order to make change, we must choose our words wisely. we must be mindful in order to offset ignorance.
i’ll end with a reference to a book written by rick bass. it’s a novella called the sky, the stars, the wilderness. there is a part in the book where an old man has a stroke and looses his speech. his love is the birds. he retains the ability to do bird calls through whistling and so he sits on the porch and whistles all day. his calls become so ornate that he’s able to call in even the rarest of birds. at some point, he shapes a word through his whistling. his grand daughter hears it and begs him for more. he forms more words. he speaks to her and tells her all the things he had wanted to say after his stroke stole his tongue; his words more beautiful than ever in his life because they are part and parcel, words from a birdsong. they speak for days. it wasn’t long before he died.
all had been said, through the song of a bird.