The Written / Spoken Word

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

OK, so you’re sitting down somewhere and you decide to read a book. Everything is going well and you’re sure that if given the chance you’ll win “The Best Reader Ever” award. You sit there and you think to yourself: “Wow, I am such a great reader!” All smiles as you professionally turn the pages. Then you decide, at a different time, to read a book. Only this time you decided to read it out loud instead of to yourself. It may even be the same book but somehow it doesn’t seem to be going as well as it did the first time. The same words that flowed smoothly in your head seem to have added more syllables. It’s to the point now that you stumble over words that were hard back in third grade. “Huh? Now I know I can read.” You say to yourself, you cannot understand it and for a second you even close the book and look at the cover. Yes, it’s the same book.

What is the correlation between reading in our heads (silently) and reading out loud? Does speaking guide us deeper into the conversation? What kind of power is there to a voice pumping out words? As I think about this, I wonder how this would sound if I was to record it for you. If instead of a blog post I sent a memo instead, do you think you would understand it better? After all, in this age of technology it is not always easy to discern the intent of text. I wonder if the tone of my voice, my mood, and my pronunciation would change the context in any way.

education-rap-microphoneIn my opinion, I think both the written and spoken word is important. And as I write, I do not believe every poem should be spoken. Some of the poems I write are structured in a way that must be read, while others are structured in a way that must be heard. In this way, I believe the difference in the way we react to the written and spoken word is in the differences in structure and style. For instance, in a letter I may write: “I ponder this as I prepare to release…” But if I was verbally speaking to you I would probably say something like: “I thought about this since I’m about to come out with…” It is not that I cannot write how I would speak; it’s just that we tend to speak in a less formal way when we’re talking than when we are writing. It is much more spontaneous, there is no preparation; we use the slang of our upbringing, and neglect complete sentences.

This is what I like most about the spoken word. There are so many additional elements available to help understand the meaning. You don’t just have words to work with, but there is also body language, facial expression, and tone of voice. A speaker is capable of both giving and receiving feedback instantly. Right away he or she is able to determine whether or not their way of dress, hair style, or accent influences the information in any way.

man-writing-booksOn the other hand when we write, it tends to present itself in a way far more grammatically correct (I use grammatically correct loosely and really for lack of a better word since my writing is not exactly grammatically correct in the English sense of the word but you get the point) than if we were to say it out loud; perhaps a symbolic way of representing things like pauses or tone of voice in speaking. While speaking is straight forward, writing must take on a form of speech in a way that demonstrates the moving of lips without physically seeing which is perhaps the implementation of a more proper usage. You can see my facial expression when I’m talking to you but to write it I must use words to create that image. That is what I love most about the written word, a portrait of something painted not by images but by words. A sound heard not because it is audible, but because it was etched into paper in a way that is loud.

LERONE_BENNETT,_WELL_KNOWN_BLACK_WRITER_WHO_IS_SENIOR_EDITOR_AT_EBONY_MAGAZINE,_IN_HIS_OFFICE_AT_JOHNSON_PUBLISHING..._-_NARA_-_556250Additionally, the most important, and also the most fun, thing about writing vs. speaking to me is also that it tends to live on longer. This can be a good and a bad thing. It can be a good thing because it gives us the chance to record beautiful words like poetry and stories to live on for as long as they need to. Our books can be passed down to our children and grandchildren like pictures. But it can be a bad thing because if you recorded something wrong or irrelevant that can also live on! I think this is one of the reasons writing has been associated with being a kind of skill. Perhaps it is because we learn to speak before we learn to write. We pick up the language of those around us and attach to them the context of our environment. Before you know it we’re “Mama” and “Dada” all over the place! Now, because we have understood this language and associated it with the people around, this does not mean we know at that moment how to write it which will come much later.

But today is a new day, and with technology the power of speech has taken on new meaning and it too is also considered a skill. Not only can you record permanent versions of speech such as poetry, memos, speeches, lessons, etch, but today writing is not alone but “Public Speaking” has also evolved into a skill.

The Art of Storytelling

storytelling

When I think of storytelling, a familiar image creeps into my mind: an elder with the strength of several generations. Eyes covered with glasses slightly tilted off the nose, he or she nodding slowly to the beat of a rocking chair. Their hands or knees are stiff with arthritis so it is rubbed continuously as the history of whatever crawls out of their mouth. And when it does, the ears jump with excitement, wondering how a single individual can be so vivid with detail. The story is told from somewhere down south under the roof of an inherited home, one passed down from generation to generation. A place where even the oldest relative once had his/her diapers changed, a place to always come back to and to always call home. This is a house on the countryside or perhaps a peaceful place in the city. Storytelling has been around since forever. It predates writing and has proven to be one of the most oldest and most effective ways to relay a message. Stories have been shared in every culture as a means of education, cultural preservation, entertainment, and instilling moral values.

One of the characteristics of storytelling that makes it so powerful is the colorful expression as showcased by the orator. The tone of voice, gestures, creativity, and point of view of the speaker. I always enjoy a good sit down with the elderly in that I may relive moments to which I had not existed. Even in my mind, as I pass an elder on the street, I cannot help but fathom what today’s world must look like through their eyes. It is a silent and private game between me and that person. Quickly and excitedly I create a background for them. Did that old black lady experience Jim Crow? What was it like for her? Did that old white lady experience the first integration of schools? What was it like for her? As I remember it, I was one day standing under a foyer at the Veterans Hospital waiting for my husband. It was raining out so I was careful to keep under the hood of the building. An elderly white man came walking out of the building. His back slightly hunched as he glided from one step to the next. “Is it still raining?” he asked, more so to the air than anyone in particular. “Yep”, I said looking into the sky. As he walked away, muttering a phrase under his breath I’d never heard but cannot remember accurately enough to share, I wondered about his youth and about how he would compare today’s world to the one he grew up in. Did he think the direction of things had bettered or worsened? I wondered, as I do always.

Perhaps Storytelling is so impactful because of its ability to both educate and entertain at the same time. Spoken Word Poetry, Theater, Photography,  and writing in general, for example, is built from the foundation of the orator. It is in its basic form, Storytelling. While we may add the glitter and gold of our own poetic technique, it is the expert story teller who catches the peoples attention. It is the person who can design for us not just a collection of good-sounding words, not just a picture, but a reality. A stepping forth into someone elses world. Maybe we will enjoy our stay, maybe we will not. But whether or not we like it here is of no relevance, the whole point is to be taken there. The author has taken you there and you must then decide if you really want to continue to be a part of this persons world. If you believe you can extract from them some portion of themselves that may be of benefit to your own life. What can I learn from the history and the experiences of this individual, whether character or real live personnel. In short, Storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. Stories are great teaching tools because, like love, it is a universal language. Universal in that they can bridge cultural, linguistic, and age-related divides. Although my image of the storyteller is that of an elder, Storytelling can actually be adaptive for all ages, and can be used as a method to teach ethics, values, and cultural norms and differences. Books and organized / structured schooling is one way to acquire information, but experience has taught us that social environment and contact physically with others is of great benefit to learning. It provides real life examples about how knowledge is to be applied. Stories then function as a tool to pass on knowledge in a social context.

In the end, stories exist to create a visual example of word in the mind of the listener / reader. To take the creative skill and the imagination and express them in a way that can literally be seen. And since Art is defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination (typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture), Storytelling is also a form of art, producing stories to be appreciated primarily for its emotional power and for the beauty in which it is told.

Why We Write

writing-skills

Forget about birthing masterpieces, but when you sit down to write, understand your purpose for doing so. Think of nothing else. Un-expectantly you will stumble upon a work of art. Only, do not think of art. Think only of the ambition to write the story. As for the story itself, the drive will take you there.

These Women

these women

Insolent
like heavy shoulders
hard to bear
weight refusing to be comforted
contemptuous
a rubbed off gentleness
like candy wore off the sugar
like sugar wore off the sweet
when they pass by us on the street
an invisible burden hangs from the creases of their jeans
like expectation scratching it’s nails against the concrete
don’t get this wrong
they’re not bad women
though the accusations scream for merciless understanding
of their calling
these women
are taught compassion in the proverb of scripture
they fight a constant sin but no
they’re not women without hope
women not rotten down to the core
just women whose wombs have never bore.

Goodnight 2014

new-year-wallpaper-2014-wallpaper

The wind has released itself from its chambers and spreads its body over the earth. A blanket of hammers slamming low temperatures into the atmosphere, it carries the clouds; full and dark with storms they are coddled into position. The sun has set and is nestled inside the crook of fire in the west wing of the heavens until it is time to renew itself again. The trees expose its private parts except the fourteen or so that do not lose its leaves to the whistling death sentence of winter. In less than a week from now, when the stars loiter on top the sky amidst the backdrop of midnight, people will decorate themselves with the image of change and resolutions, and make intoxicated promises they will never keep. Maybe it is just the warmth of liquor wrapping its arms around their spines, cooling their blood, and pulling at their heart strings. Suddenly it will happen, that moment when the bullet is separated from its shell, the parties burst into confetti, and this moment hushed into a lullaby. Right here, in the middle of a dead winter; everything cold and stiff and silent and yet loud inside a lowering orb of momentary bliss. This is the excited murmur of a new era and it is the canvas to which they will usher in a new year.

Be careful out there.

Wasted Words

Falling words from book

Have you ever felt like you are doing something for nothing? That it is all in vain? Sometimes I regret bathing in the blank wake of my passion. I do not wish to follow Strands advice; I am not kissed by white paper. I know that my words will just fall unmercifully on death ears like falling stars praying for repentance that will never come. They will fall like the leaves of trees upon the ground like death and rot around my feet. I will be filled to the brim with excitement and anticipation of sunlight before the reality of wasted words darkens the skies and fills the clouds with storms. I will push forth in determination, only to be reminded by splashes of thunder that the droplets of failure have already proceeded to gush forth. I am not the one to give up (let’s not get that deep!), but judge me not for my lack of enthusiasm today. I am human after all; made up of emotions, flesh and bone. I get tired sometimes too.

Guest Feature – Mother to Son

1-maternal-love-michael-mcbride

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

 
– Langston Hughes