Saturday, August 22, 2009

Words Are Worlds I Sail Upon

Today was one of those days that reaffirmed my ongoing love affair with the written word. God, I love words!

It started off with a visit to a bookstore, which is like a trip to Disneyworld is for a little kid. A small, independently owned bookstore opened here in town today -- a bookstore that enjoys the "honor" of being Galesburg's ONLY bookstore that's not either a college bookstore or one devoted solely to Christian books. Our Waldenbooks closed about eight months ago, and it's been a tough stretch for a book junkie like me. I've made do with buying books at Wal-Mart or Target, but the selection there is so limited. Today, though, I walked into Stone Alley and was immediately at peace. I literally breathed a huge sigh of relief when I walked in the door and began the process of browsing the shelves. Stone Alley deals primarily in used books, so inventory is limited but still more extensive than anything we've had access to here in town since Waldenbooks closed. The nice thing about used books is that they cost less which means I'll be able to do some real damage for less money! I stayed strong today and walked out with just one book -- a copy of Sarah Vowell's The Partly Cloudy Patriot -- and a determination to return again come pay day when I can spend a little more comfortably.

From there, I then went with a friend of mine to go see Julie and Julia, which I've been dying to see all summer. What an amazing movie! Meryl Streep continues to leave me breathless with her gift. The movie will make you want to go home and cook (which I did -- making a delicious homemade pizza with fresh tomatoes and basil). More than that, though, the movie reminded me once more of the intense power of the written word. It is words that come to both Julia Child and Julie Powell and help them find their purpose and their escape. Both are at points in their lives when they feel as if they are at the end of their spiritual ropes. Yes, they find a purpose via cooking -- Julia enrolls in classes at Le Cordon Bleu and Julie begins her odyssey of tackling every recipe in Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking -- but it is words that really becomes their life preserver. Julia begins tackling the Herculean task of composing her seminal cookbook, a task that will eventually make her a cultural icon ... and lead her into the life of Julie Powell. Julie tracks her cooking via a blog. It is really the blog that becomes her salvation as she discovers (or re-discovers) her own passion for language and writing. It is the blog that becomes her lifeline out of a miserable job and allows her to become the writer she never knew she could be. These women both found success through writing and language, and I found their stories completely inspirational.

At the same time, their stories made me a little sad because it also reminded me how rare women like they are and how rare it is that people find such passion and inspiration in words. So many people view reading as a chore and writing as something even worse. Almost daily I worry about the future of the written word as I see the way it is mangled in text messages and twitters and facebook statuses -- not to mention what I read in essays turned in for a grade. The apostrophe has become an endangered species. We've become so lazy that we can't even put the letter "h" at the end of the word "with." And we revel in it! I ran into a student today at the store. She was shopping with her mother and her mother said something to the effect of her daughter being in my class. Her daughter proudly replied, "No, I'm through with grammar." My response? "Yes, I can tell. I've seen your Facebook statuses." (I've never seen this girl post a grammatically correct status -- whether it's dropping the final g from every word that should have one or completely eschewing punctuation altogether. Her statuses are unreadable!) I doubt this girl realized she had been "burned" -- mainly because she smiled with pride and repeated, "Yup, done with grammar."

At a time when communication is made so much easier and more abundant in terms of choices, it makes me sad to think that with that abundance has come this lack of respect for the art of writing itself. And so it was inspiring to see that passion I feel every time I sit down to read a book or every time I sit down to write here put onscreen with such beauty. I wish we all could find the beauty and power of words and seize this opportunity to communicate with the kind of passion and grace that Julie Powell and Julia Child found. It just might change our lives.


dbz said...

love your title! I've been mis-hearing & mis-singing Piper to this all along :)

Mel said...

I looked up the lyrics to Piper -- "her words were worlds I sailed upon" -- so it's close at least.

Kiwi said...

I agree entirely. Words rock! :D
The status of grammar online is pretty sketchy at times. There are a few safe havens, but for the most part, I'm afraid that grammar does not exist. I still use it though! :D

Jen said...

Oh, I am so with you. I can't even bring myself to use most of the "standard" shortcuts in text messages. Honestly, you'd think with the proliferation of online communications people would begin to understand the power of the proper use of grammar and language. (Sigh.) Anyway, I'm so glad that you have a new bookstore in town--enjoy!