Wordsmith Wednesday: Jose Saramago’s “Death With Interruptions”

Standard

Our words this week are an excerpt from Jose Saramago’s 2005 novel, Death With Interruptions.

They are:

“It seemed that families, suffering an attack of conscience, had passed the word from one to the other that they were no longer going to send their loved ones far away to die, that if, in the figurative sense, we had eaten of their flesh, then now would have to gnaw on their bones as well, that we are not here just for the good times, when our loved ones had strength and health intact, we are here, too, for the bad times and the worst, when they have become little more than a stinking rag that there is no point in washing.”

In a book split between an exploration of the ramifications of a country blessed/cursed with a mysterious cessation of death and the personification of death herself, Saramago spins and blends seemingly unfathomable ideas into surreal yet plausible human situations. This excerpt, taken from a passage in which the living begin to feel the guilt creep in after normalizing a practice in which a state sponsored mafia discreetly disposes of near-dead bodies just over the border, highlights an element of human  sociology worth focusing on. Too often relationships, even intimate ones, find themselves on foundations of mutual benefit rather than commitments of support. Life is hard and for many it’s easier to shed the stress of caring for those in their life at their lowest rather than sacrifice without certain benefit. Sometimes your friend relapses regardless of how much time you spend. Sometimes your brother makes the same self-destructive mistakes regardless of your guidance or warning. Sometimes your parent’s disease drags them on the edge of death indefinitely regardless of whether you can shoulder the emotional weight. I think love has a lot more to do with sacrifice and selflessness in times of pain and need than we’d like to believe. That actually might be what it’s mostly about. – NR

josesaramago

Wordsmith Wednesday: Mos Def’s “Wahid”

Standard

We are highlighting the last verse from Mos Def’s song “Wahid” from his 2009 album The Ecstatic for our Wordsmith Wednesday this week.

The words are:

“Schooling the young like Rev. Run
Quote Pac and tell ’em keep their heads up
And when the pressure comes down press back and press up
Fret not ghetto world guess what?
God is on your side, the devil is a lie
The Empire holds all the gold and the guns
But when all is said and done there’s only
La ilaha ill’Allah”

Mos Def is known for his legendary ability to smoothly weave sometimes dissident ideas together through idiosyncratic rhyme schemes, simultaneously painting in broadstroke and penciling in the details in the wet paint. These lines plant the power of knowledge and hope poetically against military and monetary might, reminding the marginalized to always push back against external pressures that threaten to crush them.As a non-believer from a loose Polish/Italian Catholic background, I don’t connect as much with the religious connotations of this verse as much as I value its message of encouragement and emboldenment of young people coming up in world that may discourage or diminish them. However, it bears noting that the Arabic line roughly translates to “there is no other god than God” in English, referring to idea that all temporary/secular  struggle and desires dissipate in the face of eternal Truth, a concept shared between major monotheistic religions.

In light of our current social and political landscape, it’s important to remember the elements that should unite us in pursuit of Truth, regardless of religious beliefs (or lack thereof): protection of the weak/marginalized/impoverished, morally and ethically sound thought and action, sustained resistance in the face of corruption and abuse of power. Strength through love and empathy is far more sustainable than through guns and gold. Keep your head up and keep pressing back, everyone.

– NR

mos-def-bw

 

Wordsmith Wednesday: Modest Mouse’s “You’re the Good Things”

Standard

This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Modest Mouse’s “You’re the Good Things” off of Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks. It goes:

“You’re the icing on the cake on the table at my wake
You’re the extra ton of cash on my sinking life raft
You’re the loud sound of fun when I’m trying to sleep
You’re the flowers in my house when my allergies come out
You’re the good things…”

We’ve had Modest Mouse on here before and I’m sure Nick and I have more than enough of their lyrics that we would love to use for Wordsmith Wednesday, but, in any case, I’ve chosen them again because it’s hard to resist.

What always sticks out for me with these particular lyrics is just how much the words and Isaac Brock’s voice work together to create the feeling that the lines are trying to express. Brock starts out with a positive half of the line, things you enjoy, and sings it softly, almost crooning. Halfway through he picks up speed, transitioning to the second half of the line, singing quickly and sharply, where he places us in a situation where the positive becomes a negative. We get this contrast of things that we love in situations where we wouldn’t want them to be. A cake at a wake and extra cash on a sinking raft, these all sound great at first, as does Brock’s voice, but they rapidly become unappealing further into the line. It’s this type of contrast that we see often in Modest Mouse lyrics, and the reason I for one appreciate them, but nowhere more than here is it most clear cut and apparent.

– KK

modestmouse2

Wordsmith Wednesday: Sufjan Stevens’ “Casimir Pulaski Day”

Standard

This weeks Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Sufjan Steven’s song “Casimir Pulaski Day” off of his album Illinois.

It reads:

“On the floor at the great divide
with my shirt tucked in and my shoes untied
I am crying in the bathroom

In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March, on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing”

Sufjan speaks to the disheveled, hurtful remembrance of coping with the passing of a loved one. It is never easy. It comes on slowly and then all at once until you’re left “crying in the bathroom,” questioning the reason behind all of it (“and he takes and he takes and he takes”). As a holiday whose meaning is often forgotten, seen as nothing other than a day off, Sufjan titles this track as such to bring it back to the forefront, to not allow important moments as such to be forgotten. The entire song is composed of little pockets of memories the narrator holds dear, ones he wishes to never forget, even if they are painful. He reminds us that we must also not forget, not allow these moments to fall into the abyss but to keep them as a reminder of all that they meant to us.

– KK

sufjan

Wordsmith Wednesday: The Beatles’ “She Said She Said”

Standard

We are excited to have our words provided by Issue 5 guest editor Grant Garland!

This Wordsmith Wednesday highlights the lyrics of “She Said She Said,” my favorite track from the iconic 1966 album Revolver by The Beatles. Anybody familiar with the Beatles discography can notice the psychedelic tendencies that begin to flourish on Revolver’s fourteen tracks, the well-documented result of the introduction of LSD to the band. The song is a McCartney-Lennon collaboration, John Lennon penning the lyrics after the band famously took acid with actor Peter Fonda in LA, during their tour of America in 1965.

The words themselves are:

She said, “I know what it’s like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad.”
And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born

I said, “Who put all those things in your head?
Things that make me feel that I’m mad.
And you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

She said, “You don’t understand what I said.”
I said, “No, no, no, you’re wrong.
When I was a boy everything was right,
Everything was right.”

I said, “Even though you know what you know,
I know that I’m ready to leave
‘Cause you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

As I mentioned, the specific origin of these lyrics is well documented, down to the moment Peter Fonda spoke the opening line to George Harrison, referencing an accidental gunshot wound Fonda suffered as a child. LSD trips aside, the words are about life changing revelations, and perhaps the human tendency to resist such revelations. Lennon changes the “He” to “She” disguising the song as a love song, maybe because love is often the source of many of his revelations. The first stanza sounds to me like a lover, or somebody trusted (those are almost interchangeable in my mind), revealing knowledge of the afterlife to the speaker. “And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born” says that the speaker feels like they don’t exist, or that knowing the afterlife might make this existence seem meaningless. The second stanza, with its forceful question “Who put all those things in your head?” is the resistance to the revelations being presented. “Things that make me feel that I’m mad,” however, invites an admission of an already present tear in the fabric of the mind. The third stanza is an interaction between the two, a back and forth that reveals the speaker to be nostalgic for childhood, when “everything was right.”

Unpacking this bag one phrase at a time was very eye opening for me. It showed me why it has taken me so long to listen—and I mean really listen—to the Beatles. Everyone in my generation was likely made familiar with the Beatles at a young age (my parents were not fans, I don’t hold a grudge), but it wasn’t until their entire discography was finally made available on Spotify that I found the time to return to it as a young adult. I found that songs like “She Said She Said” suddenly seemed oddly profound to me. Words that used to feel too simple and not provocative enough suddenly struck me somewhere deep down. When I retrace my life—it doesn’t take long, I am young, after all—I can still place the moment that literary writing clicked for me. It was when I finally learned to realize that simple events can often be monumental. I’ve spent the last several years examining the quiet moments that have had profound effect on me. I have resisted many of those moments while they were occurring, attempting to trudge on the same path, to remain the same as I used to be “when I was a boy.”

It probably is no coincidence that as a twenty-seven year old I suddenly relate to words John Lennon wrote at twenty-five. Our experiences were obviously not similar, him likely having these types of conversations and revelations while hiding out from swarms of admirers at a Los Angeles mansion, and me usually having them in the drive-thru at Taco Bell on a Thursday night. But when the song comes on, and I sing the words, I am aware of myself and my longing for some sort that feeling—the feeling I used to get as a child—of everything being right.

– GG

beatles

Wordsmith Wednesday: Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”

Standard

Our Wordsmith Wednesday this week comes from Otis Redding’s classic track “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” the posthumously released The Dock of the Bay.

The lines are:

“Left my home in Georgia/
Headed for the ‘frisco Bay/
‘Cause I’ve had nothing to live for/
It look like nothing’s gonna come my way

So I’m just gon’ sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time”

With these words, Redding encapsulates the hollow loneliness of moving to a new place in hopes of shifting out of a stagnant situation only to find the same empty horizon. When I moved to Nashville at the end of the summer in 2014, I semi-consciously sought to escape personal darkness and disappointment that seemed to surround my in the strip malls and cornfields of the Chicago suburbs. Living alone in faux-wood floored apartment on the north side, I spent most Saturday mornings that first year driving around on Gallatin and looking out the back door at the trash littered brush. The wistful acceptance in Redding’s words and delivery fills me with the feeling of those weekend mornings sitting at stoplights or staring at scraps of cellophane blow from bush to bush, waiting for something to change.

– NR

otis

Wordsmith Wednesday: Angela Carter’s “The Loves of Lady Purple”

Standard

This week’s Wordsmith comes from the short story “The Loves of Lady Purple” from Angela Carter’s collection entitled Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces. It reads:

“The puppeteer speculates in a no-man’s-limbo between the real and that which, although we know very well it is not, nevertheless seems to be real. He is the intermediary between us, his audience, the living, and they, the dolls, the undead, who cannot live at all and yet who mimic the living in every detail since, though they cannot speak or weep, still they project those signals of signification we instantly recognize as language.

The master of marionettes vitalizes inert stuff with the dynamics of his self. The sticks dance, make love, pretend to speak and, finally, personate death; yet, so many Lazaruses out of their graves they spring again in time for the next performance and no worms drip from their noses nor dust clogs their eyes. All complete, they once again offer their brief imitations of men and women with an exquisite precision which is all the more disturbing because we know it to be false; and so this art, if viewed theologically, may, perhaps, be subtly blasphemous.”

Acting as a preface to the story, these two paragraphs attempt to encapsulate the art of the puppeteer, detailing all the precision, care, and realism that must go into these marionettes. But if we go ahead and replace each puppeteer with author, and marionette with character, Carter gives us a beautiful and complex demonstration of what it means to be a writer who must create these characters from the two-dimensionality of pen and paper, moving thought to words. The impersonation of life and death and the whirlwind that happens in-between. This is what writers must make real, believable, and empathetic. This is what they must create anew with each story they write or each character they create. The struggles must be real. The death must make us cry. And the love must imitate that which we have felt before.

– KK

angela-carter