Thursday, February 26, 2015

Of Words and Story

"What's this word?", the little girl asks me while reading this speech I printed out.  "Interposition."  Blank look from her. "It means like how a state like Texas or California protects everyone by enforcing national laws." I respond happily. The girl gives a 'don't understand, don't care, moving on...' sort of look. She continues reading as I asked her to do, reading this iconic speech out loud for us.

The three of us are sitting at a table outside a quaint little diner. Shaded by a large oak tree are myself, the little girl, and a extremely cautious and confused mother (yes, I did ask her first if you're wondering).

The girl gets through the entire speech and smiles, "All done!"  "Very good job, you're a great reader.", I congratulate.  Her mom smiles, "Very good sweetie" then over to me with a 'where's the punch-line' look.  I start to rise out of the chair, "Thank you so much for your time with this. It was very insightful."  "You're welcome, can you talk about what is going on?"  Yes I can....

It's about 'words'.

Yesterday I got into a discussion with someone who felt that words hold tremendous power and importance.  Authors, writers, speakers tirelessly craft written language through words.

And.... well.... I'm not sure if I agree with that.

So I went home and devised this test.  If 'words' themselves held tremendous power and importance, they are the driving factor of influence in communication.  Thus you could give Dr. Kings speech to anyone to recite, and (because the words are the same) get the same power as if Dr. King gave the speech himself.

The little girl did a great job...  but I do feel that hearing it from Dr. King (3 feet in front of me) would be QUITE a different experience.

How could this be?

Humans invented a extremely flawed communication system: language.  It is actually quite terrible at delivering information person to person without being re-interpreted each and every time.  And if all you're doing is focusing on the words themselves, then there's something very important you'll miss.

Take a simple sentence:  "That little girl went to school today."


let that sit in you...


for a bit...

Now, go up to the top and look at that photo...

Were the 'words' [That, little, girl, went, to, school, today] effective at delivering the information of what happened?  I'll also say something quite shocking, I don't believe words have any real power or importance at all.  

So....... What are words then?

Like everything else in my life, this gets answered with BBQ. :)
I'm from Texas and since being here in Los Angeles, I've really been missing Texas-style BBQ.  This is extremely slow cooked, blackened meats.  Cooked for anywhere between 12-20+ hours, it's by far my favorite cuisine.  There's a place up in valley at Van Nuys Blvd and Chandler called Smoke City Market.  It's legit Texas style BBQ (go late in the day though, meat gets better).  Fatty brisket with perfect marbling and a roasted bark from coarse salt and cracked pepper.  Ribs with a thin sweet BBQ spritz that just fall apart in your hand.  Ahhhhhh MAN, place is GREAT!
So if 'words' are the embodiment of their meaning, and hold total power and importance...
I want you to 'eat' the brisket.

Go ahead, reach in with your fingers and rip off a piece from that paragraph above, be it on a computer screen, iPhone, iPad, Android or printout...

Having issues?  Sorry, it's pretty packed in there.  Here let me put it here so it's easier to get to......

".....Fatty brisket with perfect marbling and a roasted bark from coarse salt and cracked pepper."

There... Taste it now?

Think of words like paint.  An artist uses paint to tell a story on canvas, but the paint.... and this is very important... IS NOT the story.  If words were so important to communication, how could we have dance, music, photography, sculpture, painting?  If words are so important, and [Fatty, brisket] is the up most embodiment of its meaning, why do we have 100s of different languages that use different words for this tasty dish?

If you still disagree with this, please feel free to go to a hardware store... pick out your favorite pint of paint....  bring it home, open it and set it on the counter....

Now stare at it until 'story' comes out.

We get so attached to the words themselves that we lose focus on what is actually important, the story behind them.  Watch the news, "Oh my!  [PUNDIT NAME] said that those [FOUR WORDS IN SOME ORDER]....."  Nobody ever stops to find out what the story was.  They are simply just glued to 'the letter of the language'.  And if you're attached to that, you can simply add in your own interpretation to create whatever story you want behind it.

Here's another sentence:  "Get out of my house."

Now I'll add story to it....

Story:    Wife caught husband cheating with her sister.
Story:    Son came out of the closet to his dad.
Story:    Rapist broke into a bedroom.
Story:    Bar owner breaks up a fight.

I can change the meaning of the words [Get, out, of, my, house] all day long.  It's the story that ultimately matters, that's what we are trying to understand and communicate, the actual words don't hold any real meaning.

It's what a 'artist' is, that is what an actor is, a painter, a dancer, a musician, and yes... a writer, even Dr. King himself ....

a 'STORY'-teller not a 'WORD'-teller.

"You're welcome, can you talk about what is going on?", from the mother with a bit of caution in her eye.   I took out my smartphone and looked up a video of Dr. King's speech online.  We all watched it together.  The mother cried.

I looked at her, "So we watched two renditions of that speech.  One from your daughter, one from Dr. King.  One of those was 'of words', the other 'of story'.  What your daughter showed me is which of those is more important."

"Story", she softly said.

"Yes.  And I thank you a great deal.  Have a nice day you two."  I walked over to the waiter and paid their bill for their time.  They have no idea how much help they've been for me.

Thank you! :')  

--Paul Jacob Evans


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