My paternal grandfather was a journalist and an historian, and words mattered deeply to him. He was especially keen on the idea that words should be used wisely and carefully in order to communicate clearly. I never got to meet him (he died 6 years before I was born) but I've been blessed to hear many stories (clearly communicated to me!) about him, and I suspect his legacy is one of the reasons I love words so much and try to use them as well as I can.
I confess to feeling aggravated when I read certain articles or stories that do not use words carefully or wisely. Of late, I've been especially annoyed by certain pieces I've read online. I worry sometimes that the ease and speed of online communication is making writers sloppy. A couple of brief cases in point:
*This morning I was on a website for a small press whose listing I had seen in the 2006 Writer's Market. I hadn't heard of them before, and was interested in seeing what they publish, the philosophy behind what they publish, etc. They provided only the briefest of introductions as to who they were and what they were doing. They did make the point, however, that "our purpose is controversial." In vain did I search for a purpose statement -- there was none! I confess I don't understand the point of claming a "controverisal" purpose (unless you think it just sounds cool?) if you're not going to explain what your purpose is and what you mean by controversial. I tried to sift through some of their content for contextual clues, and concluded that they are probably into a kind of "health and wealth" version of the Christian faith, which isn't very "healthy" at all. But I could be wrong. Their writing was so unclear, I couldn't be sure. They also claimed that their "passion" is "inevitable" -- yet another statement that made little sense.
And another example:
*A few days ago I read an editorial on the Winter Olympics by a well-known sports writer for a prominent news website. He made some interesting points (as far as I could tell) but the piece itself meandered all over, and was so inconsistent in tone, that it was hard for me to decide exactly what he was trying to say. He began by bemoaning how boring these Olympic games have been, especially for the U.S., in part because there have been no stories that capture the public's attention or dazzle journalists. He then appeared to chastise all of us in the U.S. for our general shallowness -- for no longer being satisified with athletic excellence if it didn't result in lots of gold medals or the blooming of fascinating sports personalities. Then, in an odd about-face, he fretted about the possibility that Sasha Cohen would succumb to competitive pressure once again and not win gold in ladies' figure skating, and went out of his way (though whether in blame or praise, I couldn't tell) to point out that she's refused to play the media game by taking on the role of American ice princess.
Is writing like this fuzzy writing? Or just plain fuzzy thinking?
And while we're on the topic of the Olympics, I had to say I found Sasha Cohen's second place finish inspiring. I'd never seen anyone in an Olympic skating competition, with so much to win and so much to lose, stumble so badly so early and yet find the strength of will to not only finish, but finish beautifully, elegantly, and almost perfectly. 3 out of 4 minutes of her program were sheer poetry and near perfection. It struck me with odd force, watching Cohen and also her closest competitors, that these young women have really achieved excellence in their field. Most of us have never achieved anywhere near such excellence in any skill. They do what they do better than anyone else in the world, and they achieve this kind of skill through hard work, determination, and (as was clear last night) sometimes through sheer chutzpah. Watching Cohen skate, falls and all, gave me a sense of joy and of clean and simple contentment. Reading rushed and inflated prose about her and her fellow athletes at the Olympics, from a writer who clearly doesn't have the same standards of excellence for his own work, just left me feeling flat.
It makes me want to work all the harder at my own writing.