Uppermost House: No more thin soup!

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

I love the written word, but much of the inky letters that dry on paper these days (or the bits of binary code that fly through cyberspace: OMG, LOL) have no meat on their bones; they’re just thin soup. There’s no richness, no vividicity, and few dogfights; the pictures that pop into our heads when reading such pabulum drivel are mundane: paint drying, white bread, and low tide. Verbs don’t even verb anymore: instead of skipping and shouting and beckoning frantically (yes, even adverbs have their place), today’s verbs just go and say and barely wave.

Hey, people (I’m shouting, now), use your shift/F7 key (synonyms) and bookmark thesaurus.com! Don’t just go — sprint, skip, frolic and cavort! Don’t just say — holler! Don’t just be glad — rejoice! Let’s heave (put) some chunks of flesh (meat) into the consommé (thin soup) of our marvelous language!

Here are a few outtakes from recent readings to grease your gears.

“Shrouded in the black thunderheads the distant lightning glowed mutely like welding seen through foundry smoke. As if repairs were underway at some flawed place in the dark iron of the world.” (Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses)

“Spring came to me like a liberation, the first gulp of air after diving too deep,” and  “[the sparrows] were drawn to the hawk like iron filings to a magnet,” and “The Milky Way was no longer milky; it had curdled, solidified like scrambled eggs in a pan. I would step outside on a clear night and it would make me gasp.” (Neil Ansell, Deep Country)

“Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.” (E. Annie Proulx, opening to The Shipping News)

“The seas are the heart’s blood of the earth. Plucked up and kneaded by the sun and the moon, the tides are systole and asystole of earth’s veins.” (Henry Beston, The Outermost House)

“In 1949, the smokejumpers were not far from their origins as parachute jumpers turned stunt performers dropping from the wings of planes at county fairs just for the hell of it plus a few dollars, less hospital expenses. They were still so young they hadn’t learned to count the odds and to sense that they might owe the universe a tragedy.” (Norman Maclean, Young Men and fire)

“Unscathed, the fearless space explorer emerges from the smoldering wreckage! He’s marooned on a hostile world! Scorched by twin suns, the planet is nothing but barren rock and methane! There is no hope of finding food or water!” (Bill Watterson, The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes)

So, when you write (and we all do), write like that: with vigor, vibrancy, and pith. Be tabasco sauce, not oatmeal. Cultivate awareness as you would rare orchids: “I learned to be like a ship’s rat, veined ears trembling, and I learned to scribble it all down.” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird). Weld pictures into people’s heads and then yank their jaws down to the floor with simile, metaphor, and the occasional fragment. Be bold, perhaps even a little odd.

There’s sometimes a guy that prances back and forth at the corner of Main and Depot Streets, sucking vanilla pudding out of a cracked mayonnaise jar through a length of old garden hose just to make people think he’s nuts — write as he would write.

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