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Posts Tagged ‘speech’

I’ve been thinking about Simone Lia’s graphic novel Please God, Find Me A Husband! And especially about how the comic/cartoon format allows her to express herself, even to bare her soul, in a way that is unusually unguarded. There is a childlike simplicity about what is expressed within each speech bubble, even a naivety.

Somehow it works. It doesn’t feel like an awkward confessional novel; it doesn’t feel inappropriate or embarrassing. It’s as if the inner child that sits within each adult experience is allowed to speak. The simple truth put into simple words, without self-censorship, without filtering it for the hearer. Not everything in adult life, of course, is simple; but lots of it is – and we often make it complicated, for a thousand personal and social reasons.

It reminds me of two personal experiences. One is having to speak in a foreign language when you are no good at it. I went to Rome for my seminary formation, and the time given to learning Italian in those days was woefully inadequate. But it meant I had to form relationships, sometimes quite deep ones, using two tenses and just a few hundred words.

At one level I was constantly not being myself, because I could never say what I really meant; but at another level I was being more simply myself (or being more my simple self) because I had to become less eloquent, less considered, more straightforward, more childlike. If you only know a few words, you have to say what you mean crudely and clumsily, and sometimes this is less truthful, but sometimes it can be more truthful as well.

The other experience is of preaching to children when there are adults present, say at a ‘Family Mass’ on a Sunday morning in a parish when there are more children than adults, or a school Mass with parents and teachers present. You are aiming your sermon, for example, at a five or seven year old; you are simplifying your language, slowing down, trying to choose appropriate images and ideas, cutting out the flannel. You are speaking, almost, in the language of a graphic novel or a strip cartoon. Not being patronising, but trying to talk at the right level in an appropriate ‘voice’.

And the strange effect of this is that often you are more able to communicate Gospel truths to the adults who are present, because you are letting go of all the stuff that gets in the way. You are following the KISS rule, without realising it: ‘Keep It Simple Stupid!’

This is usually an unintended effect – reaching the adults through the children. But sometimes I have quite consciously said something to the children in simple, unadorned, unnuanced language, with the specific intention of speaking a hard truth to the adults, or a truth that would be harder to express in the context of ordinary adult discourse.

Gillian Wearing brought this ‘inner child honesty’ to the fore with her 1992-93 series that was called “Signs that say what you want them to say, and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say”. You can see a slideshow of her own selection of photos here. And you can see a wonderful selection of ‘sign photos’ here, sent in by Guardian readers and selected by Gillian Wearing herself.

I’m not suggesting the world would be a better place if everyone bared their soul to the first stranger they met each morning, or that some kind of therapeutic nirvana can necessarily be found in heartfelt self-disclosure. I’m just reflecting on how we can often be too complicated, too eloquent; and how a medium like a graphic novel or a children’s sermon can allow us to release a hidden voice that can sometimes touch others and communicate something important.

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I’ve just come across George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. They are not really his – he took them from a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in 1595, which were then translated into English the following century.

I know, it's the bridge and not the president, but I was searching for 'George Washington', and this is so beautiful...

I wouldn’t follow them all, but there are some beautiful admonitions, and some lovely Capitalisation:

1. Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

22. Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

49. Use no Reproachful Language against any one; neither Curse nor Revile.

50. Be not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagement of any.

65. Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest; Scoff at none although they give Occasion.

79. Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof…

89. Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.

Reminds me of one of my favourite scripture quotations:

Do not use harmful words in talking. Use only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. And do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad; for the Spirit is God’s mark of ownership on you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free. Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults. No more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tenderhearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you in Christ. (Eph 4:29-32)

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I went to my first proper poetry reading this week. The editor of the magazine ‘Poetry Wales’ introduced a number of poets she has published recently, including an old friend of mine, Samantha Rhydderch. You can see her website here.

It was a dingy basement in a west London cafe (the Troubadour), full of atmosphere and history. It became an unexpected pilgrimage from me, as three of my teenage heroes had played within these very walls: Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix. There were faded photos to prove it.

The whole event felt countercultural, even subversive. A group of wonderful, talented people, who could have shared their words with two billion people over the internet, simply by recording themselves at home and posting to YouTube. Instead of that, they chose to travel six hours on a train from Wales so that a tiny audience (50 at the most) could actually hear the sounds of the words as they came from their mouths, feel their breath, see them in the flesh, and taste the experience face to face.

magnetic poetry by surrealmuse.

Paper publishing itself is almost an anachronism. But the editor gave a lovely speech about how the printed word, above all for poetry, gives you a stillness and space in which to hold the words, that is simply not possible in any digital medium.

My favourite first line of the evening: ‘Every crashed marriage has its own black-box…’ (I’m writing from memory; and I apologise that I can’t remember the writer’s name – perhaps he can post his poem here…) My favourite newly discovered fact: That the lettuce was a sacred object in ancient Egypt.

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You have probably seen plenty of ‘word-clouds’ before. But just in case you haven’t yet discovered the addictive Wordle website, here it is: http://www.wordle.net/  You go to the ‘create’ page, paste some text into the box, and out comes your own cloud. The programme analyses your text, counts the number of times you use any word, takes out the ordinary words that everyone uses (‘the’, ‘and’, ‘but’, etc.), and then makes the size of the word in the cloud dependent on the number of times you have used it relative to the other words. So you can see in a flash what thoughts are coming up again and again, what ideas obsess you, and what verbal ticks you have picked up.

I’ve been blogging for just over two months now, so I copied the text from all my posts into Wordle (15,881 words so far!), and this is what came out. I’m not sure what to make of my own thoughts:

Untitled-1 copy from http://www.wordle.net/

It’s a poor person’s form of psychoanalysis: You just speak, or write, and the computer tells you what is really in your heart – or at least what buzzes around in your head. Or you could just be lying…

You can then spend hours pressing the ‘randomize’ button, which gives you a new cloud with the same words:

Untitled-2

Or you can manually adjust the settings and choose your own font, colours, alignment, etc.:

Untitled-3 copy by http://www.wordle.net/

Try it yourself – with those poems you wrote as a teenager, with that half-finished novel under your bed, or simply with the last few emails you have sent. You can also paste in a web address and have it analyse the text on that webpage.

Hours of fun, and wasted time, together with a tiny gain in self-knowledge.

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