I just blogged about this over at TOSC, but I thought I'd go a little deeper into the subject here. There's a Monty Python "Flying Circus" sketch I watched as a kid that, odd as it may seem, affected how I view language. The sketch, "Woody and Tinny Words," is of course absurd, and it largely revolves around the idea of breaking the sounds of words into two categories: woody and tinny.
It makes sense if you think about it. Of course, you could substitute those categories with anything: cottony and silky, rocky and watery, glassy and pillowy. But it was profound for me because I watched it at such a young age, early middle school at the oldest. The idea that words had identifiable sounds and images worked its way into my brain, and I've been dividing words into woody and tinny ever since.
My sister and I will argue about which words belong in which categories. We often disagree because we're siblings, but also because this sort of linguistic judgment is so subjective. But I'm guessing that, even if our definitions might incrementally differ, you innately understand the woody and tinny thing without even reading the sketch (which you should do, because it's damn funny).
I sometimes think about the little events in my youth that taught me these internal lessons, and how I might have turned out had those lessons come differently. There's this great common body of knowledge that we eventually come to, but we each take a different path. Do we affect the path, or does the path affect us? I'll put down that it's the latter: Think back on how different you were only five years ago, if you're roughly my age. You were either recently graduated or about to graduate. In only five years, do any of you doubt that you're a substantially different person now? Obviously the large events (marriage and divorce, initial employment and job-hopping, moving from one place to another) mark you, but -- like the blend of winds that affected the Michigan Spaceport rocket's trajectory -- you've also been marked by the smaller events. A magazine article, a change in diet, a new shortcut on the way to work. I believe Geoffrey Sonnabend would tell us that it's not only the lesson that we learn from these events, but also their pitch and altitude. My approach to words has been ever-so-slightly influenced by this Monty Python sketch. And not just the idea of woody and tinny. But also the absurdist British humor, the setting of the sketch, my age and whom I was with when I first saw it.
Think about those little flashes you get while doing the most mundane things (and I encourage you to post whatever comes to mind):
Every time I come to a flashing don't-walk sign, I instinctively look up to the traffic light to see if it's yellow. If not, I still have time to cross. I go through this exercise because my dad told me to do it while we were crossing Michigan Avenue one day when I was a kid.
Whenever I pick up a fork, I remind myself that it's the most useful of the utensils. Why? Because I once stubbornly fought with my mom on the subject. She pointed out that you can stab and scoop with the fork. Case closed.
And so on.
That's why I started this blog. It's not only a record of the big events in my life -- leaving Cleveland, living at home in Michigan, moving to California -- but also a running tally of all the bits that bring my character into sharp focus.