Wednesday, January 19, 2011

26n ~ response to prompt 2 (on overused words)

This is a response to this prompt, posted by Na on 26n.

I went out last Friday night. Even though I no longer commute, when I get on the tube, I still pull on my Londoner-armour. I rarely go out on a Friday or Saturday night. Rarely did even before I became a stay-at-home mum. I have a fear that I will be accosted or worse by a loud drunk person or persons. So I was in full wariness. And I was very tired. When I’m tired, I can be a judgemental ogre, especially if I’m around a lot of strangers. I don’t know why, but I look at people and my meanie reflex kicks in.

A couple got on at Holborn and I was instantly annoyed by them. Mainly because they were talking so loudly about their holiday in Mauritius that it felt like they wanted to be heard by as many people as possible. Then I labelled the man posh (because of his shirt and his accent) and ugly (because of his large mouth and teeth). When the woman turned around, all I could see was her huge nose. I couldn’t stop this thought: Oh my god, between his teeth and her nose how do they ever manage a snog?

At King’s Cross, three people got on. A woman and her parents. They were well-dressed and this label came out - respectable middle class, maybe church goers, a bit stiff. The woman sat between her mother and her father and I thought, poor thing hasn’t inherited either of her parents’ attractiveness. Her chin stuck out and her face seemed over-padded, making her features seem indistinct. She also had a fleshy bump on her chin which reminded me of a cartoon witch’s boil. And pale eyelashes.

But I found myself being absorbed by them. I looked from the woman to her mother and noticed that her mother had the same fleshy bump but to the side of her nose. And that the woman had her mother’s eyes. I’d thought her mother was more attractive but maybe it was because she’d taken a lot of care in her appearance. She wore makeup and looked well-to-do. And then I looked at her father and saw that she also had her father’s eyes. He looked more mellow than I’d first thought and quietly jolly. His eyes seemed to smile for no particular reason. The more I looked, the more I could see features of both her parents (whose faces were more chiselled and distinct than hers) blended on her face. And the more I looked, the more vivid she seemed to become.

Then I noticed how she spoke with her mother. They had been speaking for some time and not only were they calm, they looked at each other while they spoke. They seemed to treat each other as equals, with no animosity, hostility or misunderstanding between them. They smiled often. It was obvious they had a lot of affection for each other. And while she spoke to her mother, her father took her arm and slipped it around his, and he started to stroke her hand as he studied the adverts above my head. Once, he looked down, caught my eye and smiled at me. I felt caught out so I looked away and didn’t smile back and then regretted it. He continued to stroke his daughter’s hand and when I looked at her again, I started to see things I hadn’t seen before. The glow to her cheeks. A quality behind her eyes, more than warmth, something like blossoming. And a sense of something to her, something strong. Confidence, self-assurance? I noticed that the buttons on her coat said Betty Jackson. I imagined a high-flying career for her.

Then I thought about my parents. How hard it would be for me to have a conversation like that with my mother. And how alien it would feel for my father to sit stroking my hand while sitting on a train. It was normal to her. She barely seemed to notice it. Just before I got off the tube, I looked at her again and saw it. How beautiful she was. Because she was so clearly loved. It made me feel ashamed, to have thought of her as unattractive. And sad because she had something I didn’t. When her father noticed my bag and turned to ask her, “Have you ever been to Cordoba?” and they looked at me with my bag from my last holiday as if I was a portal to the place itself, I felt too visible. I wanted to get up and walk away before they started smiling and being kind and asking me questions, when I had been mean and judgemental. I didn’t want them to look at me or see me. So I got up and walked to the door, my aloof and distant Londoner-armour in tact.


Thoughts about the prompt & the writing I posted

I think there are two parts to this. One concerns the overuse of certain words in society at any given time. For example, amazing is far too popular a word at the moment. Gorgeous is another. And thing. And then, individuals will have their own overused words and phrases. I think overuse of certain words is inevitable. Like trends, they come and go. Words will have their peak and then people will grow tired of them or discover a new word and start saying that instead.

It seems that to not overuse words, you would have to maintain a constant and focussed sense of awareness – not only about what you say, but also what the word you say is connected to and what it means to you. I suspect most of us couldn’t cope what that level of awareness. We have routines, chores to complete, work to do, commutes to get through, people and things to take care of, meaning we need to get across as quickly and efficiently as possible. We get tired, confused, angry, emotional, fed up. We forget. What comes out is habit. Every now and then, we get a moment that lifts us out of that cycle. And maybe that moment will bring us to awareness. But so many things could be occupying us, and many of them are perhaps wordless.

So it’s not so much the words we use but how we relate to them. Whether we really see or hear them anymore. And why.

When I read this prompt I knew what I wanted to write about. However, rather than not using the word and trying to find a replacement that was fresh, I wanted to write about a moment that made me look closely and which made the word (beautiful) suddenly meaningful to me. In this case, it was the act of really looking and seeing that led me to the word, so that by the time it came to me, it did not feel flat or trite, but simply truthful.

This is long!!  And I nearly didn't post it cos it exposes things about me I don't really like.  So if you've gotten this far, thank you.


nĂ  said...

Wow, thanks for posting it - thanks for being honest with your words, it really is (hah, I have to go for it, just to be in -contra-theme with the prompt) ..beautiful.
I love the metamorphosis that you describe, taking place each time you look at her. There's something very enchanting about it.
As for the subject matter - don't be so tough on yourself, because a) - we all do that kind of observing of people we don't know; b) you are a superstar, and I know, because I know you!, so I can say that... c) you're loved too (in many ways, by many people)- you're beautiful too (in many ways!)

thanks for taking part, thanks for being so honest (I really admire your courage to speak about parts of you that, as you say, you don't really like about yourself. You're much braver than most of us!)

Oh, and btw - I totally agree that thinking about the words we use would take much more than instinct, and wouldn't, of course, prescribe it on a day to day basis, just as an exercise in noticing and focusing.

hugs x

Elizabeth Marie said...

Oh, I LOVE this. But now I'm aware of the words I'm using to write this comment, and I kind of want to pull a pillow over my head. I'm kidding, just kidding.

Really, the details are stunning (one of my overused words). I like the gradual awareness of the truth of the family's beauty.

Theodora said...

Thanks for posting this. You're really becoming an amazing writer.