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There used to be men (and women, I assume) called holy fools, perfectly ordinary (and often brilliant) people who faked idiocy so as to be daily humbled by the world. It was good for their spiritual lives, they felt. I am coming to grips with the place of foolishness in my own life — it’s not something I’ve chosen, but rather a facet of my being: I am a social idiot.

I was forced to confront this aspect of myself last weekend at a party. Surrounded by outgoing, extroverted folks, I grappled with a tongue roughly the size, shape and weight of a cast iron skillet. “Amazing!” I heard myself saying. “Wonderful!” I’m a writer. I ought to have facility with words. And I do, to some extent. That extent lying within the power of my mind and my fingers…not in the vast rolling pastures of speech. Add in a dash of shyness, and you’ve got a wallflower extraordinaire. Move over, Emily Dickinson. There’s a new weird, silent poetess in town.

All of this — coupled with a fascination for the sound and substance of words, which once caused me to mispronounce the word “full” in prayer — brings us to this: a sort of love poem, penned by a fool who may or may not be holy, but who certainly hopes for its salvific grace.

Pixilated,
besotted with love,
love coursing through blind alleys,
traffic circles, cul-de-sacs,
languishing in corners, deaf to
directionality, wholly lost in translation. I fish,
pull up old shoes, tin cans, frank inadequacies.
Brooks babble better.
Helpless, hopeless heart!
Could I crack you open and let
the depth of you spill! And yet.
There is a solace in silence, dim wisdom
in the fractured code, the blank flags,
the broken nibs and worn erasers.
I send up smoke signals,
too random to be cumulus,
received by God like an armful of roses.
Wordless. But heard.
I am a fool of grace
and God is with me.

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On the news this morning, the anchor said there was an update on the passing of Popeye Conprince. There was an in-depth report about the circumstances of his death, and apparently, drugs were involved.

I paused for a moment. He said it as if this was a public figure, one whom we all should know.

Maybe he’s royalty from another country?

Am I so out of the loop that I don’t know this person? Should I Wiki him?

I wrote down what the anchor said and parsed out the words. Oh!

Pop Icon, Prince! For Goodness’ sake.

In a previous post, I wrote about the time I heard a radio program on NPR about noted Tejano politician, Juan Seguin, and I thought they were saying, “Once Again.”

Is it my hearing? My synapses short-circuiting? Information overload?

It may well be that we’re all so used to doing several things at once that we’re never fully paying attention to anything.

There was a commercial for a cooking spray years ago, and when I heard it, I thought for a moment it might be an incendiary device. The announcer said, “get Nuclear Pam, today!” What he really said was, “get New, Clear Pam, today!” Well. That’ll put a kick in your souffle!  More heat than Sriracha!

Maybe life is really a game of Password, with someone feeding us clues as we try to figure out what the right answer is.

I wonder how often the true meaning of words actually gets through all of the static in our lives.

One of the more light-hearted examples of misinterpretation is the story of “Scary Lucy.” A sculptor was commissioned to make a likeness of Lucille Ball, and his finished product looked more like the zombie version of our favorite redhead. He said it was his twist on the episode of I Love Lucy in which Lucy pretended to be a statue. Fans were outraged, and another sculptor crafted a much more pleasant version of Lucy.

As for me, I’m going to make a concerted effort to really listen this week. Maybe if I stay fully plugged in, I’ll hear what the world is saying!

I once gave a report in high school that turned into a disaster of Hindenburg-ian dimensions. I was rolling along, using words I knew and loved, words I’d read a thousand times or more, unaware that my audience — my friends — were moving from impatience to anger. Why was I using the words I was using — ten dollar, multisyllabic words? Did I think I was better than they were? I was dumbstruck, blindsided by their wrath. I thought everyone knew the words I knew. I didn’t realize that words — pure, beautiful words — the obsession of my life even then, could cause such emotion.

Later in life, I worked for a toy company. Who would’ve thought that something as innocent and delightful as toys could cause so much unreasonable anger? But they did. The letters I got (as editor-in-chief) bore this out: letters complaining about everything and anything. Why did we use the headline “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” to describe a glittery collection of costume jewels? “How dare you!” the letter ran. “My niece’s best friend is a soccer ball!” It was an object lesson in the power of words.

I find as a writer that it is the words we think about the least — the ones that flow from us as simply as breath, as unconsciously as air — that can wound people the most. Why is that? Is it because they represent the things we take for granted — things that most blatantly show our deepest beliefs in the world?

Many of us who are not persons of color don’t understand the concept of White Privilege. Why? Because it is so ingrained, so normal to us that it ceases to be wondered at or even noticed. Like the words we use without thinking, privilege comes so naturally, we fail to notice that we are part of the problem. That what we take for granted can be hurtful to others.

In one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, Hamlet (who never met a long soliloquy he didn’t like) delivers the quintessential angry teen response to Polonius’ endless windbaggery: “Words, words, words.” The words we do not consider, that we hand out as easily as we might a smile or a nod, can be the most dangerous. The actions we do not consider can be symptomatic of collusion with a system that is not fair or equitable.

Words can be insidious. They can attract or repel. Weighing them like stones before we cast them into the world seems to be a practice worth pursuing. Even if we can’t always predict where they will land — as anyone who’s ever read the “comments” section of any Internet post knows — we can try. Consider what you take for granted, in word and in deed. Are you standing where you want to stand? Are you standing with compassion and mercy?

Or are you throwing rocks?

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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