The Glory of Language and Truth

I’m now a good part of the way into re-reading Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, and although I promised myself that I would hold onto caution before making a remark as to the value of such a re-reading upon reaching old age, I’ve decided to cast caution aside and admit that I am enjoying the story even more now than when I was a young man reading this masterpiece for the first time.

And the primary reason that I so rejoice in Wolfe’s work has everything to do with his glorious celebration of language. As a writer, I consider that the poetry of language, the rhythm of a series of phrases arranged with the care of a symphony conductor, and the music that helps a story flow, are all essential components of what I hear, taste and feel as I watch syllables perform a ballet across the page.

I’ll never settle for plot alone. Plot is plain when managed by the wrong hands.

Thomas Wolfe was the master I shall never become. I believe we all need heroes. My heroes don’t ride big buck trucks over man-made obstacles. My heroes never show their faces on TV. My heroes cannot see themselves outside of their creations.

A friend of mine, a fellow writer I admire, wrote today of his opinions and doubts regarding the nature of truth. If you bother to look at the little blurb above each entry I make here, you’ll notice that I promise — now that I’m a free man — to tell the truer tale.

While I understand my friend’s intellectual argument, I find no difficulty whatsoever with the term truth. Yes, truth is always tainted with fiction; but so is fiction always tainted with truth. The truth is that I am no Plato, Aristotle or Kierkegaard. And I don’t wish to waste my time fiddling with insoluble riddles; I had enough of such mental calisthenics when I was a helpless undergrad, a member of a university run by Jesuit priests who reveled inside the twists and turns of random brainwave patterns.

The truth today was that I stopped to browse the shelves of a local and quaint grocery store where I bought myself several boxes of decaffeinated tea and a couple of bars made of nuts and dates. Behind me as I waited for the store’s cashier to ring me up (and yes, this old register rang like an old-fashioned bell), a woman spoke in my direction.

“Don’t you teach in Cambrelot,” she asked.

“I used to,” I answered. And those three words gave me a great deal of pleasure.

The truth today was that I spent part of my morning recovering from the nasty, suffocating feeling of a good, old-fashioned nightmare (I just now noticed how much I these days favor the term “old-fashioned.” Yes, I am).

I awoke screaming. I felt the fingernails of a well-known enemy digging into the flesh of my right forearm, felt the pinch sure enough that upon awakening I rubbed what I felt certain would be a bloody wound. I found there no blood of the liquid variety, but the blood of my past returned to haunt me.

I once thought that writing the truthful story of my miserable childhood would become the masterpiece that people begged to read. But then Oprah Winfrey came along and made the tale repetitive and maudlin.

Dear Mr. Thomas Wolfe,

Would that I owned your gift and your experience with blue mountains and steam locomotives.

It’s all your fault that I missed my own masterpiece.



And dear writer friend now encircled by a different band of mountains and a family of people who love you, Happy Easter. I hope you find your share of colored eggs hidden round the pool.

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