Choosing Words-Writing & Alchemy by Kenneth Weene
People often ask me when I knew that I was a writer. Now, I don’t mean, “When did I know that I wanted to be a writer?” which is a very different question. It’s the difference between a little kid saying he wants to grow up to be a fireman and the day the young adult dons his SCOT gear and doesn’t panic.
For me the fateful day was right after Christmas vacation my sophomore year of high school. It had been a different vacation than those I had known. That fall I had started at a boarding school, where it was hoped that I would get a better education than in our local public school system.
One of the many reasons behind this change was it allowed my father to take a sabbatical year off from his teaching job; he was on the faculty of the same public system that I was leaving. My parents were going to spend the winter in Florida. Even then it seemed like an unworthy way to spend a year that was supposed to afford either travel or education, but that was their goal.
Now, at the risk of revealing my age, which is easily in the senior category, I have to say that in those days Florida was far away and even exotic to those of us who lived in the Greater Boston area. Even though the Wright brothers had done their thing and Lindbergh, Post, and Earhart had long since left the stage, flying was still exotic, and average people didn’t go to Florida. Of course, Disney and the Orlando miracle hadn’t taken place so those who did go were mainly visiting Miami and the sun.
My brother and I took a flight out of Logan. It was our first flight. Since Eastern Airlines is long since defunct, I can mention that it was a flight out of hell. So badly was it managed that we arrived many hours late and our parents, along with other waiting greeters, were told that the airline has “lost track” of the flight. But, eventually we arrived, and I had instantly become a dedicated traveler.
There was much about that vacation that was memorable. From time to time I have drawn on it for parts of short stories and poems and even for brief bits of professional papers in my other career as a psychologist. However, I chose only one night spent walking on the beach for the inevitable “What I did on my vacation” essay that my English teacher had required us to write.
Why had I chosen that night? Because of the moon. So full, so bright, yet so eerie. It had been a moon of panic and archetypical thoughts, a moon made for histrionics and adolescence.
Mr. Williams had liked my essay. Easily I had received the highest grade in the class. However, he had criticized my use of adjectives. “Silver” he had written in the space above my words and taken off a few points. What had I written” The white gold moon …” I tried to remonstrate.
“Everybody knows that the moon is silver so that’s the word you use,” had been his explanatory response.
Now I don’t want to be overly critical. He was an admirable teacher, and I learned a great deal that year. But, he was not a writer. At that moment I knew that he was not. I also knew that I was. You see writers think about the words we use; we worry at them; we select them; we say them to ourselves and hear their sound; ultimately we cherish them. We do not use them because they are the words that are expected. At that time I could not have explained to him that alchemy was about gold and therefore that the motivational power of the gold was so much greater than the silver. I could not explain to him that the use of two words instead of a two-syllable word would give more emphasis to the sounds and thereby draw more attention to the phrase. I could not even explain that the unexpected makes the reader think. I simply walked away knowing that Mr. Williams was not and would never be a writer but that I, even at fourteen, was.
Thousands of words later - having written novels, short stories, poetry, and essays: I still celebrate the careful choice of words. I still listen for the sounds as the words leave my fingers and turn into electrons.
Here is a small excerpt from one of my short stories, End Game.
Michael stared at the popcorn ceiling and waited for it to descend – to press him into wine, the last unprotesting whine of death. It was, he iterated over and over in his head, “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” But the damn ceiling did what ceilings will do, it lay suspended above him like an astral plane to which he could aspire but which he would never reach. He lay splayed in comfortable crucifixion across their bed. Naked, semi-erect and incoherent he lay; and she, Merriam, lay next to him.
Could I have written this differently? Obviously. I have played on the homonyms wine and whine; I have deliberately referenced Shakespeare and particularly the painful indecision of Hamlet, which incidentally tell us that the character is intellectual. I coin a word, “unprotesting,” which your spell check will tell you should be “unresisting.” Unresisting does not carry forth the play on homonyms.
“Writers love language.” That is something I know at the core of being. Lots of people write things but aren’t writers. Like that English teacher of years ago, they write what is expected rather than cherishing the creativity of words. Ultimately to be a writer is to become an alchemist of words, we are trying to turn them into our white gold.
Find out more on Kenneth check out his website and video trailers:
Publisher-All Things That Matter Press-Click HERE to view
Memoirs from the Asylum blurb:
What is it like to work inside a state hospital or to be a patient in such a hospital? What is it like to live inside the mind of such a patient? This tragi-comedic novel takes the reader inside the asylum, inside the worlds of three central characters: a narrator who has taken refuge from his fears of the world, a psychiatrist whose own life has been damaged by his father's depression, and a catatonic schizophrenic whose world is trapped inside a crack in the wall opposite her bed. This is the interwoven story of their lives, a story that includes love, sexuality, violence, deaths, celebrations, circuses, and surprising twists. As the plot unwinds, the reader learns a great deal about the nature of futility, frustration, and freedom.
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