Make me an angel, or the work of working with words

The funny thing about making art with words — literature, that is — is that we’re making art of a man-made thing, a recycled thing, even, as some people make art from plastic, or garbage. There is a spirit in made things that comes not just from the maker but also from the material — the wood and its insistence of grain and knot, the stone and its leanings. But to make a thing of a made thing is one-removed from the integral spirit. I guess a word’s spirit could be found in its etymology. But also in the history of the writer’s relationship with the word. I can never use the word “expedition” without its echo of Pooh’s “expotition,” and my memory of re-re-reading the adventures of that cast of characters, identifying first with one then another, Pooh, then Piglet, then Pooh again. Family legend has it that my first song was the Schmidt’s beer song: “Schmidt’s! One beautiful beer.” “Miffs,” I called it. “Bootifoo,” I said. And the word still rings that way deep inside me. A woodworker turns a piece of wood in her hands, feels the contours, sheers some away to find the soft spots, finds the hard spots against the knife. Words are both more malleable, and less. Of course the word is nonsense without the thought, the thought nonexistent without the self’s encounter with the world, the world, so they say, itself a fragment of my imagination. Then so too is the wood, the knife, the beauty, the word “beauty.” Imagination is the milieu, whatever the material being worked. Maybe imagination is the only real thing. Imagination imagines us. We’re its made thing.

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