Americana, Symbols, and Changing Minds
Words have such drastically different meanings when their arrangements change, that I occasionally edit myself into a thought that I didn’t know I had. That may well be bad editing, but a sentence that just won’t sit still signifies an idea that doesn’t feel right. I also try not to read a piece between completing it and seeing it in print. My personality would suggest I send edits to people before they’ve printed or even accepted it, which is ––––– not good. But that combination means, on reading something in print, that I’m often surprised by my own words.
I’ve written that I’m a pragmatist – a cynic or realist depending on your point of view. I’ve written scornfully about those who advance radical change at the expense of things that do real good. I still feel all those ways. But I read the following words underneath my name the other day and they rang unusual:
That such an idea rests on mythology is unimportant. For something to "stand," it need only be a symbol.
In context, the passage is unnecessary but I left it in; an odd hook on which to hang my hat. Maybe I felt the sentence particularly important or just liked the way the words sounded (its own sort of important). But it was there. I carved words away, rearranged them, and found myself writing about the power of symbolism to making radical change. Chip away at cynicism and there’s often idealism at its core.
E.L. Doctorow said that he didn’t write to express his ideas, but rather to find them. The more I write, the more I see the signals in written words. Spoken words, arguments, politics, thoughts are a fog in which the shore or the difference between north and west are lost entirely. Carefully edited sentences are a sort of lighthouse; visible from a great distance when nothing else is. The major difference is that a sailor knows when he sees a lighthouse that the direction is changing. I don’t suppose I know what I’m looking at when I write down something strange and different, at least not until I run aground somewhere different.
I think I’ve exhausted this metaphor.