WRITING

  
The things one says are all unsuccessful attempts to say something else.

-- Bertrand Russell

              

I am influenced by words and the chewiness of language, the specialized phrases and names that have come out of human work and travel through the landscapes -- like "dry-ki," the deadwood on river sandbars. Old work words are falling into the pit of obsolescence as we abandon the labor of hands and bodies. The landscape historian John Stilgoe, in his "Shallow-Water Dictionary," mourns, and I with him, the loss of "estuary English, the marshland vocabulary" that contained such valuable words as "guzzle," "gundalow," "schoon," and "bore." I collect dictionaries of work and trades, of dialects and phrases. Some dictionaries have been bowdlerized by the compilers. Dictionaries of logging and maritime terms, which should be rich in graphic sexual imagery, are nearly always sanitized and prefaced by an ex-loggerís or ex-sailorís wish not to offend any reader. I am offended by the deletions. 

The outsiderís eye is a writerís stock-in-trade, a persistent effort to grasp events through place and season, or through nuances of intonation, language rhythm, phraseology, or through regional physical characteristics, climate and weather, clothing and hair styles, cafť menus. A few years ago in Mud Butte, South Dakota, in the only eating place in town, there were three items on the handwritten menu -- "hot beef, hot pork, hot hamb" -- that said rather much about the place. The characters in a story, like people in life, behave as their landscape makes them behave -- what they eat and wear, the work they do, the thoughts they think, and the way they spell "ham." 

-- Annie Proulx