Friday, April 5, 2013

Quoth the Maven

It is no secret that I love words.

Here is a little idiosyncratic secret: I don't like decorating with words. Not my clothes, not my skin, not my walls. It's just my odd personal preference. I would never get a tattoo that says anything, I don't care for shirts that require reading (although, I have a few) and I don't like giant quotes on pallet boards stuck to walls. I know this is very trendy right now. I know that to spell things out, larger than life across walls and pillows and windows and whatnot is the decorating thing to do. Mark my words (heh heh - pun), in a few years all this stuff is all going to end up at Goodwill.

Dream. Imagine. Love. Create. These and other admonitions are barked like commands in spray-painted cardboard letters in homes all over America if Pinterest is to be believed. [OK, brief confession: I just clicked over to Pinterest to copy a link for this post and got completely sidetracked by a carrot cake cheesecake recipe which I must eat very soon. To combine carrot cake with cheesecake is like a divine marriage or something.] I don't object to the sentiments, it's just not my style. My style is more along the lines of scribbling things on post-its and putting them where they're relevant or writing reminders on the backs of old receipts and sticking them in my wallet. Not spelling them out with buttons and hanging them in my living room. To each their own.

Case in point: this little gem came with our house.
Come summer, this sucker is gone.
Right there on our front door, greeting the meter reader and all of our guests, is this darling aphorism. I don't object to the sentiment, particularly. I do, however, object strenuously to cliche and triteness. And I think that's beef number one with the whole quote craze. It takes rich and multifaceted concepts and boils them down to rhyming couplets. If my front door had been carefully painted with a whole manifesto, I might have left it.

My darling Chief Lou, ever the trickster, wants to paint over this quote on the door with a quote from Dante's Inferno: "Omnes relinquite spes, o vos intrantes." The translation in English, of course, is "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here" but he wants to leave it in the original Latin, done in fancy script. This is my husband's sense of humor. I am married to an incredibly silly man, but he proves my point for me. As long as it's pretty, we can put any old quote up on the wall and hey presto! we're in vogue.

That leads to beef number two: context. You would probably have had to be in a coma for the last few years to have missed the whole "Keep Calm..." thing. I don't know where it started in recent years and why it has been such a fad, but do you know where the originals started? Great Britain in World War II. They were propaganda posters that were meant to be hung around to get the people who were scared to death of having the ever-loving snot bombed out of them to go about their daily lives. Keep calm and carry on. Again, not a bad sentiment, but not exactly a cheerful memory to hang on the wall. It wasn't too many soccer practices and meetings at work that originated this advice; it was death, mayhem and destruction like the world had never known to that point. 

Oh, Tangled Lou, you are such a grump. They're pretty. What's the big deal?! There may be no big deal. It may be nothing more than a (in my humble opinion) tacky fad that will come and go and we'll look at it in a couple of years like we do peach and teal balloon valances now: shake our heads and wonder what on earth we were thinking. But because I love words and the ideas they represent, I get a little sketchy about all this. Words have amazing power for something we just toss around freely and stick to the walls. 

Words can be beautiful, inspiring, encouraging and uplifting. They can also just become part of the scenery, lost among the clutter of everything else, faded with the passage of time and eventually discarded in favor of the Next Big Thing. To be able to sum up a large thought in a simple sentence is one of the joys of playing with words. There are great thinkers and philosophers and writers who, throughout history, have said and written things that bear repeating. But when your ultra-conservative friend posts a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche about the madness of love on her Facebook page, you get the impression that she's not terribly familiar with Herr Nietzsche's body of work or she might not so readily agree with him. 

The important things in life are so much larger than rhymed couplets. Overcoming fear to reach out toward personal goals cannot be reduced to a decal of the word "Dream" stretched across the living room. The concepts of life itself, of happiness, contentment, of fulfillment and joy are two-faced monsters who, by necessity, are fraught with heartache and peril and pain and emptiness that don't make for good aesthetics in the home decor department. The things that matter most to us are frequently the things that we find we can't put into words adequately. Certainly not words that are purchased at Target and hung in the hallway where we stash our muddy boots. 

It's important to dream and to create and to live, laugh, love. If you need a poster or a painted pallet board (chalkboard paint!) to remind you, knock yourself out. But I wonder sometimes if all this decorative verbiage defeats its own purpose. If I copy someone else's project that has been pinned a thousand times by all my friends, how much "creating" am I doing? How much thinking am I even doing? All the photoshopped signs and greeting cards and T-shirts and up-cycled Dollar Store plates tell me: "Just Be You." How "me" can I be if I'm just jumping another bandwagon - even if it is a nice, happy feel-good one? Will I forget that the tangible materials that were used to build my house don't really make it a home if I take down that wretched sign and give it to Goodwill?

It's possible I've thought about this too much. But it seems to me that by commercializing certain concepts and mass-marketing them, it takes the power away from the words themselves and gives it back to some more unpleasant things that we'd rather not advertise about ourselves. No one wants a decal that says "Crowd Follower" over their sofa. How about "Consumption Born of Insecurity"? Or, more directly: "Please like me."

Lest you think me a complete curmudgeon, I came across these quotes that I may paint and hang as inspiration in my writing space:

Do not compare yourself to others. If you do so, you are only insulting yourself.

That's good, right? How about this one?

If you want to shine like the sun, first you have to burn like it.

Inspirational, no? This one, too:

And I can fight only for something that I love, love only what I respect, 
and respect only what I at least know.

All good words to live by in their own ways, don't you think? Like a good writer, I'll remember to include the attribution when I paint them and hang them in my house:
Adolf Hitler.


  1. Oh, TL, what a grump! just kidding :) I personally like some of the things you describe as things you despise ! That's what makes life so interesting! Hey, I think I'll go paint that on a piece of wood and hang it . . . somewhere :)

    1. Judy, you're always such a good sport! "Despise" is kind of a strong word. More like "think twice about" or "don't completely understand the appeal of".

  2. I love words emblazoned on clothes, but only when they run to snark. I like to laugh and, apparently I find nothing funnier than jokes only a few people get. If I were to decorate my house this way, I think it would strike most people as very inhospitable. I had a skull and crossbones doormat for a while. Perhaps several touching quotes by Hitler would not go amiss somewhere in the neighborhood of the December menorah...All this is to say: Yes. And this is why I like you and don't like Pinterest anymore. 'Nuf said.

    1. Speaking of jokes not many people think are funny... Ha! I double dog dare you to decorate with the Hitler quotes.

    2. Not likely. I'm already unspeakably offended by my own joke—which is normal for me.

    3. Oh, I completely relate, as you know. I don't publish humorous pieces very often because my sense of humor is both demented AND offensive most times. You gave me a great big guilty belly laugh.

  3. Oh my god, this is so good. I'm with you (as I take a mental inventory to be sure I am truly with you)...I am! I think your husband's idea for the front one is a good one, though. In Latin, it becomes decorative again without meaning except for your own inside joke. Unless it becomes an annoying conversation piece every time someone comes to your door. I'd just say "we don't know what that says". :)

    I appreciate your passion on the subject. Good stuff!

    1. Hello Tiffanie! Great to have your back-up on this, since you have impeccable taste.

      We may end up with the Dante quote after all. :)

  4. Every time I see "Keep Calm and Carry On" all I hear is "Lie Back and Think of England". I would like that stitched onto a sampler and hung maybe in my bathroom. Somewhere surprising. I think the word things are super cheesy, like when I was 14 and collected those rocks that had words chiseled out of them. "Dream" and "Inspire" and "Create". I want one that says "Fuck Off". Have you seen those sarcastic samplers? Somebody cross-stitches Kanye West tweets onto them and I think they're brilliant. I love pinterest but I don't pin or follow boards with crafts, DIY, or that scourge of humanity, thinspiration. Anyway. Take down the sign.

    1. I have seen the sarcastic samplers. I had this whole riff about how in the olden days you had to know how to embroider to decorate with words and now all you need is a Sharpie...
      I am an ardent DIY-er and crafter after a fashion and find Pinterest a valuable tool in these endeavors, but I am also cranky about it.
      The sign is coming down. It will involve stripping and repainting the whole door - that sucker is firmly attached! - so we are waiting until the weather is nice enough to go without a front door for a day or two. I can send you the sign when we get it off if you'd like.

  5. I'm off to paint a sign that says, "Please like me." Maybe a t-shirt too!!

    1. Are you sure you wouldn't rather have one with a nice Hitler quote on it? ;)

  6. I love me a good rant--and this is definitely that. And I agree with you on so very many points. As for the question of overthinking the subject, as I always say, "Why just think when you can overthink?"

    (You know what else I always say about overthinking? But usually only in my head so as not to ruin my reputation as a decent human being? "It seems to me there's a heckuva lot of underthinking to be made up for.")

  7. As long as jBird doesn't have "sweet girl" or "hot chick" or "babe" in fuzzy letters across the seat of her sweatpants, I'm good. You, however, can have whatever you want on your seat. I still think it's stupid, but you're a grown up. :)


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