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Pins And Needles: Outgrowing My Cliches

There's no scarcity of words, says Gloria MacKay. "New words peck at us and old ones morph so drastically it's as though we've never heard them before. ‘Peeps’ for instance, is a slangy new noun for 'friends' as in "Open Writing' readers and writers are my kind of peeps.''

Gloria, who possesses the great gift of being able to arrange words in such a way as to make you want to read more and more of them, broadcasts regularly from a radio station in Everett, Washington State, USA http://www.kser.org/

I collect words — a worthy hobby for a woman like me, with neither room nor inclination for stuff (dolls, antiques, silver spoons and the like) and a reticence to hang my passions on the wall.

From babies, who cock their heads and answer 'bye' with insouciance beyond their years to adults with more words than they have time to speak, there is no scarcity of words. New words peck at us and old ones morph so drastically it's as though we've never heard them before. ‘Peeps’ for instance, is a slangy new noun for 'friends' as in 'Open Writing' readers and writers are my kind of peeps.'

What sets apart a collector of words from a gatherer is not the size of the vocabulary but the love of the sounds. My computer greets me with a new word each day. Occasionally, I throw one in the trash as I would a cracked tea cup or a musty paperback, but most words pile on my hard drive like fallen leaves. When I worry they will clog my machine I burn them into a CD and set them aside, the way a collector manages stamps.

I like words most when they string together like beads. I don't let on to my writing friends, but what I really savor are the comforting sounds of clichés. Not the mundane: Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream or a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush or too many cooks... Not that kind.

I tend to mark different chapters in my life with pithy little thoughts, fresh and new, like color coded stickers in a notebook. I turn them over in my mind so often they become, I must admit, trite. This is what I collect, my own personal clichés, reminders that I did the best I could with what I knew at the time.

I have only four, and I am not looking for more. My first has a Shakespearean ring, perhaps a Biblical tone. I can almost hear the phrase in the mutterings of Hamlet, except these must have been the words of a woman.

What is hard to endure is sweet to recall.

When I came upon this I scoffed, but it stayed in my head, like a book waiting to be read. I didn't get it because I was so caught up raising a family of my own I could not relate to the ways of the family I came from. There was the year I cooked my first turkey and my dad insisted he stick his old accordion pleated camera batteries in my oven to charge them. There was the Christmas he had that same camera turned backwards and took a flash of his nose. My mother laughed so hard she fell over and flattened the tree. And the baby was chewing on tinsel. I never would have believed it, but these became sweet memories.

As years passed a new saying doubled my collection.The best revenge is a good life.

This advice so heartened me I shared it with my children in the guise of motherly wisdom. 'What is a good life, anyway?' snorted one son, in the throes of adolescent pain.

'You’ll know it when you see it,' I replied. The moment I said it I knew I sounded smug, but what is a mother to say when she wants to help but she can’t? As years passed I had more time to ponder; I determined there is no such thing as good or better revenge, much less a best. Furthermore, my son had a point. What is a good life, anyway?

I added a third soon-to-be a cliché to my collection. The French said C'est la vie. Sinatra said That's Life. What I said, to anyone who would listen, was "Loving your bargain doesn’t make it painless to pay the bill.''

I knew this, but I didn’t know that I knew until I found these words, like a prize in a box of Cracker Jack, in Sabbatical, a novel by John Barth. No hint of angry little ego or mawkish retrospection here. A statement of fact, tucked in my head like well-wrapped coins. I intended these words to last the rest of my life, and hand them down when the time was right.

One good thing about being a collector of words, there is always room for one more (as we lover's of the cliché like to say). I had been sounding a bit whiny (a 'why me' affliction, common to aging women) until I wandered into a fresh string of words, as likely but unforeseen as a four-leafed clover in the grass.

It is almost too bumper sticker cute, but it has a piquancy like the observations of Woody Allen. Woody's the one who remarked, I am not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens. This is not in my collection only because it is too long to become a cliché.

My newest addition, the one on the tip of my brain these days, is "Wherever you go, there you are.''

Like Woody's reflection, it is not a good way to start a conversation. Better as a fall back when you don't know what to say. Folks usually respond with a meaningful nod or a terse but gentle 'Yep' of understanding. Wherever you go, there you are. Thinking of it makes me smile, but I love to say it out loud.


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