Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Words & Walks

Could it be true that it is speech that develops the brain? I’m going to take a walk and think about it!
by Charlie Leck

I’ve been bringing myself down a peg or two lately by reading (rereading, really) Brenda Ueland. My, she was quite a broad. She was bright and creative and humorous. And, Lordsy, could she write. I’m trying to learn a thing or two from her.

One time a quite good friend of hers wrote to her and complained about her constant use of words that “ordinary” folk didn’t understand.

“We could easily race you around Lake Harriet and win,” wrote Agapetus, “but when it comes to language’s foggy labyrinth, we are regular Mutts and Jeffs.”

Ueland replied to her friend:

“No, Agapetus, you must look up the words, write them down and the derivation and then use them every day until they are a part of you. Now new and perfect words are a wonderful thing. They need not be long (I don’t like them long) but apropos. And you see the secret of being interesting is to be continually shocking the reader as he goes along with tiny shocks of surprise. When you are interested in talk, or in something written, there is a pull-along every second. You wait for each word, each phrase – because of the tiny shock of surprise in it – gratefully and eagerly as it comes.”

Further along in the essay, Ueland says, “…and the theory is that it is speech that develops the brain, and not the other way around.”

I image, at this point, Agapetus is shaking her head and conceding that Ueland is correct.

“The more words you know, the better, the more delicately, opulently you can think. Shakespeare, I was once told, used 39,000 words.”

One day I was reading through Ueland’s essays and I came upon this one, On Walking, which shocked me awake and brought a big smile to my face. I particularly include this excerpt for my lovely wife, known in her pre-marriage days as Anne Wakefield:

“The lake is turbulent and grey and cold. The sun at the horizon lights up the dun world with shafts of living gold light. And just crossing the bridge between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun I overtake Mr. Lyman Wakefield. He says he is walking from his house in Lynnhurst to the Minikhada Club. He says he agrees with me: It is much better to walk alone. Then is when you get recharged and it does wonders for you.”

That gentleman, I strongly suspect, was my wife’s grandfather, Lyman E. Wakefield, Sr.. It may have been her father, but, more likely, it was her grandfather, who lived in a lovely home in the Lynnhurst neighborhood and was a member of the Minikhada Club. A walk to the club would have brought him along the eastern shore of Lake Harriett, to where the old bandstand stood, and then up across the bridge to Lake Calhoun and along its western shore to the entrance of the club. For 7 or 8 months of the year it is a glorious walk.

I expect I’ve walked around Lake Harriett a year’s worth of times. They were glorious walks, even on very cold December nights. I gave thoughts to important agendas on those walks and calmed my mind. And, Mr. Wakefield was correct; for those walks did recharge me. I took one of them on the night I met my wife for the first time. We were both dinner guests at a home not more than 5 blocks from the home her grandfather built. I was quite taken by her that evening – as a matter of fact, I fell head over heels for her – and went walking around the lake to think about her. It was autumn and it was chilly; however, I felt only an extraordinary warmth burning inside me in a mellow way. On the peaceful stroll, I built up the courage and determination to call her within the next several days and that made all the difference.

I like Ueland’s rules about walking. She says there aren’t any. Establish your own pace. Just walk. Walk alone and allow your mind to establish its docket of thoughts. And, Anne’s grandfather was correct as well; for it does recharge you. I’m going to follow Ueland’s rules and start walking again; though I may take my dog along with me. He won’t be a bother. For old time’s sake, I’ll drive into Minneapolis on the first nice day and take a walk around Lake Harriett, to think about how lucky I’ve been.

Brenda Ueland: Strength to Your Sword Arm [Holy Cow Press, Duluth, Minnesota, 1993]

You can read about the Wakefield House, built by Anne's grandfather, on the City of Minneapolis web site/Wakefield House:


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1 comment:

  1. Rich McConnel (South Carolina) emailed me the following comment: "For what it’s worth, IMHO, this is one of your very best blogs. My experience is admittedly a little limited, in that I’ve only been a daily reader since we reconnected after too many years."