Bi-weekly chatter about how looking closely at some of the most common expressions in everyday life can prompt new ways of thinking about our writing.
I’m at Home Depot trying to yank my receipt out from the receptacle on the self-service register. It’s stuck. The employee assigned to this check-out section comes out from behind her lookout post in front of the exit doors and approaches me. “Sorry,” I say, and remember that I promised myself I would work hard on not saying Sorry so much, particularly when the thing I’m apologizing for is not even close to being my fault. (Like a malfunctioning cash register.) The attendant who has Demi Lovato’s face and a head of shaggy blue hair uses a special key to open the assembly that holds the roll of receipts. “No worries!” she says in a louder-than-necessary-but-somehow-still-charming tone. And then she smiles. I return one back. I watch her take the paper roll out, clear the jam, replace the cover and press the Print Receipt button again. As she hands me my new crisp receipt my eyes catch her nametag. Delia. A name I’ve always loved and one, I decide, fits her perfectly.
I say thanks and walk out the door with my Gorilla Glue and pack of nails. (I’m giving the Little Free Library in our front yard an updated look this summer but that’s another column.)
Then I think: Thanks for the reminder, Delia, and for the smile, too.
Then I think a little more: When did everyone start telling me not to worry by using the expression, No worries?
No worries lands differently than Don’t worry. I’m not sure why but I have a few ideas based solely on sound. The latter has a heavier, and slightly dated vibration, the former emits a softer, flowy feel. And here we have a scribe-centric digression: It’s worth thinking about the words we choose—the diction—and how that helps to flavor the tone of a piece or convey aspects of a character or narrator’s voice. And words, oh words! By caring about diction, we consider how to treat, combine, honor and play with these little gems (though on bad days they might not always shine bright) we string together. Edwidge Danticat uses a beautiful metaphor to remind us of this: “When you write, it’s like braiding your hair. Taking a handful of coarse unruly strands and attempting to bring them unity.”
So, when you are stuck on a page, no worries (ha!) here’s an exercise:
Create two lists: My Loved Words and Words that Irritate Me. Then add some notes after each word, scribbles that serve as ways you (and only you) might understand the connotations and origins of why the words are on the list. This could be based on memories, associations or sensory cues. There are reasons you love or don’t love words and sometimes those reasons are stories all their own.
By the way, in thinking about adoration of words and how I started this piece, I wonder: Why do I love the name Delia? And I realize this, I know why! The sound comforts me (just something about its flow, the l in the middle and ending with an a) and if the name were a color, it would be a rich iridescent teal.
Back to Home Depot (with a quick layover in Australia)
Thanks to taking a deep dive into the origin story of this two-word phrase I now know that No worries! was probably born in Australia. Meghan Jones, in her 2022 article, “Where Does the Phrase ‘No Worries’ Come From?” offers this:
“It’s originally an Australian expression (the “you’re welcome” meaning in particular). First recorded in the 1960s, the expression gained popularity in Australia’s neighbor, New Zealand, and in Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia, too.”
So, despite gotten its start down under, it’s very safe to say the expression is now up and over. No worries! can be heard everywhere, from dinner tables to coffee shops to hardware stores. Everyone seems hell bent on reminding us to not have a care. To not sweat it (whatever “it” may entail for you.) And that closely related charmer: to “chillax.”
But what happens when the pie we are all told to cut with care—you know the one that’s supposed to correspond with life, the one with slices representing work, family, self-care, sleep, exercise, creativity, mealtime, leisure—is left out in the sun too long? Or when the slices are very uneven and when things are off. Or when there are no slices and you don’t even know where to start?
Worry usually happens, that’s what.
Delia probably understood what we all understand. Worry is human and to have none is just not realistic. But we can dilute them a bit by writing them down, by assigning words and meaning to what keeps us up at night or distracted during the day.
Studies show that writing can ease spiraling worries and help ground us in the now. I know this to be true. I also know the rage I’ve felt when, during a full-on worry festival jamming in my head, someone looked at me and said, “Have you tried journaling?” So, I get it.
It can work!
Here are some suggestions:
- Write in list form. I know I have conveyed this before in other columns and here I go again: forget complete sentences, grammar and structure. Just write a list.
- Categorize the worries. You know when you injure yourself and you’re sitting in the ER and the nurse comes in and asks, “On a scale of 1-10, what is your pain level?” Try that with your worries.
- Write what you are not worried about and see where that takes you.
- Write a scene where you or a character has not a worry in the world. Pay attention to the senses and try to pull in all five.
If these suggestions don’t work, I do have one more. Turn to a blank page and fall into a fantasy even if only for ten worry-free minutes. (Define fantasy in the way that is most comfortable for you.) The prompt: A world without worry. The requirement: The story must take place in a Home Depot.