Words on the Street, Revisited #23: Same

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.

Same. A four-letter word that packs a small, medium or large punch, depending on the situation.

What kind of situation? Here are some examples, in order of size:

I’m going to get the vanilla shake.


That lit journal rejected me, again.


My rent is going up, my salary isn’t and I’m screwed.



We didn’t always have this tiny, little reply that apparently said all that needed to be said. There was a time when we might have used two, three or five words to mean the same thing: Me too. I get it. I know how you feel.

I spent way too long trying to figure out when this trend began. Did you know there are ninety-two synonyms and antonyms for the word? This led me down a few rabbit holes, ones on language trends, slang terms and street colloquialisms. It all seemed on point given the name of this column. And then down another rabbit hole about the words rabbit hole. (Hint: Lewis Carroll’s Alice makes an appearance.) In The Rabbit-Hole Rabbit Hole Kathryn Schulz offers:

“In the original tale, as you’ll recall, Alice is lazing in the grass on a warm summer day when she spots a white rabbit hurrying past, wearing a waistcoat and consulting his pocket watch. She jumps up, follows him to his hole, tumbles down it, and winds up in an unfamiliar world of talking caterpillars and narcoleptic dormice and disappearing cats: Wonderland, in all its weirdness. In its most purely Carrollian sense, then, to fall down a rabbit hole means to stumble into a bizarre and disorienting alternate reality.

These days, however, when we say that we fell down the rabbit hole, we seldom mean that we wound up somewhere psychedelically strange. We mean that we got interested in something to the point of distraction—usually by accident, and usually to a degree that the subject in question might not seem to merit.”

But then I climbed out of the wild ride of distraction, the “weirdness” of words and any reacquaintances with Alice and friends. I rolled back to my original curiosity: As writers, why does Same. matter?


No surprise that I turned to Anne Lamott, to get us started: “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation.”

In other words, when the literary and cosmic planets align and we connect with the words we choose on the page and readers who choose our pages, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll feel less alone. There’s a pretty good chance we’ll make deeper connections with language. And there’s a pretty good chance the lessening loneliness and artful language will create storytelling that has the potential to shift time, space and emotion.

And then there’s Maya Angelou’s reminder about sameness: “Each one of us has lived through some devastation, some loneliness, some weather superstorm or spiritual superstorm, when we look at each other we must say, I understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself. We must support each other and empathize with each other because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.”

Despite being a solitary act, writing can and does create connection. Finding circles of support (writing groups, classes, sharing tables) helps with this and allows for what Angelou celebrates: the act of saying, “I understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself.”



Thanks to one of my favorite writers, Abigail Thomas, I now have yet another Bruce Springsteen quote to tape to my desk.

Did I mention at the time of writing this I’m about twenty-four hours away from dancing in the dark in the same room with him? (Ha! The perks of being a writer and no, it has nothing to do with getting free tickets. I play with words, which means this: if I dial it right on the page, a room can be a spot that holds 19,000 people in downtown Brooklyn.)

But back to Abigail Thomas, here’s a little something from “Getting Started”:

“There is a wonderful interview with Bruce Springsteen that the BBC recorded and a friend sent me part of the transcript. He is talking about song writing, but he’s talking about all writing. I’m going to end with part of it:

‘First of all, everybody has a memory when you were eleven years old and you were walking down a particular street on a certain day, and the trees—there was a certain wind blowing through the trees and the way that the sound of your feet made on the stones as you came up the drive and the way the light hit a particular house. Everyone has memories they carry with them for no reason and these things live within you—you had some moment of pure experience that revealed to you what it meant to be alive, what it means to be alive, what the stakes are, the wind on a given day, how important it is, or what you can do with your life. That’s the writer’s job…to present that experience to an audience who then experience their own inner vitality, their own center, their own questions about their own life and their moral life…and there’s a connection made. That’s what keeps you writing, that’s what keeps you wanting to write that next song, because you can do that, and because if I do it for you, I do it for me.”


I don’t think the word magic is an overstatement when thinking about the power of writing. The sensation that comes from knowing that, as writers, we can enter a sacred space, a personal writing zone, and can emerge with material that may make another person feel like they belong. Like they are less alone. Like, if “I do it for you, I do it for me.” (Sounds like a Springsteen concert. Just saying.)

Last week in my undergraduate class, I saw and heard this “for you, for me” response live and in-person. Two students read flash memoir pieces, each touching on heavy, family issues that others in the class had experienced. In addition to being well written, which the students highlighted with specificity in both their verbal and written critiques, many also noted that they were pulled into the work because the story—or a variation of it– was one they lived too.


I think the word magic is just right. Alice would probably agree.

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