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.
My current go-to these days when I sign off in an email is Take good care. It started with Take care which felt warm, a little old-fashioned (in the right not wrong ways) and nurturing but then I added the word good which probably happened sometime in the past 28 months or so. Did I think adding an adjective like this one to my email sign-off could really help lessen the impact of the hell-on-wheels nature of things lately? No idea. But it softened something at the time.
Before that I rotated through the range:
Thanks (even when thanks were not needed or fitting.)
I think when I first started emailing (Was that the mid-1990s?) I may have even used Sincerely. Awkward.
What a long, strange trip it’s been. If digging in more on this topic is something you think you might, well, dig…check out this article by Regina Borsellino in The Muse. (Who knew there were so many options?)
But back to now. Take good care. I like saying it, writing it and trying to embody it on blank pages when I am attempting to craft a scene, make a sentence or articulate an idea.
Take. The word suggests action, command, control. These can be good things for us writers, especially when our process is loose and all over the place. Taking an idea for a piece and putting it down onto a page or even a transferring a line that pops into our brains from our heads to a notebook means we are paying attention to it. It means we’re giving it a place to root, grow, shift and change which it probably will do a bunch of times as we keep writing. But the taking matters and gets us going.
Good. I do realize how loaded of a word this is. Who remembers these doozies? Be good! Good girl! Have a good day! For our purposes, what I mean is good as in goodness, comfort and acceptance. An example, when I take ideas and toss them onto the page some may really be lacking (very nice way of putting it) some may not make sense and some may be downright hard to comprehend. But nonsensical mishmash on a page is better than nonsensical mishmash that hasn’t been let out of our heads yet. I turn to John McPhee and “Draft No. 4” in The New Yorker (April 29, 2013): “Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something — anything — as a first draft…Until it exists, writing has not really begun.”
Be good to yourself and give your ideas a chance. Fling your mud without judgement, at first. There will be lots of time for cleanup.
Care. I’ve always loved this word. I think I even included it on my “loved word list” which was an assignment Nick Flynn gave to our class in grad school at Sarah Lawrence. Other selections on the list are dirty, magic, sea, mama and melody. But that’s another column.
One of the things I love to say to students and writer friends who ask me to read their work goes something like this: “When I read your piece, I feel like I am in good hands. Like the writer cares and takes good care with each word.” I sometimes hear myself proclaim that plants, pets, and people in my life need tender loving care or TLC. (Again, back to these hell-on-wheels times and my current thesis statement: we all need a little TLC.) Our drafts and our words do, too. Paying attention to the care we give and receive as readers of our own work and that of others is worth the time and energy.
Because it only feels natural, let’s come around with an excerpt from Naomi Shihab Nye, a poet who writes about caring for people, the land, our histories, and even for words.
From the poem “To Manage”:
“Arrange words on a page
Let them find one another
Trust they might know something.”
Trust. Maybe I’ll use that to close my next email. But for now, Take good care.