In which Carrie muses on structures, speech acts, gratitude, surprises and the relative ease of language to shape-shift worldviews…
“You tell me it matters, what they all say. I have listened and long ago I stopped. Just tell me it matters and I will listen to you and I will want to be convinced. You tell me that what is said is making a difference that those words are worthwhile words and mean something.”-Dave Eggers
A child, at the beginning of his life, learns language out of necessity. He identifies the color red. Sometimes he mistakes “red” for another color while grappling for all of the color words in his burgeoning vocabulary and is corrected, “No, sweetie. That is not chartreuse…” until it has formed a solid synaptic connection and he can move on to bigger and better words. He is learning categories, standards, fundamentals and this will shape his life forever. The words let him manage and manipulate the world where he lives.
“Be careful what you say.”
I’ve begun to take for granted the pair of White-headed woodpeckers on the property. Our birdbrain friend flipped out when he saw one for the first time here. Now I find myself yelling at them in a friendly way when they peck at the wood beams of the house. It is for their own protection that I warn them away. I smile when I remember how surprised I was when I saw one for the first time this winter, hanging from the trapedic suet feeder being pushed and pulled from the force of her enthusiasm for the insect-supplemented, cowfatty foodstuffs. Now I see the pair all of the time, flitting from tree to tree, seemingly unconcerned by winter’s approach though I assume they prepare for it. In my taking-them-for-granted mindset, I know what they are and that I personally think they are cute but not quite as special as my favorite woodpecker.
“This just makes me laugh,” is a speech act with illocutionary force which I put under the category of exclaiming in humor.
John L. Austen is credited for his work in philosophy and linguistics revolving around the theory of speech acts, or ways in which our utterances have meaning, truth conditions, illocutionary points and force beyond breath. I was an applied linguistics major for a while and this kind of stuff gets me going on a scholarly day. When I consider Austen’s book Sense and Sensibilia, I wonder exactly what kind of entitled utterance this might be categorized as besides mischievous.
Usually before the afternoon I expect a “gratitude” text message from a friend or expect myself to name one or more things I am grateful for today. Yesterday caused me some pause when I mused on the purpose of this. Certainly, we must have some agreement about the act as facilitating appreciation, publicly, for things we think are pretty cool about life. And the commitment to do it holds some unnamed force as well. Probably we both genuinely enjoy what the other comes up with as we consider, momentarily, what an other has in mind.
Yesterday I was driving back home from Portland on a mountain pass and stopped in a small town for coffee. While I was exiting the cafe with my drink, I was met with the awareness of a particular framework I have, which was briefly stimulated by a surprising sensory experience. When I got back in my car I texted my friend: “I’m grateful for windchimes which play the Imperial March (Darth Vader’s song).” Really, I had only heard a couple of bars of it, windchimed, but it was an instant impression and unmistakably like this riveting orchestration.
And I am glad I noted it publicly to someone who would find something fun about that, because minutes later I continued along on the mountain highway and my brain alerted me to danger. I slowed and observed what appeared to be a coyote in the shadows. Except while I watched it a little longer, safely behind the wheel of my car, I saw its long tail, and then, when the sunlight hit its full body, the red fur.
I suspect the Red fox’s clever nature kept it from getting hit that afternoon, but I was grateful that I didn’t run into it and that I didn’t see it dead on the road. The surprise which comes from a wildlife sighting like this is possible, in part, because of our capacity for language. I wonder how much force it really has without our knowing it.