Caring for Words, XII: Risk Your Heart

Write and read with your whole heart. Embrace mystery. Shun mystification, which is to mystery what sentimentality is to honest feeling. Treasure words that prove difficult to pin down but impossible to live without. Go out on limbs. Be willing to fall. Get up again. Even in moments of great bitterness, remember your deepest affections, beautiful and broken. Attend to your words as if someone’s life depends on it, because it does.

“The great reassurance of Forster’s novel (Howards End) is the wholeheartedness of his language. It is to begin with a language not disturbed by mystery, by things unseen. But Forster’s interest throughout is in soul-sustaining habitations: houses, households, earthly places where lives can be made and loved. In defense of such dwellings he uses, without irony or apology, the vocabulary that I have depended on in this talk: truth, nature, imagination, affection, love, hope, beauty, joy. Those words are hard to keep still within definitions; they make the dictionary hum like a beehive. But in such words, in their resonance within their histories and in their associations with one another, we find our indispensable humanity, without which we are lost and in danger.”

  • -Wendell Berry, It All Turns on Affection
  • “Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them. Coming from where I come from, with the history I have—having spent the first twelve years of my life under both dictatorships of Papa Doc and his son, Jean- Claude—this is what I’ve always seen as the unifying principle among all writers. This is what, among other things, might join Albert Camus and Sophocles to Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Osip Mandelstam, and Ralph Waldo Emerson to Ralph Waldo Ellison. Somewhere, if not now, then maybe years in the future, a future that we may have yet to dream of, someone may risk his or her life to read us. Somewhere, if not now, then maybe years in the future, we may also save someone’s life, because they have given us a passport, making us honorary citizens of their culture.”

  • -Edwidge Danticat, “Create Dangerously”
  • Image: Edwidge Danticat

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