After a long hiatus, during which I spent almost a month at the cottage, relocated to Asia, and returned to Cambodia for the first time in two years (see my Instagram feed for the highlights of all these events), I’m back working and blogging.
Relaxing, traveling, and being in a new place has given new appetite for writing, and a fresh appreciation of the role words play in our lives and society.
RELATED: Want to write better? Go travelling.
The importance of words is all around us, all the time. Look at the fervour surrounding what Trump did and didn’t say after Charlottesville, or the debates about “alt-right” versus “neo-Nazis.”
I've been reading a lot in the past few months. Here are some of the things that have stuck with me about the political and personal importance of words.
The politics of the English language
Can liberals and conservatives speak the same language?
Many of my clients are strictly non-partisan, and I am conscious of the delicate balancing act of writing in an apolitical way. So many words betray a particular worldview—consider, for instance, the different value judgements behind the words “taxpayer” and “citizen.”
Then there are words that have entirely different connotations to people on opposite sides of the political spectrum, such as “immigrant” or “jobs.”
Given how differently liberals and conservatives think and speak, “… how do you find common ground when people from different sides of the aisle are trying to communicate?” asks this article in Co.Design, as it introduces the Partisan Thesaurus.
It’s an interesting tool to see what each side associates with different words. I keyed in “love” and here’s what it showed:
Note that the thesaurus was developed for the American political context, so may not be as accurate or helpful for other countries. Still, if you’re trying to communicate an idea to someone of a different political persuasion, it may be a useful tool.
An etymology of all the words you use to describe American politics (except the swears)
Every week (every day?) there’s a new story from the White House that makes the horde of political commentators rush to their computers to write about what happened and what it means.
Yet for all the words that have been used to describe our current political reality, we don’t have one that describes the Trump White House, argues Scott Gilmore in Maclean’s.
Gilmore describes the etymology of words like “chaos” and “bedlam.” In this article, I learned one of the (shamefully) few Malay words I know; evidently, “amok” is a Malay word which means “the act of going berserk in a homicidal frenzy.”
Read a book today
Spending more scrolling through Twitter and feeling your blood pressure rise? You’re not the only one. Our attention is being hijacked by American politics, and fiction sales have slumped.
“In a world where reality has become stranger than fiction, actual books are no longer selling,” writes Morgan Jerkins in the New Republic. A notable exception is dystopian fiction—1984 and A Handmaid’s Tale are more popular than ever.
If you can, set down your phone and pick up a book; the important news will still get to you, and you’ll feel much better reading something. Aziz Ansari does.
The elements of (life)style
Cheaper than therapy, healthier than alcohol
International moves are stressful, and there have been times bingeing on Netflix shows available in Malaysia but not in North America (a perk of life in Asia) has seemed preferable to just about anything else.
We all know there are about a gazillion healthier ways of relieving stress, like exercise, hanging out with friends, or meditation. But journaling should also be added to that list, according to NYMag. Based on 40 years of research on the connection between writing and processing difficult emotions, “… people who wrote about emotionally charged episodes experienced marked improvement in their physical and mental well-being. They were happier, less depressed and less anxious.”
I know I’m not the only one who has found 2017 to be an unusually stressful year (see: everything I wrote above about politics). Consider if you can spare 20 minutes a day writing for your mental health.
When words get in the way
On the flip side, I’ve been reflecting on acknowledging and embracing an absence of words, too. I’ve come to see the practices of solitude and silence every bit worth cultivating as a rich social life.
I have a soft spot for an article written by someone who admits that, 20 pages into a book, he “…found myself scrawling, ‘Kill everyone!’ in the margins.” Yet Paul Kingsnorth’s book review on a Michael Harris book for The New Statesman offers more than amusing anecdotes—it also offers wisdom.
“Alone, we have more chance to be thoughtful, to see differently, to enter a place where we feel free from the mob to moderate our unique experience of the world,” he writes.
Kingsnorth acknowledges the difficulty of finding that solitude, but will convince you it’s worth trying.
TL;DR version—read these articles:
- This Thesaurus Translates Between Liberals And Conservatives: Co.Design
- The Partisan Thesaurus
- We do not have a word to describe the Trump White House: Maclean’s
- Is Trump Ruining Book Sales?: New Republic
- Aziz Ansari on Quitting the Internet, Loneliness, and Season 3 of Master of None: GQ
- You Can Write Your Way Out of an Emotional Funk. Here’s How.: NYMag
- The end of solitude: in a hyperconnected world, are we losing the art of being alone?: New Statesman