proust for thought: clichés
We listened to Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life book tape on our trip to Eastern Washington. We actually started it over again from the beginning on the way back to the Coast because it had so many wonderful insights. Every so often, I want to share some of those thoughts and words and reflect a bit on them.
One of the ideas that has really stuck with me is the use of clichés, and how to use them at the right time, or better, how to avoid them. De Botton goes on to say:
The problem with clichés is not that they contain false ideas, but rather that they are superficial articulations of very good ones. The sun is often on fire at sunset and the moon discreet, but if we keep saying this every time we encounter a sun or a moon, we will end up believing that this is the last rather than the first word to be said on the subject.
Clichés are detrimental in so far as they inspire us to believe that they adequately describe a situation while merely grazing its surface. And if this matters, it is because the way we speak is ultimately linked to the way we feel, because how we describe the world must at some level reflect how we first experience it.
And since hearing this statement, I have been über aware at how I put my experiences into words when describing something in detail. As we entered Walla Walla during the setting sun, I excitedly described the sky as “on fire”…which is the exact cliché that Botton uses as an example (which we soon heard on our book tape. It was so timely that I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide.) But we laughed about my sun comment and it made us consider all of the clichés we use everyday and how we can work on replacing those expressions with more personal imagery.
To think about what it is you are truly experiencing and how you can describe it in your own, unique context allows for so much opportunity in conveying personal expression and detail! It allows for sparked thought, new perspectives and possibly a cue to delve deeper into the subject.
So, Sylvan and I decided to take on this challenge in experiencing our surroundings through our own thoughts and visual cues. It has been rewarding to take the time to stop and relish the experience and describe it to one another; to treat our words and ideas as beginning thoughts rather the last thought on the subject.
When we were at Whitman Mission near Walla Walla, we stopped in front of a large field of golden wildrye (or maybe it was wheatgrass). The image could have easily been presented as a “sea of gold”, agreed upon, and the conversation would have quickly moved on. Rather than conveniently use the cliché and end the conversation short, I asked Sylvan to describe to me what he felt when he looked at the textures and colors of the field in front of us.
What followed was the most beautiful imagery, far greater than any “sea of golden waves” expression that might have initially come to mind. I cannot recall how much detail he offered and where his description stops and mine begins. I have since mingled his words with my own imagery, which sprang from his detail and description. It is amazing how much new thought and perspective can be tapped into, carried along, and continue to grow and evolve in your mind.
The point is, it continues to be powerful in my mind, and grows in interpretation and acute detail as time passes. So it goes:
Dust floats lightly throughout an attic space, yet only comes to light when the sun peeks through a small web-covered window. A hardcover book rests on a wooden table, untouched for years. Between the covers the crisp, delicate pages have taken on a yellow hue, from sunny days and cool nights. Drafty rafters allow the wind to dance through the space in the evening. The center pages rustle ever so lightly, stirring the others that rest along the binding.
And that is what we discovered from the colors, textures, and movement of the wildrye swaying ever-so-lightly in the sun-covered field. It may include common imagery but it was all placed in such a unique light and rendered new feelings and experiences that have continued on.
I would love more than anything to hear about your own magic moments and experiences — something you may have been able to delve deeper into, no matter how simple or complex. Whether it be hearing the rain hit the rooftop, watching your fingers as they tap at the keys, or seeing fire at sunset. If you haven’t already, consider passing up the common cliché and open up to your own, strange and imaginative descriptions. And please share! 😀