It never ceases to amaze me how a writer’s use of words or clever phrasing can make me sit up and take notice of even the dullest subjects. I recently came across an article in AARP magazine about Alzheimer’s (“Speak, Memory”, Tim Kreider, Feb/March issue of AARP magazine) that riveted my attention all through the three pages of the essay about dealing with this disease. As we all know, the topic has been written to death. From every possible angle we’ve heard the stories, mostly heart tugging, or from the health professionals, the dry and boring facts. We know there is no cure and we know that taking care of a relative with it is an emotionally draining situation. But it’s Kreider’s use of the English language to describe the hell his friend is going through and the happiness, yes, “life is good”, that the friend’s mother with Alzheimer’s feels, is what makes this a great piece of writing.
Granted, I neither have nor know anyone who has Alzheimer’s so I’m not on the “front lines” so to speak. I could read the piece from a detached perspective. Kreider intermingles musings about his own memory problems with his account of his friend’s caregiver trials and tribulations (being so close to the problem, Kreider own natural memory lapses start to send up red flags that perhaps he, too, is going down that road). I loved this one that he wrote: “…that I’d kept a journal, as if that would have saved the days from evaporating like alcohol wicking off the skin.”
He also quotes his friend’s clever use of a simile: “…says Zach, ‘in which case, memory is pretty much dryer lint.’.”
However, it’s his own musings on this insidious disease and how it changes our view of existence that grabbed my attention. Here are a few of what I consider the best use of language to describe an intractable situation:
“…not all the sadistic genius of the Inquition or the Gestapo could have devised a subtler, more exquisite torture than to strip people of their memories, ransack the jewels and heirlooms of the mind and scatter them underfoot, giving victims just enough sporadic reprieves of lucidity to be able to understand what is being done to them.”
“It would be nice to believe that somewhere in the holocaust of memory will be the ashes of those moments so vivid and pungent that they continue to have the power to thrill us or turn our stomachs, ashes that seem not past but present…”
“…booster rockets corkscrewing into a deep blue sky in the blind trajectories of madness; the universe of a human brain blasted into mist.”
If you want your writing to explode off the page, take a page from Kreider’s playbook and chose words that paint a picture. Use phrasing that, like fireworks, will twinkle, sparkle, and explode, lighting up the world of dull and boring.