I always thought that if you wanted to help readers see what you are thinking and feeling, adjectives are what you need, the more the better. But in a recent New York Times Sunday magazine, Sam Anderson, in his column “New Sentences,” shows us how verbs can be even more descriptive.
“The past sleds behind him,” is a sentence Anderson uses as an example. It is taken from Christine Schutt’s “Pore Hollywood: and Other stories.” (Grove Press, 2018, Page 96). Schutt is the author of two previous collections and three novels, including the National Book Award finalist “Florida.” Here is what Anderson says about this sentence:
“What an excellent verb: “sleds.” What a weirdly specific way to visualize time. In just five quick words, this sentence converts the entire history of everything – the whole past – from its usual state of formless abstraction (an energy field, a tidal wave, a void) into something fabulously active and small: a kid on a toboggan, scraping and sliding behind you, bumping over little hills, cheeks red from the cold, pompom bouncing yarnily on top of a winter hat The past becomes perky and alive and attentive, always on your heels, even as you trek perpetually forward.
“As a livelong mope, I tend to imagine the past very differently – as fundamentally huge and sad. It is a kind of ocean, always running backward toward low tide, receding, draining away from me, and I stand stuck on the edge of its shore, knowing that it contains everything I have ever known – my father and mother, the old maple tree, a black dog and an orange cat, my grandmother’s terrifying clock – but all of that is under the surface now, suspended in the water that rushes away from me, and I will never be able to enter it, will never recover what has sunk, and it causes me real pain. All of the water that happens to be inside of me, the cellular plasma, keens for all of that other water leaving, because it knows there will be no high tide.
“But language is a powerful thing. Change an image, and so much changes with it. The past can be a broom closet stuffed with receipts. The past can be a heron hunting the frog of the now. The past can be Bigfoot – a legendary thing, blurry, possibly real and possibly not, swinging its arms through precisely the forest you are not currently in. Or the past can be a sled. Just turn around and look.”
Makes me want to play more in the verb playground! JB
Welcome to The Muse Crew Blog. We're happy to have you. Sit back and scroll through our thoughts and ideas. If you like the post, please consider sharing it. Comments are always welcome!