Monthly Archives: January 2013

W Is for Whimsy



Whimsy. Noun.

1. Playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor. 2. A whim [a sudden desire or change of mind, especially one that is unusual or unexplained.]

As a “serious” writer, I naturally take great interest and delight in the turn of phrase that, for a moment, turns logic and rational progression of thought on its pompous ear in favor of a good, literary smile.

Phrases brimming with Whimsy can be eminently Tweetable—which gives them their moment in the ether—and offers the sweet satisfaction that some unknown “other” across many miles might also be smiling along with us.

As David Bohm has said: “Perhaps there is more sense in our nonsense and more nonsense in our ‘sense’ than we would care to believe.” That makes it worth turning our focus on Whimsy once and awhile in our somber search for Truth.

Proverbs, as a literary form, are often a source of Whimsy—in their melding of concrete details with wisdom for living. “Like snow in the summer and like rain at harvest, so is honor unbefitting for a fool” (Proverbs 26:1).

James A. Fischer, C. M., writes in A Lighthearted View of Wisdom in the Bible (N. Y.: Paulist Press, 2002): “The shrewdness of proverbs often takes the form of wit. Wit is the art of gracious speech. Quintillian, the rhetorician of Latin literature, insisted that ‘wit is a form of repartee which exhibits mental agility and linguistic grace.’ Hazlitt, the English literary critic, said wit is the product of art and fantasy and that the incongruous ‘is the essence of comedy.’ Kierkegaard, the philosopher, wrote, ‘ … wherever there is contradiction, the comical is present’” (p. 28).

There is Whimsy in Charles Williams’ line from his novel War in Heaven: “The universe seemed sometimes to relax a little, to permit a little grace to be wrung from it.”

And might even God be subject to Whimsy? As Elie Wiesel dares to assert: “God created man because he loved stories.” 

But—paradoxical Whimsy needn’t always be so metaphysical.

I love this quip by Dorothy L. Sayers, creator of the inimitable and dapper sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey: “Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.” In her later years, I’m sure she embodied this wisdom. Her works of wit and force speak for themselves.

Oh, to be both witty and wise. To artfully blend Whimsy with more straightforward serious talk that actually helps people.

When we encounter that in our favorite writers, or manage to strike close to it ourselves, that surely is grace.

V Is for Verve


Verve. Def.: Spirit and enthusiasm in the expression of ideas, especially in artistic performance or composition. Energy. Vitality.

Constantin Stanislavski, Russian Empire actor and theater director (1863–1938), believed that “Every person who is really an artist desires to create inside of himself another, deeper, more interesting life than the one that actually surrounds him.”

When I recently told a colleague that his writing had Verve, I was thinking of a mix of these qualities, mostly undefinable, that make one want to live in that world. The artist, writer, or performer who succeeds in attracting others to his or her creations has usually done so by evidencing that he has had residency—or at least fleeting experience—within that desirable Country.

As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote: “The sole substitute for an experience which we have not ourselves lived through is art and literature.” No wonder we are attracted to these opportunities to spread our wings through tracing others’ artistic byways.

Peter Kingsley astutely points out: “For us a song and a road are very different things. But in the language of ancient Greek epic poetry the word for ‘road’ and the word for ‘song’ … are almost identical. Originally the poet’s song was quite simply a journey into another world: a world where the past and future are as accessible and real as the present. And his journey was his song.”

How can we lead others “there”—or follow those who have lived to tell their tale? MY question has been instead, how can I possibly ignore these opportunities to expand my limited experience through art? No wonder there was no choice for me but to become a lifelong literature major and a writer.

But the other dimension here is that to me the journey is also a holy one. “You must build your life as if it were a work of art.” 
—Abraham Joshua Heschel.

As Daniel C. Matt said in The Essential Kabbala: “The fierce power of imagination is a gift from God. Joined with the grandeur of the mind, the potency of inference, ethical depth, and the natural sense of the divine, imagination becomes an instrument for the holy spirit.”

Thus the artist maintains a sort of equilibrium between “owning” her works, standing behind them, even with their flaws—and giving credit beyond herself for any sparks of true Verve they may contain.

It is a sort of dance in itself, for the spirit, like the wind, “blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8). Such is the life of Verve or creation within the Spirit.

Here’s to artistic creation on all levels. May your gifts to the world have Verve!