Lovecraft and Me: Fellow wielders of weighty words
Apparently, I talk like Lovecraft. That is to say, I use big words and sound like a walking, talking book. This is according to the longtime reports of my family, friends, coworkers, and the several hundred high school students I have taught since 2001. But it’s the comments to this effect arising out of my recent convention appearance as a guest of Mo*Con III that have really driven the point home for me. (BTW, that’s me in Maurice’s garage with fellow Mo*Conners at left above. At right is HPL himself.)
At Mo*Con I moderated and participated in a panel discussion about spirituality and horror fiction. The other panelists were Nick Mamatas, Bob Freeman, Maurice Broaddus, Mark Rainey, Kim Paffenroth, and — as an impromptu but wholly desirable addition — Gary Braunbeck. When it came my turn to describe my personal lifelong spiritual journey and the way it has played into my career as a horror writer and scholar, I described my beginnings in the Christian Church denomination and then subsequent odyssey through a plethora of writers, mentors, and attachments to various religious and spiritual traditions, including Alan Watts and Zen Buddhism, Christian mysticism, Vedantic Hinduism, classical Western-style skepticism and agnosticism, Robert Anton Wilson-inspired reality tunnel switching, and more. Apparently, I used a lot of big words. Just ask Maurice, who hosted the convention at his church, Indianapolis’s The Dwelling Place, and who in his con report and his description of the spirituality panel referred to me as somebody “who uses a lot of big words first thing in the morning.” (Of course, this impression may have been enhanced by the fact that many panelists and attendees were still recovering from the previous night’s late-ranging party party and vigorous Celtic music performance by the band Mother Grove.)
(Incidentally, you can listen to the spirituality panel yourself, if you want, since the first part of it has apparently been made available by P.I.D. Radio as a podcast that I haven’t yet had time to listen to. I don’t know if my portion appears there.)
The impression of my big-wordedness arising from that morning spirituality panel gained in scope and gravity as the day progressed into night. We all went to Maurice’s house for food, drink, and conviviality. I ended up spending most of the evening seated in lawn chairs in Maurice’s front yard with a half-dozen fellow writers and convention goers, engaged in a free-wheeling conversation that progressed from horror and SF movies (especially the classic Japanese monster movies) to horror and SF television to horror and SF fiction to religion and spirituality (especially issues of fundamentalist-literalist Christianity as contrasted with more expansive and tolerant approaches) to personal literary inspirations. During the religion phase of the conversation, I was twice told that I expressed my thoughts, impressions, and positions with especial eloquence.
Then came Sunday, when as we were all saying our goodbyes in preparation for departing for home I was approached by two people who told me in specific reference to the way I spoke on both the spirituality panel and the editor’s panel that I am amazingly smart and super-intellectual.
Then came the debacle of the canceled Sunday flight that left Nick Mamatas and me stranded in Indianapolis and crashing at Maurice’s house for what turned into Mo*Con III.2. In a blog post from two days ago titled, amusingly (or disturbingly), “Mo*Con III.2: God Hates Matt, but Jesus Loves Kelli,” Maurice wrote, “Let me tell you, nothing will make you feel dumber than being between Nick Mamatas and Matt Cardin while they are going at it about the subjectivity of how we experience reality. Those were probably the last words I understood.”
Okay, I give. My wife and son have told me for years, “You like to hear yourself talk,” by which they mean I wax excessively wordy whenever I tell stories or talk about ideas. My high school students have said that I sometimes talk over their heads, even as they have expressed amazement and fascination at the way I sound more intellectual than anybody else they’ve ever heard. Now my fellow writers and surfers of ideas are saying the same thing. The jig is up. I am a hopelessly big-worded, hyper-intellectual geek who uses two dollar terms when 10-cent ones would work just as well.
Or actually, I think I use exactly the words I mean. Without an ounce of pomposity or pretentiousness or egotism, just as a statement of innocent fact, I can say that speaking the way that I do is entirely natural to me. My native idiom in daily conversation is apparently something that sounds hyper-intellectual to a lot of people. As a writer who is innately passionate about philosophies, worldviews, and ideas, I have absorbed this pattern not only of thinking, but of speaking. I crave exact accuracy of verbal expression. Fortunately or not, this means I use words that are big and/or heavy-sounding by conventional conversational standards. I guess I’m somewhat like the 18th century Americans described by Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman recounts how European visitors reported that the majority of these Americans, not just the overt intellectuals but the everyday people, were astonishingly bookish and inclined to speak in conversational patterns shaped by this fact. In short, these observers said, Americans at that time didn’t hold conversations, they gave speeches.
Ah, well, I guess I’m in good company. After all, I’m a lifelong devotee of H.P. Lovecraft, and who can forget Lovecraft’s famous intellectual mode of speech? Friends and biographers have said that he spoke like a book. Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea illustrated this quality in their unforgettable and hugely amusing portrayal of Lovecraft in the Illuminatus! trilogy, where HPL appears as a character and speaks like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Ray Bradbury had the protagonist of his classic short story “Pillar of Fire” visit a library in an imagination-deprived, futuristic anti-utopia and ask about, among other things, the literary fate of “fine, big-worded Lovecraft.”
So forthwith, beginning immediately, I shall eschew all unnecessary agonizings over my undeniably verbose mode of discourse and shall freely employ such elephantine terminologies as arise naturally to suit the given conversational contingencies.
Or something like that.