Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday, 2 April 2017


Lean Pickings

Slowly and deliberately
she picked her way
through the husks of words
searching for a kernel of hidden meaning,
what she called "truth."

"Was that all that was worth saying?"
I asked, when she seemed to have found it,
and she said, "No,
but that was all I wanted to hear."

6 April 1991
Somewhere amongst my papers I have the first few pages of a dictionary. I don’t think I’d heard of The Devil’s Dictionary when I started it but it’s along the same lines, alternative definitions of words we thought we understood. The only definition I can remember is the one for ‘Apple’: Crunchy water. I gave up on it because I kept trying to make it funny but a part of me wishes I’d taken it a bit more seriously because at its core was a good idea.
I’ve always loved dictionaries—one of my earliest posts on this blog was Twenty-seven dictionaries—but here’s the thing: as much as I loved them I always felt they fell short. As did the one I started writing. An apple is no more crunchy water than it’s “the round fruit of a tree of the rose family, which typically has thin green or red skin and crisp flesh.” Neither really catches the appleness of an apple. Definition is not meaning. What does an apple mean?
Mostly in life we get by on crumbs. I wrote a long letter to B. after she moved to Ireland and she phoned me up afterwards—it was probably the last time we ever spoke—but all she wanted to talk about was the opening sentence in which I’d talked about how people viewed what she’d done and to be honest most people either didn’t get her or didn’t approve. That was all she wanted to talk about. There was so much truth in that letter but it was too long—far too long—and so she focused on the only thing that mattered to her. I clearly didn't. I’ve no idea if this poem’s about that but that’s what it reminded me of.

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