Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Words Matter By Joan Leotta

"My tongue is the pen of a ready writer."

Do you find yourself ever humming the words to a favorite song? Do you seek words of endearment and comfort from those who love you? Have you ever saved an old love letter or thrilled to see the caller ID of someone you love? Do you cringe when someone puts you down? If any one of those is true, you are someone who has experienced the power of words in your life for good and for ill. 

Advertisers know the power of words. Bullies know and use the power of words, and we as performers and writers, must be aware of the power of words, otherwise we are wielding an out of control chainsaw in the hearts of our audiences when we could be creating stronger, more loving individuals.

Several years ago, I wrote an article for Storytelling Magazine that fully explained my thoughts on the joint work of spoken and written words and how they complement each other. Events have come to pass that have strengthened my hope in the power of words and at the same time make me shake with fear as I watch the power of the abuse of the written and spoken (and tweeted) word.

Those of us who speak and write for a living, (and I am privileged to do both, as a performance artist and as a journalist, published author, poet, and playwright), know that words have incredible power. I tell a story called the power of words based on the Chinese tale of the Magic Paintbrush. In my tale, the artist's images do not come to life until he whispers please to the image. Words have the power to bring life, not his paintbrush, as it is in the traditional tale. To be fair, Chinese calligraphy is done with a brush and many Chinese words are tiny pictures!

When we work on a story, one of the first things I do is to identify key words to link the segments of the story. 

What are words I want to repeat? 
What are the words that I want the children to repeat with me? 
Are these words that will stress the positive elements of the story?
Will they be words that tear down a character in the tale? 

I strive to make the audience interactions, positive. Even when I am telling silly stories and I work out numerous physical jokes to provoke laughter. I work hard to make sure that the last thing said, the lasting impression left is one that builds up the inner souls of my audience. 

When I have to show something negative, I maneuver to have it happen "offstage: and my horrified reaction is what they see---modeling for them a reaction of horror in the face of evil while at the same time then going on to tell how the hero defeats the evil. 

In my writing, I stress the solution to the crime in my mysteries, recall hidden positives in history, (even if fictional) and look for positives in daily interactions in my other stories. I do not see the need to keep your mouth and face in the mud or to press the faces and ears (eyes in the case of readers) in the mud of life. Our purpose as artists can be to make them come face to face with what is wrong, but then use our words to show them how to find their way out, to mark a path of love and a love of joy. That's how I hope my performances are remembered, as giving strength through the power of my words to continue on a path of light and life into the future. 

Words matter.

Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them." 
-Nathaniel Hawthorne

Including essays, poetry, short stories and young adult fiction, Joan Leotta is a versatile and award-winning author, poet, and story performer. Leotta has been playing with words on paper and on stage from the first time she could hold a pen and climb. She gathers inspiration for writing and performing from everyday incidents and objects. She has been a story performer, mostly for children--including historic characters and folklore shows. She lived, told, and wrote in the Washington DC suburbs for thirty-five years. To her credit are four young adult novels, numerous plays and poems, and a picture book called "WHOOSH!" Joan attended Ohio University and Johns Hopkins, where she concentrated on international relations and economics. Joan grew up in Pittsburgh and now lives and spends a lot of time walking the North Carolina beaches with her husband Joe. Her motto is "encouraging others through pen and performance.

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