In a recent radio interview, J.R. Moehringer, author of the amazing and awesome memoir “The Tender Bar,” took issue with the pervasive overuse of “amazing” and “awesome” in what he sees as our vocabulary-challenged society.
Coincidentally or not, the 2012 edition of Lake Superior State University’s annual list of banished words was topped by “amazing,” which received the most nominations from cliche-weary voters for its overuse by various uncouth reality TV stars, superstar homemaker Martha Stewart and CNN hunk Anderson Cooper, among many other lazy speakers.
Fair enough. Get a thesaurus and some perspective, for sure. But it seems to me that putting a moratorium on the use of descriptors of “great surprise or wonder” (amazing) and “terrific, extraordinary” (awesome) feels like the boat has sunk, like we’ve given up, like the collective human spirit itself has jumped the shark and we’re all just killing time while the culture vultures circle and we put the mute button on the potentially miraculous.
Not so fast.
The truth is, in the history of expression, both adjectives have never been more applicable than right now. Yes, life can be dull. Yes, situations can be tedious. Yes, the blues has its place and yes, technology and all the options it affords can make for an unprecedentedly mundane rat race, but it says here that all you have to do is turn up the “amazing” and “awesome” knobs on your own personal world prism to feast upon a beauty that’s readily available to every eye of every beholder.
Do so and you’ll be living out the amazingly awesome words of Henry Miller (“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself”) and Conan O’Brien (“Work hard, be kind and amazing things will happen”).
We come across amazing and awesome every day and it seems downright sinful to not celebrate it as such, to not promote all things amazing and awesome and to not mount some kind of a defense of the worn-out words themselves — at a time when stories of horror, hate and human indignity visit our newsfeeds every five minutes.
Since the war on amazing and awesome broke out, I’ve been more vigilant in reminding myself to pay attention and practice gratitude for the amazing and awesome things that come my way. Today alone I’ve been quietly amazed and awed by the neighbors’ holiday lights, the fog on the lake, the kids playing across the street, songs of dear friends and distant strangers shuffling through my headphones, the sunrise through stained glass, my dog romping through the Rose Gardens with three whitetail deer, Kings barkeep West spinning The Modern Lovers on a drizzly Monday night and the photo that accompanies this column.
It was taken by my father, Jerry Walsh, during the Korean War. I discovered it while going through some of the family slides I found in our parents’ basement over the weekend. It’s quickly become one of my favorite works of art: Life during wartime and a portrait of music cutting through that most cynical of noises, war. The people in the photograph are long gone and forgotten, yet they live here on this page, unearthed and dusted off and seen by human eyes for the first time since a big band-loving kid from Minneapolis captured them for all time in 1951.
What do you call that?
A couple good words come to mind, but we’ll let the jury decide.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.