I was interviewed recently for the podcast Crackers and Grape Juice, where the tagline is “Talking Faith Without Stained Glass Language.” Like many of you I have discovered podcasts during the pandemic and this is one I particularly enjoy. Check it out. (The interview with me is not posted yet, I’ll let you know when it is.)
Anyhow, at Crackers and Grape Juice they close each interview with The Ten Questions from the Actor’s Studio. The first one is, “What’s your favorite word?” To which I answered, “resurrection.” It is a word I love. It just seems so angular, so hard to domesticate, so — in a way — un-religious. But also an entirely too predictable answer for a Christian preacher.
I wish that I had said, “nuance.” As you know, “nuance” means “a subtle or slight variation in meaning, color, shade or quality.” You may not know, that it comes from a Old French word nuer, meaning “to show shades of color, and from a Latin word neu, which means “cloud.” I love that because I am wild about clouds, and their many shades of light and color. As a painter, I try so often to paint clouds, but I am forever frustrated in my attempts to do clouds justice. (At right a recent painting, including clouds, of a scene in the Columbia Gorge.)
But “nuance” is, if not my favorite, then my second favorite word these days because we have so bloody little of it in public discourse. There are very few shades of grey or gradations in our public thinking and speaking, alas. Life, real life, on the other hand, is full of nuance, complexity and subtle shades of meaning.
There are all sorts of subjects on which we seem to lack any nuance. Like say, facial masks. Either you are a threat to public order, deserving of internet shaming, if you aren’t wearing one (even though the CDC says if you are fully vaccinated and are outside you no longer need to wear a mask), or if you insist your child wear a mask you are, according to Tucker Carlson, committing child abuse. “Call CPS right this minute,” urges the FOX commentator.
Or take America. Either it was conceived in sin and evil in 1619 and is irredeemable, or it’s the greatest country on earth and if you don’t think so, then “f__ you!” Could there be some middle ground, just maybe? (For highlighting that non-nuanced framing I acknowledge another podcast, Econ Talk, and its host, Russ Roberts.)
Intelligent conversation, in my experience, is all about nuance, about the shades and gradations of meaning, about life’s complexities. One of the reasons that I found Karl Marlantes novel Deep River so meaningful was his nose for nuance.
For example, on one hand, Marlantes vividly depicts the extraordinary courage and sheer capacity for hard physical labor of Finnish immigrants in the early NW logging camps. A heroic story. And at the same time, you sense a powerful, steady undertow of grief throughout the book for the loss of these majestic, virgin forests. That’s nuance.
So, when the interviewer for Crackers and Grape Juice asked that first question, “What’s your favorite word?” I do wish I had said, “Nuance.” The second question by the way is, “What’s your least favorite word?” I said, “Iconic.” Way over-used, i.m.h.o. Another of The Ten Questions is, “What’s your favorite curse word?” My answer? “Bullshit.” I actually don’t use it, or any curse words, a whole lot. But I am convinced that the Gospel is, among other things, a damn fine “bullshit detector.”