When one word can be pronounced in two different ways and each pronunciation determines what the word means within a particular context, it’s referred to as a heteronym. There are numerous examples of this phenomena in English, and I give a shout out to Dr. Martin Adam from Masaryk University for first drawing this to my attention. For example, you record your favorite song. And if you are sufficiently old or sufficiently cool or happen to be both, you might have a vinyl record. At the moment I am not focused on music though, but on tears. Tear is another heteronym, which I was reminded of when reading The Typography of Tears by Rose-Lynn Fisher.
That tear can refer to the salty drop sliding from your eye, down your cheek and also refer to what one can do with material such as paper or fabric makes utter sense to me today. Even though these two tears are not etymological cousins, they feel related. Tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of sadness, tears of gratitude, tears of frustration. Although there have been many instances for me in the last three months that produced tears of gratitude, there have also been numerous ones that produced tears of frustration and pain. January 6th was the day I heard the news Georgia was sending two Democratic Senators to Washington, and then I watched in disbelief as insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol.
Now in Montana, while I wait for weather to turn warmer and Covid numbers to drop so I can take my bookstore out, there are numerous occasions for tears and tears. A friend’s new grandbaby, the season’s first crocus, someone who had a dark period of grief is gently pulled outside to start gardening, the older women I quilt with are all in good health and vaccinated. And then there is the situation in Helena where my local state representative gave a speech encouraging an increase in the cost of childcare so women would be more likely to stay home. Or the current Montana governor who killed a wolf near Yellowstone Park without cause. The state legislature chips away at funding for suicide prevention, public education, and mental health services, also restricting LGBT rights, while expanding rights to carry guns, as though everyone carrying a gun is going to be the solution for societal challenges.
So I cry. And I tear with rage the newspaper that covers the stories of this year’s state legislature because I can’t believe what some of those people are doing. I tear fabric to make Covid quilts because this pandemic has taken too many people from us, kept us apart from too many whom we love. I tear paper to create artist books. And I read. Which is how I came to rediscover Rose-Lynn Fisher’s book on tears.
Sometimes there’s a benefit in reading a book that brings tears. It cleanses your eyes, provides an empathetic release as you turn pages. Just in case you are in need of this therapy…
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
If you are more inclined to want to tear things to release tension or frustration, I suggest piles of newspapers waiting to be recycled.