I’m a big fan of the written word.
The very concept of a seemingly random series of marks, dots and slashes being able to convey an idea or information has mystified me for years. Though an oral language is impressive enough in its own right, the notion that we can take the word and expressions from our verbal communication and pass these concepts along in a written forum consistently astounds me.
The written word is not lost to the dimensions of space, as is the case with verbal language — we can read the same words over and over again for decades, without changing the subtext an iota. The human eye can quickly take a look at these marks on paper and understand what the person was saying. We can be moved by words, mentally transport ourselves to a different time or place through descriptive phrases or simply feel a reaction to what the writer was saying.
My friend Billy Taylor was outstanding at that last part. Billy was a local writer who published his words in several local papers, including a few bylines in the Coastal Point in our early issues. He was a reporter, a freestyle writer and a columnist at one point at a paper that I worked for a few years back. That was where I felt Billy was at his best. Though we seldom agreed on issues (Billy was a hardcore liberal who volunteered for the Democratic party and I’m, well, a registered Independent who is not really a huge fan of either of our political parties), Billy constantly created a reaction through his words. He was opinionated, he was creative and he was passionate.
And he conveyed those thoughts through the written word in a forceful, artsy and convicted manner. He’d receive letters and calls of adulation for his stance on an issue, and letters and calls of condemnation on occasion from the other side. He accepted both with the same kind of glee that a columnist can have when his or her words spark reaction. Billy understood that his words could make people think, and he loved every second of it.
But now he’s gone.
Billy Taylor died last week. His passing leaves with me a hole because, quite frankly, I’ll miss him. I’ll miss having lunch with him at his favorite restaurant while he talked about his hopes of building up his syndicated column. I’ll miss hearing his unique takes on current events and his creative methods of solving all the world’s problems. I’ll miss him making me laugh. I’ll miss him being ... Billy.
But here is where the beauty of the written word takes hold. See, while Billy is off on a new journey, his earthly words remain. Upon receiving news of Billy’s passing, I got on to the Internet and logged on to his Web site, www.billythewriter.com. The words that he wrote that could sometimes irritate me now made me smile, because I knew they were his true words, his genuine beliefs. Whether or not I agreed with his thoughts on life were no longer as important to me as was the respect I had for him because he simply wrote what he thought.
Remember the Janet Jackson peep show at the Super Bowl a few years back? Well, it drove Billy nuts that people were going crazy over something he saw as insignificant. Read the following excerpt, from his Web page.
“By the time a child reaches the age of 16, he has seen more than 2,000 brutal murders on television,” Taylor wrote. “But at least he will be protected from a single singer’s breast. How did our focus get so out of focus?”
Billy was also a champion of gay couple’s rights to be united. He argued that every couple, gay or straight, should receive a civil union from the government, and the respective religions could decide whether or not to grant “marriage” status to the couples. He felt that the religions should not take priority over the government on this issue, and took umbrage with the “religious right” in his column.
“There is no talking, no discussion, no reasoning with those kinds of people,” wrote Taylor. “People who believe to their souls that they know the will and word of God — whichever god they choose to worship — do not care what you think. They care about imposing their God’s will onto you, even for your own good if you are too much the heathen to recognize their inherent righteousness.
“God save me from the true believers.”
Even if you don’t agree with his message, you must respect his passion and courage. And those words will live on forever.
Billy, you weren’t a fellow writer who became my friend. You were my friend who happened to write. Have a safe journey.