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Why Waste Words? Seeing's Believing.

Cartoon sketch of a man talking to a woman. She's holding a wine glass in her hands, and he has a speech bubble above his head, but there are no words inside of it. Illustration by Earle Levenstein.

Ready for this?

I forget why, but the other day I stumbled upon an old interview by Johnny Carson with Robin Williams—sadly gone—a highly original improvisational actor whose talent for character-creation ranged from the deeply moving to the insanely funny, both verbally and physically.

This was Williams being—and I mean, being—someone who moved spastically, danced, rose and fell, whirled about the platform spoke and sang at machine-gun pace in a language and tone of voice of his own, gesticulating wildly and of course, totally destroying Johnny Carson.

As I was watching and laughing, it seemed to me that Robin Williams was being fed, nourished, inspired, by Johnny Carson, one-on-one, and that the studio audience was secondary; that the more Carson laughed, the further out Williams went.

Spontaneous. Impulsive.

Sounds, random words.


Entirely visual.

A performance without words.

That started my engine.


Robin Williams was—I said to myself—really like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin: a silent movie actor. Exaggerated expressions, face and body, no spoken words, or at least, no coherent sequence of words. Only sound in those movies was piano usually; the rest was silence.

From there, I went skipping from image to image in my memory, further and further out, a speck on the horizon, way past and away from Robin Williams.

Really excited now.

Bear with me if you have the patience and are even remotely engaged by my pursuit, as I skipped from image to image, further and further out; surf crashing against my shaky bridge of discovery, belief, overcome by enthusiasm with the thrill of discovery.

My string of images clicking on now to Little Nemo—Winsor McKay's impossibly beautiful creation, a comic strip masterpiece, simply the greatest ever created—no sound, of course, just marvelous images and some words. Bah! For me, totally superfluous.

On and on I zipped to the comic strip Krazy Kat: a work of genius; sure, there were some words, but ahhh! the drawings: wonderful. The story? For me, a child, the story was told by what I saw.

Then, my thrill of discovery was overwhelming; my images skipped on to sports: no words, simply action, exciting images: crowd cheering, sure, but no words. It's all out there on the field, in the game, what we see.

Just think, I said to myself; there's no dialogue in sports. Turn off the sound and you can still see the beautiful horses galloping down the stretch, and for goodness' sake, how about a symphony orchestra? Who needs words?

Or a novel. I provide the images, my imagination, surrounded by silence. Who needs someone talking? I can read, right? I mean, who doesn't know what the characters look like, right? I see them, right?


I think there's something—not quiet sure what—that relates to our over-dependence upon words, detailed explanations that describe what we can see with our own eyes, vocalized.

I mean, just think about love, right?

Is it what you and I say? Speeches? Declarations of fealty?

Or is it about feelings, what we sense, what we know, what we can see.

I guess I've wandered pretty far from Johnny Carson and Robin Williams; right?

This and that; here and there.

Lots of unresolved stuff floating around.

Like, you can trust what you see not what you hear…

Or something in that neighborhood, eh?

Close, I think…


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