Sheryl Gordon’s A Rewording Life: Finding Meaning in the Wor(l)d is an anthology of obscure, “five-dollar words” intended to honour the memory of the author’s late mother, “who lost all her words in the end” to Alzheimer’s disease.
Each word contributed by a writer or musician in the book is accompanied by a phrase to give it context. Gordon personally contributed a series of essays to the book, with the first letter of each essay spelling out “dementia.” Dementia, a condition experienced currently by over half a million Canadians, is the theme that overarches the anthology of noteworthy words.
The intention behind the collection of phrases is for “people without dementia to harness their minds while they still can,” Gordon told the CBC. “For them to use these words to live more rewarding lives, and in addition, raise money for a charity close to my heart.” Half of the proceeds from the book are contributed to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
The author described her mother as “not a very expressive” person who “used simple and direct language” to communicate with others. As a bilingual woman, her mother would flip back and forth between her two languages of fluency, English and French. When Gordon saw her mother gradually lose her words to dementia, she told The CJN, she “realized how ephemeral words could be.”
Gordon and her parents attended synagogue together. She was impacted by the concept of tzedakah at a young age and learned the importance of doing good deeds for others. She remembers her father reverting back to Yiddish “a colourful language,” when he told jokes or tried to be funny.
Gordon first discovered her personal passion for reading in university, where she became a voracious consumer of words. In the course of her reading, she happened upon many unfamiliar words that piqued her curiosity. She highlighted hundreds of unusual words and transposed them into notebooks to keep a record of them.
On a yoga retreat a few years ago, Gordon realized that what a rewarding life meant to her was “luxuriating over words.”
She decided to put together an anthology of words. At first, Gordon tried to write all of the sentences herself but found it to be an overwhelming task. She enlisted the collaborative efforts of various artistic Canadian contributors. She was “shocked by how many fellow ‘word nerds’ there are out there.”
Most of the contributors to the book are writers or musicians who use words as a tool to express themselves through their artistic work. Some of the contributors had a loved one with dementia and could relate to that aspect of the project as well.
“Hopefully, for the readers of this book, once they go through the sentences and see them in context it will help them to better understand them,” Gordon says.
An example from the book, contributed by broadcaster Tom Harrington, is: “Bemuse– She awoke in an unfamiliar room, bemused by the light streaming through the window… was it dawn or dusk?”
When putting together her anthology, Gordon was inspired by the words of motivational speaker Tony Robbins. He said, “people with an impoverished vocabulary live an impoverished emotional life; people with rich vocabularies have a multi-hued palette of colours with which to paint their experience, not only for others, but for themselves as well.”
“Nowadays with Twitter and Instagram, people are dumbing down their language,” Gordon told the CBC, and rarely encounter “gems” such as the many unique words detailed in A Rewording Life. Gordon hopes the anthology she created will “encourage people to stretch their minds” through the use of language and keep them in memory.