Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
Although it can certainly be argued to the contrary, it seems that humans are the only creatures who use spoken language as opposed to creatures that “merely” communicate. And although human language has existed for ages, written language has been around for only 4,000 years or so, as far as we can tell.
Such a uniquely human and amazing thing! Words have a power over us – to move us, to motivate us, to call us to action and to soothe or inflame our emotions. Words cement our rituals. They describe our dreams. And sometimes they betray us.
There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.
Images now flicker and flash by us at amazing rates. Attention spans are being culled. The vast open spaces of contemplation and idle daydreaming are stigmatized and abhorred as a marketing vacuum to be filled. Yet words endure. Words are recognizable. They reverberate. (“We the people….” “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” “Where’s the beef?”) Words can immediately take us to a place, in time or in temperament that we never expected to be the moment before.
When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you…
~ Jiminy Cricket
Add words to music and call them lyrics, add them to movies or other broadcast media and call them dialog, or leave them undiluted by sound in books, letters, notes, journals, websites, blogs, emails, what have you; they bind us and allow us shared experiences, even if their origin becomes more remote. (“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”) We may not know where the words came from, but we recognize them. (“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”) Or the words may allow us to recognize other things, ideas, institutions, situations, people, places, events; regardless of the when or how, we connect with the why. Words can thrill and live, even if the specific time of their utterance has passed into history.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Words not only give us flight, they also give us structure. They explain things, they chart courses; they discipline our minds and our imaginations. Word counts determine the need to expand or limit ideas and explications expressed in scholarly papers, suggested word counts give a focus for articles and essays, word outputs give us badges of “prolific” and “productive” and sometimes “verbose”. Hundreds of thousands of people vow each November to write a novel of at least 50,000 words within a 30 day period in a charming ritual known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month); tens of thousands actually attain that goal while thousands more exult in the creativity it inspires. That means about 1,700 words a day, each and every day, for the entire month. (For perspective, this Gimbling effort will be far less than 1,000 words on its own, sans quotations… and it’s taken me days, almost a week to craft it!)
When writing a novel, that’s pretty much entirely what life turns into: ‘House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1,500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.’
~ Neil Gaiman
Aren’t they marvelous, these words?
Look at the proliferation of blogs and live journals and status updates, all read (or not read) through modern (and outdated) electronic media. The delivery systems may differ, they may get more sophisticated or complicated or technical or mechanical, but they still remain full of words, words, words. We reach out and seek to connect with each other not just culturally but personally through our words. We want the views, we crave the “hits”. We want people to know us through our words, we want others to value us for our words, we want to be cherished and understood and given a wondrous sense of “yes!” for our efforts, to be validated by being judged worthy of someone’s notice.
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
~ Ernest Hemingway
But unfortunately, it’s not all good, about words. Words can hurt. They can wound. They can be used callously, slyly, brutally; they can be manifested in ways that leave enduring scars both emotional and physical. They manipulate. They are powerful. We have all hurt others with our words, intentionally or not, and we all have been hurt by words. Words have driven more than a casual few to their deaths, and have been used to hasten the deaths of untold others. Words not only report but can also bring about tragedy. Yes, the words themselves may be benign while the way they are deployed is what destroys, but the words themselves are the weapons used.
Yet words can also be used to fight against themselves. For every hateful word uttered, thousands of words of encouragement can be offered. For every ugly word, there can be a beautiful usage. Every time words are used to destroy, they can be turned around to build, to rebuild, to create, to uplift, to motivate, to inspire. That goes for the universe, and it goes for the quiet, secret space inside of each of us. Every time that we hear in our heads, “I can’t…”, there are hundreds and thousands and millions of words to tell you that yes, you can. You must.
…and the time came when the risk it took to remain in a tightly closed bud became infinitely more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
~ Anaïs Nin
There it is. Let’s choose that one word. Let’s choose the word “blossom”. Out of all the words in the world, that’s a pretty darned good one to hold close, don’t you think? So hold on to that word, blossom. Embrace it. Honor all words by activating it, using it, claiming it. Go ahead:
It’ll be fun. If it’s not, I’ll eat my words. A few of ‘em, at least.
~ Sharon Browning