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Words

For me the most miraculous substance on earth are words.  The fact that they are immaterial yet weighty, abstract yet tangible makes them wondrous.  They can construct whole universes, create any emotion in a flash, build a wall around you (I love to hide from the world in books or magazines, or from people by asking them questions so as to reveal little about myself).  I am terrified by the power of words to destroy – love, reputation, peace, life.

I revel in the sensuality of words – their beauty or playfulness, their etymologies and sonorities, the images and meanings they conjure up – infinitely, differently depending on the user.

I am enchanted by the new romance of letter-writing, made possible by modern technology, because it brings with it the pleasures of playing with words, mulling them over, arranging them lovingly before hitting the “send” button.  The old art of correspondence seems to have largely gone extinct.  I recall with fondness the letters I exchanged with my best school friend, for years.  We would hunt in stationery stores for sheets of colored paper that would suit our moods, and fish out of mailboxes thick envelopes generously stuffed with pages covered with dear script.  I would write on plain notebook sheets during university classes when they bored me to tears;  scribble missives on backs of envelopes, paper table cloths, any available surface when stuck without more suitable supplies at airports, restaurants, or waiting rooms.  There seemed to be a hiatus between the time paper letter died out and electronic ones were born.  But e-mail forged new epistolary friendships.  The ones I cherish most are with people who are as fond of language as I am, who delight in juggling words and creating out of them a geography of thoughts and feelings, mirroring my joy in well groomed words in a ping pong of messages across our computer screens.

And now there is this new – for me – world of blogging, which is also woven out of the gossamer threads of words.  I think about them on my walks with Audrey (writing text messages to myself to hold on to words so that they would not fly away like dandelion fluff), while lifting weights at the gym (dashing down words on the backs of advertisements for pilates or cycling classes), late at night (forsaking the comfort of warm blankets for the urge to click words into my keyboard).

I form attachment to well crafted phrases.  When I give public lectures, I am reluctant to depart from my text and just speak, not because I don’t know my material, but because I have molded my words with too much care to abandon them on the podium while I walk away to the middle of the stage.

The magic of words is especially apparent when generated by children.  A friend recently told me how his 6-year old grandson said, “Grandpa, I love you to Pluto” – by which he meant, he explained to my befuddled friend, “I love you as much as the distance from here to Pluto and back.”  Right there, with one chain of words this frail little boy has brought into being the whole solar system, the journey through the darkness to the mysterious planet, and the melted heart of a grown man.

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