All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
Words, words, words
Words, words, what are these words? I heard that one, didn’t catch the one after. What was it? Why can’t I understand? What did they just say? I want to know...what did I miss? What’s funny? Why is everyone laughing? What did I miss?
It is deeply cliché to begin with “in the beginning,” or some such variation on that theme, and though my stormy love-hate relationship with clichés is something I won’t go into here, my total disregard for (or, if you will, floccinaucinihilipilification of) hypocrisy will allow me to say this: from the beginning, I have needed words. Some of my earliest memories are of words: as I learned to understand them in speech, as I heard them read, and later, as I began to read them for myself. I felt that they touched me in a way I couldn’t quite relate to anything else. It makes sense, I suppose – conscious thought is not possible without the presence of concepts and ideas, which are named by words, and words are necessary to communicate thoughts. It was somehow more than that to me, though. The idea that everything had a name, as I did, was foreign at first, but it fascinated me endlessly. There were nouns - which were things - but the nouns verbed and were adjectivey. And that wasn’t all – a noun could conjunction with another noun, and the two of them could get pally and go off and verb together as a set, and maybe an adjective would come in and describe the way they verbed - and then it wasn’t an adjective at all, but an adverb. There was just so much in the world, and everything had hundreds of words to describe it. Even as a young child, I was starting to recognize how near to a miracle language was, and my conviction has only grown since. Think about it: pick any word, any word at all, and try to define or describe it – without using other words you would then have to define or describe. Language is a web of interdependent parts, and even if I didn’t understand that when I was four, I still loved it, and I wanted words like...well, like a kid wants candy.
It isn’t a clear step between “starts to talk” and “communicates in sentences,” let alone paragraphs. The first word is only a word, a set of sounds we may or may not understand the meaning of. Mostly, it’s one we’ve heard so many times we probably just say it to show that yeah, okay, we get it, you can stop with the funny faces now. Or maybe we’re excited to finally say something, rather than sitting and clapping and grinning toothlessly all the time. I don’t know - who does? I remember only snippets of that in-between time, when I could understand perhaps one word in five, which was a step up from one word in twenty, but I still had no idea what people were saying, and it kind of annoyed me. To be so close, yet still so out of the loop...
Words, words, words, I want to read words! We have books, and Sarah can read some, but I want to read more. How do I learn - who will teach me? Sarah won’t, and Mommy and Daddy are busy today, but today is the day I want to learn. Today is the day I will learn. I’ve seen the books, I’ve seen the words. I can only imagine the stories, only imagine the knowledge. And I want it.
By kindergarten, I read voraciously. I had already moved past the “reading as an exercise” stage, and had even passed through the “reading for pleasure” phase; I read to satisfy a raging hunger. Books filled our house, the lower shelves populated by the thin copies that my sister and I were able to understand. We could reach them by ourselves, and did. Frequently. Knowledge has long been respected in our home, and my parents were always happy to help us fill the multitudinous convolutions and folds of our brains, which hated being empty as much as our stomachs did. Maybe that’s why even my early days were filled with words, words, words, so many words. The words of books, which, when incomprehensible, were compounded with explanations from my parents; the words of my parents, which more often than not had stories that went along with them and led to discussions and laughter and conversations, which generally led to more explanations and stories and laughter and— dinner conversations in my house are, to this day, unique and somewhat frightening.
To be fair, I don’t think I’m learning to read all that early. When I start school, I’ll realize that I’m pretty far outside of “normal,” but I don’t care about that. All that matters to me is the words, and suddenly I can read them! It started with a simple book, the kind that you’ve heard so many times you’ve memorized it but never actually read it because you just know what the words look like and that’s not really reading, but it’s a start. So it started like that, and when that got easy I pulled down another one. I know this one, but I don’t know it well enough to cheat. The first time through, the words are thick and sluggish, taking a long time to make it from my eyes to my brain. The letters stay stubbornly shapey, not wanting to be turned into things I can understand, and I’m discouraged and I lay the book face down on the sofa. I come back a little bit later, antsy enough to try again. This time, it works! After a couple of sentences, the shapes make sense, and instead of looking at pictures and guessing the words, I’m seeing that the words explain the picture and the picture accompanies the words, rather than the other way around. It is...liberating. Yes, liberating. No longer will I be stuck looking up at shelves I can’t reach and don’t want to reach because they hold nothing for me. No, now those shelves are mine to explore. ...Just as soon as I find a stool.
Words, words, words, swirling about in my head – probably have been since the beginning of time. Seems like it, anyway. I hear them, I speak them, I read them. I want to write them. They’re there, and I have a story I want to tell with them. No, it’s more than that. I have a story I need to tell with them. It would be such a waste, otherwise, wouldn’t it? To just leave them there, give them no outlet? I decide it’s time to write.
It wasn’t two years after I started reading that the words of others became lonely in my mind, and I felt the need to add my own. Looking back on the ends and odds I jotted down – poetry, short stories, abandoned beginnings to longer stories – I find that I can’t really take myself seriously now, but figure that I must have taken myself very seriously then. Very, very seriously. I was like a little Ray Bradbury, or a mini-Tolkien, only minus the talent and the publishing potential. In other words, I was kind of weird. But you know what? That’s okay. I was my own person, and I derived some insane kind of pleasure from taking the swirling thoughts and images from my head and trying to capture them with words. It was like trying to take a clear picture of something moving very fast: by the time the shutter clicks, the motion has sped past and the screen is filled with an indistinct blur. It has always been that way, I believe, with writers constantly struggling to get the words onto paper fast enough to keep up with the onslaught of ideas and imagery, and, god forbid, plot.
Later, I will learn that it isn’t normal for a five-year-old’s idea of “computer time” to be “Microsoft Word time,” but for now I think nothing of it. We don’t really have Internet, you see. I say ‘really’ because we do have it, but my dad has to plug the computer into the phone line and do all this crazy stuff, and it’s really just easier not to bother with it. My little sister likes to play computer games, and sometimes I do, too. But mostly, my older sister and I write. We open Microsoft, and let our fingers try to keep up with the ideas. We haven’t learned to type well yet, but I think I’m pretty good at what dad calls “two-finger typing.” I know where all the keys are, anyway, and I usually hit the right one the first time around. Mostly. I also hit backspace a lot, but that’s okay. It’s not about how well we type, and it’s not even really about how well we write, because grown-ups don’t think that little kids can write good stories. I don’t mind. I admit I’m not great, but I don’t expect people to read what I write. Actually, I like to keep my stories private. They’re personal to me, even if I don’t really know why. It’s just that my ideas are my own, right? And I don’t like other people to question them or ask why I did that, or why I made a character the way I did. It’s not like my characters last more than a few hundred words, anyway, before I get bored and make new ones, start a new story. They don’t last because I realize they’re not good, I don’t like them, the story isn’t funny enough, smart enough, time to start over. I think it always works like that. Not good? Okay, start fresh, make it better. It doesn’t always work like that.
Words, words, words, when did I become so serious about words? Not when I was eight, scribbling down bits and bobs of poetry and unfinished beginnings to stories that never stood a chance of being completed; not in middle school when every other week was a new essay I was tasked with; not even with the short stories I took upon myself. Those were scraps, loose ends fluttering in a chill breeze, ready to be forgotten the moment they were finished. This, what’s being proposed – what I’m proposing – is so far beyond the realm of insane...it just might work. A challenge: I live for those.
An opportunity: to leave it would be to waste it.
A choice: to write, or not to write?
A chance: will I fail?
A chance I need to take.
At some point, you realize it’s something you can’t give up. Not only can you not give it up, you can’t back off. Beyond even that, just holding your ground isn’t an option: you need to let it consume you. The words, the language, the constant flood of ideas – if you want to go anywhere with them, you need to relinquish control. You need to let them sweep you up and carry you off around twists you cannot see coming, to expositions and developments that never existed in your version of the story. At some point, the story is no longer about you, and the words are not yours to write. I have heard it said that the words write you, but they shouldn’t. The words should write themselves, and tell their story through you. If you know what’s going to happen next, you haven’t been at it long enough; if you have no idea how to begin, then you’re on the right track.
I will look back on the coming month with fondness, but at the moment, all I feel is confusion and uncertainty. It used to be that I had the story, I was the one with words I wanted to write. I haven’t even committed, and already the story is clamoring to be written, the plot unfurling within a cloud of fog tumbling through my mind. Ideas keep me awake at night, tossing and turning with could, should, would, might, will, but I have yet to sign up. To enter my name would mean that I am in this for better or for worse, ready to challenge myself, ready to push myself beyond limits that seem at the moment too far-fetched to be entirely real. It would mean that I have set myself up for either success or failure, and I realize that the balance is a delicate one. It means that I am prepared to give up endless hours of sleep in pursuit of a goal that will receive no serious recognition upon its achievement, and that while I will be proud of, I will fear to boast of. At the same time, it is a goal that hundreds, if not thousands, of others have struggled with and not been able to reach - there may be no shame in “losing,” but the joy and pride of “winning” will be contained. But who knows? It may become all the potent for it.
It is a contest of sorts, but the only contestant is yourself, and all others – thousands of others, from across the country and across the world – are teammates striving to reach a common, if somewhat ridiculous, goal. A novel in month does seem kind of pointless, I have to admit, but at the same time...it isn’t. It’s not pointless. To stretch one’s limits, to see what you are truly capable of – I never find an endeavor to that end a pointless one. Life is full of failures and mistakes, but that’s only when you don’t learn from them. When you do learn, it’s called experience. I see no reason not to take this chance. Nothing bad will come of it, and to know what I can do when needed is a priceless gift. This will be a milestone in so many ways, whether or not I succeed. By even choosing to begin, I succeed, and by the first thousand words I will be one thousand words ahead of most everyone else.
I send a single text that October night, and with it I announce my intentions not to fail, not to give up, to push myself, to explore my abilities. The next day I will take the first step, and two weeks after that I will write the first words. I know they will be the hardest, but I have faith in those who have faith in me. “I am doing NaNoWriMo*,” I type. “That is all.”
*National Novel-Writing Month, the challenge to write 50,000 words of original fiction in 30 days, takes place each November. Any and all are welcome to sign up, and I would recommend doing so!