Before we are born, God allots each of us a certain number of words. Some receive buckets full, while others receive a mere teaspoon of ums, yeses, and no thank yous.
Around the age of one, we begin to let go of our words; once they leave the tangled messes of our minds, they are no longer our own: they belong to the collective world, transformed into reverberating sound waves that travel past the moon into the great, vast void.
I’m the kind of person who fiercely holds on to her words. It’s as if I’m afraid that I’ll use them all up prematurely and become either mute or dead. I don’t want to waste what I’ve been allocated.
When my children speak- and they can really blather on- I encourage verbal expression. As my son’s face gets red and his fists clench, I yell out “Use your words!” lest he begins using his fists instead.
“Use your words!” is a popular phrase among speech therapists and teachers and mothers. What we mean is: “Use your words in a manner that is pleasing to my ears!” When Ben uses his words to say: “I JUST HATE THIS FOOD!” I want to respond with, “That’s not what I meant, buddy. Now you’ve gone and hurt my feelings.” (Like he would ever actually say, "Mom? This food's texture is not pleasing to my sensitive palate. Could you perhaps make me a sandwich of peanut butter and jelly?")
There is a definite tension between what we could say- I’m alluding to those tangled parts of speech buzzing in our brains- and what we actually do say or, in some cases, publicly express via the written word. This is called discretion. My children have no discretion, which I don’t mind unless we’re in a public place and Daniel says, “That lady has a mustache like a man.”
Once, my discretion stifled me. (It took a full year to open up to my husband after we started dating.) I like to think I’ve found a happy balance, though to this day “using my words” sometimes comes across as forced, and I sound… loopy. I’m that loopy, awkward girl who loves words, but can’t seem to make them work for her.
Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I compile a list of my favorite words. Effuse. Jejune. Titter. Meander. Scoundrel. Reverence. Platypus. Epitome. Goulash. Opus. Legato. Mellifluous. Quicken. Diaphanous. Swashbuckle. Catharsis. Crinoline. Banana. Chirp. Bauble. Husbandry. Quantum. Rubbish. Terracotta. Bravado. Ink. Polliwog. Vivid. Vapid. Vanquish. Vivacious. Vitriol.
It’s easier to find that balance between could and do when you write words. I like to sit and carefully rifle through the tangled lexis in the mind. There are so many words to choose from.
There are funny words:
“Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say "Alka Seltzer," you get a laugh . . . Words with "k" in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that's a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny.” Willy from The Sunshine Boys.
Words are beautiful:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Shakespeare’s The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158
“I like to drink chunky diarrhea. Ha ha ha ha ha!” Daniel Jennings, age 4.
One word: Undulate.
And woven together in such a way that they make your heart hurt:
He thought of the Skin Horse, so wise and gentle, and all that he had told him. Of what use was it to be loved and lose one's beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground. From The Velveteen Rabbit, the saddest book ever written.
And in those moments when you can’t put together the poem or prose that captures what you desperately want to express, you can always borrow from someone else. Like I just did above.
The past couple of months have been difficult. There’s this awful juxtaposition between how good my life is and how sad I feel. And this makes me feel guilty, and when I feel guilty, I withdraw- close the curtains, ignore the phone, crawl into the mess of dangling participles and other grammatical disconnects in my mind- and just get through the day- no more, no less.
This, of course, is hard on my children, and (now I get to the point of all of the words that lead up to this saccharine finish) I want to give them this- because maybe, some day, they’ll read it.
Caleb, Ben, Danny, and Ella,
If I had but one more chance to use my words, I would give them all to you, without borrowing from a great poet or philosopher, or waiting until just the right turn-of-phrase comes to tip of my tongue- I would tell you that
I love you.
And I would say it again and again, shout it from the rooftop, write it in the sky, whisper it in your ears until it became a part of you. Because I could hug you every day and kiss your cheeks and tussle your hair, but you need to hear it- hear these words- because I don’t ever want there to be any doubt. These words belong to you.
I love you.
And we’re going to be fine.