“We are all bewitched by words.  We confuse them with the real world, and try to live in the real world as if it were the world of words . . . The more we try to live in the world of words, the more we feel isolated and alone, the more all the joy and liveliness of things is exchanged for mere certainty and security.”

Alan Watts

I love words. I love the sound of a well-crafted sentence, the feeling of anticipation when sitting down to write, and the play that comes with weaving words and people together.

It started at an early age. As a child, I learned I could impact people when I chose the right words in the right order. As teenagers, friends and I formed Orbis Poeticus Ex Novus – a poetry circle where we would read the classics and our own work to candlelight. Yes, we were in high school during the release of Dead Poets Society, so we deserve more credit for our romanticism than our creativity.

Whether it’s been a speech, poem, post, letter, paper, essay, article, or conversation, or whether I’ve been on the giving or the receiving end, words have provided me with hours, days of joy.

And yet, words are also my heel of Achilles. I labor needlessly over getting them just right, forgetting the essence of what’s being said. I nitpick. I hide behind them. I sometimes will choose to be lyrical rather than authentic. It’s not my intention. It’s a very old habit.

In addition, my relationship with language has passed through the honeymoon phase. I now see that when I am focusing on words, I’m often thinking too much. I can lose my connection to self, others, and the world when I grasp at naming and clarifying.

“To define is to isolate, to separate some complex of forms from the stream of life and say, ‘This is I.’’ . . . Thus he begins to feel, like the word, separate and static, as over against the real, fluid world of nature . . . Because it is the use and nature of words and thoughts to be fixed, definite, isolated, it is extremely hard to describe the most important characteristic of life–it’s movement and fluidity.”

In college and in graduate school, I was thrilled to study hermeneutics and epistemology. Confronting the limits of language was a game, and I delighted in its players. I loved how questioning what we can understand and communicate led to more and more questions. For some, it was an annoying exercise. For me, it was amusement. But at times the analysis ruined the romance. Like dissecting a frog, my ability to sense the sufficiency – the “enoughness” — of language was lessened with every incision.

Words cannot capture an experience, though I love trying. Relying on my ability to speak or write does not make me a good communicator, though I sometimes act as if that is what matters. As much as I love language, the best of life does not lend itself to a description.

Now language and I are old lovers. We share a grand history, a deep respect, but the pleasure is more deeply quiet than raucous. The silent acknowledgment is often more meaningful than the perfect reply.



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