|A relatively unguided series of words about words
||[Posted on Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 1:54 am]
There's something magical about the written word. I'm not talking about physically marking an actual piece of paper, brick wall in an alley, or a the wall of a public toilet stall (although these are all legitimate media). For my purposes, "the written word" encompasses the obvious print and digital media, but also less obvious things like road signs, computer code, storefronts emblazoned with neon, and the "Watch Your Step" placard at your friendly neighborhood food court.
It's the idea that you can encode an idea so that people you'll never meet might have the opportunity to read, digest, ponder, ruminate over, internalize, regurgitate, adjust for their own purposes, andmost importantlyre-read as many times as they'd like that awakens my sense of wonder. It's partly about mastery of (a) language, but more about the fact that by reading something, you've joined some sort of a club that was founded by the person who wrote it.
Have you ever said, "Have you ever read ___?" or had someone say it to you? It is followed in 96.4% of all cases by "You should!" or "Isn't it awesome?" (depending on the response). The remaining cases are treated with "You shouldn't!" or "Isn't it awful?" (respectively). And as much as I'd love to come up with a third category to be an obscure, humorous, miniscule slice of the pie, nobody ever says, "Have you ever read ___? Meh."
People read, and they recommend (for or against) based on how they feel about their membership in that club. If you liked what you read, you want to invite other people into the club so they can enjoy it as you did. Like so many other things in life, it speaks to the fact that most people get a kick out of shared experiences. And the beautiful thing, unlike a traditional club, is that there's no limit on membership.
Which always makes me feel like I'm missing out on something. I remember little before I learned how to read, but what I do remember is that I was forever pestering my parents and big sister with the same question: "What does that say?" There was information out there, and I didn't have it. Even then I knew that even the familiar part of my world was bigger than I'd ever be able to get ahold of, but I'd be damned if I wasn't going to try to get ahold of as much of it as possible. Still, for every club that I join, I uncover numerous others that I'd like to be inducted into.
I find it impossibly frustrating every time I come across something written in a language I don't understand. That impossible frustration is compounded (if that's possible) when it appears in one of the numerous writing systems whose clubhouse I haven't visited. (I might be able to stumble through pronouncing a paragraph of Spanish, even if its meaning is gobbledegook to me, but I literally wouldn't even know where to start if presented with Braille, Chinese characters, or heiroglyphics of any sort. I actually can't use the phrase "It's Greek to me" the way most people would, because my engineering background forced me to learn what most of the Greek letters are, and my natural burning to know made me figure out their Latin equivalents.)
And so I read a lot. Books, TV listings, newspapers, menus, ESPN's BottomLine, food packages, books, books, books, books, books, box scores, game stories, books, packing slips, book reviews, weather reports (which I rarely heed), books, and the greatest invention of all time: WIKIPEDIA. Somewhere in there, I developed a taste for well-developed ideas, which I think brings about at least a part of my difficulty interacting with actual people. Almost everyone sounds dumb to me if they don't speak in properly structured sentences, or at least ones that deliberately break from standard in order to serve some rhetorical purpose. What's more, I can't stand to be thought of that way (even though I'm consciously aware (now) that virtually no one else thinks that way), so I usually don't speak until I'm confident I can express an idea with grammar that is at least defendable, if not outright unassailable.
As a result, I cannot bear the company of anyone who isn't funny enough to make me overlook their grammar, and I speak far less than average. On top of this, I tend to speak as I write: in compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences which almost invariably involve an unusually large number of commas, adverbs, and conjunctions.
So I go back to my books (etc.), and in times of self-pity, I often choose a book I've read before because I know I like to visit that clubhouse. And that's where the real magic of the written word is: re-readability. Without any resistance, I can go back to any given page and find the exact same words just waiting there for me. (And while there's all that sort of business about not being able to stand in the same river twice, I'm not feeling post-modern enough to go into the ramifications of changing perspectives right now.) Sometimes that property feels like a curse when I read a paragraph ten times without processing it, but the beauty is that no matter how many times my mind wanders, no matter whether I fall asleep in the middle, I'll never miss anything, because I can just pick up where I left off. And whoever had the idea would thank me for sticking it out and getting every word, as opposed to speakers who would likely be annoyed by a lack of attention and would rather not have to repeat themselves.
So if "always there for you" is the definition of a friend, the written word is easily the best friend I've ever had.