Words are just my thing

Published 2:11 am Wednesday, November 3, 2010

For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked words, the way they come together to express thoughts, ideas, paint pictures in our heads.

When I was little, I wanted to read, to know how the words I heard looked in writing. One of my disappointments was coming home from school that first day not knowing how to read.

I thought if I showed up and sat in a classroom with a teacher, reading happened and I’d be able to pick up a book and go to town. Well, it didn’t work that way.

However, with practice, it happened. Letters revealed their sounds, became words printed in black and white and then arranged themselves into sentences, paragraphs and books that told stories. I was in heaven reading everything I could get my hands on.

The library was my sanctuary, a place to lose myself in the words bound together and organized neatly on shelves. It was amazing to walk the aisles picking out the stories that went home to stay with me for a week.

As I grew, I discovered I could express myself with words and another world opened up. I cataloged experiences, putting memories into a diary. When I was older, a journal became the friend I turned to when I needed an ear, a place I went when I felt I had nowhere else to turn.

Years later, that journal became my teacher, seeing in the sentences the me who grew and changed. In the pages were lessons, things I needed to hear to move past the stuck places.

Then, I ventured into sharing my words in print, sending my thoughts out hoping to strike a cord in kindred souls.

Yes, words are my friends but lately I’ve thought more about their power. It occurred to me that words have lives all their own and we give them life by how we interpret them.

I know that sounds kind of “out there,” but it is simple.

Take the word “mouse.” When we read that word, it conjures up the idea of a furry rodent for lots of us. However, some think of a thing we use to click our way around a computer — same word conveying completely different ideas.

Another example, I read turnips and think yummy. My husband reads turnips and thinks yuck, one word evokes separate experiences. Expand on that, and read the words “conservative” and “liberal.” Each causes a reaction based on how the reader relates to and understands the meaning of the word.

That is a couple of instances, there are thousands of others and it gets more complicated beyond the familiar borders of home. Football describes one game in America and something else altogether in Europe.

Words, as much as I love them, are often imperfect when it comes to communicating because they are at best symbols for things and we understand them in our own way depending on our experiences with what we think they describe and what that means to us.

Still, they are our best opportunity to share. They are our chance to express ourselves, to put something of ourselves out into the world, perhaps to explain who we are and how we understand things. And, maybe to leave something of ourselves behind when we go.

I like the way Maya Angelou puts it.

“People all over the world use words; the writer comes along and has to use these most-in-use objects, put together a few nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives … and pull them together and make them bounce, throw them against the wall and make people say, ‘I never thought of it that way.'”

Now, for someone who likes words that is as exciting as it gets. It almost as good as the first time I knew the squiggles on the page said, “Run, Spot run.