This mail is not intended to be an apology as much as my own acknowledgment of my existence. Of late, I have become cognizant of what a significant role writing, and having my writing read, plays in the construction of my self-awareness – whether profound or mundane. Even as I live moments, I do not experience them with the same clarity and richness as I do when I write about those moments. Why, I don’t pause to think about something – anything – as much as when I do when I place commas and periods. I don’t recognize possession unless it comes with an apostrophe.
To some extent, this has slowed down the speed with which I can take on life in all its forms and guises; the exhilaration is more prodigious, and the conclusions and judgments more deliberated. To someone standing next to me, in a moment I would later discover to have been the host of an epiphany, I come across as detached and indifferent, as someone lacking empathy. But I have empathy, sometimes too much, at others even suffocating. However, I haven’t bothered explaining this to anyone… until now. And why do I choose to tell you? Because you will read me. You are reading me.
So much has kindled an awareness also of what each word brings with itself: a logbook of how memories have been created, recorded and recollected over centuries of the language’s existence. You read sentences from left to right, or right to left or top to bottom depending on the language, and you are attributing the purpose of the words you’re parsing to your interpretation of the text. Now, break the flow: go orthogonal and move your eyes in a direction perpendicular to the one that unlocks meaning. Suddenly, you are confronted with words – individual, nuclear words – silently staring at you. Isn’t it a scary sight to look at symbols that suddenly seem devoid of meaning or purpose?
Inky scratches on paper. Like what a prisoner in a high-security prison does with his nails on the walls after years of crippling solitude.
Count how many times each such word appears on the page, in the book, in all the books you own, in all the books that have ever existed. Each such word, whatever it is, has been invoked to evoke multiplets of emotions. Each such word has participated in all from the proclamation that burnt down Nero’s Rome to the one that ended slavery in Western civilization, from Anthony’s selfless lament to Nietzsche’s self-liberating one. Words have not been used but repeated to simply put together a finite number of intentions in seemingly infinite ways. Each such word gallantly harbors a legacy of the need for that word.
As Roland Barthes writes in Camera Lucida, look at a portrait photograph of Napoleon Bonaparte’s youngest brother, Jerome, taken in 1852. Imagine looking into the brother’s eyes – and tell yourself that you are now looking into the eyes that once looked into Napoleon’s. Don’t you feel a weight from the sensation that what you’re looking at may contain a scar from where a powerful man’s stare etched into? I feel a similar weight when I use words; I feel a constant reminder ringing in my head about using them in such a way that preserves their dignity, their heritage. I feel that there is wisdom in their shapes and strokes. It calms me deeply, just like a ritual and its processes might.
And when such legacies are brought to bear on every experience of mine – howsoever trivial – I can’t help but become addicted to their reassuring wisdom, their reassuring granular clarity. When writing with such words, I am more pushed to re-evaluate whatever it is that I am saying, more encouraged to plumb the murkier depths of my conscience that are closed to simpler wordless introspection. When I write, I feel like I finally have the tools I have long yearned for to build strong character, and find inner peace when I seek for it the most.
(Special thanks to The Hesitant Scribe for telling me it’s OK to live just to love words.)