Nonfiction

The Writer, In and Out of Love.

Whether you keep record of the glorious or the grotesque, beware the lover whose first impression of you is forged through your work. The suitor who falls, head first, for your words — their beauty or strangeness; their raw, vein-opening properties; their subtle choreography across a page — will never truly know you. He may think you part-goddess, a sorcerer, a changeling, confusing your rare talent with an unattainable affection. For him, your heart is only to be apprehended in increments, a collection of short, amorphous fictions. For him, you are slightly more than mortal, a creature to be loved but held aloft.

He is not wrong. You do possess a particular power; all women do. But for the writer in love, words are an amulet of impregnable potency. Carefully composed, your words can bear him up. They can be lowered into pits, dropped like ladders from the sky. They can carry him elsewhere. But they can also be a murder, an acquittal, an asylum.

Maddeningly, what they meant months or weeks or mere hours ago may not be what they mean the next moment.

In this way, it is more possible for the woman-writer to destroy something essential in a suitor than it is for any other construct of woman in existence. It is right for the men we love to treat us gingerly.

If we are idealized, it is, at first, not entirely unwelcome. We intend, however quietly, to be adored. Here is our secret: we do not feel mortal, not always. When we are with the work, in solitude, we are transcendent. And when we emerge, we covet the worlds of our making, disappointed when we look up and find ourselves tethered to a reality we cannot so easily bend. No, we do not expect to die; our words, should they reach the eyes of future generations, will regenerate us.

Writers may be more reclusive — may appear more enigmatic — than actors, but we court a similar importance, perhaps especially in our romances. We may come to our lovers as casks filled with nothing save our insecurities, and expect that they empty us then refill us with affirmation. We may find ourselves unable to fully invest in their conversation or emotion, so preoccupied are we with capturing the moment for later freeing on an empty page. We may pummel them with a deluge of missives and demand that they respond in kind. And if our dealings with them begin to breach that most sacred of spaces — the space within which we create — we will grow to resent them.

It is unsurprising, then, that the layman who falls for a writer often feels he has gotten both more and far less that he’s bargained for.

But woe unto the woman-writer who becomes enamored of one of her own. They will be as two tempests in battle, each on quests to throw the brighter bolt of lightening. Whether hot or cold, they will gasp under the weight of all their words. The lava and the avalanche are equally likely to consume them.

None of this is to say that we should resolve ourselves to solitude. It is simply a reminder. We must never let our power corrupt our ability to care. We must remind ourselves that the bone and the breath, the warm inner skin of a palm, belong to a person and not to one of our paragraphs. If we are to love at all, we must understand our limits. Though our words may grant us second life, it is only this first in which we are able to truly live.

Advertisements
Standard
Nonfiction

The Irretrievable Word (or Mo’ Public, Mo’ Problems).

Words are everything. Words are empires; they are ruins. Words are the fiery dragon and the watery balm that extinguishes. They rouse the beast and tame the serpent. Words impress and belittle. They mock and exhort and destroy.

I am well acquainted with their import and how the hands that move them should be steadied, undefiled. But my work with them has always been doubled-edged: a dark art, a sacred vocation. I can rush them, for money, push them into a vice and turn them till they’re taut and succinct and serviceable. I can wring dry their water, make them acrid, isolating, detached. Or I can sit with them by a stream, till they glow and they flush and sustain. Words are pliable this way. And our motive, in using them, matters.

I used to have the luxury of preciousness, of doting over every blessed phrase until it sang, until I was certain I’d done it justice, until I knew I’d done no harm. But such luxuries wither away with daily deadlines, and the pageant I’d made of carefully parsing every thought has been slowly scaled down until there is little left at all: an errant simile twisting in the wind like a streamer, a string of once-electric vowels gone hollow like the echo of vuvuzelas.

This used to be what I wanted: wider readership, more frequent contributions to the funnel cloud that culls our culture’s words. But in the eye of the twister, I have clarity–and I know the significance of the work I once did: slow work, painstakingly constructed, and published only when I was pleased. Now, I know the vulnerability of dashing off words and watching them flutter quickly out of reach, rather than preening under the caress of my hand. And perhaps worst of all, I know what it is to have serious doubt that you’ve said what you mean, that you mean what you say. I know the cold sweat, the worry that wakes you at dawn and wonders: did that essay do more harm than good, did I injure the ones I hoped to help, did I do a disservice to my family, my friend, myself?

Words are everything. And when they leave the heart and they enter the air, they are no longer ours. This is hard to accept: like full-grown children, they have no choice but to reflect the way they were raised. And under the constant deluge of others’ assessment, I often feel I’ve failed them. But this is the burden of being not just noticed, but truly considered: you must always account for your way with words.

Standard