I am not a great writer. Not a particularly good one either but I do have a firm belief – even utter reverence – for words. Whenever I come across a beautiful sentence, a string of words arranged in an unusual or striking manner, I can bask in it at length, reading and re-reading it, going back to it, letting it swirl in my head. Sometimes I can be more attached to individual sentences than to a whole body of work.
I am not an envious person but I do envy the ability to make writing jump out of a page, make you stand at attention and pull you all the way in.
For the longest time, words, read or written, was how I made sense of the world. I thought the entirety of the human experience could be found in books, from Greek tragedy to post-modernism. My lack of faith in a higher being was filled by my belief than George Sand, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Virginia Wolf could explain it all to me. They, and hundreds of others, did and still do, sometimes poetically, at times brutally – I have gone through my personal life using the refracting lens of literature as a rudder.
But I feel as if my reverence is shared by a smaller and smaller pool of individuals, with the majority throwing words carelessly about, in tweets or FB posts, on tv and all over the blogosphere, words aimed at obfuscating rather than enlightening, for personal gain or personal vendettas, with our commander-in-chief the most spectacular offender.
Emojis, which I also employ with abandon, have replaced the more time-consuming effort to express feelings. Condensing thoughts in 140 characters or less is a brilliant exercise in wit and brevity but most of us are unable to do it successfully. We barely talk anymore, we text – I do too. Much faster and less engaging. I am afraid words are losing their place of honor in a civilized society.
For a brief moment, yesterday, my faith was restored. The young professor who teaches the class I am taking this semester has a habit of making us do hokeyish exercises aiming at capturing the attention, if not the imagination, of his young students. This particular exercise consisted in passing a cup around and putting a single word in it, representing what we would like to see more of in the world. Forty people were suddenly able to come with forty different words to express something they deeply cared about. For a moment, words felt invested of magic powers again, full of possibilities.
Such moments of grace, and the solitude of books, will have to do for now. Until the madness passes and linguistic order is restored.