Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Words! Words! Words!

For as long as I can remember I've lived my life in a state of semi-fear. You name it, at one time or another I've probably been afraid of it. Even though I've out-grown most of my childhood fears like daddy long spiders (as long as I'm on the other side of the road) and not being able to get under my desk fast enough in the case of a Cuban missile strike,as an adult I carry around more than my share of chickenheartedness. Fear of failure or success; fear of being loved or not being loved; fear of attachment or fear of abandonment; etc, etc, etc. Fear isn't a new thing for me, but as I move through the second half of my life, I wonder if it isn't time to unlock the shackles of fmy fears and see how far I might soar.

I had an "ah ha" moment not long ago. The light bulb went off and I heard myself say, "I'm afraid of words." I agree, my epiphany was a strange one, even for me, but that's what happens in therapy. Just when I think I'm going to get out of the room without a handful of snotty tissues and a tear-stained face, the memories come flooding back and my inner child grabs onto my gut, saying, "Pay Attention" in her "this is really important voice." I've learned over the years that when this happens, something significant is going to happen, even if it is going to be a little painful. So I hang on, and listen.

In this case, my fear appears to come from both words said and those left unsaid. A child's perception of adult conversations can wound as deeply as a knife. Even though my grown up persona tells the scared little girl that "sticks and stones can break my bones but names [words] will never hurt me," I realize how shallow that really sounds. At the age of 55 I realized, if not for the first time at least at a gut level, that my instincts were right, that words can hurt, and often did or do.

The irony of this realization is the knowing that even when words are withheld, the stoney silence of sylables left unspoken can also cause damage to a child's psyche and play into her fears for a lifetime. Hopefully now that I am aware, I'll be able to put up an invisible word shield when I feel damaging verbal weapons heading my way. Maybe I'll be able to consider the source and let the words roll off my back like water from a duck's back. Or, maybe I'll just stick my fingers in my ears and sing my "la la" song. What I've got to remember is to trust my gut and use MY words to make a difference.

Having said that, even though I'm no Don Imus, I've been known to throw a verbal javelin or two in my lifetime. The good news is I'm sorry for it. But, the trouble with saying something I immediately regret is that often the "I'm sorry" falls flat and doesn't hold the same potency as the mean thing that just came rolling off my tongue. Especially if one happens to be talking on the radio.

Perhaps having this blog is my radio format. Last month in my post entitled "Nannyisms" I got a comment (one of only a few so I give them great credibility) that said, "Nerds are people too -- a very important life lesson! " Well, I immediately took that as a dig; that my labeling people as nerds, even if it was a more of a description than a moniker, sort of nullified any possible goodness of my advice.

I'm not sure what the commenter meant, but it made me think, and I'm still thinking. I've decided that in this world there are all kinds of people. Big, little, fat, thin, funny, sad, athletic, mathematically challenged and rocket scientist brilliant, and so on. Somewhere in a list like that the word "nerd" is bound to pop up. And I feel like I can say this, because, like most kids at some time during their adolescence, I've been a nerd - perhaps even queen of the nerds - and I probably have pictures to prove it. It doesn't make it any more right to call people names even if you are wearing a nerdy crown and ribbon across your pocket protector, so, to all you people out there that feel a little bit on the outside, I apologize for my lack of sensitivity.

As I've been turning all this over in my head, waiting for an apology to come together in some meaningful way, I happened across a newpaper article about Tampa Poet Laureate - James E. Tokely, Sr. Here's what caught my eye:

“ ... something positively traumatic happened to me.” [said Tokely] He became part of the second class to integrate a junior high school. There, he says, he met children who were more into chess, reading, drama and classical music. In other words, all the things he loved.

“They helped me to be human,"Tokely says. “They were nerds in their own nerddom. They were happy with themselves.”

Is that another way of saying "nerds are people too"?

I also enjoyed reading this: "… at three, he fell in love with words when his grandmother read him a book about kittens and puppies and he heard the words “rapscallion” and “cantankerous.”
“Those words stuck in my ear like a roach at night, he says. “They began my love affair with words.

Imagine having a love affair with words and not a foreboding! (Imagine having a roach stuck in your ear at night? Now that's a nightmare waiting to happen!)

I have to agree, rapscallion is kind of a fun word to say. After reading about Tokely, I began to make a list of words that have the same kind of appeal for me. With no rhyme or reason for their order, here are a few I've run across lately: salmagundi; lammergeier; vertiginous; crenulate; Sisyphean; judder; and prelapsarian.

Most of them came from the book I am currently reading. Obviously that author has spent some time with a dictionary, thesaurus or both. If his junior high peers made fun of him for his lexicographic affection, he's the one having the last laugh - a NY Times best seller.

I close this treatise on words with the lyrics from a BeeGee's tune that keeps running through my head. "It's only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away" which actually doesn't have anything at all to do with what I've just written, it's just one of those spritely little tunes that won't stop.


Anonymous said...

Oh dear. That phantom "Nannyism" commenter was none other than your very own daughter. I signed it, "-w," so I thought you'd know it was me. I should clarify that I certainly did not mean my comment, "Nerds are people too -- a very important life lesson!" as a dig. And if I'd thought for a moment that it might be read that way I would have taken pains to be more clear. I'm not sure I really meant anything at all by the comment except that the line in your blog entry, "Nerds are people too," just struck me as funny. Not funny malicious. It just made me chuckle and want to call it out to say, "Right on, Merry ME. Nerds -are- people too."

I'm sorry you took it as a dig, but not terribly sorry because I love this 'words, words, words' post and if my misconstrued comment in any way helped to inspire it then I'm comfortable with that.

That said, I do hope that you set aside your fear of words because, to me, your words (and how you string 'em together) are one of your greatest strengths, Mamacita. Embrace them, baby. Don't let them cause any vertiginousness.

Love you and your words,

- your daughter, a nerd (and a dork!) who relishes the 'nerd' label/moniker/description. In fact, I'm wearing an "I love Nerds" t-shirt right now.

Merry ME said...


I love comments! Especially one as good as this!