I wish there were always words available to me for the picking. Like an orchard of broad-limbed trees waiting in my backyard. I could ease out the screen door, relish the creak, watch my dogs run up and down the rows, stirring up dust. Perhaps in this world there are chickens. Perhaps in this world, I eat eggs. Who knows? And the words are tucked between thoughtful leaves, flushed and ready for me to pick.
Having the choice of thousands of words would be such a novelty. I pride myself on my vocabulary, but every day I find myself using the same subset of words over and over again. I'm never downright monosyllabic, or anything. But I forget the best words. Words like... specificity, inert, malcontent, repression, fortitude.
I am reminded that these words exist by good authors. Currently I am engrossed by Eat Pray Love , a memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. In the first third of this book, the author is eating her way through Italy, learning Italian on a whim, making lifelong friends with interesting, intriguing people. She leaves me awestruck, sentence after sentence. I realize, somewhat dejectedly, that even after 5 years of college, three of them going through entirely legitimate paces at UC Davis, after obtaining my B.A. in English, my grasp on language and literature is scant. Ms. Gilbert's, on the other hand, is like steel.
Naturally, I am comforted by the fact that I do know all of the words. Her vocabulary, though vast, isn't entirely foreign. I recognize the words in context, at the very least. A crowd of them pushes toward me and I, again thankfully, see them and process their faces. These are folks I know. Granted, the last time I saw them was kindergarten. Now the boys have beards and the girls have breasts. But I know them. Some I even wave to, pull aside, obtain a phone number. I'll look them up in time for my next blog entry and pass them around for the world to see.
When I sit down to do my writing (if I do, in fact, make the point to sit down and do my writing), my biggest pet peeve is losing momentum while racking my brain for a word. Sometimes I have to take my brain up in both hands and shake it like a piggy bank. Something is rattling around in there. Something with four syllables. Not unlikely. Not inappropriate. Not unfortunate. Bad timing. Wrong moment. Then it slips through the slot in the piggy's back and bounces off the table to the floor. I scratch around on the carpet for a bit and then, if I'm lucky, I find it and hold it up to the light. Inopportune. Thank God. It almost got away, but I found it. This little piece of knowledge I amassed at some point is still there. I shelve it, carefully. Organization is helpful.
Sometimes during this drill, the word drops out, bounces off the table and rolls away to the land of mismatched socks and pairs of my dad's glasses and WMDs. Lost forever.
So you can see that this dream of mine, the bizarre Word Orchard, is well founded. Only one who has experienced the frustration of the nomadic wordsmith, especially one who finds herself often severely off her game, can sympathize. In the grand scheme, words are a low priority. Famine, plague, terrorist attacks, vermin... these are the stuff of tragedy.
But without words, those of us set snugly in our beautiful, much-too-large American homes, protected from the worst and even the not-so-very-bad that the world has to offer, we would never know even a trifle of the strife and pain of history, of our fellow man. Sympathy is good. Empathy is better. And only through acknowledgement of suffering can one understand the pain and, hopefully, think of a constructive way to help. We are lost without the right words.
Perhaps tomorrow, after an excellent night of sleep, after a hearty breakfast, after a much-needed moment of prayer, I will have a stroll through my orchard, basket in hand, and pluck the ripe words from the branches. And then I will sit before my computer and produce a veritable fruit salad of a story, succulent, bodacious, flavorful and satisfying.