Where Have I Been? (And Some Philosophical Thoughts on Words)

Wow, it feels like it’s been forever since I posted a blog…I guess it has! Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you all, life has just been beyond crazy. A quick update on me: I’m in college now! Emory University, to be specific! Now that I’m a GA peach, expect quite a few y’alls in the next blogs. Just kidding, my accent is still classic New England, although I’m loving the South, and more importantly loving school! Lots of work (hard work), but amazingly fun! The following post is actually one of the first essays I wrote since school started, for a seminar I’m taking called Contemplate, Debate, Create. We had to write about “what gives us pause.” You know me, that answer was easy: words. Enjoy, and expect me to try and continue posting more frequently now that I’ve settled in a bit!

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Words. They have a raw, inhuman beauty that is both extremely accessible and impossibly attainable. I am interminably awed by the way in which words strung together can have different meanings, influence lives, or touch us in certain ways action or even personal experience never could. It is words, with all honesty, that have shaped my life, both words spoken to me, words read, words said, and even words which I have never laid eyes on, yet have had a profound influence on my life, both with and without my knowledge or consciousness of their impact. It is words which have caused me, too many a time to count, to stop and reevaluate the human condition, for words have the potential for powerful connection that transcends the most basic boundaries of language and communication.

Even on a rudimentary level, words are creators, change-makers, and artists. Literally speaking, a word is a unique combination of 26 symbols- “meaningless” shapes that we learn to sing in order in kindergarten, and draw out in size 70 pt. font on blank, lined worksheets until we have memorized the curves and angles of a, b, c, and so on. Alone, each letter carries potential, yet has simply not realized it yet. Yet, then we combine those letters, mixing vowel with consonant, a with t, r with o, c with h, we create a phonetic string that we can call a word. And that word has its own unique meaning—its own denotation, connotation, and significance.

alphabet

Further still, we can now take those so-called “words” and string them together into what we now call a sentence, so that their jumble of meanings may be explained and elaborated on to develop an idea with a concrete start and an end—a sentence headed by a capital letter and closed with a period. Those sentences, which are powerful in themselves, may be explained further into paragraphs, like puzzle pieces added in reverse—matched together slowly to ultimately create an image.

I may go on and on, yet will stop because no matter what level one has reached regarding words, sentences, paragraphs, or entire stories, each possesses the one commonality that they are distinctly unique. In the creation of the combinations, the result is one which has never existed before—its own idea, entity, and being. Words are builders that produce distinct thought, and in that thought comes the meaning, change, and potential that truly characterizes humanity. Altogether, it is the various combinations of words which I have created and encountered that have affected me and those around me to create my own human experience.

This reminds me of a game I used to play called “Funny Business.” Basically, there are two sets of cards of various occupations. Players draw one from each deck, and then have two minutes to create the name of a business that combines both in a unique and catchy manner. The results are often crazy and insensible, but the core concept is rudimentary in elaborating on the beauty of words. Words give meaning to what had no meaning before, and quite literally can create “something” out of nothing. A word in one’s head is simply a thought, a locked image or idea that only you know. Yet when put onto paper and elaborated on, that word is a building block of turning the intangible into the tangible—thought into visible, shareable, and relatable coherence. Communication. Expression. Creation. Art.

funy bus

Moving beyond the level of a board game, I’ll cite a favorite lesson from one of my high school English teachers. He told me: “When you’re writing, you start with a blank page, and each word that you put on that page is a choice. The result is something that you yourself created, distinctly unique, and is accountable to no one else, as that is what makes you an author.” While that is a great tip for essay writing, it may also serve as a somewhat cliché, yet valid metaphor for life and the human experience. Ultimately, we are the “authors” of our own lives, and the choices and decisions that we make are the words, sentences, and paragraphs of our constantly moving and evolving story. I am a pen. The world is the paper. Words are the method.

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Yet there are two elements of this which are not mentioned, but play a major role in the creation of the human identity and experience. They are, firstly, that words, like so many things, are imperfect, and secondly, that it is impossible to individually exist with our own words if we are not exposed to and influenced by the words of others. Yes, our words are choices and yes, our lives are created of our decision, but we must constantly remind ourselves that we are humans—biologically, in thought, personal ethics, and on all other levels of our lives. Naturally, then, words too are “human,” per say. They are sneaky, shifty, and contradictory. They are happy, sad, and angry. They can resolve conflict or create it, they can break us down or build us up.

Take, for example, even the word “human” itself. I am a human, you are a human, and the boy behind me chewing loudly on a granola bar is a human. We may be human biologically, in the sense that we are living and breathing creatures which possess cognitive and physical ability. Yet we may also be human in the sense that we are imperfect people who make many great choices, but conversely equally as many poor ones (was not bringing an umbrella with me today in the pouring rain the best decision? Debatable…). Two meanings, yet one word. Taken one way, the use of a certain word may impact someone’s experience vastly differently than the way another might perceive it to be. It is their own reaction, however, that makes their story unique, and makes words so powerful, because not only are each of our stories special, but they influence and contribute (or take away from) others’ stories in special ways as well.

Not to mention the contradictions of words. While innovative and progressive, words and language can often be confusing and downright odd. We need only look at the oxymorons we encounter every day to see this phenomena. “Jumbo shrimp,” really? Now that’s the “pot calling the kettle black.” In the book of our own lives, we experience these contradictions. We are, after all, only “human.” Can I say that I am less at fault than the noisy boy behind me (who has now moved on to a crunchy apple) when I was the one whose phone accidentally started playing “Get Dirty With Me” on Pandora an hour ago? Hypocrisy is a natural phenomenon in life, just as oxymoronic phrases happen to exist among the construct of words.

However, one must note that these “flaws” in words and life are important players in our identities. Words are imperfect, yet they must be if they are to have the impact for which they carry the potential. They are designed to carry the burden of double, triple, or quadruple meaning, and to bring to light issues of conflict both phonetically and in application. This is what gives them power. This is how words have made me and my life.

I have heard these words, read these words, thought these words, and written these words. I have even been impacted by words I never got the chance to personally experience, yet have marked milestones in human history and changed how humanity plays out. Words spoken to me have been my teachers and my examples—my AP Stats class and the advice from my mom telling me that, above all, “honesty” is the number one most important value I should hold myself to. I have been critiqued, and built up from that, and screamed at in moments of conflict. Words have slapped me across the face with their brutality, yet also shocked me with their compassion and love. I have taken the words spoken to me and made them a paragraph of my story, an element of my human “book” in which others play a role.

Likewise, I have read words, in the stories I immerse myself in and the dull Drivers’ Ed manual required to get my license. I have read letters that have announced “Happy Birthday!” and also those which have made me cry. I have read billboards on the highway touting the newest haircare product, and read the brutal reality of my medical results I didn’t want to see. All these words swirling around me I have filed away, again, as a paragraph in my story.

I have thought words. Hateful words which luckily never came out, and brave words to encourage myself. I have self-soothed and self-hated, theorized and worked through physics problems, cursed and silently praised those who deserved it, all without uttering a noise. That’s another beautiful thing about the ways in which words can change our lives—sometimes, their absence provides all the words we need. Sometimes, as a lady I once met told me, we just need to be “alone together,” in our words and in the silence that carries them.

And finally, I have been changed by words in the past. Words of brave individuals who “had dreams” for nations, and who fought for them. Words in law, written on ancient manuscripts, which have shaped the construct of the society I exist in today. Words, and their unique stringings, that had the power to change a nations’ identity, and in consequence my own.

There is something to be said for our reliance on and special relationship to words. More than anything, this is why words give me pause. They give me pause to think, for even a brief second, about the broader context of my human existence. About the blank pages ahead of me, and the filled up ones I have already made. Of the rips and tears, coffee stains and dog-chews on those pages, yet also of the colors added and glitter glue decorating them. Words, in essence, are the definition of human experience, and as a result the definition of my experience, according to (one) interpretation of “human.” They are literally just strings of symbols on paper, yet in interpretation and cognition are more impactful than I often realize, for my life is in reality one long word (supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-style) among the lives (or words) of others. In combination, I’m a part of a whole, made up of my own broken down parts.

Take even this paper itself—there are 1,873 words on these (formerly blank) pages, and they have never existed exactly this way in exactly this order or format ever. It is likely that they never will again. That’s pretty amazing. Likewise, there are 18 years in the pages of my life, also distinctly unique. The next pages are soon to be filled with words, and, guaranteed, they will be as distinctive as the words you just read were. So here goes— Go ahead and release that pause button. Press play, because the brief tangent on words has concluded. It’s time to live.

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Colorfully,

Rowena

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2 thoughts on “Where Have I Been? (And Some Philosophical Thoughts on Words)

  1. Caroline says:

    I actually clicked on the Play button, expecting it to lead me somewhere. I realized this was a knee-jerk reaction to seeing an “opportunity”, and a somewhat presumptuous expectation that all I needed to do to take advantage of it was sit back and watch it unfold. However, taking advantage of a given opportunity and having it “play out” automatically, is not nearly as rewarding as creating an opportunity, and masterminding its subsequent direction. Thank you Rowena for reminding me of this important lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

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