27 June 2009

Language of Loving the Language

“Even at this early stage of their development, the Irish were intoxicated by the power of words.”
-from How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill

Aha. That explains why I feel so dizzy and lightheaded so much of the time. I am not native born Irish, just of Irish ancestry, but…words. Words. Words. I love them. I cannot get enough of them. It pains me that there are far more words that I don’t know, than ones that I do. And that there are many that I do not know how to pronounce properly, but would love to use. And lots that I do know how to pronounce, but have yet to work into daily conversation.

Like saltire. Heehee. Not much call for that in most of the meetings I attend.

Words. I read the dictionary, just for fun. Sometimes, I’ll go to look up a particular word but get so distracted by all the other lovely ones I see that I forget what it was I went to look up in the first place. Occasionally my daughter and I will sit down on the floor or the couch and leaf through the dictionary together. She is usually looking for the “animal” pictures (I have a dictionary that has small illustrations for some words, usually animals) but now and again I’ll pick out a word and tell her what it is and what it means. Someday, I’m going to scrape together enough cash to buy a full set of the Oxford English Dictionary. Just because I want it.

Words and language fascinate me. I think about them all the time. Or should I say, cogitate? Or perhaps ruminate? Ponder? Meditate?

See? I told you! I cannot think of one word without thinking of others like it or riffing on a particular word for minutes, hours, days. Once, after an all-nighter back in college, I had the word lachrymose looping in my head for hours until I finally went and looked it up. That it meant “given to tears or weeping” or something like that only befuddled me. It was only because I had seen the word in a book I glanced at in the library that I even knew it existed.

But I’ve been that way since I was a kid. Who was it that said the dictionary is like a poem about everything?

What are words for, when no one listens anymore…what are words for when no one listens, it’s no use talkin’ at all…”
-from What Are Words For, by Missing Persons

Even if no one was listening, I would still be fascinated by words, by language. Precise and fuzzy, slippery and ironclad, words and language strung together like pearls for the mind. I like reading them, deciphering them, learning them. I love writing them.

Which brings me to the true subject for today: writing and writing paper and writing utensils. I know that hardly anyone actually writes anymore, with pen or pencil and paper. I thoroughly understand the value and utility of computerized word processing. Ironically enough, it was the computer that rekindled my love of writing. The ability to cut and paste, to edit, to make writing so plastic takes away some of the drudgery associated with actually putting words to paper (or pixels to screen).

In doing so, though, it helped me see how much I enjoyed the physical act of writing. And it really took fire when I started keeping journals back in 2003, upon the birth (and subsequent brief lives) of my twins. The act of putting pen on paper soothed me, slowed down my racing mind and made it possible for me to rein in my thoughts. Putting the brakes on a runaway train, so to speak.

There is something hypnotic and meditative about filling a blank sheet of paper with words. The best times, when I get a good idea, or need to spill the contents of my fevered brain, are when I can take my notebook or a fresh sheet of toothy writing paper and just write, write, write in the light of a lamp on the table or the nightstand. Just write. In silence, when the ideas are particularly strong or numerous. Just me, the pen and the paper. That little scratchy noise as the pen drags over the paper? One of my favorite sounds in the world. I especially like it when I can get into a groove, the words flowing, pen skritching over the page…and I hit the Zone. Time flies and I get lost in the act of writing and the sheer beauty of creation…

This was all triggered by a sudden impulse of mine, to get a fountain pen to replace the one I used to have, years ago. I had inherited an honest-to-jayzus stainless steel fountain pen from my maternal grandmother. I loved it. I wrote with it. I sketched with it.

And I lost it. Over twenty years gone, now.

It is quiet now, Wee Lass having gone to bed hours ago. I found myself this warm summer evening, sitting at the table with my laptop in the light of a banker’s lamp. It has a green shade, glowing with an emerald refulgence (heehee) and giving me great comfort as I stir the gumbo pot of words swirling around in my head. On the computer screen is the website for a manufacturer of fine writing papers. I am staring open-mouthed, agape at the myriad possibilities of paper, of envelopes…and pens.

There it is, right in front of me: a fountain pen, blue with a stainless steel nib. I want it. I don’t know that I can resist it. I see that pen, and I hear my daughter telling me a story, while my grandmother takes my hand in hers, and together we fill the page.

With words, and love.


  1. and just that brief glimpse into your mind was told masterfully.

    as usual.

  2. You know what? I got 3 words for you.

    You. Fuckin. Rock.

  3. Are you sure the Irish weren't just intoxicated? kidding kidding!

    Once again, a great read from a great writer. =)

  4. Was your undergrad degree in English? Mine was, and you make me feel like a kindergarten student.


    Also, have you been to Oxford? Between the architecture and the University, you'd be right at home...

    Excellent work as always, Gumby.

  5. I can't remember the last time I tried to "write" with a pen and paper . . . I'm a lefty and my hand smears over all the words...

  6. Ya, what IB said. You make it look good, Gumbo. Couple months back I got myself a shiny new Faber-Castle to start writing in the Moleskine notebook that my wife got me for Valentine's. I love writing with it. Sure it's messy sometimes, but there's just something about picking up that heavy pen and opening that magic little book.

    And on a positive note, I don't have to turn it on or make sure its batteries are charged in the middle of the night when insomnia and I are playing cards and an idea hits me.

    They also don't produce radiation. Always a good thing.

  7. I'm Irish too, and have loved words forever. I could write out my very long first, middle, and last name in cursive when I was three, (having a big brother 8 years my senior to teach me didn't hurt). By the age of four I was reading Dick and Jane books into my father's tape recorder. I've lost my affinity for pen and paper except for greeting cards and the notes I write next to my laptop.

    You do, have A WAY with words, that last paragraph and sentence especially.

  8. Hmm. You really ARE Irish. It's the land of Saints and Scholars.

  9. Oh, the danger of becoming so addicted to pens and paper and lovely notebooks. Mmmm...notebooks... Also, have you heard of Save the Words? www.savethewords.org. You can "adopt" little used words and promise to use them in everyday conversation. This is a wonderful post, full of joy and curiosity.

  10. Wow. That almost says it all for me. But not quite . . . :) I am writer too.

    I can do a lot on the keyboard, but when I am at my most creative it's with the help of a pen and paper and the noise of only my brain, anxious to fill up the pages with my thoughts and my imagination. Something really powerful when the connection is made from my brain, all the way down my arm, into my fingers, and bleeding out all over the page. It's what I love most about writing.

    Well done, Irish. Well, well done.

  11. Saltire is NOT, I was disappointed to learn, a salty satire.

    On the other hand, I just added another lovely, and perfectly useless, word to my vocabulary.

    So that's a profitable day, right there.

  12. How The Irish Saved Civilization is the best book ever.

  13. Here's a blog of Words, Words, Words!
    http://cjewords.blogspot.com/ from the UK. Take a scroll...
    You may find it interesting!

  14. To make a short story long... I love pens too. I am in love with extra fine Sharpies right now. I have been asked to leave the notebooks alone. It seems it isn't cool to sniff the paper until after you pay for them... Who knew?

  15. Being a very visual person, I feel the same way about paintings and drawings and photographs and film. I find myself far more fascinated by the structure of most websites rather than the content.

    Then I read your blog, and have to rethink my whole stance on the website thing. You are amazing.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...