The weight of words

Written by hootenannie on July 8th, 2008

“Rule #1: when all else fails, follow instructions. And Rule #2: don’t be an asshole.” (Anne Lamott, Plan B)
“It’s not a crime to be an asshole, but it’s very counter-productive.” (Hancock)

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I thrive on words. I read novels slowly and carefully, savoring the phrases, and underlining sentences that resonate with me. Usually, these lines are not flashy or life-altering – but something small will stand out to me, or tug at a long-buried emotion.

A sampling of such lines from the book I am currently reading, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale:
“He has a French face, lean, whimsical, all planes and angles, with creases around the mouth where he smiles.”
“We have learned to see the world in gasps.”
“Without a word she swivels, as if she’s voice-activated, as if she’s on little oiled wheels, as if she’s on top of a music box.”

See? There is nothing universe-tilting about these lines. But something about each of them meant something to me, and called my name like an unfamiliar but comforting friend.

I am becoming more and more confident attributing the title of “writer” to myself. No, I am not an author. I have never been published. I didn’t study journalism, and Lord knows that I don’t write poetry. I’m just Annie: I blog, and write songs when I feel like it. But between those two things, I am stepping more and more into the role of “writer.” I am using words in new ways, and paying attention more, and feeling the need to spend time every single day articulating something, anything, through words.

But as a result – as an outcome of my posting my words “out there” for people to see – I am inevitably opening myself up to feedback. As my sphere of readership is expanded, so grows the chance that someone might take issue with my words. In the past two weeks, I have had numerous negative responses to things that I have written – not necessarily harsh words, but definitely challenging.

While my initial reaction to opposing reactions is to feel gutted like a trout, I am learning that if I am going to be bold and intrepid with my words, I need to also have a steely resilience in place. Or, if I must be sensitive, I need to use much more discretion and rein in my words. And in the end, I suppose a giant dose of humility is never a bad thing.

When I look back on my life, I can see the weight of words. I can tell you the words that have built me up, and the words that have left me feeling like trampled trash. I can see the ways that words have shaped my outlook, my confidence, my faith, and my subsequent actions. Words, like music, are invisible and intangible – one might think that they exist only in time, and disappear as soon as they are spoken. However, fleeting as they are, words are heavy, and lasting, and of real consequence.

I want to use words to feed and grow the good in the people around me. And when I fail, as I’m sure I will continue to do, I want to have the grace and humility to admit that I’ve been an asshole.

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