It’s easy to get lost in a word forest. It’s the consequence of total overwhelm combined with the sheer number of words in the English vocabulary and my complete, unlimited access to all of them. If only I could remember them all.
You know that saying, you can’t see the forest for the trees? Sometimes, I get so caught up in the words that I lose their meaning. Rather than reading and soaking in the story or ideas, reading becomes a word-scouting activity. A way in which to seek out, collect, play with, and consume all the words out there in the ether, like a kid sorting his Halloween candy.
It’s why I keep a Juicy Words journal. When I started it, I was very selective about what went in there because I’d chosen too beautiful a notebook for it. But it’s kind of like a 5-year-old walking into an ice-cream shop of hundreds of thousands of flavours and a similar number of toppings and having to choose just one or two. It’s impossible, if not unfair. But if that child gulped down a hundred flavours at once, well, it might result in vomitus.
Objectively, I know my Juicy Words journal is starting to become a messy collection of unrelated words scrawled upon milk-white paper. But I still can’t see it as anything other than art.
That’s why, when it comes to writing, simple and selective is the way to go. Though admittedly, and unapologetically, I don’t follow my own advice because I have a bit of a love affair with words. And like all romantic attachments, it has evolved. It started like a marble collection does, then it became an addiction in which I spent years word-binging and purging.
When I was in grad school, I had a literal school girl’s crush on Michel Foucault. No matter I could barely understand what the man was going on and on about, I gulped down his texts: The Order of Things, Discipline and Punish, Madness and Civilization. Not for the hidden meaning (and when I say hidden, I mean buried deep beneath the sand at the bottom of the ocean, completely inaccessible), but for the words.
They were rich, crisp, sharp, spiky, throat-cutting, and contagious. They were long lengths of rough, fraying rope I could barely grasp. Sometimes they were soft, doughy pillows I could relax into. Sweet, slippery seeds I slurped up with satisfaction. Other times, they were walls and ceilings and doors of someplace on the other side of the earth, or of an unknown world. It didn’t matter, I wanted them all. And not just Foucault. Ayn Rand got into me too with phrases that haunted my bones and subjected me to long bouts of staring blankly at a wall, stunned.
Gabriel García Márquez, withheld the goods and made me tear through Love in the Time of Cholera in search of more. I scrounged through AnaÏs Nin’s juicy secrets. And the poignant, tragic ones: Khaled Hosseini, Arundhati Roy, and many others.
Later on I discovered the poetry of Eastern philosophy. Its bare-bones. Simple words with million-dollar fortunes. Kahlil Gibran, Lao Tzu, Osho––let me repeat––OH-sho.
I ran through those word forests, completely lost and loving it. I could roll around in those words like they were piles of leaves, enjoying the dank, earthy scent of imaginings once trapped in books, now released by my obsessive love. I could gather them up and fling them into the air to watch them fall and scatter all around me. Complete and total rapture.
And then I slowed down. Not because the love affair waned, but because it deepened. I consumed less and appreciated more. I began to feel the sacredness of words and realized that taking in a few at a time was more satisfying than gulping down many at once.
I allowed my eyes first to graze them, then my mind to become acquainted with them, and my body to react to them with a churn in my belly, shortness of breath, a complete and utter emptiness. An inner stillness so profound that all I could do was stop mid-sentence, saturated in the energy of those words.
Every so often, a line of text would jolt me. That someone out there expressed, with six simple words, the contents of my heart. Did they know how powerful sentence number 7921 out of 12,843 was to my accidental self and humble life? What enormous power. Power enough to change minds and hearts. How deeply I admire and aspire to those writers.
Then after that 4-second storm of emotion, my eyes would go back and look at those same words differently, more wholly. What do they mean to me? What could they mean for someone else? What did they mean to the writer?
My mind wanders and wonders what’s behind those words, underneath them, inside them, concealing something of great significance. What great idea birthed such drop-to-your knees words? What golden nugget may I extract that could wise me up?
Maybe they’re just plain stark words on otherwise blank pages that merely reflect what I came to those words with. Or perhaps they are the edges of someone’s imagination, perspective, or truth, generously shared with the world in the most simple and spectacular invention of all time––the book.