I was ridiculously excited this week to learn that a person can log into the OED online using … a library card number! I’m so tickled to think of my library card being as useful and valuable as a credit card – the key to uncovering unknown riches!! I think it’s awesome! (Full of awe, profoundly reverential. He did gie an awesome glance up at the auld castle.) I’m a logophile! I love words, I always have. The sound of them, their weight and flavor in your mouth, their shifting meanings. I’m a vague, blurry sort of person, and I’m more than comfortable with the instability and ambiguity of meaning – I’m delighted by it! I’m not clever enough myself to play with words, but I have endless admiration for those who do. My idea of a good time is to discover the hidden meanings behind language, and to see how much fun the author is having as they set you their riddles. Nabokov’s subject matter is often disturbing and depressing (to me) but his playfulness with language (with three languages!) is thrilling. “Haze, Dolores…What is it? The tender anonymity of this name with its formal veil (“Dolores”) and that abstract transposition of first name and surname, which is like a pair of new pale gloves or a mask? Is “Mask” the keyword? Is it because there is always delight in the semitranslucent mystery, the flowing charshaf, through which the flesh and the eye you alone are elected to know smile in passing at you alone? Or is it because I can imagine so well the rest of the colorful classroom around my dolorous and hazy darling…” Or fellow polyglot Tom Stoppard who bemoans the complexity and insubstantiality of language with loving relish…”Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.” And of course Stoppard is playing with the words of the writer most seemingly in love with words, one William Shakespeare. ““Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?/ Hamlet: Words, words, words./ Lord Polonius: What is the matter, my lord?/ Hamlet: Between who?/ Lord Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.” I wish we gave words more weight and thought today, and didn’t devalue them as we sometimes do. Well, I wish that I did, anyway, to speak for myself!
I have to admit, though, that sometimes I find words overwhelming. I was going through some boxes in the attic the other day, and I found decades worth of notebooks and journals from every stage in my life. What a lunatic I am! Scribbles and notes and nonsense and sketches. Screenplays I filmed, screenplays I will never film. Stories I started, fell in love with, fell out of love with and never finished. Ideas for stories, random thoughts I penned while not trying to think of ideas for stories, usually in increasingly frantic and illegible handwriting. Little asides directed at whoever was sitting next to me as I wrote. Words words words!! No method, all madness! And why do I keep them? Why do I keep this dusty spider web of ink? I don’t know!! I should start a giant bonfire, and set the words free, to float into the air around us. If you’re a scribbler, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about! And it’s not just my nonsense that overwhelms me, it’s other people’s words, too. In a bookstore or library, the sight of all of these collections of words, so carefully crafted and combined, so ardently arranged, now sitting quietly on some shelf or another, bursting at the bindings with stifled words. It wears me out to think about it! But it’s beautiful, too, these worlds of words, so easily misunderstood, so accidentally powerful, so tricky, so musical, so full of life. Words words words.
And that’s more than my fair share of words for the day! Here’s Word Play by A Tribe Called Quest.