My English teacher told me, on more than one occasion, that I was not special by any means. He was almost certainly referring to the low level of effort I put into my writing assignments, but it was ninth grade, and my failed athletic career was no secret, so I took this as a personal attack. Now, this does not work for everyone, and can be especially tricky if you find yourself being physically tossed off of a high horse, but being told that you are wrong about yourself can also be a catalyst with an empowering reverse opposite effect.
It was in the same flimsy, wooden desk where I was put in my place on the first day of Freshman English class, that I fell in love with writing. Though it was initially an attempt to prove an un-happy teacher wrong, it would later impact me on a much greater scale when I sought to find a true sense of self. I don’t recall finding the words I always imagined I would, but I find solace in knowing that Jack Kerouac shared a similar struggle. (That dude definitely brushed his teeth with a bottle of cheap whiskey on more than one occasion, so I’d say he’s been around the block once or twice.)
If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that Jack Kerouac is a guy who just gets life. I mean, really, he does. He once wrote: “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” This is strikingly beautiful because it is an honest admittance that perfection is intangible, which makes way for goals you can actually work towards. It is in striving for perfection that we often destroy the ability to find joy in one’s own accomplishments. Simple is good, and it also presents us with a challenge when we write.
In essence, we aim to shove an outpour of seemingly inexplicable emotions into a few, carefully arranged words, much like over-packing for a weekend vacation. We aim to express ourselves without compromising the complexity of the human spirit or the gravity of a situation. It is fascinating to me, that as the author of many critically acclaimed novels, Kerouac candidly admits that he has not found the words he’d been actively seeking.
This pursuit though, is the most genuine means of finding out who you are while struggling to describe all that you feel. How passionately and deeply you love, and how, when you see an elderly man having lunch alone at a restaurant, your heart drops and seems like it will never find its way back up there. Finding a way to express the things we feel as humans is a journey in itself, one that is personal to the individual, but is ultimately meant to be a shared experience. A marriage of mind and body is the only way I can explain the use of words to convey things as powerful as the emotions we bottle up inside.
Stripped of all its rules, standards, and notions, writing is used as a foundation for free expression, communication, and as an outlet to share things we otherwise could not. When the words “I love you” are uttered with sincerity, you are attempting to collect the sum of your parts along with all of the physical, mental, and emotional side effects associated with deep relationships into 8 single letters, arranged in a manner that makes perfect sense, but conveys feelings the English language fails to define with certainty.
When I tell somebody I love them, and I mean it with all of my heart, I am literally saying that the 8 letters, arranged with just the right amount of spaces, are a verbal account of me, standing in your living room cupping my heart in both my small hands, and holding it out to you so that you can feel what I am feeling. Because I am too selfish to stop breathing so that you can feel the unwavering vibration of the full moon drum circle that is my beating heart at times, I offer you words. I hope with all of the heart I cannot physically give you, that these words will be enough.
I will never forget my first real relationship with the T-Mobile Sidekick that stole my heart. Together, we spent much of my youthful days on a mission to singlehandedly destroy the English language using only a short list of AIM acronyms, nearly getting Carpal Tunnel in the process. Years later, I feel like an idiot every time I find a text message funny and respond only with an instinctual “LOL,” which could mean anything from ‘I don’t feel comfortable being on the receiving end of this sexual joke’ to ‘I’m speechless, crying out with laughter and yes, I really am L-ing O L.’ I’d throw Dave Chappelle the same LOL that I routinely send to my little sister when she sends me funny t-shirts shirts from this expensive Australian website. What does that mean? Not much, really.
However, our dismissal of writing, or taking the time to write, is undeniably funny and also extremely revealing of what we now value as humans. As a generation, as a society, as a culture, and even as a single entity under the blazing sun, we don’t necessarily use “LOL” because it captures our reactions; we just opt for the convenience of effortless self-expression. We describe poignant moments in our lives with the phrase “I just cannot. I’m done.” What can’t you do, aside from properly express how you feel? And by done I have to assume you mean done trying, because I have seen kindergarteners use the “I feel…” chart as guidance to more accurately describe their emotions. It’s not that we can’t, it is the fact that we don’t, and there is a huge difference.
The contraction can’t is implicit of ideas far more complex than we often realize. At a surface level, can’t sucks and is a member of the good for nothing contraction family shunned from scholarly writing from the moment you reach high school. When it opts for being its true self, in the form of cannot, it is rarely mentioned orally and when it is, we never fail to comment on how weird it sounds aloud.
Aside from struggling with a catch-22 identity crisis, can’t is an unconquerable obstacle when applied mentally. Maybe you think you can, but only a single space separates you from your fate: the impossibility of something occurring in the present. People are quick to argue that they simply can’t write, and that it’s not important because it is not relevant in the corporate world. Though I am biased, I guess this explains why some people see Twitter’s character count as the nazi of social media. The thing is, to say you don’t write because you can’t write, is to accept defeat without a fight. I don’t know if you’ve ever won a game as a result of another team’s forfeit, but I’ll tell you first hand that it is not the sweet taste of victory you see in Disney movies.
However long it may take, when finally facing the unchartered territories of the written word, risking looking like a complete idiot to express in words the way it feels the first time the person you love with your entire being greets you with a smile that promises you will never have to walk this earth alone, I hope the words you find are simple.
Simple, like the arrangement of an “I love you.” I guess that’s why writing is so important to me. Because I just want to return to you the feelings you elicit in me. A difficult task when you lack a legible return address.