I started running yesterday, and I don’t mean started running as in I’m taking up jogging as a regular physical activity. No, I mean at one point yesterday, I wasn’t running, and then I started running, and then I stopped again. I hadn’t run in years. I was trying to catch a bus. I could see that I was missing it from blocks and blocks away. Heyf-ckthat’smybus, I thought, and then I was off and running like Superman, except that it’s the Flash who actually does all the running, but whatever.
As I said, I hadn’t run in years. Two things immediately happened. My boxer shorts wedged themselves insanely far up my ass, and I was instantly — and I mean instantly — covered in a layer of sweat and grime. The other thing that happened is that my legs, lungs, and nerve-endings all started sending desperate messages to my brain. “…Unh? What’s this?” If they could have taken on a physical form separate from my body, they would have taken the form of a frantic bystander, waving his arms at me from the side of the road. “Hey, could you stop running?” they suggested. “Because we might die if you don’t.”
They had a point. Screw exercise. Screw exercise up the ass or something. I don’t need exercise; I mean, okay, I am going to die, sure, but in the meantime, I don’t want muscles. I’ve made it to my mid-thirties and have remained skinny, and if I was a girl, I’d be into skinny neurotic guys, so I’d date me, at least. Apart from the occasional violent revenge fantasy — prompted by, say, a driver cutting me off or someone spelling “theater” as “theatre,” or someone using the word “painterly” in a sentence — apart from the occasional revenge fantasy, as I say, I have no desire to get muscles. And gyms these days all have mirrors in them; have you noticed this? You know in the novel 1984, how they have Room 101? (“…You know what is in Room 101, Winston. Everyone knows what is in Room 101.”) Well, my personal Room 101 is me stuck exercising in front of a mirror; I don’t get how anyone can do that.
But, running! Running is good as an occasional activity, if not as a lifestyle. You can’t think while you’re running, and that’s good. It’s very Zen; if I can misuse the word “Zen,” which I can. …Run, run, run. Verb, verb, verb. As I ran, I was a verb. I was a verb who still ended up missing his bus, but that was okay. Running has its own momentum, and I enjoyed seeing the world becoming sped up around me. It’s so primal, running is. “…Speed is the last excitement left, the one thing we haven’t used up, still naked in its potential, the mysterious black gift that thrills the millions.” So says Don DeLillo in his novel End Zone, and he’s got a point there. And apart from the physical aches, you can’t really be unhappy when you’re running; there’s no time for it or something. You can’t be unhappy when you’re a verb.
In college, I minored in Classics, which meant that I took Latin. Minoring in Classics was part of my plan to Never Get a F-cking Job, which I went pretty far with. I minored in Classics and Creative Writing and majored in English Literature. Honestly, it wasn’t really that I didn’t want a job. Until I was eighteen and went to college, I never socialized with real people at all. All I did was read old books, which ended up preparing me for a life in Victorian England, where people actually studied things like Classics. In Victorian English job interviews, if you said on your resume that you studied the Classics, they didn’t say “…What?” or, “Okay, but how does that prepare you for a career here at Wendy’s?” No, you said I studied the Classics, they gave you a secret handshake of some sort, and then they said, “Welcome to the club, old boy! Pip-pip and all of that!” And then they gave you a job and you had it until you died of consumption at age forty.
In college, I had an excellent Classics professor, who ignored the fact that I could only say three things in Latin — “Arms and the man I sing,” “Go crucify yourself,” and “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” all of which are useless in conversation.
My professor was kind of a genius, and I don’t know if you know how Latin works, but I’ll do this quickly to avoid sending you into a catatonic coma. One day, in class, she brightly announced that she had learned that all language started as a verb. “All language started as a verb!” she said, coming into the room, no introduction. She was always very bright and chipper like that.
She was a tiny woman; a tiny bird-like woman with big clothes; baggy corduroys and a huge purse that looked like a duffel bag on her. But she was always very chipper! I loved her secretly. She was the reason that I was bad at Latin. I was bad at Latin because she never should have been a teacher. She couldn’t resist anything if you asked it more than two times. During a test you’d say: “Hey Professor Hawk, what’s the genitive plural of puella again?” “…I can’t tell you that.” “C’m-ooon, Professor Hawk.” “…I really can’t.” “Just the one time, Ms. Hawk, please? The genitive plural of puella?” (long sigh) “…It’s puellarum, Oliver.” And thus I never really had to learn any Latin. Secretly I was in love with her.
But anyway, she entered the classroom one day and announced that she had figured out that all language started as a verb. “It really did!” And it’s true; she was right. …It was a brilliant idea; she should have written a book about it, but she was too shy. She should have written a book about it and become famous and appeared on talk shows. Instead, there she was, drinking burnt coffee from the teachers’ lounge and explaining it to us. A mute inglorious Milton, she was. …She told us how it worked, and here’s the part where I have to explain Latin. Latin has these things called “conjugations,” which are for verbs. English has these too. But Latin can pack a lot more information into a single word. Like for example, in English, you have to say “I have loved her.” In Latin, that’s just one word: amavi.
So our professor came in all excited, and started talking about these things called Perfect Passive Participles. Let’s explain this quickly before you fall asleep. So, the word amo means “I love.” And the word “amatus” is a Perfect Passive Participle; a different tense of that word; translated, it means “the person having been loved.”
“The person having been loved,” or, in other words, “the lover.” …Do you get it? It’s a verb that works as a noun. So, in Latin and in other ancient languages, you can say complete sentences only using verbs! “The lover loves to love.” That’s a whole sentence of only verbs. “Amatus amat amare.” It doesn’t have to be the same word, either. You can say anything with just verbs. “The refugee feared being captured by the police.” That’s still just verbs: “The-person-having-been-fleeing feared being-caught by-the-ones-having-been-policing.” …Get it?
Now, my professor said; and she always said this in a very sing-song-y voice: “No-owwwww.”
Now, this means that all language started as a verb, she said. You don’t need nouns or anything else. So everything started out as a verb, and then verbs evolved into nouns. When people first spoke to each other, they spoke only in terms of action; past action, present frozen actions, future actions.
…The whole world started out as a verb.
“No-oowww,” my professor said, “let’s start today’s lesson.”
The world as a verb! …Can you see it? I could see flashes of it — momentary flashes — as my tiny professor talked. Flashes through the glass darkly that we all look through. Momentary fiery shadows on the walls of Plato’s cavern.
The world as a verb! Everything around us is alive; atoms crashing, billiard balls spinning, people f-cking, planes flying.
Everything begins as action and then solidifies into non-action. Butterflies start as butterflies, flapping around. Then they die and become crystallized, become fossilized: a butterfly becomes a rock. A butterfly becomes a piece of a mountain, static. You see a pretty girl in a bar, she’s tilting her head just right; you randomly fall in love. You go over and talk to her; the two of you meet. You talk, flirt, date, f-ck, move in together. Now your action has become a thing. You are now a lover.
Everything is a stalactite and a stalagmite. Dripping water, action and flow — building up and freezing over time, becoming a record of itself; jagged teeth in a darkened cave.
…I stopped running. I had missed my bus. I wiped disgusting sweat from my forehead. I commenced retroactively panting. I had started running, I had become a runner, and now I was just a person again. …I stared at the space where the bus had formerly been. I had been so close!
…Having missed my bus, I decided to go back home. I could write an article about this, I decided. I could type it up in frozen words; words, the fossil record of life, of the things that we do and say. I got back home. I pulled out my chair. I started to write.