It was important during the sequence of events that I discovered a way to describe this word to others, to make them understand the word. Very important.
The only problem was, that as I read through the words, sentences, and paragraphs that defined the word, nothing made sense enough to me so that I could translate it. Ah ha, I thought in my dream. I’m reading from a textbook. That is why I’m having such trouble. I’ll simply look it up online.
I’d been given a large card with the phrase “Whilology Directive” on it. I was to then make clear to the group around me what that meant without revealing the word itself. Others were accomplishing the goal with the words / phrases they’d been given. The room was filled with scientists, mathematicians and other types of scholars waiting for me to share my information so they could guess at the word.
I floundered. When I was finally able to spell the word into my phone’s browser, it brought up a page filled with definitions, none of which I could comprehend. I peered at them, attempting to understand just one little bit of something. This is something I’m really good at doing. I can make sense of difficult definitions and translate them to something simple enough for others to understand. But not when my poor brain has no concept of what is placed before it.
There is no word – whilology. My mind had no foundation on which to base a definition.
Fortunately, within moments, I was off to solve a mystery that involved a poor man who had barricaded himself in his upstairs apartment, fearful that if it were known he was hiding there, he’d be assassinated. I remember the bright green shutters on the brown stucco wall, the lovely courtyard surrounded by tall green palm trees and red, clay seating areas. I begged for him to come down because now that I (evidently) had the whilology directive, he needed to help me.
While my compatriots were upstairs with him, another friend drew me to a room on the main level to show me a gift that had come in for me. The box was filled with creamy cottage cheese and creamy cottage ham.
Seriously … with my brain.
Then the cats woke me up because it was time for them to be fed. Guh-reat.
When I was young, the one thing that I could get away with was reading. No matter what. My father was always a man of busyness and action. We weren’t allowed to sit around and do nothing. Idleness was a bad thing, you know.
Unless we were reading. In Dad’s eyes, reading was never idle behavior. Consequently, I carried books with me all the time. If I wanted to sit and do nothing for a while, opening a book after curling up in a chair was as safe a place as I could be. He’d come home from work, all ready to get the family into motion and find every one of us, Mom and the dogs included, in the living room reading. We weren’t dumb. We never had a television in the living room. During my childhood, the only TV in the house was in Mom & Dad’s bedroom. Later on, he finished a room in the basement for the television, but it wasn’t that much fun to be down there because it truly was a basement, so we didn’t watch much.
Now, I don’t want anyone to go on and on and on about television watching or anything like that. This is about Dad’s rules for living and me finding ways get around them to sit on my butt, not the moral degradation of the world, for pete’s sake.
Because me finding ways to sit on my butt led me to discover great and wonderful worlds.
My mother loved words. She loved the English language. She also loved French … my goodness, we lived through her taking French correspondence courses. Hours of us being quiet while she recorded her language lessons that would then be mailed off to an instructor. She wrote in French, she spoke in French. Even though I took three years of high school French, I could never pull off what that woman did. When she dug into Spanish so she could help migrant workers learn English, she took to it like a native. I always envied that in her.
Anyway … her love of words and language was part of our lives. Many evenings we’d walk into the living room and listen as she and Dad would argue about words – how they were used, how they could be used, definitions, implications, on and on. They read all the time and would discuss books. They didn’t read the same things. Dad never read Mom’s Stephen King’s novels and some of the esoteric stuff he loved, she would set down with an eye roll.
I just finished reading Dreyer’s English, a book on style by Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House. Clever and witty, filled with rules, non-rules, spellings, misunderstood definitions, on and on, it is an exquisite guide to writing. If you like that kind of thing, you will love this book. My next run through the book will be with post-it tabs in hand as I mark the things that I always seem to need to remember when writing and editing.
The other non-fiction book I’m reading right now is Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird. I can’t believe it has taken me so long to get to this book. What a joyful, snarky, hilarious look at how to write. I’m taking the first reading quite slowly. A chapter at a time while taking notes in my journal. I can’t wait for the second and third read-through.
Do you have any idea how grateful I am for my mother’s love of words? She learned it from her father, who learned it from his own father. If you want to look for Charles Tinker McFarlane on the internet, that’s part of my literary heritage (and no, not the fella who was arrested for trafficking in cocaine – sheesh). For some of you older readers, you might recognize his geography textbooks. I remember being floored when I walked into a one-room schoolhouse that had been transformed into a museum and saw my great-grandfather’s textbooks in their glass-covered display case.
This love of language is a beautiful legacy and I am so grateful for it.
Book 25 is well past the halfway point. This is when I begin questioning whether I should just stop and toss the whole thing out and realize that my writing career should have ended before it began.
Don’t worry … I’ve come to understand that is apparently part of my process. I’ll push through it and after I re-write the thing and edit it to within a few inches of its life, I’ll fall in love with the thing again. It happens every time and I’m not about to be intimidated by it now.