To those of us who love words… who delight in the wild words, the juicy ones, the ones that burst with colour, the ones that carry a sweet smell that lingers on the hands and mind… to those of us who nurture our words like living plants, who feed them with sunshine and arrange them in collections…
There will be days when what we offer as a flower is received as a thorn. Maybe the pushback will be kind—someone catching us and loving us into a better version of ourselves. Maybe it will be acidly granolier-than-thou. Either way, we choose how we respond when our language is pruned.
May we hear the “ouch” for what it truly means.
It is not “no”. It is “and now…”
We replaced the universal “he” with “he or she” and then we began to work on gender neutral pronouns. We scrubbed textbooks of the most obvious of the racist language, and then began to look at the webs of subtle words that propped up the obviously painful ones. We wrestled with “retarded” and “fag”, and did a neat sidesteppey twirl with the reclaiming of “queer”.
Every time our language was shifted, we pushed back. It was uncomfortable, and awkward--it felt as though we were being trimmed, pieces of us filed off, the very shapes of our voices scolded and shamed… Will this process ever end?
I can’t imagine how it could. Or why we would want it to.
Could we not, by now, start seeing this differently? It is not so much about “no” to the old jokes… it is about the call to ask what made them funny, how they could act as inspiration for tackling the world as it sits today. It is about the call to drink deeply from the experiences of others until their words seep into us. Until their perspectives appear in the tunes and lyrics that bubble into our minds as we are signing in the shower. Until we are not being shaped so much as growing.
Words are not territory to be defended. This is not a tug of war. It’s like a partnered dance, where the lead moves back and tugs slightly on your hand, and the invitation is for you to spin gloriously, and move—on feet or on wheels—in a new direction.
It’s the turns that make it dancing.
Yes. Yes, we will make today’s changes and then there will be something else. There will be a new call, a new direction, something we hadn’t thought of. We will need more phrases, more metaphors, more actual words to use and we will invent them.
And they’ll be glorious… expansive and diverse and so much more of a bouquet than the dozen roses we are accustomed to. Because words are infinite, and glorious, and they grow out of change.
Every messenger arrives as an intruder of some kind.
Do not see only a fallen tree when you could see a nurse log. Do not play tug of war with the words. You have not been given a rope, you have been given an invitation. Do not see an invader in what has been given to you as a muse.
You may grieve the loss of words--words are living creatures. Love everything you have ever written. Every sentence has a story it calls home. Let nothing be erased.
But do not claim that you have been silenced, or even that it is even possible for another person to silence you. We both know this is not how creativity works.
You are a writer. Write.
And, never hear “no” when you could hear “and now…”