Ever read a sentence that just stopped you in your tracks? Made you realize that those couple of dozen words perfectly encapsulated an unnamed thought that had been buzzing around your head? The sense of relief can be palpable. Because it’s those thoughts – or maybe they’re feelings? – that are the ones that have yet to be nailed down and made manageable. And they keep you up at night with a vague sense of unease.
It’s rooted in the concept that names have power. Go no further than the story of Rumpelstiltskin – and the idea that knowing someone’s true name gives you power over them. Is it such a leap to think that naming our thoughts is any less potent?
Perhaps therein lay the root of my reading habit. I read a lot. And for lots of reasons. Enjoyment. Education. To figure out how to write that Excel formula. Edification. It’s the last that ties in most closely to the theme of this post. I love best the books that cut closest to the bone, and the authors who seem to have figured out a bit more than me about this life game. They have this relationship with WORDS that makes enlightened description seem as easy as breathing.
The pure enjoyment of the well-written sentence is often its own reward, but every now and then, a sentence just blows me away. It’s a thought or a description that is so pitch-perfect; it creates its own moment of revelation.
For example, I read this recently:
“Sammy still refused to admit to himself – at that irrelevant, senatorial level of consciousness where the questions that desire had already answered are proposed and debated and tabled till later – that he was in love, or falling in love.”
– The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon*
And I had to put the book down, and just marvel in those words. Hot damn, Chabon! You are SO right. Why do we insist on thinking that we can think our way through love? That we won’t feel until we give ourselves license to…
Personal history tells me that this assumption is a common fallacy. [At least for me.] Love has always outpaced my big, beautiful, imminently rational and risk-averse brain. The verdict was handed down long before I had the chance to decide if it was a bad idea (… which, it was). But admitting that things might be otherwise strips me of a level of control that I do not easily relinquish.
Of course, I’m reading this little gem of knowledge in the midst of my own moment of denial. After a hiatus from dating and relationships, my life has started take on the basic shape of a laughable [unless you’re in it] rom-com movie.** …Nothing like learning what people really mean by “when it rains, it pours.” … Thinking my way through it isn’t working, and I’m paralyzed by the sense that I don’t know what I feel.
On one hand, reading that sentence of Chabon’s made me feel better. One more piece has been placed in the puzzle. But, on the other … it begs the questions: “when do these two levels meet?” When will my thoughts know what my heart has already decided? If I must lose my right to think my way through this, could I at least know what direction has been decided, so that I can stop thinking about it way too late in the night? I have a sneaking suspicion that there is indeed a direction. And that I’m courting disaster and heartache by not settling on it quickly enough.
So it all comes back to the power of naming, doesn’t it? I have thoughts I cannot put into words right now, and it’s all the more frustrating because I believe those words are out there, just out of my reach.
*A seriously awesome book, for the record. Chabon writes in a way that is so lyrically perfect … sigh. It makes you realize the difference in literature between “good” and “incandescent.”
**Woe to those who would involve themselves with me, as clearly I can, and will, process things related to them in my writing…. Fair warning.