That Which Does Not Expire

That Which Does Not Expire

March 01, 2014

The last time neon was in (along with perms), I wanted to be a lawyer—partly because they were allowed to argue with the rules—but mostly because everyone in a courtroom understood that each word mattered.

In grade school, I relished road trips and sick days for their hours of uninterrupted reading. I majored in English so I would “get to” read Beowulf, and, when I got to Europe, I sat my Baptist behind down in any mass I could find to marinate in scripture and prayer in other words in other cadence. At home, it’s volumes over vestments, so both mise and mess are stacks of sliding slates. I’ve begun to think of even bedtime stories as a curated collection.

I live as much as I can in places where words are sacred. I have for a long time. I love words the way photographers love light—secondarily for its effects, where the thing itself is prime. I want to be surrounded. To live a life leaved and wreathed in words. To hem my days in them, embroider each encounter. I want to stare at them all day long. Which makes physics and fighting a real problem.

I like my words to be written—where they can be shelved and preserved, savored and stirred. Even the cadences I love are those of liturgy: the high mass of human calling, the petitions and praise we’ve felt often enough to set to a page.

I love books because they last. What is printed is that which does not expire. Which means it doesn’t breathe. But spoken words are spiked with spite. Literature majors don’t spar with that. I’ve learned late—through living—what any physics major understands first year: We soak in sound. The basement bar or baptistery does more than bounce. Stacked syllables of every slam or cantor gather in the corners. What has been spoken there before remains. Marconi. Even his name fills up a room. He guessed that sound waves are infinite, only slowing, sliding beneath our acute antennae.

I love my words bound; but print is not the only permanent. God said, “Let there be light.” The universe shot forth. So it is written. God said, “Let there be light.” He’s saying it still. I said (ten years ago), “You fail.” I said (ten years ago). I’m saying it still.

When I write, I say what I mean to say. I choose. I edit. There’s caution and cutting. Curation and cadence. But these files are not the only library in my home. Other words abide as well. My fingers brush the embroidery on the shelves, but my ankles sledge through backed up sewage: last year’s and last decade’s fight settled to the ground and oozing.            

How is a writer to wrestle with that?



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