For nearly 25 years now—the sum of my life up until this point in time, mind you—I have been using this grand language we call English, yet I have never really paused to contemplate and appreciate its awesome power until today. I find this notion to be more than a little amusing in light of the fact that I fancy myself a writer of sorts. After wiping the dust from memories long forgotten, light-heartedly reflecting upon them with the mirror of my mind, I realize now the true irony of the entire situation. My childhood and adolescent experiences with language, I believe, have led me to walk the path of the written word.
My history as a speaker has been a bit…colorful, you might say. I have often been known to suffer from the mortifying syndrome of open mouth, insert foot-itis, with the earliest case emerging at the young age of four. My mother and grandmother had taken my sisters and me clothes shopping at the local Wal-mart. Like little worker bees, my sisters excitedly buzzed from one clothing rack to the next, pollinating the shopping cart with several items in various pastel shades. I, on the other hand, anxiously twisted and turned and squirmed within the confines of that metal jail-on-wheels, watching helplessly as my captors chose for me one ugly pretty thing after another. Now, what you have to understand is that I was very much a tomboy at that time2And still am. I absolutely deplored anything “girly” and there are very few acts considered more sacrilegious among the young tomboy community than that of the “girly” act of clothes shopping.
Then suddenly the situation took a drastic turn for the worse. Hot, wet tears of frustration and anger welled up in the corners of my eyes as my gaze settled upon my grandmother’s hand. In her grasp she clutched the pinkest, laciest nylon socks ever known to exist on God’s green earth. Those horrible abominations were not getting anywhere near my feet, no sir. They violated the number one commandment of my tomboy creed: Though shall not wear pink-and-lacy anything!
The seriousness of the matter, I realized, required a much stronger, more reasonable argument than I had ever presented before. It had to be an attention grabbing statement that was also both clear and concise.
“I don’t want those FUCKING socks!” The profanity spewed forth from my tiny mouth at an atrocious volume. The world seemed to stop for a moment as the onlookers stared in shock, eyes wide and jaws dropped. Oh, my grandmother must have almost had a coronary hearing such an utterance from me! And my mother, I wonder how many times that wondrous shade of horror and embarrassment has colored her face since that moment? Needless to say, the socks were not purchased3I didn’t realize it at the time, that it wasn’t just the femininity of the socks that were offensive to me, but it was also the material and the way it felt against my skin. It wasn’t until I had kids of my own and their grandparents started sending the frilly abominations our way that I noticed I physically recoil from touching them. I hate them. They’re gross. Scritchy-scratchy tubes of torture. Please don’t make me touch them..
Upon our return home, my mother graciously thanked my father for adding such a fun new term to my vocabulary, and I received a rather lengthy lecture regarding the use of language and social etiquette.
“We don’t use those kinds of words,” my mother explained. “They’re very naughty.” I enquired as to why certain words were considered so taboo, but neither she nor anyone else could ever give me a satisfactory answer that fully explained why those words were off limits to me. The answers I did receive only led me to more questions. Most of those “bad” words were just synonyms for perfectly natural aspects of life; those things weren’t considered bad, yet certain ways of depicting them were. It all seemed quite quizzical to me.4And still does.
And that is how a great deal of my speaking experiences throughout childhood and adolescence went. I would make some sort of hasty statement, managing to embarrass either my family or myself, or both. As a result, I would either be lectured or laughed at, and I would shrink in on myself a little more each time it happened, recoiling in humiliation every time I made a verbal faux pas. I would interrogate my family, seeking in them answers to my confusion, never really finding them.
Eventually, I learned to exercise a little restraint when it came to voicing my opinions, thoughts, and feelings. For answers, I turned to books. Once I learned to read, I began devouring every piece of written material that my free time would allow for. I began educating myself, stumbling upon many of the answers I had so desperately sought for so long. By the time I reached the fifth grade, I had already achieved a high-school level of reading comprehension and had begun to supplement my personal research with personal writing. I became absolutely captivated by the process! Through writing about my research, I was able to find my voice. I could avoid the humiliation of open mouth, insert foot-itis, and really take the time to analyze what it was that I wanted to say, devise how I wanted to say it, and I could even go back and modify what I had already said!5Unless I’m on Twitter. Can I just a damn edit function already, guys? Come on!
How liberating this all was for me, and still is, I might add. I can think of no better career than one in which I can continually participate in producing the written form of language, for it is an exquisite mixture of art and science to be sure. How amusing it is to realize that my experiences with language could so dramatically shape my life…and it all started when I dropped the “F-bomb.”