Sunday, 3 October 2010

The language

Well, after a busy week in which I have read Aristotle's poetics, looked at Chekhov, rewritten a half finished piece, started a new one, researched a couple of writers, fallen in love (again) with a  new poet, tackled the library... I was asked to write for 10 minutes on the first memory of when I became aware of language.

Like most of us, I took speaking and walking for granted as a child, and reading came to me very young and very easily. My mother taught me to write very young, as my father worked away. So, from my early memories of feeling the power these sticks and curves on the page had, I wrote a fictionalised version of writing a letter to my dad.
Sitting on the table, hard, cold surface, printing the letters to Daddy on his ship. Words I can't spell, words I take for granted, pinned to piece of paper to go halfway around the world. However far that is. Further than my grandmother's house, or further than the Isle of Wight, perhaps. Letters are spiky, capitals, too big for the lines that cut them into bits. D for Daddy, L for Love, drawings of seagulls around the edge because I can draw them, a yellow sun. Language, reduced to the worlds I can spell, the letters I can copy. How do you spell duck, park? Big words, words lettered over my head like code, hissed, hurting words from Grandma. Words you can say and words you can't. I can't write my sister's name, the H is too hard, gets squashed. Slow pencil, smell of crayons, paint, wood, the hexagon edges cutting into my fingers. Impatient pencil slipping, crunching on the paper, tearing the soft blue. Kisses ripping the seagulls.
Then we were asked to think of a time when our ability to use language was praised or valued. I found myself exploring time when 'white lies' were valued in the family. My fiction at school grew out of the need to create new and interesting worlds. I know people all say school was boring, but I find boredom agonising, I never leave myself with nothing to do. I always have a book on hand, even when I'm watching the telly. Or a laptop...

He also asked us to think of a metaphor for my relationship with language. The first one that came to mind, strongly enough to drive any others away, was Breathing. A life without language, for me, would be like being a fish, just sensation and movement, colour. I use language to see, and to take pictures in words. Sounds fall into words, I can almost spell music. Words evoke sensation, smells, light and shade. Words are everything.

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