It took quite the toll on a young boy when he realised, for the first time, that the word 'horse' had nothing to do with the creature whose image was conjured when he heard the word.
You see, when humans grow up, adapting like sticky wet-cloths to the kitchen-talk of their carers, words are magical things. With so many words, it's impossible to keep track: the Others take care and make sure to just say one. They keep repeating the same sound over and over again, and you think the word, this strange sound, might even mean 'everything,' or 'life,' or 'let me live.' That word was ana, or aiti, or even mama.
All the cultures around the world decided in their own way that the first word should be something special, only slightly more complicated than babbling, but somewhere along the way, mama started to become mother or mum or mom - did she get older, or did we? What was the point in teaching us this word, if we can't even use it anymore?
Worse still is the byzantine tradition of name-calling. At one point, the child imagines this word to mean 'love' or 'hope' or simply 'listen,' but that's the rub - it's none of these words at all. It's a special word, removed so far from meaning anything at all apart from a label that isn't even terribly unique. A name! What a monstrous thing. The child will soon realise that others can twist that special, formless thing, and use it to deride and despise. With such an important word, the child will treasure it and take pride in it, despite it having the barest significance on who they are at all. And, even more terribly, they will realise the truth of the matter; even his parents, whose names he would soon learn, did not have the privilege of picking their own names, just like him.
It's a ladder of names passed down the rungs, and no one gets the chance to hold their own.
And one day, because there simply is no alternative, the child will name their own child something bold, something hopeful, in the hopes the babe's face will come to fill the word's full content. And they will most likely fail.
Words continue to have magical affects on the world therein and thereout. A child babbles the right amount of syllables, they end up with their favourite biscuit without even needing to climb onto the kitchen top and steal it. Words are delicious. A child comes in with a bright-red bump on their bobbing head, and with the right amount of phonemes, the Other gets up and moves the slide away from the swing. Words are safe. A child wakes up in the middle of the night, too comfortable to sleep anywhere else, but too terrified to remain there alone, and with the right amount of syntax and semantics, the Other understands that they should be cradled in their new bed until the dark goes away. Words are warmth.
But the darkness - this child would later realise - has no connection with the word dark, and their pet doesn't have any idea that it's a dog, or what dog even means: he tries teaching it to his younger sister, but even he doesn't understand when she asks why, oh why, that a dog should be called a dog when dogs didn't get any say in the matter! If anything, she giggles, they should be called barks or woofs.
At what point did everyone in the world decide to make words mean things in the first place? He always had a discernible, self-appraised talent for drawing, and perhaps walking around with pictograms and showing them to people would prove a more accurate - nay, truthful - way to conduct conversation. Yes, it would be rather easy! All he would have to do today was draw a dog, then a bowl, then an arrow towards that bowl, and then a question mark above that bowl to show just precisely what he wanted, with each image as close to the 'real thing' as possible. Now he could talk to that tall, dark-browed man at the pet store, and now he could be as honest as possible.
Of course, it would be years later when someone told him how writing worked. Pictograms were a natural evolution in the course of literacy, and all the boy had done was throw back the English world into the din of prehistory by his commitment to truthful communication. And while he didn't try to communicate with charades next time the incongruity of language befuddled him so, the thought did cross his mind. He knew of the oral tradition by then, thank goodness.
And then there came a day, as days have the tendency to go on even when the person who experiences them is too bored to count them, when he had his head down, muzzled, in a book which was really a stage play: he gazed the lines, each stanza a bullet that whizzed by his ear, and wondered if, truthfully, any other boy had the same thought as he. He never thought words were stupid, no. Words are not stupid. They're genius. They also just happen to reveal how different reality is from that other realm - what would you call it? Unreality? No, not quite; something like consciousness, but the consciousness of reality. The unequal matrimony of it all. Even these damnable words struggle to paint that picture! Why must a mountain, so complex and developed, a storybook folded over millennia, be so aptly surmised in two syllables, and not even a dozen words can express the boy's blatant problem! What was that book saying, anyway?
A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.
That was it. Who was it that could have said it so sanely and so saccharine?
It was that same dreaded name that had provoked revulsion in the pulpit of the classroom - it was the same person whose work his peers rolled their eyes at its mere proximity. Oh, it was the crash of colonialism and cymbals of paternalism; why on Earth did the powers that be find his work so useful in their goal to demystify the whole world, when they could have left poor old William alone and left him to be rediscovered by the youth of today? The boy was furious, and he shouted to his friends, his peers, his rivals; do not get this wrong, he said, as I was never angry for being taught something, but for never being allowed to discover anything at all. The mystery of the world's words had become the orthodoxy of the material. Perhaps it would be better to have left Shakespeare in the dirt, and all his sonnets and plays, and never let something so profound become so mundane.
All art is quite useless, he read - cheering. The bell tolls for thee, he continued scouring the pages, I am a cage, in search of a bird, he wipes his tears from the paper. Why did no one tell him - why did no one show him?
Profound is profound, always. Were it not for those perfidious systems - the educational systems that orient us towards efficiency and competency, or the monied systems that create systems of interest that exploit, or the cultural systems that pit the people against each other for indefatigable clout - the boy might have understood what words truly meant. Poetry wasn't the patronising voice of authority, and prose didn't have to be contained just between the pages of some uninspired book: these texts could fly, and he couldn't even begin to describe why.
Perhaps to be shown anything is impossible, and to be understood, even less so. The boy still wishes more tried.
The world suffers from poor learners because they rarely know the privilege of good teachers. What a rigged game, he moans. If every sentence is crafted from the connection of words, then the boys imagines them as a pack of playing cards with no endgame in sight. Each shuffle, each draw, creates infinite possibilities. Most are meaningless. But he knows the shuffle is stacked, and he'll keep dealing until something sticks. Maybe he'll find the right sentence, the sentence that explains everything, every single hypocritical and chromatic heartache, someday. But he refuses to let magic become mundanity; he refuses to use words without knowing them, loving them, hating them. He starts to believe in the responsibility of writing.
The boy above is the kind of boy that has always captured imaginations - in this, it means to say he never existed at all. A portfolio of life-captured images, of course, but nothing that ever happened in reality, nor anything close to the life this writer has experienced. Nonetheless, between you, dear reader, and the page, you pictured him, didn't you? This writer wonders what he looked like, and what the child who didn't quite understand words made you feel. Of course, these are carefully kept secrets, and this writer would only dare to rattle the cage - lift the curtain - in this brief instance just to show you that the magic was there regardless. After all, fiction and non-fiction are tools to the librarian, not the reader.
Admittedly, there has always been the salivating hunger for real trauma behind the word; the guarantee of 'based-on-a-true-story' and the hints of skin that a foreword to a book may bring. Oh, how we dig and dig for the glimpse of ourselves amongst strangers. 19:14 is a rejection of the overtness of modern interpretation of the 'individual,' who stands naked and afraid in the rain for the audience's titillation.
The truth is that any writer has already done the most vulnerable act of all by committing their thoughts to paper, and whether or not they vindicate, obligate, or prostrate themselves before you is simply window-dressing. If you can't see the person behind the words, then you simply aren't looking closely enough. For this reason, 19:14 omits the much-loved 'I' of opinion pieces for the distant third and second person, not because the project propagates separation, but because it fervently rejects false intimacy. Here, in these leased words, this writer invites you into the pyramidion upon the pyramid, and asks you to believe in these words only half as much as they do. The text is the text, and everything else is vanity.
The written word has never been more important - it permeates, binds, ejects. At some point, we were all taught its uses, and then left to make up the rest on our own. And while the world will always need more good teachers, that is not of what 19:14 consists - only good learners, dutiful readers, writers.
"When one teaches, two learn," and other aphorisms therein. Or, perhaps, "when two learn, one may someday teach."
This writer cordially invites you to join them, on this platform of individuality and humanity, no less, for these new reflections on old words, and old meditations on new texts.
Discovery, just as the imaginary boy dreamed, can only be yours. If words are like magic - they are magic, or nothing is, in truth - then this magic cannot be concocted in a classroom or brewed in a garden; it must be summoned, through sacrifice or prayer. 19:14 is the prayer of vision and the sacrifice of craft. 19:14 is you and the words before you.
19:14's next post will be taking the dive into the Romance of the Shelley's and their relationship with the classical Prometheus, 19th century religion, and Milton's Paradise Lost. Until next time, keep your wits about you; love the reader, and remember the words.