The phone rang yesterday as I was immersed–or attempting earnestly to be–in articles about Jane Austen, trying to figure out how they all fit into my dissertation.
On the other end was a car full of guys I know, headed back from the beach. I was surprised, startled almost, by the Snow Patrol ringtone. Snow Patrol and Jane Austen make strange bedfellows.
“Hey, Carrie,” they asked, the phone reception fading in and out as they traveled. “We have a question for you.”
Knowing this was likely to be more professional than anything else, I encouraged them to ask it. After being told that I was like their Who Wants to Be A Millionaire lifeline (sheesh, no pressure…), they asked, “So, what’s the rule with words like burnt and lit–you know, with the t on the end of them. When do you use them?”
My response? The brilliant “uh…” that manages to characterize so much of my life lately.
I scrambled mentally for an answer. And I didn’t really have a good one. I said something about “burnt” being more an adjective than anything else (hey, it seemed good at the time) and when pressed with another question, I caved with my lack of knowledge.
But, being the dork that I am, I looked it up.
(Turns out that both burn and light are irregular verbs, and lit and burnt are the past participle. We don’t use them very much, so it’s unlikely that you’ll need this information ever again, but I’m a giver so there you go.)
I live in a world of words. I am defined by that life of words. And I must be their master.
I am now the resident expert on anything to do with words, even if it really has nothing whatsoever to do with what I actually do. I am an expert on early 19th century British writing…not grammar. But I am a good editor and a teacher of freshman writing, so heck if I’m not everybody’s copyeditor. I get asked questions about anything from past participles to rhetorical devices to Shakespearean theatre to South American indigenous click languages. Anything and everything to do with a word, I'm apparently your gal.
I get a little bit of a thrill out of being considered a language guru, I’m not going to lie. Somehow, being able to understand how a sentence is put together makes me feel as though I have control over something unwieldy and organic. So, I don’t mind particularly.
Just call me Dr. Bolte…even though I’m not yet…your resident language master.
It’s pretty clear why I have earned such a role–beyond just my excessively extended education. Nothing makes me more swoony than a long conversation about nothing and everything and what lies between. I unexpectedly had one of those conversations on Sunday night, full of the mundane and intimate details that make those kinds of conversations priceless. I am good at those conversations.
I like it when words communicate incisively–words like “ostensibly” and “penchant” send me over the moon and make me wonder why we spend most of our time saying things like “like” and “awesome.”
(Even though, like, those words comprise 75% of my awesome vocabulary.)
I toss around words like “adorable,” “amazing,” and “hott” when talking about myself, if only because I truly believe that they have the power to convince me that they are true.
I am careful with my “I love you”s, but I say them more than I did before. I don’t believe in contributing to “I love you” inflation–I think the more you have out there, the less they mean. But I know how I feel when someone says it to me and they mean it.
Life’s too short not to use my words.
I revel in the ability to write real letters, which I do every week for my best friend who is serving a mission in Australia. While he has email, I’m a big believer in the written word. And it works. There’s something so much more (literally and figuratively) tangible about seeing words like “I love you” and “I miss you” and “you are amazing” in the handwriting of a person close to your heart.
It communicates more. I don’t know why, but it does. It’s so much more…me. I’m good at it.
And I blog. I blog too much. I blog when I can’t say what I want to say in real life. I blog when I can’t write what I need to write in my real life. I blog when I have no words.
So, see, my life revolves around how well I use my words.
Except when I don’t, because sometimes I won’t.
(Except, apparently, when I'm channeling Dr. Seuss.)
Being invited to guest blog coincided with a dissertation crisis of confidence–all about my words and ideas failing me. Do I actually have anything to say that matters at all? What does it all mean, if it doesn’t really matter to someone, somewhere, even a little bit? Can I move beyond the mundane, the transitory, the ridiculous?
Can I make myself the master of words?
It’s the challenge that faces me now, every day, as I sit staring blankly at multiple screens–my blog, my dissertation chapter, my Facebook, my emails, my life that waits to be written. It sounds cheesy and lame and, well, it probably is. But it’s also true.
Can I, silly Carrie with an unnatural affection for vanilla-scented candles and a heart too big, truly be a master of words?
To borrow (and totally amend) the poignant words of a master I love, Nora Ephron, I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So, good night, dear bloggery void. Thanks for letting me wax poetical and pontificate philosophically at you.
It helps. It really does.
If you’re interested in traversing the ins and outs of dissertation life, Mormon single womanhood (and DATING! whoohoo!), and life in Gator Country (aka Titletown, USA) vicariously through me, come visit me at Is There a Doctor in the House? I promise, I’m not usually this…intellectual.