ACK!!! I found myself lying on the floor, my hand across my forehead, moaning in despair. This was the effect of the fourth or fifth interruption in probably thirty minutes when I was trying to write. But then, while I was laying there on the floor, I started thinking, day dreaming, as writers are apt to do from time-to-time, and I started pondering over this common occurrence—me lying on the floor after someone, usually my spouse or young adult child—interrupts my train of thought. When they do that, something occurs in my body that feels like… pain.
Let me backup a little and explain how I feel about writing. I went to school to study to be a scientific illustrator, but a series of unexpected twists led me to rhetoric. Yes, I said “rrrrrhetorrrric”. You have to roll the r’s for the greatest impact. (It also makes you sound a little bit Scottish, so that’s pretty cool too.)
And seriously, it was not a waste of educational funding. I know, I know. I was uncertain at first too. (My parents were absolutely uncertain), but then I heard the definition of rhetoric:
the art of discovering the available means of persuasion with regard to any situation.
Let that rain over your body for a minute. “The art of discovering the available means of persuasion with regard to any situation.” I’ve put it in quotes, but I don’t’ recall who defined it in that particular form. Aristotle was the first to define it, but he used beautiful, grandiose Greek words.
I didn’t have to think about it long before I realized, hey. That’s a super power. If I could discover the means to persuade someone to my way of thinking, isn’t that the definition of superpower? Who needs mind control? What use do I have of super strength. My words could be my superpower, my available means of persuasion, my pen “…mightier than the sword.”
So that’s what I did. I went to college to develop my superpower.
Most of us already know about the power of words to inflict pain and emotional scars. But if I were to focus on that aspect of words, that would make me a super villain, so I chose to focus on the positive, transformative power of words. (Plus, we see enough evil villainy every time we turn on the television. It’s important to understand how the villains operate to alter perceptions, but I don’t have to be a part of that, thank you very much.)
Here are just a few examples of the power of words:
The strength of vocabulary to advance our understanding of the world. Have you heard the RadioLab talk about the color blue? We look up in the sky and we say, yep. That’s blue. But that was not always the case. People used to look up at the sky and say, “hmm. Looking awfully white today,” Or “that ocean there is pretty wine red today.” Don’t believe me? You can check out a fun discussion about the history of color, our perceptions of color, and how those things become a commonality in language to coincide with our understanding of colors. https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/211213-sky-isnt-blue In a nutshell, we don’t recognize a thing like color until we have a mental coat-hook on which to hang it.
Words have the power to change our hearts. Sharing and building a common vocabulary becomes a means to explore (and build acceptance for) taboo topics. It turns out, when we expand our vocabulary, sharing new words to explain and describe topics that were once considered to be forbidden or at least very frowned upon, we develop our understanding of that thing. We are able to say to one another, “that thing X makes me uncomfortable,” to which another person can reply, “I’m sorry that X makes you uncomfortable. Here’s why it’s absolutely normal in my world…”.The first person doesn’t have to agree right away, but they’ve been informed, using the common vocabulary and those words create hooks toward understanding.
Immortality. (Kind of). In the world of writers, words have the power to extend our history, extend our thoughts beyond our physical lives, and the power to speak to another person’s soul. You may have seen that scene play out whereby people in love, separated by distance, vow to look up at the moon and know that their soulmate is also looking up at the same moon and in that way, they are connected by distance. That’s the written word. You might say, it is a tool toward immortality, so long as the words live. It’s our recording of our thoughts for future generations, but also, it’s a means of sharing history, cultural consistencies at a single point in time… to be shared with future generations.
So there I was, lying on the floor… in pain… When I’m writing, you could say, I’m using my superpower. And when you disrupt my writing, well, that’s my kryptonite. I still love my interrupters, but they do have the power to send me writhing to the floor in pain… because every superhero has her kryptonite.