The Boundaries of Language: Does Anybody Know What I am Saying?

The late psychologist James Hillman is confirming what I already knew when I decided long ago on January 1st to talk less this year, much less.  Words are the very fundamentals of conscious existence but always severed from things and from truth.  As Hillman writes, they exist in a world their own and have no inherent sense, for they can be reduced to quasi-mathematical units. There is a credibility gap since we no longer trust words of any sort as true carriers of meaning.  This is from the book “Blue Fire, Selected Writings of James Hillman”.  Talking less does indeed mean I have had a lot less misinterpretations of what I meant when I spoke, but writing less, that is a problem.  Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote with this idea in mind, a young girl filled to the brim with words she is learning for the SATs and a tireless imagination so the image she paints, like the words themselves, are far from truth.  It is from a story called “The River Draws Near”.  I’d like to see someone try and translate this one.

I was twelve when my Daddy got a long iridescent motorcycle, his first to my unemphatic, unpathwayed, what-I-recall.  I wandered in the front of the shop by the plate glass windows and the heavy door with the cow bell, while he strode around back to take a final look at the portly motorcycle covered in shiny mermaid paint that swirled iridescent.  I perused the shop in my white sandals ambulating back and forth among the sharp smells of steel and leather, among the stink of after-shave, rubber and gasoline, under the buzz of fluorescent lights.  I had a mind to read but I could find no magazines, even in the waiting room near the coffee. Daddy had disappeared in back.  When he returned I asked if I couldn’t borrow his new manual.   I sat outside next door in front of Jim’s Hardware on top of a cooler and looked for spelling bee clinchers: crankshaft, flywheel, cam chain, hydraulic steering damper.   I was to be a world champion speller, I was to win the national spelling bee in the great capital of our country this very spring.  Daddy predicted it and I prayed upon it and now I was going to be a part of history. When it was time to leave, Daddy descended upon me with a pink, porcine-looking helmet and we drove home to Mama and Misty.

When I wasn’t studying the dictionary or Greek and Latin linguistics, I rode with Daddy on his new motorcycle, him and his friends, deep into the country along Dog River, under the big Alabama sky.  I was on behind him, the child in a swarming sway of age.  I snuck stones in my pocket, pawed them up from underneath the porch and aimed them for the river as we sped beside it.

I was twelve that spring, the same spring Daddy was struck by lightening.  He was struck through the phone line with pernicious force, after which he drove himself to the emergency room, his ear singed. He suffered cardio-pulmonary injuries and electrocardiographic changes but Daddy said he was good to go.  He had a bad burn on his ear that made the skin peel and fall off. He kept doing funny things like putting the milk away in the cupboard or forgetting to turn the car off when we got home.

Dog River ran in front of our house.  Daddy never went near it. He had no use for waterways of any kind.  Though he was aqueous, he was not aquatic he said, asking me to spell both.  It’s the aqueous part that acts as a conductor of electricity, he explained.  Electricity needs a conduit, please spell that Mirabel.  A conduit is something that transfers electricity.  My sister Misty and I swam in the cool, muddy water all the time except the spring when the rain came and the currents accelerated, tangling our red hair and careening us into big rocks.

But let me go back to the day Daddy was hit by lightening, because it changed everything.  It was ominous.  The morning woke with swollen gray pupils.  My ruckled senses unfolded and Misty and I looked at each other, sensing the stillness that preceded another storm.  Everything was stopped, looming, hindered, except the small stream of blood that poured out of me and spread into the damp cotton sheets.

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