Many of us have heard or said these words: “I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.” Soft words, vulnerable words. Such words whisper the necessity of those bonds that sustain us while at the same time admitting of their frailty — as far as things go here on Earth. On Earth, time wears at us as if we were clay in its riverbanks. Also, unforeseeable events shoot bolts from the blue that alter or end our earthly future. When we are gone, what remains? Gravesites that circumstances may also conspire to sweep away; that remarkable willing suspension of disbelief by which we look forward to resurrection and reuniting with departed loved ones; intricate genetic stories that run backward through time, and that might, if folks are fortunate, unfold into the human future.
As a species, we have one other outstanding characteristic: over millennia we have begun to amass wealth in the form of recorded words. Perhaps for the same reasons people spin their epic genetic tales — that is, out of love and longing — we developed a drive to erect and stock warehouses and cathedrals with durable and exalted language. Among such word-hoards we may perhaps find lost loved ones.
“But,” many rightly complain, “reading or listening to her words is not the same as having her with us.”
This is true. People communicate not only through words but also through touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. All these integrate to raise our language to whatever coherence we achieve. Yet recorded language — especially the best of it — contains a will to live that may run a course parallel to that of the genetic will. It may even be possible a person’s language bears imprints and information resembling what’s contained in DNA. Strands of a person’s sentences may retain the wisdom of linguistic forebears as well as keys able to unlock newly forming gateways into secret gardens of unfolding human potential.
Another complaint against language: Some think it an inadequate means for capturing experience. But any failure in language here may lie in the belief that language’s purpose is to fix or arrest experience so that later we may extract its full effect, as if any experience is a known quantity of minnows to be scooped up in a net then salted and dried for later use. Suppose that isn’t how language works. Suppose we fiddle a bit with this belief about language’s inadequacies: Language is an inadequate means of creating experience. Now, de-negating it may not trouble us so much: Language is an adequate means of creating experience, perhaps even one of the most important means. Capturing … creating: Two different actions having two completely different intentions and effects.
In the first case, language fails to pin down experience to our satisfaction. Very resonant in this belief — sometimes even more resonant than any surviving captured meaning itself — is an uneasy sense of loss, a feeling that something has escaped us. In the second case, language creates experience, which means it is experience. As with other kinds of experience we may have more or less satisfying adventures in language, but “capturing” experience is not the concern of language whose thrust is to create experience. The life-changing insights I experience reading the words of authors dead for decades or centuries occur as something that happens between their language and mine. Such “being with” authors can’t be canned, corralled, or controlled.
It interests and comforts me to know the words I put out there in whatever form they take — blog posts and comments included — will provide my children possibilities to interact with me in places I can’t prescribe, predict, or control. When they meet me in my words, there will be no “capturing” or attempts to capture — only new outbursts of experience facilitated through the workings of human language. Anyway, how would one go about capturing experience with something that is itself an experience? Maybe it’s natural that we are unable to capture meaning because as big as life is, it stands to reason that we aren’t aware of everything going on during any given experience. Get used to it! Maybe this idea of “capturing” experience is an outdated metaphor harking back to the hunter-gatherer way of making ends meet.
Or … maybe not. Aboriginal Australians believe that the wild Australian landscape thrums with vibrations, jiva or guruwari, seed vitality, the resonant blastosphere of the present containing, like a seed, past and future simultaneously. Language, too, has jiva or guruwari — creative energy that has traveled out of the past on its way to the future. Thank you, Aboriginal Australians, for such a wonderful metaphor.
I write because language opens up new possibilities for me here and now as I push the boundaries of what I think I know. I want my kids to tap into this energy — this languaging — in recorded words in general and in my words in particular. I want this as much as I desire for their good health to continue, for their intelligence to magnify, for their overall beauty to blossom, and for them to find within other genetic qualities such as combined to lead to their creation in the first place. When events conspire however they may to usher me off this Earth, I want my family to know what to do: look for me in my words. Make of them what you will, but please, be reasonable. I hope that I will have left such words behind as to meet both the immediate and long-term needs of friends and family.
We live in a remarkable world, where nowadays our language may be cached without any special efforts on our parts, especially here on the Internet. What a great service to our collective and individual futures.
And, “capture experience,” indeed. Let it live wild, I say.