Monday, October 10, 2011
A Plethora of Words
Since I was very young, I had an affinity for words. I loved anagrams and puzzles. I read the
dictionary with a passion generally reserved for sports. Well, words were my sport. It was my English vocabulary that allowed me to make quick gains on my French vocabulary. It was my English vocabulary that boosted my SAT scores and, presumably, my AP scores in both English and Frenh. (My Advanced Placement tests allowed my to opt out of Freshmen English and French at Mount Holyoke.) Still, I persisted in the belief that I was going to go to med school. I piled on the sciences and felt a bit like I was cheating when I took the prerequisite English courses. The reading was divine. The classwork was fun and stimulating. I pulled A's without trying. Avoiding the obvious, I declared my major in Pscyhobiology. I intended to minor in French, but, after two years, I lost myself in neurophysiology and my French was suffering. I realized I had to let something go. I needed to stack the deck if I was going to survive the rigors of two years of Organic Chemistry that I would need for med school. So it's easy to see, years later, that I was skating right past the obvious. Language, in its many shiny facets, came to me easily because I loved it. I wanted to be hardcore and push myself to do well in a field that captivated my interest, but not my heart. In today's vernacular, I was not being authentic. Someone who loves words the way I so, should be crafting them for a living. Instead, I began working in a lab on the genome labeling project. I did help edit the papers that we published...
To fill that secret passion I had for language, I started writing articles on a freelance basis for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in 1980. I was assigned a cantankerous editor who barked criticism at me whenever we spoke. He improved my writing. I freelanced for the Gazette for years. I took a long break when I realized that, in 2005, I was earning the same I earned in 1980. No fancy calculations, dollar for dollar, the same amount. How disheartening.
I started writing a novel, "The Growing Season", in 2005. Finished it in 2009. I could serialize it and post chapters, but so far, I have not found an agent who wants to take me on.
That being said, I still think words are mine to use, to craft, to hone. One of my favorite editors at the Gazette, Margot C., cautioned me about using words that may not be familiar to the newspaper's readers. I kind of laughed because, years earlier, I had received virtually the same advice from my sister. The night before I was about to start a new job working for Shawmut Bank, we had dinner together. She suggested, "Be careful you don't use big words, or no one will like you."
Well, on that point, I have not paid heed to Margot or my sister -- only because I must stay true to who I am. As I raised my three children, I spoke to them using adult words, beautiful and expressive words. My assumption that they understood me because the words were used in context was proved wrong about twenty years too late! My son and daughters told me over dinner recently that they had absolutely no idea what I was talking about half the time. This news caused side-splitting hysterical laughter. To think!
I still content that Words are a gift for us to use to try to express ourselves to the best of our ability. In 1979, my parents, knowing my love-affair with the English language, gave me the unabridged Webster's dictionary. It is on my library shelf now, its binding frayed and worn. My mother and father honored my love for words once again in 2003 when they gave me The Superior Person's Book of Words by Peter Bowler. It boasts words from Abecedarian (arranged in alphabetical order) to Zzxjoanw (A Maori drum -- man, that is a Scrabble winner!). Honestly, what better way to spend some free time than to avoid utter nescience (lack of knowledge) by expanding your vocabulary?