ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
A word is a magical thing.
Young children are not that interested in books without pictures. No matter how good the story. When we are very young, a word on a page, by itself, is just not that interesting. We need pictures to make the words more engaging.
As we grow older, our stories also grow, and there are fewer and fewer pictures. As this happens, another kind of magic takes hold. The words on the page begin to mean something. And we start to participate in the story. We bring our imagination to the page and create our own pictures.
This is because a word is a magical thing. And the reading of words is actually an act of creation. As readers, we get to participate in the art itself coming to fruition like no other art form. We are brought into the world made by the writer and get to do our own co-creating while we’re there; completing the circle of art in a way wholly unique to the written word.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I love the visual arts. Words and pictures have long worked together. And they’ve enjoyed a beautiful working relationship. I’ve just noticed that lately the relationship has become a little lopsided. As if there’s been a regression of sorts. At least as far as the internets are concerned.
The truth is, we’ve gotten a bit lazy. We can’t be bothered to write out the full words for things. And in order to get us to read something, there needs to be a picture attached. It’s like we’re all in kindergarten again, and we’re easily bored.
Which is a shame. Not just because I’m a writer. But because the word is fundamental to our understanding of everything in our world. Including pictures. Imagine describing a picture without words. Now imagine seeing a picture and not attaching words to it in your own head.
And the thing is, understanding is pretty important. Because mostly what we understand is so vastly outweighed by what we don't understand that if we understood only that simple truth it would blow our minds. And maybe it would lead to things like humility, compassion, and even curiosity.
In order to understand our world a little better, we need to exercise our brains a little more. Reading is a little like yoga for our minds. And who among us couldn’t stand to do a little more yoga, right?
Here's something really crazy. New studies show [I promise this isn't a gum commercial] that our brains might actually see words as pictures. Did you hear that? At least some of us see words as pictures. If that’s so, then putting pictures with them is redundant.
I guess what I’m saying is: In a world that is already increasingly disconnected -- and almost unbearably truncated by letters and numbers that are supplanting words -- to continue to act as if words themselves are not important is to further distance ourselves from each other and from our natural environment.
It’s not just that always supplying the picture is too much spoon-feeding. Nor simply that it doesn’t allow us the space to create our own worlds with words. It isn’t even that it makes us lazy. It’s that it also deprives us of the raw beauty of words.
And beauty, as you know, is just about everything. So bring on the written word, the spoken word, the poetry slams, the calligraphy pens, the handmade paper, the ragged journals, and the tattered book covers holding so many precious gems.
Language existed before the written word. But the written word built bridges for us that language alone could not. Let’s get creative and figure out how to lift up the word again. In all its art forms. In all its glory. In all its ravenous beauty.
After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, why not let the picture speak for itself. And set the words free again.