University of Michigan

My favorite word in the English language is “scintillating”, basically a fancy way to say bright and shiny. So much of who I am as a person depends on words like this one. Whether I’m reading a book or writing an essay for English, I have been surrounded by words for my entire life. They are arguably the foundation of human society. Words have the power to start and end wars and raise countries from dirt. Their versatility allows some to float by without consequences and others to bring people to tears. They can be hateful and crude while also having the ability to be arranged into beautiful art. 

My own personal journey with words began in elementary school. When I entered second grade I met a classmate who kept the thickest book I had ever seen in his desk. He would talk about a boy named Harry and this magical school filled with witches and wizards. Second grade me knew that I just had to read that book. Unfortunately my mom seemed to disagree. She felt that some of the themes of the book might be better suited for someone a bit older, and instead bought me a book about a bunch of cats who lived in a forest. A bit miffed, I grudgingly accepted the book. Ten years later I’ve read the Harry Potter series multiple times, but I realize that that book about cats was probably the most influential book I’ve ever read. While not a great work of literature by any traditional means, reading that book lead to reading the rest of the series and sparked a love for reading that continues to this day.  

For a long period of time, books were really the only time I paid attention to words, and even then it was purely for the story. I would read constantly, often finishing multiple books a week. I didn’t stop to notice the way the words were arranged, or why a certain one way used instead of another. The idiosyncrasies of individual authors meant nothing to me. As I grew, however, I began to notice words more. I was eventually able to recognize which authors I liked for the stories they told and which I loved purely based on the way they wrote. This newfound fascination with different writing styles led to me discovering short stories and poetry. Each individual word in a ten line poem has more power than any single word in a longer novel. The author must get their point across in a concise manner without losing any of the story’s integrity, and you know that each word was written with purpose. 

I have never been a big writer myself. I knew it wasn’t necessarily something I struggled with, and I could usually get my teachers to draw smiley faces next to sentences that made them laugh, but it was never something I enjoyed. In the past few years I’ve realized that there’s more to enjoying writing than being able to create fantastic stories out of thin air. In fact, I’ve filled the notes section on my phone with small stories and fragments of sentences. I gather poems on sticky notes and put them on my walls like a bird filling a nest with its own feathers. I’m surrounded by written records of who I was and what I was feeling at one point in time, and I am still learning how to use words to express myself.

I’ve recently stopped thinking of words as purely letters on pages. My parents got divorced last year, and there’s a pretty messy custody battle going on. I watch as words cease to exist as the underlined sentences in my favorite books and become weapons to be used indiscriminately. Words like “liar” and “asshole” are intermingled with “cancer” and “abusive”. I’m learning how to limit my words to avoid fights and how to tolerate the words designed to start them. I’ve figured out who I can speak freely to and who will accuse me of “tattling”, and that there are some sentences that are unforgivable. There are times when I feel there is no possible way to explain all the ways my life is going wrong, and there are times where it seems there are all too many dictionary definitions I fall into. 

The more upset these words make me, the more I cherish the other ones, the ones from friends and the ones hidden in my notes. When the angry words become too much, I escape to the better ones. Youtube videos of poetry readings have gotten me through long nights, and more comments are added to the margins of my books with every re-read. I’m learning how to use my words in a productive manner, and when it is better to just let things go. My relationship with words has gone from reading to writing to arguing, and I’m not quite sure what comes next. For now, I’m going to start with gathering. I’ll horde scraps of overheard conversations and half remembered fortune cookie predictions and interesting combinations of consonants until I have a stash of words big enough to get me through whatever life sends next.  Somewhere inside me is still the eight year old who devours story after story, and she coexists with the teenager who cries over sentences that are “just too beautiful”. These people live right next door to the girl who writes poems purely for herself as well as the one who cowers when faced with words streaming from an angry mouth. Every person I’ve ever been still lives inside of whoever I am now, and words have been the biggest influence in the way each of those people experienced the world.

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