Monday, July 6, 2009

Why yes, I am an English nerd.

I was never going to be a math wiz. Figures and formulas weren’t my forte, I'm very right brain, I’ll admit. I was never going to develop a life-saving elixir, not one cure for cancer or diabetes or anything near to being that altruistic. I am an English nerd from way back. Books, stories, plots, even the dissection of a sentence is like food for me…like a brain filling, imagination building gourmet meal.

I love metaphors and similes and all those silly little English certainties that most avoid or muddle through during their freshman year. I crave them. I was the girl in college—that silly, somewhat nerdy girl—who took English classes as her electives, who opted out of Basket Weaving 101 for Arthurian Legends taught by Professor Wow-She-Speaks-In-Fifty-

Yep, I was that girl.

But I won’t apologize for it. I’m not ashamed. Being an English nerd gives you a passport to another world, or worlds as the case may be. It’s not an exclusive club, this Literary Lovers Alliance, anyone can join. Just pick up a book, grab a journal, click onto a story site and you are a member. Perhaps not a life-long, super secret handshake member (I’m pretty sure you have access that particular membership only when you get your MA in English, or maybe that was just my university), but you're a member nonetheless. The only requirement is an imagination and the ability to laugh as you read, (while ignoring the stares you may get), become engrossed in every portion of a story, in every emotional high and low, in every well thought out, purposeful bit of dialogue.

Ultimately, you must have to ability to become absorbed.

When I was in graduate school, I took a class, ‘History of the Book,’ I think it was, where the professor shared what he knew about how society went from Monks with feathered pens and parchment, to the latest Gaiman novel. We started at point A and ended at Z, very simple, a bit dry at some points, but still interesting. The objective was, however, to examine how words, mere simple words, had changed the world. See? It all started with English nerds or perhaps I should say Word Nerds.

Words are powerful. They can consume us like the sea, defeat us, flay us like the sharpest sword. They can also save us, they can transport us, make us feel, make us cry, make us fight and scream and laugh and love. There is nothing more powerful, not one thing more magical. Don’t believe me?

Case in point: John Trudell. He’s a poet and one time spokesman for the American Indian Movement. He was a speaker. All he did was speak. His only weapon was his words and the truth he believed. And for his words, his family was murdered. He’d been warned, in the county jail, to shut up, to stop protesting. Weeks later, after he’d continued to speak? His wife, mother-in-law and children were all dead because of words. Only words.

Another example? Have you heard of Harvey Milk? No need to list all the things he did, all the words he spoke because there is a phenomenal film just released that can explain it far better than I can. The point is, he used words as a weapon and he died for it.

There are others, countless others—Martin Luther, Nelson Mandela, D.H. Lawrence, Vonnegut, Dr. Martin Luther King, and many others, some of who are the reason we can call ourselves American. Words, my friends, simple words can change the world. So, respect them. Love them. Honor them.

In the end, when we’re all ashes, when the apes or robots or aliens (insert your chosen post-apocalyptic villain here) have taken over and memory of humankind becomes a fading myth, it will be the words—ours or theirs— that will endure.

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