“In my sensory education I include my physical awareness of the word. Of a certain word, that is; the connection it has with what it stands for. At around age six, perhaps, I was standing by myself in our front yard waiting for supper, just at that hour in a late summer day when the sun is already below the horizon and the risen full moon in the visible sky tops being chalky and takes on light. There comes the moment, and I saw it then, when the moon goes from flat to round. For the first time it met my eyes as a globe. The word moon came into my mouth as though fed to me out of a silver spoon. Held in my mouth, the moon became a word. It had the roundness of a Concord grape Grandpa took off his vine and gave to me to suck out of its skin and swallow whole, in Ohio.”
What an entrancing story of the awakening of a love of words! It reminds me of the moment in Helen Keller’s life as a young girl when she first realizes the connection between the signs her teacher Anne Sullivan is etching on her hand and the water pouring from a spout. In an instant, her mind grasped the idea that the “word” being tapped on her hand meant “water” — and her silent world cracked open.
And this reminds me, in my own life. of a moment when I crept into the bathroom of our old apartment on Fort Washington Avenue in upper Manhattan and opened the medicine cabinet. I must have been four or so. Somehow, I knew not to open anything and I wasn’t interested in what was inside the bottles anyway. It was the labels that fascinated me. I remember thinking that if I could only read them, then I would know everything in the whole wide world. It also reminds me of the moment, when as a little girl, my father handed me a yellow legal pad and pencil and told me to write a letter for him; I couldn’t read or write, but as I scrawled on that pad, I felt the power of that pencil.
If we think back as Eudora did, we can all probably summon up a moment in time, or several, when as young kids, we felt the “awareness of the word” — physical and emotional. I love the way Eudora describes it: For her it was a moment when, to her young eyes, the moon became a globe and she “tasted” the word “moon” in her mouth, just like a Concord grape.
Each of us who feel the silvery whisper of the “word,” who long to capture them in a golden net and pour them out like treasures on the page, knows this feeling. How and where it first arrived is different for all of us, but that urge to play with words and to make them our own is something I believe everyone who longs to write experiences in one form or another. For some of us, later, books become a magical world we can enter at any time, even escape to — and when we write, we enter that magic kingdom again.
And here’s something equally magical: Somewhere inside us, we still carry those first moments of emotional connection with words and stories. They are just waiting to be re-experienced — and to enliven and energize our writing. So the next time you hit a rough patch in your work. why not travel back in your imagination to that moment in time when words first revealed their power to you? You might find that it will release just the emotion and creativity you need to find your way onto the path of power again. What was your own moment of discovery like? I’d love to have you share it as we all write on!