I was walking down Gap’s highstreet today. I grabbed a baguette from my local patisserie, strolled past the bank, and was peering into the pharmacy when I was struck by a thought.
No one here cares about words.
Throughout my living memory learning has been the highest achievement, unquestionably the highest summit to be climbed. From the age of 16 onwards, this has been more and more expressed in my own personal fascination with words, and language.
Honestly, I have never even considered that anything else would be worth pursuing. I have dedicated myself to language (and by language I incorporate literature) whole heartedly, knowing it to be the right road to take. Today I realised that I may well be mistaken. Bakers do not care about words. Pharmacists do not care about words. Accountants most certainly do not care about words. However, these are different professions which I can see must offer different challenges and different rewards.
In fact, a deeper challenge to my love of words lay at the gym, later in the day. Here, lying on the floor, panting, defeated, I felt in a world entirely apart from the world of words. Instead, a world opened up in which effort was counted in sweat, reps and pure physical effort. Not word counts. Suddenly, words seemed a very cowardly retreat, a place where the most strenuous effort one could undertake is to write, or to dare to strain at a thought. Any old idiot can ‘think’ I realised. It is here, in sport, or in any other path which demands physical effort in which real action is taken and real meaning found.
It is very hard to express how deeply all this shocked me. I think the most accurate comparison can be made to an argument: You are arguing your side, you know you are right, you have the points lined up and are reeling them off in elegant, impassioned prose. Suddenly, whoever you are arguing with makes a valid and reasonable point with which you can’t really argue with.
In much the same way, I found my confidence in my words shaken. Who am I to say they are worthy of committing my life to? Or even merely my youth? I see now that learning has for so long been the given aim of my life – in school, in college, in University, that now I am at work I feel as though someone has taken the stabilisers off – ‘go on, off you go, find meaning!’
I also know that I am still free to spend my life in my world of words. But now I can see that it is merely a retreat – a paperback shelter against the world of work, can I still hide there guilt-free?
In between these lines already lies the answer. For none of this changes that I love language, literature, French, novels, poems, articles, lyrics, speeches… any old bit of writing really.
Thanks for the title Alex.