Finding Narnia: The Wardrobe of Words

I’ve always loved the word ‘crinkle’. It has such happy, playful edges; an exuberant breed of wrinkle, nestling in furrows of amiability. Far more excitable than a fold, but so much kinder than a pinch! It’s the pleated corner of a smiling eye or the puckered crumple of seersucker. And unlike the meekly silent ‘wrinkle’, it has a distinctive voice too; a crackle, a ruckle, a scrunch and a pucker. Such a perky onomatopoeic specimen, just like ‘tickle’ and ‘wink’; tiny slips of mischievousness tied up in little wriggles of ink. 

More and more, I am beginning to understand the power of words. We don’t just speak them, we release them into the world like frogspawn; fertile pouches of punctuation that grow arms and legs, wriggling far and free through the world to leap or squelch. The language we send forth drifts like plankton through the energetic ether, wafting across vast reefs of vibrational-anemones waving colourful fronds to catch them, digesting and releasing their essence back into our teeming little rockpools of time and space.

Ah, the bawdy gleam of gobble, the sticky lewdness of secrete, or the dark relish of revolt; the ringletted prettiness of curlicued, the lyrical swing of whimsical, or the thrilling, breathy sibilance of illicit! Not to mention the stout clout of thick-witted, and the weighty plod of placidity. Though some words seem to have lost their way, like that poor, godforsaken militia (what were they thinking, allocating such a sibilant treat to something so mercenary and bleak, when it should so clearly be a word to describe a gooey, molten delicacy to be savoured on the tongue?) So thank goodness for hullabaloo kerfuffle and rapscallion, all doing exactly what they promised to.

As the 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson said, ‘Language is the dress of thought’, which means we each have access to an entire magical wardrobe into Narnia if we choose. We don’t have to settle for the dreary sacking of a word like ‘exercise’; we can delve past the hessian to the frills and fancies of the costume-box! As Candace Pert rightly notes in her book ‘Molecules of Emotion’, how infinitely more motivating to call it ‘bodyplay’ instead!

Like a sharp-suited ‘I will’ vs a threadbare ‘I might,’ words can enhance and empower us the same way Dynasty shoulder-pads did Joan Collins – or leave us chill-veined and shivery in our underpants and socks. Words can protect us or expose us. Feed us or deplete us. Nourish or sicken. Just like mushroom-picking, it’s best to choose with great care; those that are most tempting and accessible are often the most poisonous, and the rarest delicacies must be sniffed out of the earth like buried truffles. 

And so they remain, waiting patiently for us to discover them like presents under the linguistic Christmas tree: words like weevily, mawkish and celestial, or gnarly and ignominious. Just like the dwarfs of Sleeping Beauty, they’re an infinite curiosity of beads with which to string our motley necklace of meaning – and a merry ball-pit of enunciation. Oink, chitter and kerplunk; repugnant, turgid and execrable. Not forgetting the engorged licentiousness of tumescence of course. Oh, magnificent word, how I do love thee!

Like a cast of Narnia characters all jostling to play in the scenes of our thoughts, words influence each other too. Whomever we choose as our leading light, they nudge and prod their closest associates on stage with them, and the next bead we thread onto the necklace of our lexicon greases the slide for more of the same; miniature avalanches of associative energy tumbling endlessly into the jewellery of our subconscious. 

‘Struggle’ is a case in point – a sludgeonly word full of drudge and deadweight that I so often catch myself using (yes, I admit that I made up ‘sludgeonly’. Hang it in your wardrobe with glee!) What if I choose something a little more flexible – don a garment of vocabulary that clothes my perception like that fancy high-tech performance-wear athletes use? A breathable, moisture-wicking wonder that lets me prance, stretch and jump freely, all while giving my buttocks a gratifying-perky lift? What if I’m not struggling (which sounds arduous and futile), but rummaging instead – delving freely through the great jumble-sale of life’s possibilities, separating treasures from trash, ferreting and focusing and getting ever-closer to those neglected, mothballed delights and my inner-squeal of discovery? Yes, that feels better!

If feelings are the fruiting bodies of our thoughts, then the language of our consciousness spreads spores like fungi; great cankers can bloom forth if we’re careless with our words. Their resonance can spread underground like honey fungus, attacking and killing our roots and decaying the inner wood of our spirit.

So may we all be truffle-hogs instead, digging out the subterranean treasures rather than grasping at the familiar toadstools of our lexicon!

And may I rummage through my words the way I do through my tin of Quality Street…

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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Thresholds – Fear of Beginnings

I’ve spent the majority of my life writing in various air-raid shelters of protection – furtively, secretly, shyly – while harbouring a deep longing to emerge into the light. I’ve never known the courage to claim each illegitimate child of creativity or the confidence to celebrate our relationship without fear. But it is the act of sharing that releases us from our own prisons, and I have dithered in mine long enough.

And so I’ve begun to massage away this creative arthritis, to slowly unclench the fearful fist of self-expression and loosen each contracted finger with gentle, consistent action.

As part of this, I resolved to start a blog as a training ground for my wobbly inner foal: somewhere to stretch its hermetic limbs, practice jumping small hurdles and begin exploring the paddocks of possibility outside.

But there is something pathologically terrifying about this public unclothing of the inner self. Like dreams where we find ourselves unspeakably naked in a job interview, it’s a horror of visceral wrongness; of baring the wobbly cellulite of the soul, the saddlebags of angst, the scary and hairy bits that are too awkward to shave. And of believing them to be unacceptable. This is the hot lava of shame that flows beneath the pavements of our lives, a blistering annihilation we might inadvertently plunge into without endless vigilance over where we step. The simple act of letting my words roam free feels like a free fall into this scalding abyss.

No wonder my fearful foal kicked in resistance and frothed endlessly at the mouth! Days passed, and the fences of procrastination grew taller. The weather of discomfort ebbed and flowed but the blog stayed firmly in the shell of its seed coat, reluctant to risk the perils of germination and grow up towards the light.

It was so easy to condemn myself for this, to declare myself a failure. And yet, much can be happening in an apparently dormant seed.  I recently read Rhik Sammader’s book ‘I Never Said I Loved You’, a powerful flash-bulb of reprieve in the shadows of self-despair. He describes meeting up with an old teacher at a time when he’s struggling to feel a sense of agency in his life, asking her,

 “How is movement even possible? There’s so much inertia”.

“The thing about inertia”, she replied, “is it’s what happens when the forces acting on an object are exactly equal. It doesn’t mean nothing’s happening”.  She drew more squiggles, indicating that taking away one side was as powerful as adding to another. ‘Is it acceleration you want, or to change direction?’”

Reading this, I felt a shifting of my tectonic plates. Procrastination isn’t a character flaw, or a manifestation of lack or laziness. It’s a temporary stalemate of strengths; the evenly matched power of two lightsabers and their bright polarities of will.

So much kinder to ask, ‘What is the equal and opposite force acting against my intention to do a thing?’ than to lash away at the soft animal flesh of ourselves, barely braved and quick to retreat.

Of course mine was Fear; huge, debilitating and bristling with state-of-the-art special effects.

And like its compatriot – Belief – it was just doing its best to look out for me. Fear was pulling me back from the precipice, tense and alert for danger, while Belief tugged impatiently forwards, excited and eager to explore.

How to loosen the muscle-cramp of this contraction? Not by pushing against it, which only cranks up its counter-strength and so tightens the spasm of resistance. We cannot punish the fear out of ourselves anymore than we can beat away pain – it’s a spiritual oxymoron.

Sometimes gentleness is the only way to soften strength; a surrendering of the desire to control, and an invitation for another type of energy to fill the space. My inner foal is convinced it can’t step into the arena unless it’s perfectly schooled in dressage, head held aloft in an impenetrable fortress of pride and faultless precision. To appear as its trembly, knock-kneed and neophyte self seems like self-crucifixion at an everlasting altar of shame, and so it kicks and bucks at any attempt to coerce it.

To coax it out requires acceptance, understanding, patience and friendship. It needs a playmate, not an authoritarian; someone to rough-and-tumble over these prickly thistles of perfectionism until they’re flattened by fun.  Someone to chuckle affectionately when it face-plants, and cheer it back up to its feet; someone to whoop with pleasure as they circle back together, take another run up and try that first jump once more.

And so I open the gate. Take the first tentative step in.

And have a jolly good roll in the horseshit.

I never liked that bloody dressage nonsense anyway.

Photo by Fabien Maurin on Unsplash

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