Tonight was the first of what might become a regular event in my life. I organized a party for word lovers at Irvings, a local "Panera"-esque place right on College Ave. The idea was to get some word lovers together, share some favorite passages from some favorite authors, share why they are favorites, and see where it goes from there. Hey, I even got our prof to make this into a credit event for class. Heck yes.
It was grand, to say the least. There were seven of us around the Irvings table near the front window, my chai milkshake rapidly disappearing, and the conversation was just way too easy to start. We began with saying why we ended up at Irvings together and our "relationship with words" or "why we like words". This somehow became us describing our relationship with words by facebook relationship statuses. Alex and Mae were married to words and so decided they were in a polygamous relationship but were okay with that. Amanda was "tumultuous". Megan was "it's complicated". All of us had an intense relationship of some kind and that created a space of great laughter and joy and utter nerdiness.
People can really be smarter in groups than they can ever be on their own. There is a shared pull on knowledge and experience that is just not possible when one is alone. For example, Alex knows his physics, neurology, and linguistics. Amanda has her philosophy. Mae knows her poetry and structure. Emily knows humor and common sense and keeping it grounded. Val knows when someone is just talking to talk and says so. Needless to say we went on some intense bunny trails that were well worth it. I learned more about existential philosophy and theories of "identity" and "authentic essence" and language as an image of image (and a short rant on the glories of Genesis and John 1 as an "ars poetica" in my life).
We grounded this in reading aloud a variety of texts that launched us into different aspects of writing. Elizabeth Bishop poetry. Billy Collins's "The Lanyard", a passage from "Gilead", a blog post on the poor grammar and misspellings (ALOT), and "Lolita". I was amazed at how we were able to pick out just phrases and ideas from one hearing and run with it for a very long time.
Essentially (what a complicated idea that word contains!), we were all being led to talk about very real things/ideas by looking closely at words that have shaped us. Seeing them in the context of the group changed the sound and meaning, added a different texture and understanding. Emily caught Proust references in Billy Collins and in "Gilead" that we didn't know were there. This led to a discussion of memory, of ideas of how we imagine human beings to exist and what they are made of. Why are we here and what are we anyway?
So try it. Get some people together. Read your favorite passages of your favorite books. See what happens.
Also, I must ask. If your relationship with words was a facebook relationship status, what would it be?