Yesterday I was at my favourite café, sitting on a comfortable couch and reading a Jane Austen novel. In front of the couch, there is this chest, on which there are layers of postcards, pictures, doodles and messages from happy customers from all over the world, and a above those, a glass pane.
I looked up from my book, and this one piece of paper caught my eye. I read the first two and a half paragraphs and felt my heart beating as a result of what I’d read, without knowing its context.
In case you find the text on the picture I took with my crappy cell phone camera to be illegible, here is what I could read at that point:
“what a melancholic world I’ve invited you into, and with no regard for your innocence.
i cannot tell you what love is yet.
but i often think to myself, where was my outspoken heart where”
I couldn’t read any more of the writing, because there was a postcard, a bookmark, a card and other obstacles covering the text. By that point I was totally engulfed in the words on this random piece of paper by a stranger I knew nothing about and I wasn’t going to stop until I could read the rest.
So I put down my book and resorted to using my bookmark to push everything around this piece of paper around until all of the text was visible to me. It took a while, and I had to use many tricks to push things in the right direction, without thereby pushing what was next to those, onto the paper. At one point, I let my hair down (literally – although in some was figuratively too I suppose) and used my hair pins to maneuver everything from the words I found myself so drawn to. So as I poked around under the glass pane, looking like a madman to the other visitors of the café, one by one, the remaining words were revealed to me.
When I could finally read the whole thing, I didn’t know what to think. I just read it over and over, all the while asking myself why I had become so obsessed with these words and why my heart was beating so fast upon reading the raw feelings of a total stranger.
It said: “but i often think to myself, where was my outspoken heart when i gave up my mind to the scarecrow.
and you my dear, where were you when i relinquished my heart for the rusting tin man?”
It’s not on the picture, but below the text it said “d.v.c.” and then there was a row of Roman numerals I can’t recall. I didn’t know, and still don’t, even after the “help” of Google, if this was a quote from a book – and the writing is so good that I thought that if it was a quote from a book, I was being completely culturally ignorant by not recognizing the author – or if these were truly just the thought of a unknown stranger?
Why did I care so much about these few words scribbled on a piece of paper and left at a café? Why did they move me so much and why could I not think of anything but those words for hours after? Why do I still care so much that I’m writing a post about it? I don’t even fully get some of it. What is a scarecrow in this instance? What does the “rusting tin man” symbolize? I can only guess.
I think the answer to that question is very similar to the answer to why I love the written word enough to want to become a writer.
There is something so magical about the art of choosing specific words to best to describe your feelings and others understanding them and relating to them, that so many around the world are willing to have that be the only thing they do for the rest of their life. The beauty of the various deeds language can be used for, the colours of the rainbow it can paint, the amount of people you can get to in places where the entire population is literate is so fascinating to me and many others. Because earlier in this post I wrote “or if these were truly just the thought of a unknown stranger?” Notice the “just” I chose to have there? Maybe that’s stupid of me. After all, the value of art is independent of its popularity, isn’t it? And in this particular case, there is a certain beauty in not knowing who the author of these mesmerizing words is.
Words can be used to portray love, hate, anger, sorrow, hope, lack of hope. It can heal wounds and at the same time create the deepest ones. You can connect and communicate with those around you, and even, as this is an example of, total strangers. There is something so scarily beautiful and powerful about that, that it draws great hords of people in.
For people like me, the stories told through words just are the stories we connect to the most. And I’m not sure why. But I know that if the words are chosen deliberately, a thousand words can indeed tell more than a picture. And stories that are written down create universes that we can escape to when our own are too hurtful for us to be able to deal with for a while.
And there are few moments I love more than that moment where I run across a sentence, a word, a paragraph, in a book that speaks to me so much, that it doesn’t just illustrate one problem I’m having at the time I read the words meant not just for me but so many others, but my whole life. Because songs may be stuck in our heads for a day or two, but lines in poems and books can stay with me for many months and years after I read them for the first time.
Other art forms may have the same effect on some people, but I’m sticking to words. For me, it has always been about words, and probably always will be.