Emily Articulated: Words

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

There are a lot of things I’m just really not good at.

Cars and their complex mechanics, for example, transform from user manuals and routine maintenance schedules to science-fiction inside my brain. Aside from knowing to fill my gas tank and to regularly change my oil (when prompted by yellow blinking lights), there is very little to do with cars about which I feel confident.

Emily Erickson.

These practical things are things I know I should invest time into understanding, but they don’t come easy to me. Words come easy to me. For all the things I find difficult, I’m comfortable in the process of using words to capture my ideas and feelings, as well as using metaphors to bring others into those thoughts with me.

I may not know why my exhaust spontaneously changed from white to black, but I can use words to capture the feeling of being exhausted by a year; by a moment in time that is exactly like the spinning of tires in snow — grasping at the bits of gravel scattered on the ground beneath.

I get lost in descriptions of spark plugs, engine blocks and suspension, but can discuss the intricacies of the spark that lives inside every person; the little fuse that infuses joy into what would otherwise be a monotonous existence. I understand that writer’s block, like an engine block, is a space for internal combustion; the heat of thoughts and ideas whirling inside our heads until they build into a force ready for bursting. And suspension, well, that’s just a state of existence in which we all get a little closer to finding the answers we haven’t yet admitted we’re seeking.

No, I’m not good at a lot of things, especially sending and collecting the mail. I drag my feet at the thought of simply going to the post office; of standing in line and discerning the best size and shape of container to fit my parcels. Yet, those same metaphorical feet can get carried away inside a Word document, my cursor blinking to the cadence of a million ideas splashing across a page. And those ideas have the same potential for travel as a postage stamp, capable of being delivered to anyone with a desire to open up and listen.

Yes, I’m terrible at doing the laundry, with the whole process feeling like it stretches across days and weeks of washing, drying, folding and replacing. But, like an oversized woolen sweater being tumbled on high heat, I can use words to shrink big, complex ideas into snug little terms, like “trickle-down economics” and “groupthink psychology.” And the catharsis of wearing words on my sleeve is as close to becoming proficient with a stain-remover as I’ll likely ever get. 

An ability to use words can’t help me fix my car or send a letter or finish my laundry within a reasonable time frame, but they do have the power to connect me to others — to craft little olive branches of thought that just might resonate with someone else’s existence.  

These same words, when wielded by a master, can resonate with the masses. When National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman put her words to paper and created her encomium to the struggle for American self-improvement, titled “The Hill We Climb,” she demonstrated the magnitude of one person’s ability to incite widespread inspiration. 

At the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harrais on Jan. 20, she read, “We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour. But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves. So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.”

And through her words, a country was moved; a broken population glued together in awe and wonder at the force of a poet and a perspective so perfectly communicated.

So no, I’ll likely never understand what’s happening behind my illuminated check engine light, but I will be in perpetual pursuit of the thoughtful illumination that comes from crafting thoughts into words.

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