Friday, March 12, 2010


The written word can get us into trouble. It is the source of many a lawsuit, employee dismissal, and marriage breakup. Interpretations of the written word have caused political and religious groups to fracture, business arrangements to fail and friends to part ways.

The written word can be initials carved out on a tree, graffitti spray-painted on a building, or "I love you" toe-painted in the sand. Written words can cause anguish and grief, peels of laughter, or squeals of excitement. Who among us hasn't received a "pink slip" at work, an email appended with jokes, or much anticipated high school grades in the mailbox? Birth announcements, college admissions, divorce papers, and "final will and testament" all contain written information that have the ability to evoke powerful emotions from the most stoic human being.

What is it about written words that allows them to become etched into the back of our minds? The cruel words of a former lover, the stinging job evaluation, a note of personal rejection - these all seem to have unique staying power. Once in writing, words retain a kind of permance that spoken words often do not. The spoken word seems to be more easily forgotten, unless recorded in a permanent form for us to review over and over and over again. It is that "over and over" part that etches certain strings of words and interpretations thereof into our brain. The words to a song, the quotes from a movie, or a line in a book seem to permeate our brain cells almost effortlessly; we can still recall them decades later when a familiar scene is viewed or tune is heard.

But what about those written words which we do not want to put away, or do not seem to be able to put away? An email from someone we once called a friend; the note from a former lover; a departed loved one's voice on an answering machine; a childish scrawl on a Mother's Day card. The more personal the relationship, the more difficult it is to forget certain words, words strung together like a chain of lustrous pearls, or like a heavy iron chain from Jacob Marley's ghost.

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