There have been times when I have worried that I am without skills. I mean the kind of skills that allow you to build houses and make wheels that can propel something forward. Yes, I can cook and sew – real womanly tasks, aren’t they – but mostly, my life’s work has always been in moving words around on a piece of paper. (Or teaching others to do so.)
At no time am I more reminded of this than at the beginning of a new semester when I stay up late arranging new syllabi (there you have it – moving words around), leafing through texts, poring over sentences and then, in that final preparation, going to my office to purge scores of sheets of useless words – exams from past years, syllabi without a purpose.
But there’s the flip side to this: my training in word play makes me, like everyone with training in anything, anxious to use what I can to help those who might benefit from it. I’ve heard that doctors are feeling a need to be in Haiti to mend limbs and save lives right now. I cannot do that. But, believe it or not, I feel the same pull, even if all that I can even imagine providing are words. To describe, to help with the ordering of chaos, anything! Words can help, no?
No. Words are for the long haul. For governance, for art. They don’t replace limbs and stop infection. They don’t even provide water.