Threads of language criss-cross my mind and slither, splatter, splash out of my mouth. If the goal of language is communication and mutual understanding, why do we care about technicality? Though seemingly arbitrary rules are often steeped in reasonable history, language continually evolves and breathes into new spaces. Demarcating one vernacular as right and another wrong devalues the living, changing, personal aspect of language.
After nearly five months in Colombia, I speak in a smattering of English and Spanish, interspersed with colloquialisms and phrases that don’t actually exist in either language. Grammar takes on a free-form function, a piratical approach: they’re more like guidelines, anyway. While teaching and in situations that require a more formal register, I rack my brain (not another idiom!) for technical speech and plausible explanations for arcane and obscure concepts that blur into regularity. Even as I type, my mental process feels sluggish and burdensome. My words have settled down deep into the recesses of my mind, struggling against the matrix of grey and white matter.
Words are significant. In precarious political and social climates, now is the time to clear your throat, speak up, and exude love in truth and justice. Use your words! Humanity — in spite of all our brokenness, contradictions, and failings — is our beautiful potential and capacity for grace, no matter our language. My fading English and improving Spanish morph into a cohesive fusion that transcends the rote nature of grammar drills and sentence diagrams.
After years of working as a copy editor, my affinity for grammar has not changed. However, the holistic attitude I have adopted in many aspects of my life has finally reached its way into my grammarian strongholds. As Roy Peter Clark, a venerable writer and editor, said, “Learn the rules, but realize you have more options than you think.” After I make a grammatical stumble, I often embrace the situation by saying, “I can’t words. Words, words, words.” So here we go. Reach into the shadows of your soul, unlock your words, and let beauty come forth.