Words Are Magic


A long while back, I wrote a post that touched on the magic of words. I’ve decided to revisit that concept this week.

David Abram’s book The Spell of the Sensuous has stuck with me, though I haven’t read it for years. But I can go straight to it on my bookshelf! (Be impressed – be very impressed.) In it, he proposes that written language to people and cultures without is is a profound kind of magic.

Words shape reality. Or they shape the perception of reality, which, according to physicists is one and the same. For proof, look no further than personal mantras and affirmations. Look to Octavia Butler’s journals where she laid out the course of her career. Spoiler: it all came to pass.

(That said, no amount of climate change denial will prevent the oceans from warming, killer storms from forming at increasing rates, bigger and deadlier wildfires from razing our forests . . . you get the idea.)

How often have we heard that history is written by the winners? Scholars keep proving that the history – hard facts – we learned in school generally have little relation to truth.

In the study of linguistics, look at the idea that some colors may not exist in certain cultures because their language contains no words for those colors.

Growing up, my family always told me I could do and be anything I wanted. I wholly believed it and I think that belief helped shape my life and my abilities. Well, a combination of belief and privilege as a white, middle-class woman.

My daughter will have similar kinds of privilege, and I want to do all I can to provide her with every option and possibility. I want her to be her ideal self – her best self – whomever she decides that will be. Right now, this desire takes the form of the books I choose to bring into our house and the stories I plan to surround her with.

Damsels in distress? They’re out. She already has a copy of The Paper Bag Princess. I’m slowly collecting the Lumberjanes graphic novels. She will have stories of women and girls who do not share her skin color or her culture. Maine is one of the whitest states in the country, which does her no favors. I want her to see people as people, in all their glorious differences, not as something unknowable, unrelatable.

I didn’t intend to buy anything when I stopped at my favorite bookstore over the weekend – I simply wanted to surround myself with books for a time.

Well, we all know how that ended. Gail Carriger’s Etiquette and Espionage (finishing school, but for spies), The Classy Crooks Club (old lady thieves who let a granddaughter tag along on a heist), Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia/The Queen’s Thief series (I’ve wanted my own copies for so long, and again with the thief-spies and women in powerful positions), and The Star-Touched Queen (a young woman becomes a powerful queen in an Indian-based kingdom).

Normally, I would not have bought all of them, especially with shelf space at such a premium in this house. But I wanted these stories not just for myself but for my daughter. Even though she won’t be able to fully enjoy and appreciate them for at least a few years.

(And I didn’t realize until I started listing them that the books show a slightly disturbing trend towards thieves and spies. Which makes me wonder exactly what I will end up teaching this child.)

This is one way I choose to use the power of words. The stories I write provide another. The words I speak every day carry weight and power, and it never ceases to amaze me how few people realize that. We all internalize the things we say about ourselves. I want my daughter to see possibility instead of negativity. I can only do my best to model that for her and hope I do better at finding that fine, fine line between venting and bitching.

Lately, I have struggled to find that balance. Then again, I am human and fallible.


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