I'm a collector of words. There's really no other way to describe it. There are the spiral bound notebooks dating to high school full of movie quotes, bible verses, and miscellaneous quotes. There's the container of index cards full of favorite lines and well-written phrases from books. There are the drafts in my Gmail inbox full of quotes from articles, tv, and real life. And somewhere there has to be a collection of favorite song lyrics, though I can't seem to think of where. All these words that at some time made me stop, sit back, and think, "Wow, that's going to change my life."
But, for the most part, it doesn't. Sure, maybe it sticks with me for the rest of the day, maybe even the week depending on what else grabs my attention, but more often than not I file it, forget it, and continue on my merry(ish) way. Now, there are a few exceptions.
From the "History of Love" by Nicole Krauss, going on six years now:
Really, there isn't much to say.
He was a great writer.
He fell in love.
It was his life.
Henry David Thoreau, going on ten years now:
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life you have imagined.
Or a dozen favorite lines from U2 songs (see: this post.) like this one, going on two years now:
I found grace inside a sound, I found grace it's all I found.
And this one, from Maya Angelou by way of Oprah, going on a month now:
When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
But, the thing is, when real life hits you, none of this matters. At least not in the way you expect it to. When you're faced with an obstacle or a choice, a fun time or an opportunity, you aren't going to be hearing Oprah or Bono in your head. At least I don't. And should I? We have books, magazines, the Internet, friends, family, acquaintances, tv shows, and movies offering us a never-ending barrage of thoughts and advice to sift through, consider, and apply. Or not. Such a steady stream of words that we can't possibly use them all.
I've been thinking that this is a failure of the power of the written word, which is something I believe in like oxygen or gravity. A failure because I take in all these pearls of wisdom, all these bits of advice, and then can't remember them.
But maybe it's more a "failure" of the human spirit or experience to condense our lives to quippy soundbites, platitudes, or lyrics. It doesn't mean we don't learn from others or listen to their advice, just that we don't think or access it verbatim as we go about our day. I think it's all there in the background influencing -- maybe too much or too little -- what we do.
Maybe the goal is to find that which can be summed up in one word, one elusive word that I fail at so miserably both literally and figuratively in my life: Balance. Balance between what we want and what others want, between our own advice and the advice of others, and between our head and our heart.
I still believe in the power of words though. My journalism professor for my features writing course said that the mark of a good piece of writing, particularly in journalism, was if a reader was still thinking about at least a piece of it a week, a month, a year later. Even if I'm awful at applying the thoughts of others to my life, I still do remember a lot. And, to be frank, that's what I want for my words, too. If at the end of my days someone can say, "she was a great writer, she fell in love, it was her life," I will be ok. No one can say that yet, though, so I'll just keep on my merry(ish) way for right now until they can. And keep seeking balance along the way.