Word Prison

I sit at my desk, hands on the keyboard. Once I begin to type, I cautiously expect words to flow from my fingers like water from an artesian well. Sometimes, my expectations are met. Too often, though, words struggle to escape, as if the alphabet were holding them in a subterranean linguistic prison, waiting to release them until I pay an unspecified ransom.

The ransom, though unnamed, is obvious to me. The alphabet refuses to release the flow of words until I commit to removing my disguise, using tools crafted from words those letters will make. Frequently, I am too afraid to express those words. Writing those words would require courage beyond my capacity to be brave. On those frequent days, I dance around the truth beneath my disguise with self-directed insinuations and innuendoes; occasional glimpses of reality show through the shower of syllables. In the face of possible revelations, I divert my own attention by creating words of my own. “Insinuendo” throws a gauze blanket over the intellectual secrets I hide in plain sight, staring out from the litter of several thousand paragraphs.

My emotional armor is made of aluminum foil, strong enough to block out the sun yet delicate enough to rip in a soft breeze. Even a nearly invisible crack in that protective layer causes it to tear off in sheets, revealing that it took the place of my skin. Beneath that metallic membrane, a gossamer web of nerves reacts to the slightest affective tremor; recoiling in pain and embarrassment at the overly-sensitive creature who resides under the disguise.

When the words refuse to flow from that artesian cavern well of letters, I think of myself as a counterfeit wordsmith. A pretender whose embrace of the emotional capacity of language is limited and artificial. I think of myself as an imposter. But over time, even imposters can get so good at pretending that they make the transition between imposter and actor. So, too, with counterfeit wordsmiths. With sufficient practice, the stories they tell to hide their secrets can become indistinguishable from reality. With their words, they can fool even themselves. Fiction becomes reality. Pain becomes pleasure. Discomfiture becomes self-confidence. Secrets become revelations. Truths become lies.

Metaphors and similes are axes and firearms. They are like locks that keep secrets hidden away in transparent—or should that be translucent?—vaults.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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