Lighter. Stay tuned for fluffy.

            “I think we should see other people.”

            “I promise.”

            “You’re invited!”

            “Count this as your final warning.”

            “I now declare you husband and wife.”

            Linguist J.L. Austin, in his famous book, How to do Things with Words, turned linguistic theory on its ass.  (Wait – before you click away at the mere sight of the words “linguistic theory” – I am going somewhere with this.  And PLEASE don’t tune out before you get to the request in the last three paragraphs.)  Words, he tells us, can actually do things, rather than just reflecting the “real” world. 

Take, for example, my college-friend I, who we are going to call Ian here to avoid confusion.  Some years ago (never mind how long precisely), we were at the Brickskeller in Washington, D.C.  This was a place we often gathered when 30 or so college friends converged on our nation’s capital, probably because it has over 1000 types of bottled beer.  We started doing a lot of celebrations there, branching out to include friends from work, high school buddies, and random people we met on the sidewalk.  So it was that, one evening, Ian was down one end of the table with some of my co-workers.  I was regaling them with the story of how — once upon a time — I fixed Ian up with a woman I had met for 20 minutes, a woman he had dated for almost a year before she had moved away.

“Of course,” Ian piped up, “I have since come out of the closet.”  Now, it was no surprise to anyone that Ian is gay.  The man worked in the theater, for heaven’s sake.  But, until that moment, he had not used those words.  By telling me he had come out of the closet, Ian actually was, at that very moment, coming out.  His words did the very real work of outing him.  (He then turned around and lobbed a hand grenade at the closet, blew it to tiny smithereens, and began sending us all email updates that included snarky comments about what everyone wore to the Golden Globes.)

Those words did something, just like saying “I do” does something very real and very legal at a wedding – although, in Ian’s case, it did not do anything legal when he said that at his wedding, but that’s a story for another time.  (For those of you who are still actually reading and have not wandered off to play internet poker, please note that I borrowed the example of coming out of the closet from some queer theorist or another, probably Eve K. Sedgwick.  But Ian really did come out to me at the Brickseller.)

So, while there are debates flying around just now about whether—here in the blogosphere—we are actually doing something or just talking out our asses, I would like to posit that the exchange of words it incredibly powerful.  This is why the framers of the constitution told Congress it was not allowed to make any laws restricting the freedom of expression.  This is why journalists go to prison to protect their sources.  This is why Amnesty International sends all those darned letters out to the governments that are putting people in prison for writing or saying what they think.  As I have said here before, words do real work.  This is also why English teachers get paid so well still exist.  ‘Cause we kinda know it is important to teach people how to express themselves. 

It is also important that people know how to respond to the words of others.  That free exchange of ideas is the only way words can accomplish anything.  For the last two decades, the journaling movement has been gaining speed in English curriculums.  Students write in their journals, and, in the best of the scenarios, they pass them along to another student who responds.  Free exchange of ideas, less work for the teacher.  Nifty.

Here, one the internet, we have one giant journal-passing session going on.  I read your blogs, you read mine, we post in response to each other.  This is why I focus almost all of my blog reading on people who are here reading me.  (You’ll notice I never respond to memes, but that’s just because I am lousy at coloring inside the lines; I love to read your memes but cannot stand the posts I try to write in response.  I’m sorry!)  I am absurdly, passionately interested in the way that words and ideas can bounce off of one another.  I guess I sort of have to believe in the power of language, otherwise why in tarnation am I trying to become a writer?

I have, however, hit a snag.  I don’t know who you all are.  I know who some of my readers are, but if my blog stats are not lying, there are more of you out there.  And that’s cool.  You do not have to comment if you do not want to.  It isn’t for everyone.  But, I sort of have to cut back on the blogs I am reading, because every now and then I need to carve out time to brush my teeth or acknowledge my children.  So, do me a favor, huh?  Leave me a comment today or email me and just say, “Dude, I’m over here.  Read my blog.”  Even if I already do read your blog, give a little holler today so that I know you and I are in the midst of a conversation.

And, if you still doubt the power of words, I have two examples for you.  One is Laura, who read my words about a very sick little girl and is now using her words to make Julie feel better.  Today, she emailed me a letter for little Julie, and she is sending along a card.  If you would like to join in and use your words to cheer up Julie, you know where to find me.  I’d be happy to give you her address if you shoot me an email or leave a comment.

The second example?  The House just passed a bill.  A bill the Senate already passed.  A bill that, believe it or not, George W. may actually sign.  Words, just words.  But they are going to require more fuel-efficient cars and greener appliances.

Now them’s some powerful words.

 My email address is emily(dot)r(dot)rosenbaum (in the vicinity of) gmail(dot)com.

29 responses to “Lighter. Stay tuned for fluffy.

  1. Really. The Brickskeller?? I hung out there a lot in the early-mid nineties as my best friends lived right off of Dupont Circle. Good place. Good beer.

    And I saw Laura’s entry on her blog. How wonderful. Words do have power.

  2. great response in defense of “words.”

    that picture of Laura on her blog – precious.

  3. now this, friend, is a post to win me over (as if i weren’t already won over).

  4. I think you make very good points. (And, yes, we are in a conversation although we may not comment to each other daily) I get a little squicked when people start chiding about how we’re not “doing” anything. This exchange of ideas, the exchange is words, IS “doing something”. Exchanging ideas is how new growth comes to all of us. Exposure to new ideas…..

  5. What does it say that the phrase “linguistic theory” actually made me MORE interested? And yes, I am not a linguistic prof and yes I do have several linguistic books on my shelf. I like words!

  6. Yes, words are powerful. That is why sometimes I am too scared to write a post. 😉

  7. so, i’m supposed to tell you i’m reading? well, i am. in my reader or popping over. sometimes my stamina is too low to really sink my teeth into your meatier posts via the comments, but i’m hanging out with you all the same.

  8. Emily,

    I read you every chance I get. Which is almost every day. Like you I have to brush my teeth and chase my naked 3 year old with his pants (not sure if you have to that)

  9. The only reason I was clicking away at the words “linguistic theory” was to find that book on Amazon. I love doing things with words. Like read yours. And write mine.

  10. This is an interesting question–what are we all doing out here in the blogosphere–sometimes I wonder if I’m just shouting “I am here! I am here! Notice me!!” or if I really do have something to say that someone might want to read. Or if it just helps me process my own experiences or put them in perspective, but is a little more motivating than a notebook on the bedside. I don’t have illusions of doing anything important, or chaning anything. However there have been blogs that have had an impact on me–either educationally, politically, or personally (yours included), so I certainly don’t discount that something big is going on here. Just reading each others’ stories connects us and connections are vital.

  11. Hello! Here I am – over here – reading!

    This is a WONDERFUL post!

    I agree, with passion!

  12. Twenty Five Days

    I love this post! I love the whole idea of “journal swapping”–how cool is that, Emily? It’s Angela, not Laura, of course–but we both love having a conversation with you. This post, and the potential you are shining a light on here, just totally rocks. : )

  13. THIS is exactly, exactly right. It’s why we write. Writing for Righting. Ok, I’ll stop now, but still. YES.

  14. This couldn’t have been a better stated argument.

  15. (dutifully) Dude, it’s me. I’m here, reading. Here’s my blog. Check me out.

    Heh. I couldn’t resist. Even though I never actually say “Dude” in any real conversation.

    And…of course words have power. They are one of the most powerful things we have available to us.

    They can be one of the most destructive weapons we have, but they can also uplift, bring hope, and great joy.

    Thanks for being here.

  16. Excellent post – and I have been here reading for quite some time. I agree with everything you say about “words” – I too – love the written word. Take care. Kellan

  17. One of my fave scriptures is “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Another is, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”


  18. Emily, I read you whenever I can, which recently hasn’t been as much as I would like. I, like you, have had to limit my blog time in order to keep myself and my family fed, washed, and clothed. Ya know, just the basics.

  19. I’m here. But you already knew that.

  20. Dude, I’m over here. Read my blog.

    I’m feeling so creative today. But seriously, I don’t comment as much as I should but I’m always here. Lurking and reading, reading and lurking.

  21. You had me at linguistic theory. Are there actually people out there who don’t love that stuff?

    Anyway, I am glad I found you. I’m glad we have occasional conversations in between chasing children and folding laundry. Hmmm…sort of sounds like my conversations in the “real world.”

    To people who don’t have little children, the blogosphere may seem like doing nothing. But to those of us who are stuck at home all day reading Berenstein Bears, it is soooo good to have an outlet for creative thought.

  22. Oh, and I just linked to you on my blogroll. I am now officially in conversation with you.

  23. Emily,
    I find it odd how all this has been spun these last two weeks in all sorts of places in the blogosphere. Jen and I actually agree on all this. We talk about it a lot but we sometimes come to different conclusions based on our overall life perspectives.

    I’m positive I never once wrote or even implied that the Just Posts are nothing more than talking out of our asses. My post spoke more to a hunger for real, concrete change that is borne out of activism, an activism that can be stifled when you have young children. Heaven knows, I think the JPs do good work. I would not have been their co-founder nor would I have worked very hard for a year to co-manage them and continue to make sure they keep running.

    Don’t you, though, sometimes hunger for more? When you watch the news and the weight of it bears down on you, don’t you sometimes want to act with your hands as well as your words? That’s all my post was trying to convey. And yet, it seems that some people thought I was saying there was no value in words. If I believed that, why would I blog at all?

  24. Oh, here I go offending people again. Mad, I am sorry if I misrepresented your argument. Your Just Posts are fantastic, and I did understand your meaning. As to your last paragraph, I hope I have not given the impression I only act with words. Many of my posts this month have been about other ways I try to make a difference. I will post more on that soon, although I have promised my readers something somewhat lighter for my next post. In the meantime, please accept my apologies if I have offended.

  25. Emily, thank you for your reply. BTW, you have never once given me the impression that you only act with words. And even if that was all you were capable of at this point in your life, that would be cool too. We do what we can, when we can.

    I’m sorry if I sounded defensive but I have seen that post I wrote on the 10th become reduced to a sound-byte in a number of places and I don’t think anyone likes to see their words reduced in that way. I try to be very careful with what I write on the blog because I do realize the power of words and because I know that people can’t always read deeply when reading blog posts (not that you didn’t in this instance; this is more of a general comment about my stance to writing for this rapid-click genre. BTW, I too have given offense to other bloggers in a way that I deeply regret which is one of the reasons I try to be careful with what I write.)

    The post I wrote on the 10th wasn’t one of my best offerings: I wrote it with a splitting headache, at the end of the day on which I hosted a toddler brunch for 21 people, and during a month when happiness often feels elusive. Still, as caustic as my tone might have been, I stand by the sentiments in the post. Lately I find that I am very good when it comes to the “think globally” half of the equation but not so good at the “act locally” part. I had thought that others would feel the same way. Many did which is why Jen and I are going to start having an activist component to the JPs. Because, in the end, we do need both even if we can’t necessarily give both at all stages of our lives.

  26. Dude. Actually, I can’t call you dude. Even though you told me too. It’s just not my way. Well, sometimes I call my building manager dude. And sometimes I call my husband dude, and my daughter dudette. Oh whatever. I read, and sometimes I comment. 🙂

    And words? Yes, words are damned powerful.

  27. Very ironic, that you wrote such a post today. I added you to my blogroll, this morning (prior to reading your post) I really do enjoy reading your blog, which is why I added it! I don’t expect that you read mine in return. You are a REAL writer! (which is why I like to read!) I’m just a Mom! 🙂


  28. Here I am! I comment, less frequently than I read. But, I read almost every post you write.

  29. I read all the time. Usually in a reader so I have no idea if you see that traffic or not. I don’t think I’d commented till today.