When I was a teenager, I spent a summer living on a commune on Cape Breton Island. I lived in a tent. No plumbing. (I bathed in an icy stream—every day.) No electricity. (I had a flashlight.) No kitchen. (Our group built a fire pit for cooking and stored perishable foods in mesh bags in that icy stream.) No computer. (I had a portable manual typewriter.) The guy whose property we occupied wanted the land to be used as a summer community of artists, and when I told him I would write a novel while I was there, he invited me to join the group.
I did write a novel that summer—my very first. It was pretty bad. But I wrote it, and that alone made the experience invaluable to me.
The other residents at the commune were an eclectic lot. We had a painter, a poet, some musicians and a lot of people who claimed they were interested in art but never created anything. As long as they took their turns cooking, fishing, weeding our garden or making runs into town—six miles away—to pick up mail and supplies, they were allowed to stay.
One of the residents, Rich, had undergone extensive psychotherapy. I had never been in therapy, so I respected his superior wisdom when it came to matters of psychology.
On a mild July afternoon, I found myself sitting with him on a bluff overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The air was clear and sun-drenched, the grass we sat on was scattered with wild roses, and below us the water was a dark, rich blue. I was thinking about our trawl line in the gulf, wondering whether we’d snagged any fish for our dinner, when Rich abruptly said, “You know what your problem is?”
I hadn’t been aware I had a problem, other than the usual woes about boyfriends, finances and the size of my butt. But Rich had been through therapy, so I figured he was an expert when it came to such matters. “What’s my problem?” I asked.
“You think in words.”
I frowned, unsure of what he meant.
“You can’t just experience the world. You can’t become one with it. You have to translate everything into words first. You can’t look at this flower—” he gestured toward one of the wild roses sprouting from the soil in front of us “—without thinking: Pink. Stem. Scent. You can’t just look at the flower and comprehend it. You have to turn it into words first.”
I considered his accusation and realized he was right. That was exactly the way my mind worked. I thought in words.
I was devastated. How could I ever become one with a wild rose if I first turned that wild rose into a sentence? How could I know the things around me when a barrier of words stood between me and those things?
I worried about Rich’s assessment of me for weeks. I worried about his assessment in words. My mind chattered with them: I can’t experience the world correctly. I have no immediacy. Everything has to be structured into language in my mind. I am a failure as a human being!
But eventually the word no took hold of my brain. No, I was not a failure. No, there was nothing wrong with me. No, this was not a problem. It was simply who I was, who I’d always been. Who I was meant to be.
I think in words. I use words to process what my senses present to me. If I am facing a dilemma, I mentally sort that dilemma into sentences so I can analyze it. If I’m upset with someone, I filter my distress into words that will help me deal with that person. If something wonderful happens, words spark and blaze and dance inside me like fireworks.
I’m a writer. Of course I think in words! Rich might have been correct when he’d pointed this out to me, but he was wrong when he’d labeled it a problem. It is not a problem. It’s simply who I am.
Judith Arnold is the author of 87 novels, many of which she has reissued as ebooks. While she awaits the release of her new novel, The April Tree, she’s offering another of her books, the award-winning Father Found—the first book of her “Daddy School” series—for a special discount price of only 99 cents at Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and Kobo. You can visit her web site for information about all her releases.