For our first Bolton workshop in Summitt Hall this semester, I read from Lia Purpura’s essay, The Lustres, in which she describes her first encounter with certain words and the experiential meaning those words held long before she knew what they signified. Vienna became distant train sounds out her grandmother’s window, contradict a moment on the fourth rung of a ladder between two brothers, and when one of them said, “Don’t contradict me,” she knew it to be a borrowed word, too large in his mouth. She studied the syllables’ match to the anger she heard in his voice and by sitting with the word, she borrowed it, too.
Our lively group wrote about our own remembered first experiences with words and all kinds of amazing material bubbled up (not dissimilar to the actual bubble that rose to the table and captivated our attention as two women were washing dishes behind our gathering).
One student wrote about infinitesimal, the oddness of its large length and small syllables sharing space. Another wrote hearing elocution pronounced in a particular accent and how that word continues to hold such a voice in each encounter with it still. One wrote about a church sermon in which being became something whole for the first time, something more than being this or that in part, but rather believing or enacting something with one’s whole being. Some wrote about other languages—similar sounding words to English that can cause confusion, odd glances and stares, or even, in one case, using a swear word that was then provided a different meaning for the recipient’s benefit.
Several of us wrote about swear words, actually; that moment when you sound something through your mouth and realize it was disastrous as it hits the air, but as a child you don’t know why, remains vivid.
Someone also wrote about her first moment of understanding it was possible to lie. Her friend had told her something and she didn’t understand how it could have been true. “She was lying to you,” her mom explained, and it was strange to realize that it was possible to say something that was not true.
The writing held excellent descriptive detail from a focused moment. Words can cup the particular experience surrounding our first impression of that word, and it was thought-provoking to hear all these stories! Wonderful conversations ensued during our reading.
Thank you for a lovely turn-out was and I hope you all will join us again for our next workshop on Wednesday, March 13th (tomorrow!) at 8:00pm in the RFL Apartment. (Please note the change from the original dates: There was a time conflict in the dorm. Our new dates for the rest of the semester are as follows: March 13, March 20, and April 10, all at 8:00pm., with an exciting time to share this material with a larger group at a reading on April 14th at 4:00pm. More information on that at our next Workshop!)