The Meaning of Commitment

My manifesto to the world. I wrote big at first, until the walls were all covered. And when I needed more space, I wrote smaller words onto the larger words, using each letter as a wall. And then words onto those words, too, layering them like Russian matryoshka dolls. Words are like that – they fit into other words, and ideas fit into other ideas. You know what I mean.

I wrote words on my body, too. What is it the street artists say? Everything’s a canvas. All the world’s a page, to tweak a line from Shakespeare. Oh, I’m quite sane, I should mention. I even wrote words in the mortar. I wrote them on pipes and under the lips of porcelain and I wrote along the window bars – scrawling words across the steel like the tracks of crawling bugs. I wrote until words filled my eyes, in front of me and behind, above me and below. I would have written on the insides of my eyelids if I could. I would have written in the air I breathed, stiff and stale as it was.

They locked me in a room with my just mind. But my mind was not locked inside me. It was loose in the room like some wild thing. Wild, yet controlled. What I did was simple. I made the room look just like the inside of my mind. A room of words. Thing is, there’s never enough room for all the words one has. If they gave me the whole building, or even a shopping mall, and I wrote as small as I could, I would surely die before I was done. For some of us, it’s like that – there’s always more. More words, more thoughts, more to say.

And they say I’m sick for it. Sick because the words never stop. I always thought it wasn’t that I had too many words, but that the world had so little room for them all. You see people walking around with heads full of words, and they have no place else to put them. They’re driven a little crazy by not being able to let them out. Pent up minds with no room to spread out. What those people have inside themselves is whole cities, a world of words, a universe.

It’s odd, isn’t it? If I was Einstein, they’d beg me to keep putting out notebooks. They’d fish my crumpled pages out of the waste can. They’d ask me to speak at a podium, so they could take away more of my words. They’d make notes on pads, words from my words, and take those off and write papers on them – still more words. More and more and more. There’s always more, if someone wants it. You see, the room we have is other people – because other people are limitless. You start out as Einstein and soon you have a society. In just 24 words, the Pythagorean theorem gave us geometry.

Think of Moses. 179 words – that’s how many were in the ten commandments. And out of that, you get a people. The Gettysburg Address, 286 words, and the eulogy of a nation at war. The US Declaration of Independence: 1300 words and the start of another war that would result in… well you know what happened after. Words make the world. When God spoke, the cosmos was born. Then the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we’ve never been the same. Words aren’t the truth, always, but they’re *a* truth.

How can someone say there are too many of them? How can they say that words belong only to Lincoln, and Moses, and Einstein? If there is anything more abundant in the world than words, I don’t know what it could be. And so I don’t stop, because I want all that can come of them.

Sure, there’s Twitter and blogging, now. How do you think I drew attention to myself? You see some people posting, and you know they’re holding back. I guess I don’t have a filter or a limit. I have to make room for more. The words in my head are an exploding population. They need to expand. And the doctors say I have to implement a rule – two children for every thought – no more. Word population control. When did it become an illness to express oneself?

I can’t cut it off. So they deposited me in a finite place, to force me. It won’t work. You see, I’ve found a way to go beyond the locked room. Every day I stand at the window, and breathe on the glass. And I write. At first, no one bothered to look, and no one saw. But then, they did. First, a little boy, then an older man, then a woman passing by. And some of them have started coming back most days, to see what I’ve written. I send my words out into the world with them. The doctors have no idea.

I write poems and stories, aphorisms and epigrams, speculations and lies, and sometimes I rephrase other people’s words, because it seems they could be said a lot better. I ask questions, too. On the window, yesterday, I wrote, “Captivity is an illusion.” I suppose it was my little protest. If I was Nelson Mandela, they’d put that in the newspaper, along with a lot of other words about the words. A kid walked by and gave it the thumbs up. Today, I have written, “What is the meaning of commitment?” I think it’s a fair question. You hear that word used all the time, but do we think about it?

Tomorrow, I will write, “This sentence is everything.” I mean, when you eat Chinese food, and you break open a fortune cookie, are the words inside really necessary? Do words have to satisfy someone else’s criteria for usefulness to be considered sane?

Sure, there are any number of descriptions of my possible condition. They range from an attention deficit disorder to full on dementia. They say I can’t function in society, you see. I quit my job, so I could write more words. I wrote them on pages and handed them to people on the street. Some threw them away, and some read them on the bus. My apartment is nothing but shelves full of journals. I annotated newspapers – you know those free ones they give out on the street? I covered my car in words.

Then I sold my car, because I needed money, and the guy painted over it. But it’s OK. Some words aren’t meant to last forever. I wrote sonnets in the memo area of rent checks, back when I could afford to pay rent. And I wrote promissory notes in haiku, when I couldn’t. It was probably the landlord who turned me in. I wrote an addendum to the psych evaluation. That probably pissed off the powers that be, as well.

They’ve tried to dope me up with medication, but it just slows me down a little. They can addle my brain, but they can’t shut it off without killing me and, as far as I know, you can’t yet be executed for writing too much.

Of course – most certainly – they took away any writing instruments. They did that first thing. Doctor’s orders, for my own safety, and because it contributes to my problem. So what do I write with?

It’s amazing what you can find to write with. The whole world oozes with ink. Anything can become ink. The human body is 97% fluid, for one thing. But they have to feed me, and that provides pigments. They have to let me wear clothes, that’s fabric, the stuff of creation. The building itself, even in an empty room, offers bits of material, if you work at it long enough. Eventually, they gave up and gave me a magic marker – I guess because it wasn’t sharp. They said they didn’t want me to hurt myself. I was wearing my fingertips bare.

They tried strapping me down, of course. Words don’t have to be written, even if they practically beg to be. I talked. I talked endlessly. They’ll have to kill me, which there are lots of ways to do, I know. It’s only legal to do it slowly. But I’m not sure they have the commitment. What is the meaning of commitment? They’ve committed me. They’re committed to my mental health. I’m committed to words. I’ve committed no crime. You walk by, and you look up, and you see that question. Is it a thousand words a day? Is it one word that you didn’t intend to say, or question you weren’t supposed to ask? What do any of our words really mean? You have to use a lot of them, I think, before that question starts to really make sense to you.

This month, I’ve written 50,000 words. It doesn’t sound like a lot, I know. If you’re in grad school, or you’re in a profession where words are your business, that’s pretty tame. Now do it with everyone working against you – making your writing tools as you go. It gets a little more challenging, doesn’t it? I know why they gave the magic marker. It’s water-based. It’s easy to wash off. They’ll come in once in a while and sanitize the room and the words will be gone. But they’ll photograph it first, so the words will last anyway. They’ll go in a file, and someone will write words about my words, analyzing them, and evaluating them, and me. They always look at the author, too. Then they’ll be handing me a blank page again.

They don’t realize it, but this is more than I could ask for. I get a captive audience, motivated reviewers, and lots of free time to write, with an endless supply of word space to do it in. Being prolific is a hefty responsibility. I plan to make my next work even better than the early stuff. I’m committed to it, after all.

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