The weight of words

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This was my final column in the Highlander newspaper at UC Riverside, written as a goodbye to my term as an editor and the people I grew to love along the way.


There’s a quote by writer Gary Provost about the musicality of writing, and the way lines can bunch or fall or meld together to create many wonderful, panicked things. Short sentences? They suggest immediacy. Or jolts. Or monotony, if they’re used too often. Longer, flowing sentences can carry you like a riptide, twisting and curling into deep fathoms and forcing you to hold your breath until the pause, or full stop. But even then, writing can’t have too much of either; it needs to strike a balance, somewhere between abrupt and flowing, so that every single line matters in a way that feels incontestable.

We use so many words. We use them to greet each other for the first time, sometimes haltingly, sometimes like we’re already falling into a rhythm as old friends. We use them to say goodbye to those chapters of our lives that have carried our hearts into reverie. Sometimes we forget to use them, sitting around desks and laughing too loudly, reaching the point where our cheeks ache and friendship feels like forever. But all of these words carry a weight of their own — a weight that feels as intangible as the lyricism of the perfect line. When you strike gold, you know it. When a string of words feels like nothing could be more beautiful and true, when it sings or murmurs or echoes in the back of your skull, you know it — and everything about it matters tenfold.

I like to think we can hear that musicality beyond the page. Lyrical weight exists in our life experiences, and in the things that form and shape us as burgeoning individuals, shifting between quick moments and drawn-out adventures. When you’re in a good place in your life, you know it. Relationships flow. Words are pleasantly weighted. And even though all things in life must move on — by virtue of time, changing places or both — the music of those experiences can never be lost. Not after you’ve felt them in your bones.

On the repetition of short sentences, Provost said, “It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music.” I have heard that music throughout my college career. I heard it as I walked through campus lawns for the first time and felt my feet sink into mud. I heard it when my friends and I tried to scale the Bell Tower during a power outage. And I hear it now — moving forward, letting the tide carry me into Provost’s crescendo, happy and grateful and relieved to have felt, now and ever, the weight of those words.

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