If you say a word often enough, some say it loses its meaning -- that it becomes pure sound, noise really, not unlike the clang of a pipe or the churning of an engine.
Still, that doesn’t feel quite right to me - the loss of meaning through repetition. After all, theories abound that all human speech was onomatopoetic in origin, each word deriving its meaning from the shared associations early humans made with their mutually uttered sounds.
I remember the first time I thought about this – where words get their meaning along with the absurdity of sound and language.
I was ten or eleven, a small round faced girl with curly dark hair and a self conscious sprinkling of brown spots across my nose. No surprise then that after an afternoon of self scrutinizing gazing in the mirror, the first word that separated from itself was “freckle.”
Yes, freckle. Go ahead. Say it.
Try saying it as I did all those years ago, thousands and thousands of times, in every possible tone of voice, in every volume, with every inflection.
At first, the syllables sounded silly. And I remember laughing with delight at the foolishness of it all.
"Freckle. Freckle. Freckle. Freckle. Frecklefrecklefrecklefrecklefrecklefrecklefrecklefreckle," I continued, running the syllables together.
Then the sounds of the word slowed and split in two – Frek. Uhl. Frek. Uhl. Frek. Uhl. Frek. Uhl "
I remember the rush I felt as the word separated from these spots that were on my face. I felt a giddiness and sense of elation for the word as it broke through the chains binding it to that arbitrary meaning and I watched in wonder as it soared into a space of infinite possibilities like a rocket ship making that final thrust past the hold of gravity.
In losing its attachment to the earthbound consensus of its “meaning” and no longer just "a small brownish spot on the skin, often turning darker or increasing in number upon exposure to the sun," freckle became a spirited particle dancing through the cosmos, a free agent in the universe of meaning, able to attract and recombine with multiple objects, ideas, feelings.
Freckle yourself to the sky.
Too many freckles a poor fellow makes.
That was a freckly good story.
The apples were freckle and full.
I freckle you always.
Funny how I became an English teacher - a keeper of the definitions of words, an enforcer of the rules of proper usage. Sometimes I think I did so to tether this wild streak of imagination in me to the concrete walls of a classroom and tame my wanton word longings with the whip of textbooks and curricula.
I became Mrs. Pincus, wearing the ill- fitting garb of every Miss Fidditch that walked through hallowed high school halls correcting youthful participles and tenses, until one day through sheer repetition, my life as a teacher lost all of its expected and agreed upon meaning and left me weightless and wandering.
Retirement for me has been a journey much like the one those scattered syllables took fifty years ago when my freckled nose faced off with the image of the girl in the mirror.
After three and a half years of free floating through this existential morass in a never- ending process of attracting, repelling and recombining, I have yet to arrive at a new definition for my life.
Earlier today, I found myself reading about Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox and wondering. It states that before a moving object can travel a certain distance, it must travel half that distance. Before it can travel half the distance it must travel one quarter the distance, etc. This sequence goes on forever. Therefore, it seems that the original distance cannot be traveled, and motion is impossible.
Kind of hopeless.
I find the ideas of motionless movement and terminal incompleteness both daunting and liberating.
I take some comfort in words of Maxine Greene, an educator, philosopher, fellow traveler and a courageous nonagenarian.
"I am what I am not yet."