Just words.

by Andy Jay Bennett


There are over 250,000 unique words in the English language. Over 150,000 of those are nouns and over 60,000 verbs. As a writer, I've put them together in countless combinations and strung them together in millions of ways to say millions of things. I've piled them up into thousands of pages that no one has ever read. I'm piling them up now into something I hope some people do. I'm getting my Master's Degree in them. 

I have all these words. And on Tuesday night, I worried that words had become useless. 

I didn't know what combination of words would say what I was thinking. I didn't know how to string those nouns and verbs together in a way that would communicate what I was feeling. I was worried that no matter what words I chose, the people who voted for the person I voted for would find them insufficient. And I was worried that no matter which words I chose, the people who voted for the other person would only see the verb "Fuck" and the noun "you."

That night I couldn't string the right words together to stop some of us from being afraid. Nor could I string them together to make some of us understand why some of us are. I couldn't turn a phrase and make a hijab safe. I couldn't cite a quote and make a woman's body invulnerable. I couldn't stack nouns and verbs and make a dark alley bright.

I couldn't write safety. I couldn't write equality. As much as I might wish I could, I couldn't write a way out of this. I fell asleep Tuesday night thinking words had lost all their power. And as a writer, that was a chilling thought. 

I woke up at 5am on Wednesday morning and quickly realized I was wrong. I logged on to CNN and read two words. "It's Trump." And then I lay in bed, motionless, watching the sun slowly rise, marveling at the paralyzing power of words.

That morning I logged onto social media and developed a new fear. A fear that only some words had power. Words like  "them" and "us." Words like these and these.  Words like the ones I've rage-screamed in the shower. Like the things I've muttered under my breath the past two days. I worried that words like "love" and "hope" and "together" and "us" meant nothing anymore.

But that's wrong. I'm writing this now because I know it's wrong. This may be messy or stupid or half-formed or cheesy or pedantic, but I know that this matters. Because "I Have A Dream" will always mean more than "Separate But Equal." "Yes We Can" more than "Lock Her Up." "Still I Rise" more than "Grab 'Em By The Pussy."

I know that it's not words that have failed. It's ears. It's hearts. We've censored our lives. We've banned books by not reading them. We've blocked out dissent by only watching our version of the news. We've locked doors and put up fences. We've unfriended and unfollowed. I'm just as guilty. I'm in a bubble of my own making. My friends have the same opinions as I do. They care about the same things as I do. The majority of them are liberal. Almost all of them look like me. 

And for me, as a writer (not to mention a straight white male on this planet), that's the problem. I don't know what it feels like to be scared to walk alone at night, to not know if I'll have enough to eat, what it feels like to be disabled, to have a different color skin, to be told to go back to where I came from. I've never been the one on the outside looking in. People aren't just disappointed. They're afraid. And it's not for me to tell them it's going to be okay. My job now is to listen and learn.

And then use my words. All 250,000 plus of them if I must.

That's all of our jobs, now. You can still stack nouns and verbs in a way that matters. You can still find a phrase that worms into hearts and into minds. Someone out there has a pen or a computer and all the right words. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's you. Maybe it's someone who'll never read this. Maybe it's someone who hasn't even learned to read English yet. But that person is out there. There's more than one of that person out there. So get writing. Get speaking. Get singing. 

Fuck silence. Fuck "let's give him a chance." Fuck "he was only saying that stuff to get elected." He said that stuff. And words fucking matter.  

I know that with absolute certainty. That's one thing the guy I didn't vote for got 100% wrong. And that's the one thing that will be his downfall.

It's not "just words, folks."