Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.
-TS Eliot


“I give you free time and you guys take advantage of it. This student exceeded my expectations and wrote a beautiful poem. Sareema, can I read your work to the rest of the class?

A flabbergasted younger version of myself looks up from the paper I was doodling on. What is she talking about? My Grade 6 teacher then begins to read a whimsical poem I wrote using a free-verse, bold style with short and snippy sentences that had been learned from a book trilogy I’d been reading recently. That was the first time the label of a “talented writer” crawled onto my lap and made itself at home. I now stroke it whenever I feel a bit lost, whenever I lack an identity or need to cling onto some sort of underlying purpose. From a poet to a journalist to a creative writer, I am able to drift around in this seemingly committed relationship.

Now don’t get me wrong-words are damn important. It’s just that I’ve become a tad bit too attached to them. Young subordinates approach me asking for writing advice, as if I actually know what I’m doing. In reality, I simply jot down whatever half-assed thought comes to mind because it may prove useful later. Editing is a much easier task and less foreboding than the blank page. Somewhere along the way, I transferred this philosophy meant for essay writing onto my person.

I have over a thousand bookmarks in my “Articles to read” folder and I keep telling myself I’ll get to them soon enough. I hoard textbooks. I take screenshots of deep quotes I’d like to aspire to. I print self-help articles on how to stop procrastinating, how to make more use of my time. This religious act of safe-keeping words proves redundant; it propels a false sense of self. It makes me believe that these bad habits are entrenched into my character and rather than actively being, I find myself planning who I am to be behind a computer screen.

I used to think words were my liberation, a way to make sense of things and remind myself who I am. That was a false truth; Knowledge is liberation. And I’ve found a little sliver of it that provides me freedom from this world of words that I have cuffed myself to.

Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth” states:

“Words, no matter whether they are vocalized and made into sounds or remain unspoken as thoughts, can cast an almost hypnotic spell upon you. You easily lose yourself in them, become hypnotized into implicitly believing that when you have attached a word to something, you know what it is. The fact is: You don’t know what it is. You have only covered up the mystery with a label. Everything, a bird, a tree, even a simple stone, and certainly a human being, is ultimately unknowable. This is because it has unfathomable depth. All we can perceive, experience, think about, is the surface layer of reality, less than the tip of the iceberg.”

Bang on Mr. Tolle. We are so goddamn infinite. Our identities are superfluous as they are always changing. So why cling onto them so desperately? That’s the ego hard at work. It attaches “I”, our sense of self to gender, race, roles, opinions, dislikes and likes, or things that have happened to us in the past. The compulsion to cultivate a tangible identity can never be satisfied –the ego always wants more. It’s a conditioned mind pattern that sets us up for our own demise. That’s why my lists of reading and writing material are ever-increasing no matter how much I try to “organize” my life. I abuse my affinity for words when I use them like this. 

Writing this is a difficult task. I’ve been at it for a few hours and I keep using spiritual jargon that would make the average person roll their eyes and dismiss it as self-help bullshit. I would have dismissed it as bullshit just a few months ago. So what changed? I began to realize that not everything can be put into words, let alone a person. Who you are (or who you think you are) is nothing more than thoughts held precariously by the fact that they are all invested with a sense of self.

Spirituality doesn’t make sense to a lot of people because it’s not tangible; it doesn’t exist in a physical form. There are places and feelings and moments that can never really be put into words, but which words can only imply or hint at. The closest we’ve come is using hella pretentious words like awareness, consciousness, nirvana and enlightenment but words don’t give these feelings justice-they only reduce.

In the same sense, I’ve reduced my identity to what I’ve written. Living in a society where we rely heavily on the intellect, on scientific data, on proof, I have become accustomed to looking for myself in this specific physical form. Some people buy multiple brand name watches and I collect words. Neither is more harmful than the other as they serve the same purpose- to keep us living in a physical, material dimension when in truth, we are so much more.

I can write infinitely. If I don’t show anyone, I can write whatever I please. But what about the stuff I do show other people-that’s who I am isn’t it? False. Writing is no different than one’s thoughts. You are that which observes the thoughts, that which takes the pen in hand.

If I am the ocean, why identify with a few waves?

Old writing goes from eloquent to verbose. What I am is all I can carry and with this realization I’ve come to accept that words are not the Holy Grail but they are…just words. It is impossible to honor a love for writing if everything I write is intertwined with my sense of self.  I want to share stories, inspire people and throw them into worlds where they forget that a sense of “I” even exists. I want to write to connect to express and connect, not to cultivate. This is the part where I usually say where I’m going, my game plan for the future but what’s the point? All that noise never amounts to much. All that’s left is just to be.

And so, with this final eulogy of a sort, I rid myself of my habit of using words in order to have a sense of clarity about myself and the world around me. It now makes sense why my writing has felt nothing but cheap and self-indulgent lately, why attempting to use poetry to capture the abstract has been constantly failing me. I have been using words in an effort to place the stamp of permanence on my identity, building a sandcastle only for the tide to come in and wash it away. But as I’m created (constructed) so shall I be deconstructed. I can only attempt to capture “essence” in language to the best of my ability and write to know myself if only for a short while. Everything is always changing. Everything is always changing.