I apologize for the weird title of this post.
The Red Wheelbarrow (Photo credit: Abbeh)
I got thinking today about how everything, and I do mean nearly EVERY THING is symbolic for me. I blame it on High School English classes. “But, what does it meannnnnn,” they were always asking about every piece of literature we read. It couldn’t just be about the white chicken and red wheel barrow and the rain, it had to mean something significant. It couldn’t just be that the writer was lazy and didn’t want to bother with capitalization, even how every word appeared somehow had to “meannnnnnn” something.
It wasn’t until later, after learning the barest minimum about Freud, that I understood how important his statement really was:
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Everything doesn’t have to be a symbol for something else.
But try to convince my once young and formerly pliable mind of that now.
No, my life seems to work just like an English class. Not only in what I read, but all the stuff I surround my life with. The things on the wall, the colors I choose for a pillow, even the seemingly random soda bottle on the mantle all has meaning for me. And not just the “Oh, great-aunt Matilda gave that to me” kind of meaning. I’m talking symbolism.
the practice of representing things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character.
Imagine a life literallly, not just figuratively, filled with symbols and symbolism. That’s tricky, I know, but stay with me.
Now, if you were listening to this post you might actually hear the word symbol and think this word: cymbal. These are not the same. Obviously to me, now, they aren’t. I can take the context of a word, it’s surroundings and topic and make sense of the difference between symbol and cymbal.
But as a kid there were so many words that sounded almost the same or exactly the same that some of the things I thought were lyrics to songs made no sense whatsoever.
Holidays are particularly heavy with symbolic meanings as well as confusing sounding words.
For example, as a kid I often sang this Christmas tune: “Up on the housetop reindeer pause, out jumps good old Santa Clause…” But what I heard was more like this: “Ug, on the how stop, rain dear paws, out jumps good, O Santa Claws.”
When you’re four or five years old and that’s what you think you’re hearing Christmas becomes a confusing mess.
Or there’s this familiar first verse of Jingle Bells.
“Dash he threw the snow, on a one ore soaping slay, ore the fields we go, laughing all the way.” What the heck is a soaping slay?
How does that make any sense to anyone? But a little kid, with very little contextual understanding, words are so wierd!! But I didn’t even know enough to ask what it all meant. I figured, maybe, that it wasn’t supposed to make sense. I mean, the whole red suited guy squishing down a chimney seemed pretty nonsensical.
But I digress.
I was talking about symbols and cymbals.
Couldn’t cymbals be symbolic? Sure they could. But could cymbal playing really be cymbalic playing? I don’t know probably not.
The point is I was pushed quite naturally by such nonsense in the direction of figuring out words, and meanings in, under, around and beyond words.
Old House (Photo credit: WaywardShinobi)
Words drip with meaning. Words bend under the weight of history, like an old house with a wing added in one decade and a room tacked on in another, and then another room or two, here and there over the years, and finally a garage cobbled together a little bit after that. Add in all that attic space and crawl space. Until what you have is this word with hundreds and hundreds of years of meaning in every pore of its few letters.
So much so, that when I hear an advertisement for some drug called Cymbalta my brain pictures a percussion player with flat brass discs waiting for the director to signal for the crashing loud bash of metal on metal.
Cymbals, Chinese New Year in front of House of Hong, International District, Seattle, Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
But that makes no sense for an antidepressant, except in a mean-spirited I’m gonna shove you outta your bed of depression by sheer loudness kind of way.
I’ve tried a few antidepressants in my day, so don’t go thinking I’m being insensitive here. I wish one of the meds I tried over the years had that effect on me. “Alright, already, Ma, I’m awake, I’m up, I’m good to go! Stop with the Cymbalta playing!”
So then I think symbolism and I worry about what’s realllllllly in that medication, what does it meannnnnnn? And I feel a little nervous.
Words very seldom serve as just words.
And that’s scary.
“You say tomato, I say tom-AH-to.”
You know Amelia Bedelia? Yeah. Her. That book.
That one children’s book says so much better anything I’ve just spent nearly seven hundred words trying to explain. And it has pictures. Funny pictures.
“What does it all meannnnnnn?”
Maybe I just need some medication or an orchestra concert or a sign.