Wary of words

After some time I got wary of words. They were a joy to use and organise, like pieces in some rarefied game whose most important rules were obscure — but how far could they be trusted? It was easy to feel you were in control when you manipulated these strange tools to make them say what you wanted, but lately I found I’d manoeuvre myself, or be manoeuvred, into a corner from which I couldn’t see my way out. There was a danger in words. They wrote me as I wrote them and led me down paths I didn’t always intend to go; but wasn’t it the words themselves that showed me those paths? I fought with the swarm, tried to cut it down to sense. What was insight and what was random remembered phrases? A writer I knew at the time who’d written with great facility all his life dried up mysteriously, then awoke one morning and saw he’d taken the flow of words for granted, yet had only used a tiny corner of them. Now they were showing him they’d used him, not the other way around. Because he’d surrendered to them, they’d given him his thoughts and feelings. But that morning he felt that he had nothing more to offer them, and that they were moving on to someone else, but he didn’t feel free, on the contrary. It’s like those painters in the past who, looking over their work in a lucid moment, suddenly found they’d painted themselves into a corner and that the forms that once opened everything up for them now seemed banal and opportunistic. Were there ways out?

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