I loved word games as a kid and still do. Whisper down the lane, Scrabble, hangman, MadLibs? Do these even still exist for the youth of America?
MadLibs was solid gold, and I treasured the rare occurrence that the comic book aisle had new editions in stock. Yes, it was an addiction that elicited mild concern among my friends and family, but these little paragraphs of mismatched verbs, adjectives, and nouns were joy on a page. If I remember correctly, it was even through MadLibs that I flirted for the first time, albeit awkwardly, in fourth grade, asking the boy I liked to give me four nouns and a verb.
Aside from that, these games taught me how every word can be stretched and squeezed, hammered and wedged into any space I see fit; a jungle gym with endless monkey bars! Can you imagine? You don’t even have to wait your turn—just hop on in and start using words! As a kid, this was my source of joy.
While one may think that I’ve evolved into a sophisticated, mature adult, I’m happy to admit that I’m still playing word games every single day in my work. It’s what keeps the flavor in every assignment, every brainstorm call with a client, designing outlines, editing chapters, reading transcripts. Certain words will come through the phone line and they just croon the sweetest of harmonies like Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Made up of nothing but letters, these words have the ability to capture someone’s story so distinctly, that whatever part they happen to be telling on that day, the chapter comes alive. It can be framed around one word. Like a MadLibs exercise, one verb or misplaced noun can send a shock wave into a sentence so that by using it, that passage or chapter is eternally unique.
The good news is I don’t believe there is a shortage of these words. They can be simple, common, or SAT three-pointers; their value is anchored in the story to which they are attached.
Take for example the word “manifest.” It emanates an academic tone, and we think of fifth grade social studies and Manifest Destiny, Lewis and Clark, what have you. But to Jim Jacoby, it’s another principle entirely. It’s a word that vibrates on a personal level.
Every day we manifest. We are manifested in who we are, we are manifested in what we do and with whom we do it.
The word “infinite” already carries a certain air of wonder and awe, as it’s based in the galaxy of the unknown. But Scott Miller has started to give the word shape and color on the mortal level. He’s started to explain what it means to our lives each day:
Our capacities are infinite. Our capacities for love or anything we put our attention to can be truly infinite. Yet at the same time, it has to be something that becomes us. It can’t be something we do as needed.
Then there’s the word intrinsic. Which perhaps, yields the image of something mechanical that fits into a machine—a cog in the wheel, if you will. Christine Mason used it, instead, to illuminate our unconditional value on this earth:
You are intrinsically valuable, beloved just by the mere fact that you are in a body and breathing…for being a present on the planet, you don’t have to earn it.
These are three of many. Every call has one, if not several, that get jotted down, shifted across the page, planted into the draft and book outline, and artfully molded into the eventual chapter text. They are almost destined, from the first time they’re uttered, to be in the final book. When one word can tell the story in just a few letters, its space in the passage is final, the lease is signed. That position is filled.
In his own word games that left us with timeless lyrics, John Lennon’s “Mind Games” seems to echo the value in our intellectual exercises together. He says:
“Yeah, we're playin' those mind games forever
Projectin' our images in space and in time…
So keep on playin' those mind games together
Doin' the ritual dance in the sun
Millions of mind guerrillas
Puttin' their soul power to the karmic wheel
Keep on playin' those mind games forever
Raisin' the spirit of peace and love”
We're playing this word game together, inserting our soul power to the karmic wheel, and somehow, we can keep playing forever. It never gets old.