In my opinion, there are few things more reliable in this world than words. Words have been there for me since my first wailing breaths, as sentiments of awe and adoration from my parents showered over me, and I anticipate they will be standing at my side for my final whispery exhale. Their fierce loyalty, incredible power, and quiet beauty will never cease to astound and delight me.
Words stun me with their seamless ability to orchestrate and celebrate emotion, especially on paper. I am an individual who keeps my feelings shut tightly inside myself, and often times I find it difficult to verbally articulate everything I wish to convey. The one way I can express and experience those emotions is when I write.This past summer, a close friend of mine got diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. Aside from tears and exclamations of disbelief, I didn’t know how to explain what I was feeling. I chose instead to conceal my shaky fingers in the bottom of my pockets and dry my wet cheeks. I didn’t want to say goodbye, and I didn’t know how I could. After visiting her in the hospital after a serious bout of pneumonia, I made myself sit down and write. As the words patted my back and soothed my sorrows, I realized that might have been my last time seeing her, and if I was going to be ok, I needed to make peace with that fact. My words gave me solace that day in the form of poetry, a medium that I haven’t always been comfortable with. That was one of the first times that I felt poetry truly embrace me and weave my anger, confusion, and heartache into something beautiful. Words continue to keep me safe, with the lifting up of prayer, with the thankfulness for more days with my friend, and with the assuredness that when those days run out, the words to describe my feelings about it won’t.
When they’re not acting as the vehicle through which I channel my most complex emotions, my words fascinate me with their unfailing ability to surprise those around me. Language changes in a myriad of ways every day, like the yellowing ends of leaves on an October afternoon. Some words taste bitter on our tongue, and some words sound like music coming out of other people’s mouths. Words can make us sick, make us rejoice, and make us take a step back and consider something differently. I always chuckle when my mom tells the story of me uttering one of my first, and still one of my most used, phrases: “damnit to hell.” My family was sitting at the Fish Market in Phoenix, Arizona enjoying a dinner of fresh seafood with my grandparents. As the story goes, I took advantage of a pause in conversation to volunteer one of my mom’s habitual utterances. Of course, the harsh words must have sounded foreign coming out of my innocent two year old mouth, and when my papa and grandma asked where I’d learned such language, I pointed to my humiliated mother. Although shocked, I can imagine my papa cracking a sly smile at his granddaughter’s premature potty-mouth. Other words and phrases, like “Mom and Dad, I think I want to be a writer” created a different kind of surprise. I’ve always marveled at the way using borrowed words versus your own creates a different desired effect; Hearing words that originate in people’s’ hearts instead of another person’s mouth of another person has a particularly poignant impact, yet I look forward to more moments of hearing, absorbing, and repeating other shocking or compelling phrases from those closest to me, as the waves of my life continue to rise and fall.
Words astound me with their capacity to make things new. They take something broken and make something beautiful; they take something joyous and make something colorful. My thoughts, desires, and sorrows meld themselves into a mosaic on the page and I get to call it poetry. I never thought I could call myself a poet, but then I discovered that the real art appears when you open your heart. With words, I am able to create something worthy of the most vulnerable bits of myself. My pain has a purpose, my joy is a reason to celebrate, and my knack for discovering the extraordinary out of the ordinary is my greatest strength. When I write, I am my truest and most authentic self. I am being the version of Katy Hackworthy who I want to get to know, who I want to celebrate life with, who I want to experience sorrow with. I am not only allowing myself to bear witness to the world in all its complexities, I am allowing those intricacies to seep into my skin like the last bits of sunlight on an evening in June.
Words heal and words empower. Some days it feels difficult to do the easy things, like get out of bed, take a shower, and talk to someone besides the delivery guy on the other end of the phone. Some days it feels like bad news stacks up at an alarming rate, threatening to topple over any sort of order we strive to maintain. Those days, I turn to my truest, most loyal friends: words. I read bits and pieces of a beloved book, and allow the fictional worlds I love so dearly to welcome me into their more bearable realities. I charm bees with Idgie Threadgood, cast spells with Hermione Granger, or go to the zoo with Pi Patel. I beam with joy when Ove finally feels like he has a reason to go on living, and I let tears of sorrow slide down my nose when Kellan says “I love you all the way.” I allow the words of Maya Angelou suck out the poison of our world, restoring my strength and empowering me to seek true healing. “You may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I rise.” I cling to these powerful deities and weave them into my tangled curls, tattoo them onto my scattered freckles. I decorate myself with their power, adorn them like armor, and let their healing touch propel me into newer, brighter days.
Despite my adoration of the power of words, I recognize that they can also cause immeasurable pain. In a time where hate is wildly determined to crush love, words are thrown around with the intent to depress, damage, and destroy. We invalidate people’s’ experiences, we tear them down, we lie to get what we want, and we boast about our own obvious superiority. People tote slogans like “Make America Great Again” and forget all of the beautiful people that already make up this great country. When people hear or read words that they don’t agree with, the deem them as “fake news” or “alternative facts”. We ignore how powerful our words truly are, and we use them carelessly and recklessly, forgetting that words should be building blocks, not ammunition. I hope as we continue to realize the true power we possess, we use our words intentionally and thoughtfully, working towards creating and celebrating beauty instead of destruction.
The restorative power of words inspires and motivates me every day to pursue a life dedicated to their craft. My grandma claims she always knew I’d be a writer. She says it is in my blood, in my heart and my soul; her whole-hearted faith in me, as well as her mutual adoration for words, motivates me to make her proud. I didn’t always know this would be the journey I would embark on. Through all of the crises of identity and changes of heart, I realized the one thing I really want to do in my life: help people through my passion for the written word. What is art for if not to help people? Art is the heartbeat of our world, a source of joy, knowledge, and power that’s accessible to anyone and everyone. Art has a responsibility to tell truths, both ugly and beautiful, and I feel that it is my duty to bring those truths to life. How lucky am I to have this rare and beautiful opportunity to use the words that have helped me my entire life to serve others and inspire change?