When I first began learning a new language, I post-it noted my life. I would walk through the hallway under and past pink, blue, yellow squares, telling me lamp, picture, floor, popcorn ceiling, trash. At seven in the morning I would systematically lift the same green square, on it, toothbrush, spelled in slim, sharpie letters, then, I would carefully squeeze out some toothpast (misspelled due to partial dissolution by sink-spit), and I didn’t know it then, but there, right there, the language began to stack her seats in my mind. My mind was being barricaded, no longer prone to wander for it was clogged by names or question marks, “What is this called?” Brushing. Specc—no—Mirror. With their respective verbs. To look. To reflect. Towel. To dry. To roll. To whip. To clean. The words took over. What was everything called. I had to know. What did everything do. What was it for.
I was quiet in those days. I remember talking to my sister on the phone once, she asked me a question. Shit. I couldn’t think of the answer. What was it? What was that word? “Are you there?” / “Yes, I’m just—I can’t remember how to say a certain word in—. Do you know it? It’s like how when you always—”
“But we aren’t speaking in —.”
I started labeling outside of my house. I posted almost on the stoplight near my work. Time under the bench where a homeless woman slept through the mornings, exhaling in w-words.
Soon, it wasn’t about learning the glosses any more. It was about knowing everything twice as much. But, you see, it wasn’t about the New Language anymore either. It was about Naming. About naming places, naming things, controlling them with my tongue and thought. The power and satisfaction of knowing what something is called. I put my post-its in a junk drawer and made new labels for everything, everyone, used small cotton scraps to fashion miniature rococo letters in gold, making truths on tiny square tufts. It took about twelve minutes to make each label, giving me time to be careful and certain of my words, planning my days around the person whom I would see that day, the one who I needed to tag with needle and thought.
I put the word destroyer under my father’s shoe, lost under my grandmother’s sparkling purple barrette, far away on the neck of my husband’s work shirt.
I was God.
As my newly-named world grew, the tags shrank. Soon, no one noticed them but me. And even sooner, they were gone. But I remembered them all. I could still see them. My new coworker, ratchet, my sister’s hairdresser, shallow, my neighbor’s mom, burdensome, a student who asked the wrong question, stupid.
But it was beginning to get complicated, for I forgot who they were after making them who I thought they were. When greeting them, their label would almost escape the tip of my tongue instead of their name.
Hello, Ratch—I mean, Susan.
In a way, their names didn’t matter anymore. After I fixed a small mind tag on their person, I saw checkmarks cicatrized on their foreheads.
And it it didn’t solely work on people; it worked on everything. Once, I met a man on the train, seated across from me, who told me a story about his difficult childhood in Umbria.
Ah, nepotism, I said.
Yes, I know about that. I read about it on Wikipedia.
And she, this poor woman here now to my right, she thinks we are talking about the same things when she goes on about X, but I, I reply only to say you mean, Y? Yes, you may think you know. But I know. I know the consolidated word. The term. I know what it’s called. And therefore.
To stand in front of a classroom, to hear a student explain an idea, and to give them the correct name for it. The oohs, the ahhs, the release of epistemology. And push even deeper, go harder, etymology. The pleasure and then the release (and then the false freedom) of knowing how we know why the thing is named what it is named.
To know is to understand is to name is to check off, is to reality-make with language.
The false satisfaction of nomenclature.
To know the name for it, and then to be finished.
Skyler Hust is an English teacher from California.
"Steve's Quality Market" by Michaela Savell