An Ode to the Written Word


If books could cry, they’d be drowning in their sorrow. Their creaked spines and pages leak ink, disheartened by their fall from graceful shelves into cardboard bargain boxes, anxiously awaiting their unknown futures. When once upon a time, people smoothed their hands over a cover, longing for the money they didn’t have; when it was once one of the beating hearts of bookstore anatomy — its very life and soul. Its heartbeat is now on the verge of quietus, succumbing to the detriment of cyberspace pixelation. I finally understand the pledge to read the written word. It does not stem from the fear of becoming obsolete, but the fear of forgetting my own identity.


This is a story about a girl who transformed a shed into a three-room library; who has slept among book dust and carved her identity out of the wooden bookcase that was too sizes too big for her to reach the top shelf.

A Hispanic anomaly in a predominantly white community, she became the poster-child for thick accents and exotic semblances. Too ashamed to speak in English, she compensated for her verbal paucity through writing — where all other factors were extraneous. Building her childhood beside journals, she wrote in communion with Solzhenitsyn, humanized inanimate objects out of carefully crafted hyperbolas and sought adventure through the voyages of jumbled letters and complex storylines.

As a writer, she controlled every plot and denouement. In her show, filled with endless rhythmic wordplays, she could position herself in any scenario, becoming God in a valley of idioms where subjects were pawns in a game of verbal ingenuity. People gasped at the dexterity she possessed with the quick flick of a pen, the splash of its ink, carving the page in neatly scripted lettering. This girl discovered her voice not through speaking, but writing and she has never felt more at peace with her multi-pronged identity.


Nineteen years later and I’m still that little girl whose confidence bloomed from the flower of penmanship. Juxtaposed with the entropy of chaos, writing clarified reality during distress. I felt the bleak desert battlefield of Iraq with the scorching sun savagely sending its rays of heat fury. The decrepit barracks where soldiers were packed tight like sardines in a sweat powerhouse complete with a contemptible stench. The primitive hatred of the mobs tearing down Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square. I could cut the tension in the tanks with a knife — a conglomeration of fear and anxiety at the prospect of accidentally detonating hidden road bombs. I saw the smeared faces of middle-aged women and prepubescent children poking out from soldiers’ pockets along with dog-tags of deceased comrades.

Vicariously living through the exchange of manuscripts between my father and I to compensate for our 10-year-strong wartime separation — manuscripts full of this precise imagery and emotions overriding tear stains — I grew to appreciate, and fall deeply in love with, the written word and its precious ability to assume the roles of both air pilot and therapist. I remember thinking: if soldiers were given guns loaded with words instead of bullets, they’d cure their blood instead of poisoning it.

I grew to appreciate and fall deeply in love with
the written word and its precious ability to assume the
roles of both air pilot and therapist.

On paper, I am not the German-born, Mexican-Puerto Rican oddity with a distinct accent. I’m simply Karmen, a writer. The pen and paper have become the portals to my soul instead of my eyes; the heart is not worn on a sleeve, but in processed bark. The vacillation between the heavy and light strokes gives birth to scripts, ideas, epithets. It simultaneously molds and transports, acting as a sculptor of character, a refiner of senses and a wind-breaking watercraft.

I’d still be waging war between myself and my heritage had the peacemaking interlocutor — writing — not intervened. I am merely a microcosm of a universe in which writers are divinely linked through communions of words adroitly strung together with philharmonic sound.

I am merely a microcosm of a universe in which
writers are divinely linked through communions of words
adroitly strung together with philharmonic sound.

Karmen Rivera is a student at Princeton University hailing from Texas. Her intersts lie in computational neuroscience, neuro-oncological research and writing. She can be reached at krivera@princeton.edu.

All views expressed are her own.

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