A famous four-letter Verb
Verbs I know, I use them all the time in my work. They are ‘doing words’. My clients need them to say what they are about, to define their purpose. Wanting their own range of verbs, they need to access mine.
J. v Z, optometrist, tests eyes, writes up prescriptions for specs. He fits and tests the specs and advises one on eye care. On the side, he needs other verbs. He’s created a website. On it he lists properties which he lets to tourists and holidaymakers. He wants words, verbs, to advertise, promote, sell, succeed. I provide –‘sell’, I suppose is the right verb here, too, though it does sound mercenary – him with the words to formulate his thoughts. A.F is a post-grad, visual arts student. She reads widely, thinks and makes art, sculpture actually, but she wants verbs, too. More elevated ones, like discuss, argue, expound, explain, elucidate.
The first verb you used, was it ‘want’, ‘don’t want’? Mommy, I want milk; I don’t want my porridge. With grandparents (and you lived with them in a climate of warm permission, didn’t you, for the first four and a half years?) ‘want’ could get you more than it did with your mother.
“Want, want, want,” she would say,“is that the only word you know?”
“Come here, my Treasure,” Granny would say, “what is it you want?” and then “Roma, dear, the child wants milk, see to her now.”
Grandpa would say to Gran: “Mommy, the child wants some more sugar on her porridge; a bit of sweetness to help it go down, see to her then.”
Soon you learnt the power of ‘want’; and long before two, how your wants could be met, if not by your tired mother, by the other grownups in the house.
Funny how that verb, that essential four-letter word ‘want’ came back. You were twenty-three, adult, a high-school teacher – financially independent. Came home wearing a ring on your finger, slipped on near Fountains on the old road between Pretoria and Johannesburg. Bearing a box of furry, white, first-summer peaches and a bottle of champagne in your hands, the two of you burst into the front garden, up the path and into the house, flung wide for summer.
“Mom”, you called joyfully, “we’re engaged.”
“Engaged,” she wiped her hands on her apron, “what ever for?”
“We want to get married.”
“Where’s your father?” she said. “Jim, come here and listen to these children. They ‘want to get married’.”
Same verb, same desire to fulfil a need, a deep need – to be fulfilled.
“Married,” your father said. “You’re too young. And you don’t have enough money.”
“K’s got no degree,” your mother joined in. “What would you two live on?”
“Dad,” you said, “Mom”, drawing them both in, “I’m over twenty-one – twenty-three, in fact. Asking you is just a gesture of courtesy. We are going to get married, with or without your consent. We want to get married.”
“What I want now,” you said, using the famous four-letter verb, “is to be free. To be myself, ourselves. You and me. Not responsible for Mom and Dad, or responsible to them any more. I’m fifty-eight, you’re sixty-six, retired, and almost there. It’s time to move off on our own, to live for once our own lives. I want to be free for ten years of our life together. Visit, yes. Care, yes. But not be the most beholden, because the most accessible child. I do not want,” you said, “to be the backstage, continuity girl any more.”
I understand verbs, know them, teach my clients to use them. They are part of my business. Yet the strange irony, the inevitably linked-to-life irony is, knowing verbs as I do, having the freedom, the insight, the power I can afford others in helping them use them, I still do not have what I actually want. If you ask me,“Are you free from others’ wants? Do you have what you want?”, I must confess, “No, I do not.”
But I must stop wombling on now, exit my document, and put my PC on hold. My Mom’s just had them call me – she’s ninety-five now, you know. She wants a box of tissues.