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It started with 'some pig'

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CALOLet me tell you about a girl who is 6 years old. She started reading at age 4, when her tiny hands could barely grasp the books she devoured. She sits in bed every night for weeks on end, eating up E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web.”

When she reaches the spider’s tragic demise, she cries so hard until exhausted hiccups replace the sobs. And then, when she wakes the next morning and Charlotte’s death comes flooding back into her memory, she cries all over again.

The story affected her so much, it resulted in stone-cold dedication: That little girl stopped smushing spiders and didn’t eat pig meat for four years afterwards.

She was 6 years old when she first felt the heavy influence of words, when they moved her to action and blurred her vision. Now that same girl, me, sits in a room writing her final student column, and I'm three times the age I was when I read of that rare friendship between a pig and a barn spider, and my fascination with words has only grown with me.

I am awed by the quantity of them, that there are millions of variations of 26 letters strung together. I am always delighted by the tricks and devices that words can utilize, from the puns to the personifications to the alliteration.

But mostly, I am struck by the power that words have: the power to move you in ways you never imagined, the force to stir emotion in you that you might not have even known was there.

That impact sparked a fire in me to not only breathe words in and feel their intoxication, but also to breathe out some of my own.

It was enlightening to me that I have the ability to release the never-ending hullabaloo of thoughts inside my head and let them run wild with the smooth ink of a pen. There is something freeing about organizing your spinning mind, placing some kind of categorization to the seemingly undefinable.

Parts of me come out in everything I write. Bits of myself are found in the characters I create and the stories I unfold, and it’s unlike anything else to discover them. I write when I feel happy. I write when I feel sad. I write when I can barely hold the pen. I reveal the intricacies of my mind and heart to lined pages and Google docs before I can really reveal them to myself.

It often doesn’t come easily, however. Just because I have a passion for words doesn’t mean they always float effortlessly into my head. There are days when I erase whole paragraphs or slam the laptop down in frustration because I just can’t articulate what I want to say.

But it doesn’t matter. I have learned and will continue learning that writing leaves you with unanswered questions. I think that’s why I was always drawn to my English classes much more than math or science. There is no specific solution to how to say what you want to say. There are endless possibilities, infinite ways of capturing it. Writing always leaves you thinking; the greatest part of it is the struggle it takes to portray the complexities in your head.

So I will open the laptop or pick up the pencil and try again. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In 1950, Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner gave a speech about the best works of literature, claiming that the ones that will be remembered and the only ones worth remembering will leave a scar on those who read them. He declared that the best works touch their readers with themes that are hard to put into words — themes of “love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice” — but are put into words anyway, and that’s what makes them “worth the agony and the sweat.”

I’ve already been scarred many times by the works of Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, William Golding. Their work will stay with me forever, and has made me want to create something that will have the same effect on others.

I’ll write until my hands don’t work, and even then I’ll find a way. I can’t wait to leave my own scars on others through my writing, scars as strong and intricate as, say, a spider’s web.

Kate Calo was a regular columnist for the Lake Oswego Review in 2014-15, and she graduated from Lakeridge High School this June. Contact her at education@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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