I wander through a foreign land, searching, forever searching. Tantalizing smells waft past, weaving in and out and around the city like Aladdin’s magic carpet. Do I follow my nose? Is Jafar (جعفر) lurking close by? “Fears, begone!” I hear myself say aloud. Words have power; but do my words have power? What control do I have over their creation, over my thoughts?

On the one hand, I live in and around them. They are my neighbors, my family, my arch-nemeses. When I seek the lake’s stillness, they hover—patiently waiting, or with a child’s stubbornness, refusing to leave? Ready to strike? Words I cannot escape. They follow me wherever I go, a pack of lone wolves: loyal, until one is not.

This cloud, this “linguistic nebula” (Saussure) into which I am born, evolves throughout my life. My vocabulary grows; my understanding of cultural nuances deepens; my eyes are opened to loanwords, those asylum seekers whose skills are so adept we forget from whence they have emigrated: “How do you say, ‘taco’ in Spanish?” I am constantly influenced. I constantly consume the world.

And yet, my thoughts on this battlefield of sorts fight to create and maintain their space. They push and stretch and pull words in unexpected directions. It is a vicious cycle and fragile ecosystem: they must consume in order to create, and create in order to consume, lest they be absorbed into the system, lest they lose the “I” of creation, the one who ultimately powers Thought. It is a stick-shift vehicle, where both man and machine are necessary.  

I continue wandering, staring blindly at dust-coated street signs as I amble past, feigning comprehension in a world so different from mine. Another linguistic layer. Tres leches cake.  Tiramisu. Double Ninth CakeMochi ice cream. Silver spoons clank against plates and bowls. “Abu, hands off!” Yes, let’s follow my nose. Oh, Genie…

“Without language, thought is a vague, uncharted nebula.” -Ferdinand de Saussure