These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.
— — —
I’d read David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary back in May, during a pocket of time I’d hungrily hoarded for myself. Three months later, I unearth my notes—in a notebook only a pinch of pages in, abandoned to give way to the coercions of real life and its token responsibilities—and resort to a wry amusement. There is such a disconnect between the girl who’d read this book and the girl who now has to return to it.
Five main points, gathered into tidy notes. The first one reads: “Something to be said about books that can both be clever and affective,” I wrote, “I’ve been burned too many times by books that think inventiveness can do away with real emotion altogether.” No protest from me on this end, no amendment.
Another point that needs no revision: “I wonder about the writer’s mind—how he managed to present us a whole story, with just the right amount of vagueness and the unsaid, through these little pockets of scenes in a love story. This successful treatment of the narrative, I think, is an instance of what I’ve always considered as characteristic of good fiction: Knowing when to reveal and how much of it, when to reveal it and how—all the while making sure that there’s something whole it points to.”
And because a story’s structure is comparatively inflexible, I still agree with this point as well: “That’s the thing. This novel, its entries—not linear at all. With the dictionary entries, the scenes they offer us, we weave in and out the natural chronology of the love story. They’re all over the place, but they make perfect, glorious sense. From the inauspicious beginning, the forcibly glib decision to take the budding relationship a step further, the gestures and the moments, the flaws and the celebrations and the secret hurts. The betrayal that comes and its ready excuses. The uncertainty of a love still able to pick itself back up from the floor and dust itself off, thank you very much. Amazing how Levithan has made you trust in the wholeness of the story, that you can look at the entries piecemeal, confident that each one has a story to tell.
It’s points four and five that rattle, Dear Reader. No, it’s not as though there’s a considerable disconnect from the Reader of May and the Recorder of August—but I’m made aware now [thank you muchly for your hand in this, hindsight] of the progression of things. [A progression that a part of me still quails to tack the adjective “natural” to, because, well, certain things still hurt—and entertaining the very notion of regret will make it ache even more.]
Beyond the amusement and, yes, the smugness—I’m chilled by the ignorance of the Reader of May who wrote, “I’m also wondering if anyone else began their own dictionary upon—or while—reading this book; perhaps scribbled on the expanse of page that followed each definition Levithan’s narrator offered. Perhaps bouncing off from the same words, perhaps plucking new words and weaving elaborations upon them. It seems like a compulsion to me, now.” Because, yes, I wrote my own dictionary in the margins, in random pieces of paper, in that discarded notebook; I began knowingly, upon the enticement of Levithan’s novel. I would add to the definitions already present, and did so almost joyfully, thinking all I needed was some writer to begin.
But then I digressed, and then I elaborated. There was a time that all I could write in my journal were headlined “Truths,” enumerated and laboriously annotated. I’d be murmuring words like roses and tangible and recklessness, I’d test out other words—words made strange—to the few I’d let listen. I kept quiet some times, but I’d be raging in my head—more words and phrases there, like: never or five years or remarkable or fight this or surrender or good night. And I would write, and I would rail, and I would grow quiet, until this dictionary grew heavy inside me—and I’d only realize this now.
And the final point I’d scribbled, in hapless [perhaps, even breathless] handwriting on a notebook unwelcoming of fountain pen ink: “I like this book. It woke me up.”
PSA: I bought The Lover’s Dictionary from National Bookstore (the Cubao branch, methinks!) for PhP575.