- Pit-a-pat, My Life
When the wind blows, vocabulary cards gently flutter in my mind. Like fish drying in the sea breeze for a long time, they have been expanding outwards while shrinking in size. I think of the words that I pronounced for the first time as a child. This is snow. That is night. Over there is a tree. Under my feet is the earth. You are you . . . I first learned how to pronounce the names of everything around me and then copied their spellings over and over again. Even now, I am often amazed that I know the names of all those things.
When I was young, I picked up words all day long. I pestered everyone around me with my prattling, “What’s this, Mom? What’s that?” Each name was so clean and buoyant that it didn’t stick to the thing it named. I kept on asking the names I had already learned the previous day and the day before that, as if asking for the first time. Whenever I lifted my finger and pointed to something, bits of print with strange sounds would fall, one by one. Like a wind-chime that swings in the breeze, something moved whenever I asked. That’s why I liked the phrase, “What’s this?” I liked that phrase more than the names I learned.
Rain is rain. Day is day. Summer is summer . . . I learned many words in my life. There were words that were used often, and [End Page 59] words that were used not so often. There were those that took root in the earth, and those that scattered like the seeds of plants. When I called summer summer, I felt as if I could own it. Confident in this belief, I kept on asking. Earth, tree, and even you . . . This, that, and it overlapped and moved according to the breath in my mouth. When I pronounced ‘it,’ concentric circles spread out with the sound—sometimes I felt as if that width was the size of my world.
By now I know almost all the words I need to know to live. What’s important is to gauge the area that words create while reducing their volume. To imagine a thousand directions of the wind instead of the four cardinal points when one says “wind”; to follow the shadow of the cross, growing longer as the sun is setting, when one says “betrayal”; and to fathom the depth of snow concealing the crevasse when one calls “you.” This last, however, is one of the hardest things in the world, for the wind keeps on blowing, and I have never been young since I was born. Neither have the words.
The place where I first got mixed up with words was a village in the countryside, where the mountains were deep and the water clear. I learned my name and started toddling around the village, where a stream divided into several whirling branches. It took me three years to grow from a prattling baby to a child who could form a simple sentence, exactly how long my parents sponged off my mother’s family. Most people in that village grew or made what they needed. That’s probably why I learned mostly vivid words related to everyday life. I heard that the first word my cousin, who grew up watching TV every day, uttered was “LG.” I worried my parents because I was slow to learn how to speak. Concerned that something was wrong with me, my mother asked other adults for their opinions. Father went to work in silence, saying that babies were prettiest when they couldn’t speak. The foundations were just beginning to be laid for the Taeho Resort Complex in a nearby village, and Father was working at the construction site as a day laborer. My maternal [End Page 60] grandfather, who was pretty quick with figures, built a house in front of his vegetable garden for the laborers who had rushed to this village from elsewhere. It was pretty drafty, with concrete walls and a slate roof. Four families could fit...