Considering the Lego-like malleability of letters and the ease with which new arrangements come into fashion, words have astonishing power — to provoke, irritate, catch a moment or a year in their syllables. Word of the Year is a game we play in North America every December, searching for the one arrangement of those bits of alphabet that perfectly reflects where we stand at this moment in the sweep of history.
Others play a different game: Words that should be wiped from our mouths.
Each year when I arrive in San Miguel de Allende, I set my suitcases inside the door and immediately walk out into the town. Yes, the sidewalks still insist we tread single file; the Parroquia still glows pink as the sun sets; the iron benches in the Jardin still hoard the day’s warmth. But look! The giant Christmas tree has moved to Plaza Civica. From our new digs, I hear the bells of not three churches, but five.
This first walk settles me in the same way that running my fingers over the spines of my books settles me: reading the titles, even thinking of them, lifts my heart into a place that is at once familiar and everlastingly new.
Spring strolls in on the heels of the equinox; bumblebee, ladybird, and dragonfly children parade under globo rainbows through the streets. The Virgin’s tears water the sprouting seeds, and books pop up like freshly hatched chicks. Even the pessimists admit a shade of rose in their view.
After seven years of researching and writing, I finally printed out a draft of my nonfiction novel The Convict Lover.
The stack of pages was higher than a child’s booster seat. Even in my innocence, I knew prospective publishers were unlikely to read a 750-page prison tome, so I hauled out my scissors and glue pot—this was 1994, the digital dark ages—and attacked my hard-won words. Six months later, the manuscript was lean and muscular, reduced to a mere 88,000 words from its original 200,000. My heart, along with countless, priceless scenes, lay in shards on the floor.