The Final Last Word

I have figured out how to fiber-optically plug my subconscious mind into the world wide web. Consciously. 

In my search for meaning, I scour internet dictionaries, thesauruses, idiom finders, and rhyming zones to exhume long-forgotten words crypted inside my subconscious: compartmentalized rooms divided by stacks of old books filled with life experience and emotions, all inventoried in hefty card catalogs scattered about the main floor. 

And then there’s the forbidden zone, where implicit instructions were given—by me earlier in my life—during times of greatest pain: Hide this, and never let me go near it again. Sometimes, the thing we want to hide from the most is love. If I can locate this forbidden zone, words might reveal themselves, glitter inside encapsulated treasure troves, and help me get down to being a good writer.

Why embark on such an intensive task? Because one memory can lead to layers of insight, and one word can make all the difference.

This offshoot post sprouts from a hopefully-soon-to-be-published: Home Stretch: Birth of a New Ending. Since I’m working on the last chapter of my novel right now, I’m trying to keep up with my sometimes-stalled, sometimes-accelerated advancement. But the blog post in question—which I started way back in August—had gotten way too comprehensive. In the contractions of giving birth to a revelation, I’d gone crazy—even more than usual. Ideas cut loose and crossed synapses, travelling along sensory neurons to my fingertips, prodding them to type. In the middle of the frenzy, I started to write about my pursuit of the final last word. It dawned on me that this search was like anticipating the toy surprise inside a Cracker Jack box—buried in a haystack of caramel-coated, popped corn and peanuts.

To avoid yet another blog post pouring into a tangential spillover, I’m only reporting on one compulsive treasure hunt for a word that couldn’t have surfaced without my subconscious igniting a little spark—the clue that steers me in a general direction toward a possible epiphany. In the dark, I suit up for the journey, and the signal light appears as I plug in my subconscious. Without that initial spark, the road ahead would otherwise be an ill-fated, exhaustive, and unfruitful rumination leading to excessive burn-out.

It was late September. I’d received some professional notes—which I paid for—on my novel’s first 5000 words, courtesy of Coverfly analyst #CCB8D. Unsurprisingly, chapter five got the most attention. In truth, the chapter had been—maybe not my biggest, but—a challenge that I especially avoided and was forced to revisit more than once as it begged for an overhaul. Chapter five is the first detour off my main storyline, and introduces a Montana otherworld—not an overlay of a past or future, but merely an occupation of a different space of the now.

Crafting a chapter to be a roadmap into the unknown is a delicate operation. It requires leaving breadcrumbs for the reader—but not too many. I’d left too many. Fifty-seven chapters later I had to face the music. So I decided to pause the turtle race to the finish line and do the repair work. If a publisher can’t get past this, no sense in the rest of it mattering. And thus, chapter sixty-one was moved to the back burner.

Okay. The word in question was needed for a particular line of thought for one of two unearthly women characters who reside in this Montana otherworld. Emma, whose POV was narrating the mystical goings-on, was once a famous—thought-to-have-died-years-earlier—movie star who’d been a closeted reader of books in her other life. Being smart wasn’t sexy in the 1950s.

I went looking for the adjective to complete Emma’s observance of her friend as they rummage through an old, mahogany trunk that occasionally produces items from their former lives. This time they are in a desperate search for an object that could be teleported through the ether to the main character—a soul-wounded Vietnam Veteran—who needs saving from himself. In the writing of the sentence, I heard the adjective rhythmically in my head as three syllables, already knowing what I needed essence-wise.

And here’s the little spark my subconscious gave me—don’t ask me how: the word starts with the letters l-u-c. Did you know that you can search for a word on the internet like that? It’s brilliant! All I did was type into google: words that begin with luc. I somehow understood: luc rode tandem with the word lucid, only it contained more light. (You see how my brain works.)

Point Dume, Malibu, California

The hunting expedition across the cyber terrain first brought me to the word luculent, which I thought had to be it. But it was wrong for two reasons: 1) the “c” didn’t have the “s” sound, which is how I heard it fuzzily in my head; and 2) it still didn’t have the light I was looking for. Luculent was lucid—clear—but with no inference of light. What is that damn word? I went back again, and I found it. Not three syllables like I’d thought—the subconscious is also a trickster—but four.

Luciferous was the word. It had the soft “c” and the light, and it was lodged there in my subconscious but couldn’t be brought through the thick veil of my limited conscious perception. I may have never used the word before, but my subconscious had read/heard it somewhere. And Emma, my Einstein-loving-closeted-book-reading movie star definitely had experience with it. She used it to describe her friend’s aha moment: Beth giggled, her face showing a mixture of fright and luciferous awe.

Whatever one might think of the word, it is the word that fits Emma’s thought. The word also gave me something extra: Lucifer. Before lucifer became a proper name for Satan in a grindingly rough translation, it originally meant “light-bringing.” I discovered in Adam Aleksic’s The Etymology Nerd blog that lucifer was also defined as “morning star” or “light on the horizon”—which could mean, in one sense, an aha moment. Right? And guess what, I have a morning star rising at the very get-go of chapter five. So YEAH, in a chapter that had thrown me for a loop, there’s this little inspired word that could possibly keep future readers engrossed in the fantastical luminous world of these two women characters. Like, who are they really?

Well, it didn’t engross everyone. At the completion of my revision, I was lighted up, triumphant. I submitted chapter five to my writers critique group, and the word got side-whacked, one of the women flat-out calling it ostentatious. Ouch! Humorously speaking, the word ostentatious is one of those words that—by its own self-image, its audible voice and disruptive flow—clearly defines itself better than a lot of words out there. Kinda like the way namby pamby does. I prefer to think of luciferous as luxurious, or—even better—the light on the horizon.

Post-notes:

Sometimes I look for a word by figuring out its least-ambiguous opposite, and then follow the path in reverse by looking at that contrary word’s antonyms. Can you dig it?

Sometimes a word is just wrong: in its lack of flow with the sentence, in its commonplace overuse, or in its visual and audible pretense and/or presentation in general. I try not to overthink it as I wend through my elaborate word searches. But, because I’ve gotten particularly brilliant at it, words are getting easier to recognize in all the noise.

My toughest nut to crack is when I look for a word that resides somewhere in the between of two other words, which are often incomparable. Sometimes, it just isn’t there. When there are no words, as a writer, I just have to do the best I can to unpack the stuff streaming into my head via the vast portal of my imagination. I try to give the reader as much accuracy as possible without beating them over the head with it. Being given a story is a tremendous gift, and a great responsibility. It has been my honor to write this epic novel that soon will find its conclusion.

The final last word is the word that goes to the printer when your novel is published. Make it a good one. And have a luciferous day.

The Oberlin Conservatory of Music
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