I finally did it. Boiled Utah County down to one word--a feat I've been working on for the past two plus years since I moved here from Hawaii.
I got the idea from Eat, Pray, Love. Elizabeth Gilbert is sitting in an outdoor cafe in Rome with a guy named Giulio. He asks her how she likes the city, and she tells him she likes it fine, but she can tell she doesn't belong. When she explains why he says, "Maybe you and Rome just have different words."
According to Giulio, every city has a different word that defines it and identifies most of the people living there. Says he, "If you could read people's thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought." Whatever the majority thinks is the word of the city.
New York's word is ACHIEVE, Los Angeles is SUCCEED, Stockholm is CONFORM, and Naples is FIGHT.
Now cover your ears because Rome's word is SEX. Every person in Rome is thinking about sex, all day, every day (except at the Vatican where the word is POWER). This is why Gilbert doesn't feel comfortable there, because sex is not her word. If your own personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don't really belong there.
When Gilbert tries to define herself with one word, she realizes that our personal words shift and change as we shift and change.
I think she might be on to something. When I was a poor black child growing up in the ghettos of Provo, where we had to walk to school uphill, both ways, in the snow, my word was POWERLESS. I couldn't control my father's drug addiction or his endless battle with Hemophilia, or the fact that I got dropped off at school every day in a station wagon held together with duct tape. But then I went away and growed up and now I am back in Utah after 20 years with a different word. I would like to say that word is EMPOWERED, but life don't shake down that tidy. And anyway, my word is one step beyond EMPOWERED.
My word is WHATEVAH.
This is probably why I felt so at home in Hawaii. You might think everyone in Hawaii is walking around thinking ALOHA, but actually they're thinking WHATEVAH.
This is also probably why, although I love living in Utah, and I know this is the place, I don't feel like this is my place. Maybe because we have different words. The collective word for Utah County is IMPROVE. Everyone is walking around thinking IMPROVE, IMPROVE, IMPROVE, and not just their shining moments, if you get my drift.
Some of you might have thought the word would be STRESS since Utah got voted the most stressed state in the union last year. It makes sense if you think about it because it's stressful to constantly IMPROVE, especially when you are trying to IMPROVE faster than your neighbor. You try topping yourself every year, not to mention everybody else around you. In Utah last years good, better and best is this years gooder, betterer and bester.
If you think about it, the word STRESS is a natural by-product of the word IMPROVE. You get me?
And the people aren't the only ones thinking about improvement. Right now the word on the streets is UNDER-CONSTRUCTION, which is another natural by-product of IMPROVE. Nearly every street and freeway in Utah County is getting a face lift. It's like all of Utah County is a character in a Judy Blume book. The whole county is thinking, "We must, we must, we must increase our bust. And our trust. But not our lust. Or our dust. We must decrease our lust and our dust."
Once again, if you think about it, the desire to increase your bust and your trust, and decrease your lust and your dust is also a natural by-product of IMPROVE.
I have to admit that after hearing that church lady tell my former young woman that her voice wasn't appropriate for church I was tempted to change the collective word to CENSOR. Maybe everyone is walking around thinking CENSOR, CENSOR, CENSOR. If so, it's working. When that girl opened her mouth again, she was suddenly restrained and contained, as if she was trying to stay within the lines of her chalk body outline.
But then if you think about it, the word CENSOR is also a by-product of the word IMPROVE . .