So how does this romancing work? Let’s start with a word, such as, say, “black,” which I happen to be and yet which, objectively, I clearly am not–more like a deep brown (honey brown?), certainly not light brown but not that cast iron skillet black that my brothers and I used to call “blue-black” when we saw someone of that shade (or at that point does it become so absolute that it reaches beyond shading into the realm of utter darkness? Are there shades of black or does it simply cease to become black once gradations enter the mix?). Anyway, I’m BLACK and I’m not black. I’m definitely colored (not be confused with the Spanish “colorado”) since everyone is, with the exception of an albino, but I’m way less African American than, say, Dave Matthews, who was born in Johannesburg. So every time I use the word “black” I can call it out to play, and it, in turn, asks me questions about how I’m using it–and why–that can get me thinking about just who I am, if I allow those thoughts to rise to the surface.
Now, anyone who has been in a romance knows that it has the same effect, if you do it right. If you want to have a romance, you had better know who you are and what you’re about, because if not you’re going to find out, or you’re not going to be in a real romance for very long. Because that other person whom you think, at the beginning, is Really Just Like Me turns out to be very different but kind of not which forces you to ask, “Well, how are we alike, because s/he seemed just like me at the beginning?”
I sometimes, because I enjoy words and because I’m odd that way, play a game called “Words in a Word” where I take a word—purple, let’s say—and I see what other words I can come up with using only the letters in that word: up, pup, pep, purl, pulp, perp, rep, url, you get the idea. This treats the title of the game literally. You can do the same thing figuratively, though, and that gets much more interesting when you mine not the letters from a word but the resonances. So from that exploration of purple you get words like “royal” or “lavish” or “ostentatious” or “Prince” (as in the singer formerly and now once again known as). If I use the word purple, depending on the words I put around it, these other words may echo it. I don’t even have to say them; they just hover in the reader’s mind (or in my mind) and the word I’m using becomes something else.
Language, like Romance, is always a problem. You think you know what’s going on; you think you know what you’re getting yourself into. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, you find yourself committed to something you didn’t anticipate, and both the way forward and the way back are ten kinds of complicated.