I had a revelation the other day. And it took place in, of all places, my bathroom.
Imagine the scene…There I was in a hot, steaming bath, frothy with bubbles and squeezing a squeaking yellow rubber duck that belonged to my flatmate Amanda, all the while happily singing a show stopping, but admittedly off-key rendition of Barry White’s ‘You’re My First, My Last, My Everything’.
There is something about the comfort and sanctuary of lying in a tub of hot scented water, the steam fogging the bathroom and the world’s worries put on hold for a while. (Though I have to admit I stopped taking baths for a couple of years after watching Michelle Pfeiffer in ‘What Lies Beneath’.)
Anyway, in a bath, the muscles loosen up and the body relaxes. All is blissful. Bubbly. Comforting. And funny things happen to the brain. It begins opening up neural paths that are usually shut down for permanent repairs and maintenance. Must be the heat or something. Not surprisingly, the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes came up with the theory for buoyancy while he was soaking in the bath.
And that afternoon, in my bath, I had my Archimedes moment. One moment I was crooning, ‘My kind of wonderful, that’s what you are…I know, there’s only…only one like you…There’s no way they could have made two…’ and the next, it occurred to me – completely out of the blue – that I had a favourite word.
Out of all the hundreds of thousands of words I knew, I realized that there was one word that I loved above all. A word that, like a bowl of laksa, made me happy and forced my facial muscles into a smile.
“Celebration?” my flatmate Saffy said later that night at our dining table. “Why is that your favourite word?”
“It makes me happy,” I said. “Celebration. See, I’m smiling!”
“That’s a nice word,” our other flatmate Amanda said as she speared her pasta. “I actually think it reflects your personality.”
I was pleased. “Really? You think I have a celebratory personality?”
“Well, you wouldn’t know it when you wake up in the morning,” Amanda mused, “but I think there’s something to this. Hmm, I wonder what mine is. Let me think about it in the bath. I hope you cleaned up after yourself,” she added as she got up from the table and disappeared into our bathroom.
“What’s my favourite word?” Saffy wondered to the world at large. “Stupid? I use ‘stupid’ a lot. Dumb-ass? Is that two words? Does that qualify? Crap! Ooh, ‘crap’! Maybe that’s my favourite word? But it’s not very glamourous, is it?”
When Amanda eventually emerged from the bathroom, dense steam billowing out before her as she emerged like Tina Turner at a concert, she had narrowed her list to two candidates. “I’m thinking it’s a toss-up between Chanel and Dior!” she said dreamily. “I always get such a warm fuzzy feeling when I utter those names.”
“Ooh, that’s so you, Manda!” Saffy cooed. “My turn in the bathroom!”
The subject of our favourite words fully occupied our attention for days after. And to her eternal distress, despite taking multiple baths, Saffy was unable to come up with a meaningful selection. “All the words on my list are hateful words!” she complained, her impressive bosom trembling with self-loathing. “Strangle. Pain. Diet. Spit. I love the sound of them, but I mean, these are not words that I think should reflect my personality, do you? How come you get to pick ‘celebration’? It’s so unfair!” she moaned.
“Bitch!” said my friend Barney Chen immediately when I asked him for his favourite word.
I coughed into my coffee. “That’s your favourite word?”
“Yes,” Barney said firmly, shifting his muscled bulk on the chair and winking at the cute Toast waiter. “It’s very moi.”
“Uh huh, interesting.”
“Mine, hah?” My office manager Sharyn pursed her lips and concentrated. “My favourite word. Doh-no, leh! How about ‘Increment’? Oh, no, no! I like ‘Bonus’!” You could practically see the capitals glowing in the air.
“Sleep,” said my friend Karl, whose wife has just given birth to twins. “It’s definitely ‘sleep’.”
And Amanda was right. The emotional beam of the words that my friends chose as their favourite bounced off their personalities, shining a bright light through the polite, public façade – to uncover what lay beneath. With one word, a tiny capsule of compressed images of that person spun off into the world.
Meanwhile, Saffy continues to struggle with her selection. “I like the sound of ‘thin’,” she said worriedly this morning. “What do you think that means? I think I need another bath!” she decided and wandered off mumbling. “Fat? Food? How about food? Ooh, I hate this game! Or things related to food…Cheese! No…”