Worm Journalism

The other day, when walking down the sidewalk, I happened across some folded pieces of paper stuck on the curb, fluttering in the breeze. My curiosity got the best of me, so I proceeded to pick them up. The lot of them was no bigger than the palm of my hand, and although the print was miniscule, I had no problem reading it with unaided eyes.

The papers were folded in half from bottom to top, like a book, a sharp crease holding the pages in order, and then folded in half again perpendicularly, suggesting someone had folded them on his or her own accord, and not in the same manner as the one who put them together.

It was plain to see, judging from the photos and text, that this was a worms’ newspaper. Having never read one before, I was at first taken with the similarities to our own newspapers, but then understood that this was a foolish assumption – why wouldn’t what’s important in worms’ lives be reported, organized, and distributed in the same manner?

I made another quickly-corrected observation regarding the worms’ manner of writing. They used an alphabet that was exactly like an alphabet one would think would be utilized by worms – the words and characters were billowy and curvy, looping and grandiose in their arches. It also possessed an aesthetic quality similar to that of writing with a stick in a pool of oil – somewhat streaky in parts but retaining a delicate and ephemeral beauty. Though I was unschooled in the language of the worms, I found that I could read what they were communicating with no difficulty. The pictures accentuated the text instead of helping to define it for me or guide me through it. The newspaper was the current day’s issue, and I read it to see what was occurring under my feet.

Like most bulletins aimed at community awareness, the inside of the front page contained information and public service announcements concerning the dwellings of communities of worms – where humans were going to be building new buildings, where various works were going to be taking place, and other similarly important goings-on. At the top of this page, there was a list of generic help-tips for relocating one’s community (for example, how much depth one should allow for the basement and supports of a human structure, how to keep track of belongings on the go, etc.), which, judging by the tone, all seemed to be common knowledge, but, just like warning or instructional labels are put on the most basic of items, these tips were always printed for quick reference or reassurance.

There was an article (which I assumed to be the day’s installment of an ongoing series) about worldwide worm varieties of chewing and processing food, my word ‘chewing’ being an approximation of what I assumed to be the equivalent action in humans. I postulated (and still feel comfortable with my theory) that this was part of a series because of the relevance of the information; it seemed that information as revolutionary as suggesting changes to what must be timeless methods of eating (to the worms of this area, at least) or even reporting that other methods actually exist wouldn’t be presented as nonchalant as it was here – one would probably have to be gradually introduced to such an idea to pay it any mind. The article did detail eating backwards, but like humans, I would think (again, merely an assumption) that the masses aren’t keen to change their evolutionarily refined functionality. Then again, maybe the article is simply a recipe, and my interpretation of the cries for readers to realign their eating habits is reading too much into the author’s intention, as eating the opposite way may simply award different taste sensations than those that come from eating forward.

In the Opinion section, I saw a reprint of what was evidently a rude cartoon the paper had previously published, apparently reprinted to refresh the reader’s memory because it was surrounded by numerous letters of complaint and an apology by the newspaper’s publisher for exhibiting such crudity. Unfortunately, its meaning, or at least the deeper meanings that one could only understand through a familiarity with worms’ customs and mores, was a bit over my head, as I wasn’t quite sure as to why the cartoon was so rude or why its apparent crassness warranted so many demands for apology.

A number of things struck me upon reading the apology and the readers’ angry letters: 1) as was mentioned before, I could only appreciate the cartoon superficially, but I still thought the drawing of a smiling worm with its tail in its mouth with the caption “Looks like he’s got his mouth full!” printed below was funny. Perhaps this is some sort of taboo act for the worms; if this is the case and even a cartoon of its practice is outrageous, it makes the newspaper’s decision to print it again instead of just the apologies and unhappy letters-to-the-editor hilarious in itself. 2) Thus, I felt that showing the offending article again right next to an apology for it shone a different light on what the newspaper’s ostensibly apologetic intentions may have been – was the cartoon printed alongside the apologies as a deliberate mockery to those offended? Was it a sly dig at how they took offense? And 3), whatever the occasion may be, I still marveled at the fluidity and hypnotic beauty of the writing-in-oil appearance of their alphabet. Visually, it reminded me so much of oil that little streams of the viscous liquid seemed to dance through the folds and creases in my brain, leaving a little trail of residue so that I would remember what I had read and keep appreciating the language after the fact. I could see this particular ink leaping like squirts from a mechanized inkwell onto the paper; this, of course, wasn’t likely the manner by which the newspaper was printed, but the playful nature of the vision complemented my enjoyment of the language.

The emotion wasn’t just apparent in the language used but in the physical way it was written as well. The anger of the offended letters caused the writing to lean towards the right, be a bit neater, and have an almost imperceptible sharpness to its curves, as opposed to different emotions which affected different degrees and directions of slanting – the writing of a well-wishing birthday notice and an ad announcing a big sale leaned to the left and was a bit looser in the way that the angry emotions were a bit tighter. The straight-forward tone of articles whose purpose was to report the news utilized a natural, vertical, essentially neutral posture, and the cartoon’s caption was totally erratic, with larger, loopier curves on some of its words and compact, clean, cutting curves on a another. The line of the caption itself sloped fifteen degrees down and to the right, which, coupled with the writing, suggested the laughter with which one told it or the uncontrollable, joyously anxious urge to see the recipient laugh.

There were a few other complexities to the writing which I couldn’t really translate into an equivalent example of human speech. The “voice” used in advertisements and in wanted ads, for example, was entirely specific to selling or looking for something. I can’t think of a way to explain how these ways of expression work other than by saying that these subtleties are exhibited similar to, when asking a question, the voice raises its pitch at the end of the interrogative sentence. This isn’t to say that this is the only or the most difficult element of expression – the worms’ written language seems to have its own “voice” for every occasion, so much so that despite understanding what I was reading, I couldn’t figure out why things that I perceived to be more or less similar in intent needed some different curvature than another.

Reading on, I was struck by the relatively detached emotions exhibited by the Obituaries. The list of recently deceased was extremely long, and didn’t contain any information about their lives, accomplishments, and families like one would expect to find in humans’ newspaper obituaries. After a few pangs of sadness, I realized what was likely the case: I theorized that although their capacity for and outpouring of grief was no less than our own, the sheer magnitude of the dead logistically prevented even the most brief individual biography, and as to not award favor to one worm or another, nobody was allowed them. I also ruminated over the length of the obituary section – was it always this long, or was it due to the recent rains? What were they like during the winter? What about the onset of spring, because of the rain and fishing season? The weeks when schools dissected worms? What was the chance of a worm surviving to die a natural death?

My curiosity to know the answers to these questions was great, but I also understood that the small glimpse I had into the worms’ waking lives was tremendously pleasurable and educational. I could leave them the dignity of their death and spare any intrusion into what was probably just as solemn an occasion for them as it was for us. How the newspaper got to the surface was anyone’s guess, and whether they intended a human to read it and relish its advice, laugh at its comics, or peruse its advertisements demands further rumination. Anything that awards such a sense of innocent delight and the appreciation of something previously unknown probably wouldn’t anger whoever left their newspaper behind, even if it did fall into unintended hands. As such, I set the paper back down a few paces from where I had found it (for this was all I managed to walk while reading), though I buried in a bit more mud than before in hopes that someone below would have a use for it. And, I must admit in my selfishness, I buried it in an attempt to keep the discoveries I had been privy to as my own, for having a passerby diluting my the worms and their newspaper’s majesty by scoffing at what I had found so enthralling, or another using what he thought were mere scraps of trash to wipe off his shoe would certainly be an unwanted and unfitting end to my experience.

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