Regarding the Synonym Lizard & the Time Bob Escaped

Writing is always a challenge. But it’s not just where we go that informs our writing style, but how we got there. Did you know, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist?

I know, I know, every little kid wants to be a paleontologist, a fireman, and an astronaut. I was so determined, though, that at the age when most kids are growing out of the dinosaur obsession, I got a job a natural history museum. Because I was All About Dinosaurs, and it had a whole room full of animatronic ones.

This was, while we’re on the subject of terrible lizards, where I met Bob the Iguana.

Reality is not a Discovery Channel documentary, though, and I soon realized that paleontology was actually the study of how to separate some rocks from other rocks very, very, very, slowly. Paleontologists are just a very specialized type of miner who move rock with dental picks instead of pick axes, and paint brushes instead of C-4. I moved on, eventually, becoming first a chemist, then a writer. For a few wonderful years in between, though, I worked in the Live Animal Husbandry Department. It was the coolest job I have ever had.

Most lizards adapt very well to captivity, and don’t run away even when they get the chance. This is because Lizard Heaven is a place with a water bowl, a warm rock, and no birds, where crickets rain from the sky. If someone put you in a box with a beer volcano and ten supermodels, you’d probably stick around, too. 

Not Bob, though. Bob was a wandering soul. And patient as a lime green specter of death, waiting for his moment to strike.

Did you know that dinosaur means, “terrible lizard”? If not, that segue in the third paragraph must have been confusing as all hell. Well, it does. And I knew it at a very young age. Definitely by age three, quite possibly younger. More to the point, I knew it long before I’d ever heard of a thesaurus.

And, well, it would be fair to say it’s colored my perceptions in its own small way.

Bob was ever-vigilant, always waiting for us to make some sort of mistake, and take off. He was hard to grab, and only more so because you didn’t really want to catch him; he had claws meant for climbing trees, and they shredded skin like so much tissue paper. I have to imagine that a number of people assumed I was a cutter as a teenager thanks to Bob. 

It was easiest just to chase him for a bit until he got tired of chase and chilled out. The only thing was you had to prevent him from getting to the (mounted) giraffe, on the other side of the museum. Well, one day, Bob got out . . . 

The consequence of this was that the first time I heard the word “thesaurus” and for some time after, I assumed it was some variation of “the lizard”. I had no idea why, mind you. It was just one of those kid things where you note something is connected, and assume that someday the connection will make sense.

I can’t, to this day, hear someone saying, “Check a thesaurus,” without imagining them consulting a particularly erudite lizard.

“Are you the Saurus?” they ask, in wonder.

“Yes,” he replies in sibilant tones, “indeed, quite, affirmative, I am.”

“Cool beans,” they say.

“Chill legumes,” he replies.

“I need another word for good,” they plead.

The Saurus smiles, and hisses, “Ah yessss: Fine, dandy, well, healthy, ssssound, tip-top–”

“No, no,” they object. “Good like Superman does.”

“I ssssee. Hmmm. Upright, righteousss, virtuouuuusssss–”

“That’s the one! Thanks!”

“You’re welcome, my pleasure . . . accttttually I can’t think of a third one. Did you happen to bring any cricketsssss?”

This time Bob was missing. People checked on top of the giraffe. Others checked in the shark room. We made sure no one had moved any of the makeshift covers on the crawlspace holes–four-to-five round access holes to the crawlspace between floors which (as far as I could ever figure) existed only to give escaping animals a concrete goal to rush for–and so on. And the women’s restrooms. It’s a Fundamental Law that all escaped reptiles will at some point visit the women’s restroom. 

He was nowhere to be found. While we sat comparing notes, the T-Rex roared, as it did whenever anyone pushed the button.

Immediately after, there came a blood curdling scream. This was also not all that unusual. Although more so since we’d replaced the motion sensor with the button (we’d gotten tired of mopping up urine puddles). This time though, came something thus far unique.

At the end of the hall, through the wide door labelled DINOSAUR ROOM came a small figure, sprinting as fast as its tiny legs could carry it. Now each of us, at some point in our life, comes upon the day when we learn true fear. This was that kid’s day. 

A voice, constricted by fear, amplified by adrenaline, screamed, “Help! The dinosaur is after me!”

“Ah,” said one of my coworkers, “we have found Bob.”

I think everyone has their synonym lizards. Not just writers, but all of us. There is a filter of experience through which information from the well of knowledge passes. Was that too purple of a metaphor? Oh well.

What I mean is that it’s not just what we know, it’s when we know it, and in what order. We all provide a slightly different context for the words we hear, the thoughts they build, and that’s where writer’s can and do derive much of what makes them great. It’s where our “voice” comes from, and it’s important for each of us to be cognizant of that fact, so that we can use effectively, and not get tripped up by it.

Either way, though, it follows us.

Sure enough, a moment later, Bob, who, as a sensible creature with a keen survival sense, knew that when you see someone running in terror, you run right behind them, as fast you can, came puffing down the hall behind him.

The kid looked back over his shoulder and screamed again. Which is, you know, a fairly reasonable reaction when a dinosaur comes to life and starts chasing you. Bob took this as a sign that the fecal matter was truly hitting the fan, and it was time to dig deep and really sprint for the safety giraffe’s head.  

What experiences, stories, and strange misunderstandings have helped you form your own unique voice? Let me know!

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4 Thoughts on “The Saurus: How Our Backgrounds Inform Our Writings”

  • I think I fell in love with WORDS too early to care if I’d misunderstood. But I will share that I knew the difference between “making up a story” —aka fiction— and making up a story, as in a lie. Discovering that some adults could not, or would not, understand that I was telling stories to entertain my friends was a terrible thing. One terrible man told me that if I didn’t “stop making up stories” a witch would visit me. And she was a terrifying witch who happened to be his mother. Needless to say I had a horrible dream that night. I think that confidence shattering confrontation and my sincere defense of fiction is always hanging in the back of my mind.

    • A good yarn has a fidelity all its own.

      I’d say you put it to good use. Actually, a witch that comes after people who tell stories could make a pretty fun Candy’s Monster novella–with the usually twist of course.

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