I had honestly thought about starting this blog for months. The reason I did not? I could not think of the right title. I still do not particularly love the title I settled upon, but I realized that had I waited to establish the blog until the perfect heading came to me, I would never begin. Why are titles so important? Why did such a seemingly small, trivial detail cause me such pause?
Admit it: we all do it, right? When you scan the new arrivals at the library, you pick up the most interesting titles to determine whether or not the work deserves the investment of several days or weeks of your time. A book called Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream or Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both? Yes, please. Nitrate Pollution and Politics: Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Netherlands? Not so much. We jump first to the most eye-catching, scandalous heading of the newspaper each day, to the outrageous video titles on YouTube, and to the entree "vanilla and black pepper pork loin with roasted apples and celery root, served over a bed of crispy Near East mashed potatoes" rather than "pot roast." Names matter. We judge in an instant. First impressions are everything.
But when I am well ensconced in the latest work of sensationalist journalism or digging into the vanilla-spiked roasted vegetables, I often find myself thinking, Is this all? I load such expectations onto these enticing titles that I am not certain my criteria could ever be met. The problem with titles is that they are reductive, mere glimpses. A concise phrase or string of words cannot fully capture or even give proper introduction to something which is so much more. This is why academic dissertation titles stretch on for paragraphs; doctoral candidates desperately strive to squeeze their every illuminating thought into the span of a few--or, let's be honest, a few dozen words. The menu description misses the caramelized notes which arise from the pork loin contacting the hot oil in the skillet; the chick lit novel claiming to explain southern husbands' inability to put down the toilet seat also explores struggles with infertility and deep regrets.
A title effectively defines and circumscribes my work; it sets limits on what I will and will not provide; what my offering can and cannot accomplish. The infinite possibilities that presented themselves become increasingly fewer with each word I write or spice I add or scene I include. And yet I impose the ultimate limit when I name something: the title is more than an additional layer or an unexpected component in the mixture of a whole. It stands alone and somehow must be good enough.
But the title never delivers.