About is the most mysterious preposition.
When you put the prepositions in alphabetical order, About comes first, but in evolutionary terms, surely it comes much later, as surely tools came first, the word for tools much later.
From and To are the Alpha and the Omega. They are not the beginning and end of history. They are the definition of eternity.
About is like orientation. It faces something else, but in that it deceives. It links, thus defines. So, in addition, it confines.
About lets us wrap our minds around something, but in doing so it draws a circle, cornering “it.” No place to run. To say something is about something else is to lie. In this way, it is more than a facing; it is an effacing. Once you “about” it with words, “it” is there on the page and not here in the soul, where it resides, forever and ever, preposition without end, amen.
What’s it about?
About is not always definitive or shapely. One can get tossed “about” the waves, which means tossed here and there, from there to here, from here to there. Yet we don’t say she ran “about.” She ran around. She got around. That’s what we say. She ran amuck. She ran down. She ran away. She will never be cornered. Prepositions will never be cornered. Second cousins of directions, they always have somewhere to go, something else they ought to be on with, and soon.
Around must be a circle, because the word “round” is in the word, in a root of the word, somewhere in the past, or down in the ground, which coincidentally is where we go when we are passed. There are no corners in a circle; About likes to corner but would surely get cagey and aggressive if she found herself backed into one. We say she spun around, we don’t say she spun about, though I don’t see why not, because she just as easily, just as truly, could have been said to have spun about. She spun about him, not around him physically, but internally, she spun about him like a long, hard corkscrew, digging deeper and deeper, around and around him, cranking harder with each revolution, into the porous earth, until she ended up in China, where she was no longer cornered. Then she was running around the Great Wall, peeking over the sides, looking for her brother in the snow. It is always something.
She might have run away, or run on about the ground and said a prayer for rain. She might have run out, like a wind-up toy with its limited turns of energy, were it not for Among and Across, twin lighthouses, her keepers, her unfathomably abundant inheritance. Sometimes About fancied herself between those two, twin compasses, light as a feather, stiff as a board, letting them trace the circle and making it just, but that didn’t quite let her off the hook, because About is not concerning the shape, the circle itself, but rather what elements it. She cannot help herself, that About. She is simply endlessly curious.
All prepositions have a dangling motion. An ellipsis follows them always. Alone, they are frustratingly, enduringly incomplete, like a child’s death.
About’s not so distant relatives:
Against is closer to About than she would like to admit. Against is often what props About up. About would be aghast if she knew I said this. In fact, About is most definitely a man, with all its concern with barbells, definition, strength and orientation, with its Garmin and Wikipedia. About wants to define and orient in purely positive terms, while Against says, “Not on my watch. In me you will find your partial definition.” About doesn’t like partial anything, or for that matter, looking for things outside itself. Sometimes About likes to fancy himself For, but Against says, “Don’t kid yourself,” and then About does an about-face.
A screw is an inclined plane. It leads up or down, depending on if you like to trudge or slide, try or let go. You screw from the top, but not always. There are screwtops; then there are screwtapes.
For Canadians, About is a boot, perhaps drawn up at the end of a hook, from dark and vestigial waters. A-boot has sea gunk dangling on it, because it is a preposition that has never been allowed to dangle for too long a time, except in the minds of the philosophers and the saints, and neither are very popular at pool parties. Poets reject About entirely (but this doesn’t make them any more popular at pool parties).
Somehow, About always ends up submerged, replaced too quickly by Because, or worse, Is, or worst of all, overshadowed by Next. Next is About’s older sibling, the most popular and never merciful. Next always wants to chicken fight and somehow About always ends up in a full nelson under the water. Luckily, About has gills, not to mention gall. So what’s About about? Can we judge him by the company he keeps?
Beyond is cheap and cheesy, while About is all about here and now. Beside is too clingy. Besides is a nitpicker. With sounds nice, but About has never met her. After is of no concern. About has never believed it existed. If there is one thing About doesn’t believe, it is After.
Except and But are About’s enemies. They are always the fine print, which About finds tiring, troublesome. About is bothered by the fact that he will never be either complete or exhaustive, not in this universe, not in this life anyway. (Against says, “Get used to it.”)
About is scared of Through and Throughout. He feels so simple and literal-minded in their presence. About has mediocre vision, though he hates to admit it. In and Into can help him with that. In is a pair of glasses. About dons them readily. He wants to see what’s in things. Into is a door, an invitation. About thinks he will pass.
One cannot be going into the shit. One can only find oneself in the shit, because you do not know, nor can you pretend to know, the shit before you are in it. Once again, there is no after the shit. It will stay with you, inside you, in you or within you, just like the Kingdom of God.
About remains alone until she finds herself Among and reaches Across, or until she reaches Across and finds herself Among. It can come about in different ways.
In any case, I am glad you are here. I promise you will not be given the boot, but you might have to fish one out.