Secret Things

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m thinking a lot about words today.  Not any specific words, but rather language and it’s meaning.  I am not a paid writer, but I am a writer nonetheless and so words are my trade.  And yet, I feel so inadequate.  I joke that I’m third-generation Swedish, and that’s why I don’t speak well.  I grew up in the middle of Minnesota, just miles away from where my great-grandparents first settled from Norway and Sweden.  My grandparents spoke Norwegian and Swedish.  My dad knows a handful of phrases.  I know even fewer.  We have a modest vocabulary, and I’ve inherited that as well.  I want to write my book.  The story is in my head.  I see the movie playing.  Language is one of my greatest loves, and yet I am frustrated by my weak command of it.

I suppose I’m thinking about language and words because, in the long-distance relationship I was in, words were all we had for months at a time.  How many thousands of words we spoke to each other every night, and yet, so much was left hidden.  How much of ourselves we shared, and yet there are still secrets.  Knowing someone is to listen to their history, but also to experience them.  In the aftermath, I’ve spent hours on the phone with friends and family explaining how it ended, how it began and everything in between.  But still, I feel like it is not enough to show you the truth.

Writers often hear the now debated dogma, “Show, don’t tell.”  This is all I heard in college.  It is better to describe your characters in action, than to tell the reader what is actually happening.  Don’t say the girl is sad.  Say that her pillowcase is stained with mascara from the tears she has cried.  Is this true in life too?  Do actions really speak louder than words?  St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel.  And if necessary, use words.”  I clutch his wisdom close to my heart.

I’m not sure what I mean to say about all of this, only that it is what I’ve been pondering today, and for years.  And this, after all, is a blog.  I’m not publishing an essay here.

I will leave you with yet another poem I wrote in college.  Lately, I seem to be unearthing old poems and I’m tempted to apologize for it, but I won’t.  This is inspired by a poem of Emily Dickinson’s, one of my favorite poets.

My thoughts don’t have words everyday.
I speak to myself like a dumb American in Paris
Plainly, dumbly, and irritatingly.
I get by speaking like an infant
Perhaps my thoughts do have words everyday
I just don’t know them.
They are of other tongues.
Just an extranjero en los Estados Unidos
and I say, Ash suprantu Lietuvishkai,
bet nekalbu.
I understand, but I don’t speak.  I can’t speak.
Frustration comes with that semi-understanding
of the Peruvian dishwashers and Mexican cooks.
Never enough words of my own to tell, to show you, me.

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