Friday, April 1, 2011

When words fail

Words without thoughts never to heaven go. ~ William Shakespeare

One story my mother loves to tell is that I didn't walk until I was close to my 2nd birthday. I did, however, speak well before my 1st. She laughs that I was like a minute carrot, roots stuck firmly into the ground, issuing orders, telling funny tales and making pronouncements. Like a Baby Buddha, I simply sat and spoke. And spoke. And spoke. The power is speech seems to be one with which I was born. The words flowed out, even before I really understood what I was doing.

Speaking became a bit of a problem. My mouth, once fully engaged, never quite learned how (or when) to shut. "Motor Mouth", "Blabber Mouth" and "Gabby" were the epithets my cousins named me. I couldn't keep a secret to save my life. I spoke without an internal censor. I spoke without thinking first how my words would effect others. Words filled my head and immediately found their way onto my tongue. My mother and grandmother, in both frustration and with hope, encouraged me to write what I was thinking, rather than allow my intricate, internal monologue to keep those around me abreast of every idea. It was a great plan. I wrote a prolific amount. My mother and grandmother, both lovers of the arts, helped me "publish" my little books and many of them survive to this day. Writing gave me a way to get out all those ideas, each of those thoughts and every bit of my concepts out of me, without boring the daylights of my family. It also, I'm sure, kept me from embarrassing them further. I was a massive, undulating volcano erupting dramatic stories. These, I learned, didn't have to be told. They could simply be written.

Slowly, I learned what it was okay to say, and what it was better to write. I still put my foot into my mouth a great deal. I still reddened the faces of my parents, when I declared things to others that were best left private. But, for the most part, I learned the valuable lesson of subtlety. I also learned that, when I felt bottled up inside, ready to explode with a torrent of conversation, sometimes it was a wiser plan to scribble in my journal than to loose the canon of my mouth. Additionally, I learned the valuable lesson that journaling taught me; when I wrote how I was feeling, what I was doing or the stories in my head, I could learn from them. Those words remained with me, rather than flowing away forever. I could go back over them, read them, scan them, devour them. I could edit....sometimes profoundly editing my feelings, along with my words. I ascertained that I could write letters that never would be sent....just to get those emotions, that threatened to detonate my spirit, out by writing them down. My writing became a source of inspiration, a private cell for confession and a  medium of self-therapy.

It came as a great surprise to me, and a source of severe discontent, when I found myself unable to write recently. The words, once a white capped, endless ocean, became a dry riverbed, desolate and forgotten. The cancer robbed me of the gift (and curse) of my power of speech. When I was in Arizona recently, while walking around my mother's beautiful desert home, I took a good long look at one of the arroyos nearby. It had every indication that it once held a bountiful current. The lines in the sand were echoes of the water that had flowed freely, leaving behind large rocks and tiny pebbles in its wake. I thought, "I'm that arroyo. I once held water. There are a few nuggets left behind. But, other than that, I can feel where the rushing waters used to course. I can hear the distant reverberation from where the words used to spring. But, now, it's silent and still."

With a bit of regret, and a great deal of grief, I walked back up to the house, missing my words all the more. My words were my comfort. They were my own form of living water within. Without them, I felt unmoored and adrift. I felt fear rising in my throat, with no outlet...either spoken or written. I was once riding a raft over a plethora of ideas, concepts, contentions and conversations, and I now felt stranded, unable to convey the smallest prattle. I felt trapped in silence, and stranded there in the desert. When I tried to write, what came out was infantile, boring, meaningless, confusing and simply unfinished.

I'm beginning to see the tiny trickle of a new stream...the genesis of a brook. I am hopeful that it will expand, stretching out its banks and moving forward. The words, once caught in my throat, are beginning to venture out. In the meantime, I'm learning the value of silence...both of my pen and of my voice. It's been a challenging lesson. Stillness isn't an easy concept for me. My monkey mind usually loves those jumping movements from thought to thought. Yet, I haven't had a choice. My illness and recovery have taken my words from me, and forced me into an internal communication exile. But it's okay. I have faith the estuary of ideas will return. I can hear its stirring. In the meantime, I can also learn to value its absence. Quiet of mind and pen can be beautiful too.

1 comment:

mwasser said...

Beautiful post Ellen. I know your spring is eternal and this post shows the ice is melting and your voice is coming through! Looking forward to seeing you later this month! I assume our standing plans will hold. xox, marcia