Discovering the Relevance of Words
I was NOT COOL in middle school. The genetic lottery dictated that I get braces and glasses at the same time, and I was homeschooled, which meant that I had a huge vocabulary and the social awkwardness to match. It wasn’t that I was under-socialized—I had plenty of friends. They just knew I was weird and liked me anyway.
I was that girl at slumber parties, sitting in the corner, scribbling away in a notebook while everybody else was giggling and telling secrets about boys.
And really, not much has changed. Thankfully the braces are gone, the glasses are optional, and my sense of style has evolved beyond “only black all the time from head to toe.” But I’m still not good at small talk. I still hate parties because I feel like everybody is playing by some magical social code I’ve never read, and I’d still rather be sitting in the corner, scribbling away in my notebook.
Because in that notebook, I was finally cool. I finally made sense. I could finally say what I wanted to say without embarrassment, without feeling like I’d said the wrong thing and messed everything up. I filled notebook after notebook with all of my fears, insecurities, questions, and aches, until I had teased out everything that was haunting me and could finally get some sleep.
And so I learned to express myself better with a pen and a keyboard than I ever could with my voice. I learned to talk about things in my writing that I couldn’t speak about out loud. And that carried over into adulthood, and sometimes I still have to write letters to make it make sense. Sometimes I’d still rather text than call, not because I’m a lazy 21st-century hipster but because that is the only way I’ll be able to express accurately the thoughts and feelings that are colliding in my mind. Sometimes I don’t know how I feel about something until I write a poem about it.
Which is great, except when you have to have actual, real life conversations that are difficult and painful and APPARENTLY IT’S RUDE TO BREAK UP WITH PEOPLE OVER GMAIL CHAT.
So I am learning to use my voice. I am learning that sometimes, you have to do the hard work of looking someone in the eyes and telling them the truth, for better or worse.
I’m also learning that it’s okay to fumble around with my words, to not express everything perfectly every time, to speak frankly without all the mental censorship I do when I write. I’m learning that it’s okay to just be me, whoever that turns out to be. Sometimes, when I ramble on stage in between carefully crafted poems, people even laugh a little, so it’s possible that I’m actually funny.
OR maybe it’s a sympathy laugh. But it doesn’t really matter, because I’m getting better all the time.
And when I fail, well, I always have my notebooks.