‘I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world…’
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Song of Myself
When I’m really paying attention these days, I see my oldest girl taken over by ideas on a near constant basis. Molding little clay figures for a little film she wants to make. Or chopping up pillowcases to sew them together into a new dress for herself. Or bellowing through the halls of our house the new lyrics to a song she’s so proud to have written. Her pieces are rugged and raw, not polished or ready to perform. But she doesn’t care. She gladly sings them; openly shares them.
I recognize that frenetic energy in her. I had it once. As a child, I sat at the piano, banging out songs of my own. As a teen, I picked and strummed songs on my guitar. And, when my older girls were little I was so inspired to share about our days that I’d furiously scribble out colorful vignettes- bursting to tell the world how in love I was with life, with them. What I had to say felt rugged and raw, not polished and ready to perform. I didn’t care. I said it anyway. I gladly wrote it; openly shared it.
But somewhere in the years that followed, I lost my voice. As my family began to grow, it became hard in a more complicated season of my life to capture my more complicated feelings.
I was overwhelmed sometimes but I didn’t want to be dramatic or alarmist. I felt overjoyed sometimes but I didn’t want to be disingenuous about those darker moments, those harder days. The best way I know to describe it is this: I was growing in and out of myself too quickly and nothing felt true anymore. So I stopped talking, stopped writing. I stuffed down my thoughts and feelings, and buried them deep beneath the surface of my daily thoughts. And in time, I’d sit staring blankly at the page or at a face across from me wondering if it was worth it to try to extract the artifacts of my thoughts or just keep it surface level which was so, so much easier. It’s so much time and effort to dig, unearth, dust off and present who you really are to those you love. Was what lay beneath even worth the effort?
In one of my favorite books, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close there are a series of somewhat unconventional illustrations. In one section, there’s a cluster of blank pages to flip through. In another, there are so many indiscernible words overlapping on the page, there’s no way for the reader to possibly read or comprehend them. In a lecture I attended with the author, he says it was his way of communicating that the more he writes, the less he feels he can even get to the bottom of any one thought or feeling inside of himself. There is just something in each one of us that is untranslatable.
Calling out to the bottom of a long abandoned well and hoping there’s a voice that echos back up feels frightening and lonely. But, staying numb and distant to your own thoughts, your very identity has greater costs. This is my voice. Or at least how I listen for it. This is how deep calls out to deep.
I think of the etchings on an old tree, or the messages scrawled across every public bathroom stall, or the layers of gum that line the alleyway at Pike’s Place market. I think of marked gravestones and monuments raised high for the living and the dead in every city you could travel to all around the world. And I know…there’s only one thing any one of us needs the world to know. It’s all I ever really want anyone I love to know.
was am here.