Why are you trying to speak?

Saturday October 16th, 2010

I teach writing, and one of the first questions I ask my students every semester is, who are you writing for? The answer, 9 times out of 10, is that they write for themselves. I tell them that I understand — that I go home every night, make an elaborate cake and eat it all by myself. By which I mean that cakes, and books, are meant to be presented to others. And further, that books (unlike cakes) are deep, elaborate interactions between writers and readers, albeit separated by time and space.

I remind them, as well, that no one wants to read their stories. There are a lot of other stories out there, and by now, in the 21st century, there’s been such an accumulation of literature that few of us will live long enough to read all the great stories and novels, never mind the pretty good ones. Not to mention the fact that we, as readers, are busy. –Michael Cummingham, NYTimes (emphasis mine)

This morning I pointed to a picture of a train and a very patient, amused little girl smiled as I repeated “kah”.  She laughed as I mixed “Se” and “Si”, duck and sheep respectively I believe- maybe one of those was elephant.  Jyo is rabbit, and as I proudly pointed to Clifford and repeated “quey”, one of the older girls, maybe 10 or 11 just raised an eyebrow, gave a half smile, and walked away.

Later, in fluent, barely accented English, she asked “Why are you trying to speak?”

She didn’t ask “why are you trying to speak my language”.

She asked me why I was talking at all.

Monday October 18th

Two days later, that question is still running through my mind and instead of kindly organizing itself into semi- coherency, the ability to answer at all seems to have escaped out the back passenger side window.

(My car’s old.  With no power windows, getting out and manually rolling it back up is the only option.  If you, ok, I, choose to do that after reaching the destination, those vents better be blowing out a whole lot of hot air in the meantime, which incidentally happens quite often in a figurative sense at least).


To say that I wanted to learn her language so that one day we could hold a normal conversation that didn’t include charades would be a flat out lie.   I was doing that at that moment, quite unexpectedly.   I knew full well that it would take more than the names of six or seven animals, and the words for purse, shoes, teddy bear and everyone to have a normal conversation.  I’ve studied Spanish for long enough to know that I don’t have the time or will or need to ever communicate verbally, unless she comes to me speaking my language.


Why am I trying to speak? Good question.  At this point, the best answer I can come up with is that sometimes it’s easier to start from the beginning.  Make mistakes in a safe place where it’s expected and allowed.  Where mixing up se and si will leave no real consequences.

I’m finding my voice– in front of people, but hidden behind the mask of permitted  incompetence, where I am limited by my resources and separated from my critics by time and immeasurable space.

I’m not fluent in Spanish, so I often find it easier to explain something in a language where pauses and stumbling over words is expected and acceptable.

I’m not a writer, but I’m starting to realize that I do not write this for myself.  Journals, at one time, were for me so that I could bury myself into something, anything, so that I did not appear alone, unproductive and in turn useless.

These posts are burnt brownies and I made them to share.  Ya gotta start somewhere.


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