A Man may make a Remark--
In itself -- a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature -- lain --
Let us deport -- with skill --
Let us discourse -- with care --
Powder exists in Charcoal --
Before it exists in Fire.
Emily Dickinson, 1864
A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
Emily Dickinson, 1872
Most of my life I have been a fairly impetuous speaker. I could blame it on the stars: Sagittarians are said to be tactless and prone to blurting out their thoughts without thinking. Or you might blame it on self-absorption: I frequently am so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I hardly stop to listen to what I am saying. Or you might say I think best when I'm talking. I tend to hold many vague ideas and beliefs in my head, swimming around lazily, coming in and out of focus, and am often unaware of them myself until a conversation leads to me voicing them. Once I am called upon to give an opinion, I realize that I have slowly been formulating the ideas all along, and they pop into sharp focus, and tumble off my lips. And the same holds true for writing. Often when I sit down to write, I have only a shadow of an idea what I want to say, but once I write a sentence or two, my fingers take over from my brain with minimal instruction and write the words I have been hiding from myself. And I often write without editing, because it often seems to me my words have taken on their own life, separate from me, and it's no good telling them what to be once they have earned their freedom from my mind.
But lately, I have more and more frequently found myself at a loss for words. When called upon to explain what I mean by an uttered statement, or asked what I am thinking or feeling, I have come up blank. Partly to blame for this silence, I think, is a new unwillingness to engage in conflict of any kind. I come from a long line of arguers, and have always held my own among them. Debate, dissent, discord: all have been part of my family's mode of communication and I have never before shirked in making my voice and my opinion heard. Almost imperceptibly, however, I have wearied of this type of exchange of ideas. A reasoned discourse is all very well, but it almost always tends to escalate and I no longer care to climb those heights.
More than a new dislike of my own discomfort at conflict is a new dislike of causing that discomfort in others. Previously I have been so eager to prove my own point that I did not much care whether the other party in the debate could be made uncomfortable. Not to say that I went around picking fights all the time, I didn't. But I never turned away from an offered argument, no matter who was offering. Now I am much more likely to allow points to go uncontested, and am more comfortable in silently holding my own opinion and allowing my adversary to believe I have been out-argued.
One final factor in my reticence, however, gives me the most pause. More and more frequently, when called upon to give voice to my thoughts, I find I cannot find the words. The stream of language I have effortlessly tapped to convey my thoughts all my life is suddenly unruly and truculent. It is as though that stream has been dammed upstream and only a trickle of the most mundane and colorless words can get through. The big question, in my mind, is the nature of that dam. The suspicion has been growing upon me, slowly but steadily, that I have something I need to express, but have not. Day by day this suspicion becomes more clear and distinct, and although I scoffed the idea when it first occurred to me, now I find myself turning it over and over in my mind. Several times I have nearly blurted it out, like the old me would have, but I have edited myself each time. What is stopping me from expressing this thought, this truth that is blocking my formerly glib words?
I am afraid. Once it is said, it cannot be unsaid.