Or: A Fictional Conversation.
It’s been a while. It’s always been a while. I’m rolling through articles in the New Yorker, trying to avoid political nonsense–because politics these days are absolute nonsense, dangerous nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless–and trying to not remember the bitterness cascading through my veins like the melting ice on this all too warm afternoon. I’ve slept in today and I feel as a mess, like the crushed wrapping paper that was once in our trash. I head over to my phone and text my friend, Ludwig. (He doesn’t like texting. Something about not hearing someone’s voice or seeing their face.)
So, we meet at the usual spot on Main Street, me with a decaf Americano and him with a regular drip brew. He raises a brow at me and I can tell the agitation–with life, with friends, with everything–is clear across my face. But, more so, I am mourning still, mourning what was once a life and what was once my life. It’s not so much to do with my uncle-in-law, but there’s a part of that and a part of another loss, something tangential, something related and also not. I am so swirling in my thoughts that Ludwig has to cough to get my attention. I haven’t said a word.
“The thing is is that no one understands.”
“Elementary.” He taps a finger to the table. “Try again.”
A feel a rush of shame and my shoulders slump, but there is a softness in his wizened countenance and I relax instead of wallow in self-pity.
“My misery comes from being misunderstood, from lacking… sympathy.”
“You mean empathy.”
“Something like that.”
I tell him of the terrible issues that have culminated like an avalanche since the beginning of December, though perhaps stemming from before that. They are all one-sided, of course, concoctions of a voice that works better on paper than it does in conversation. I have, indeed, spent most of my life with my words being expressed solely on paper rather than with other people. Yet, there is a fundamental issue that is at stake and I try to coax it from the abstract in my mind to the vocalized substantial. This is difficult, but not impossible. Thankfully, Ludwig is enormously patient with me, a factor that not many other of my friends are with me.
Or, rather, I only allow this sort of vulnerability with him, to allow myself to take the chance to express myself. For language cannot exist in a vacuum and my private language is not a private language at all. It is merely conversations that I express only with a select few. Words that I select to choose with only those I wish to let in to my inner world. The language of that world is the world itself.
To this, Ludwig only nods along and something dawns upon me as I confess about a certain dinner with friends that left a bad taste in my mouth. (Of course, not from the meal itself). It started with that and snowballed from there. I stop myself from repeating the whole sordid affair and look from Ludwig’s elbow patches to his angular nose and the tired eyes. It has been a rough year for all of us.
“I allowed myself to delude myself in words that weren’t true. I suppose all of the world has done this. Except I am angry, not because I was misled, but because I allowed myself to believe in something that was obviously not possible.”
I sigh and Ludwig glances to the street, wet as it is from rain. It shouldn’t be raining in New England in December. The issue, I tell him, is that I was not listening. No one was. All the signs were there, weren’t they?
Ludwig says I should spend time listening to myself and to try to speak instead of allowing others to take my words, my language, from me. If there is nothing else, our voices cannot be washed away if we only lay claim to them. The world is defined by our languages, how we communicate with one another. Language is defined by its use and so do we define our victories and our failures by the words we use.
Who said that? I do not know, because I am so engrossed in the abstractness of it all. No more thoughts of profit or loss or intellectual property. No thoughts of dollar signs or who claims what. I am my own person and no one can claim what my mind can create. Only I know myself as well as I want to be known. Only I can dictate how I am perceived. We end the afternoon talking about language trees and the hilariousness of how the Internet has changed the way people communicate.
I point him towards a Canadian linguist that I admire from afar. Ludwig laughs a little and claims that he can not be impressed so easily. I laugh, too.
We part and life goes on, though I feel much better than I had before.