So, it has been a month. A lot has happened in that time. I’ve been pooped on by another bird. No surprise there. I have been visited by one of my best friends, left a semi-scandalous note for a waiter, went in the Pacific Ocean for the first time in years, submitted some professional writing, and nearly broke my ass when I sat down on the toilet without checking to see if the lid was down. Thanks, Dad. I’ve wanted to write sooner, but well, look at the exciting life I’ve led. My life could be a movie.
The truth is, words are hard.
Which might explain why my flirting strategy, breaking-the-ice strategy, and humoring-small-children strategy are all the same thing. Lame jokes. Everybody loves a lame joke. And if they don’t, they must be broken.
What do you call an alligator in a vest? | An in-vest-igator.
What do you call a dinosaur in a car accident? | Tyrannosaurus-wrecks.
Why did the police officer smell? | Because he was on…dooty.
I mean, classics, right? I may or may not rely more heavily on them than I should, but I can’t help it, they’re awesome. It may also explain a lot about my dating ability…no, I’m sure its fine.
The thing is, its more than the words that trip me up. I’ve been known to have a very questionable sense of timing. It started young. When I used to be adorable. I hesitate to use the word cherubic, but seriously, it was borderline. Little blond waves, dimples, chubby little baby arms, a slot-coin gap in my teeth, and a closet full of light-up jelly shoes. A-dorable. But, no matter how cute I was on the outside, I was still me…just smaller, and much blonder. Same timing, same mouth, less training.
I cursed for the first time when I was two. My family doesn’t remember who threw the first shovelful of sand, my brother or me, but when the skirmish was over, I was covered in sand, and pissed. I shook my tiny fist in the air and swore to my brother in an even tinier voice that I would, “slap the shit out of him!” Granny cackled and picked me up as my brother ran to my father while I licked my arm to get the sand off my tongue.
The timing issue surfaced when I was four. My parents probably should have seen it coming. I walked up the church aisle for children’s time, the heels of my shoe lighting up with each step, and took the microphone from the pastor because I wanted to sing everybody a song.
A whiskey song.
Granny cackled (again) from her pew in the back, while my mother pretended she didn’t know either us. But hey, at least I didn’t curse. And, the pastor learned to keep a firmer grip on the microphone.
Not a lot has changed for me really. My shoes don’t light up when I walk anymore, and it’s been awhile since I was in church – but I still curse and sing whiskey songs with terrible timing. And, while I don’t have much of a filter between brain and mouth, I’m learning to try.
Because no matter how much fun I have making mistakes with words, or accidently inventing new ones – words are hard for a reason. They are powerful. The more words we learn, the more we realize how much.
We all know the words we aren’t meant to say. Words that belittle and discriminate, that carry a history of hate, that misrepresent beautifully original men and women into being something less than. We know these words, even if we wish we didn’t.
When I was twenty, I started losing words. The first to a small girl in India. She was curled up in my lap, her head leaned into my neck as her tiny arms hugged my shoulders. I rubbed her back, half to comfort her, and half to wipe off the ants crawling on her shirt. My fingers bumped over each of her ribs; I’d forgotten we had twelve until I felt hers. One of the other volunteers gave us the girls’ lunch to feed them, the grains of rice in the bowl were as easy to count as her ribs. She wiped my tears while she ate, and I wondered if she could count them. My first lost words, “I’m starving.”
We live in a world where it is becoming increasingly important to take care with our words – because situations are becoming increasingly difficult.
What do we say when a man who has stood for so much hate dies?
What do we say to a little girl kicked out of school for acting like a little boy?
What do we say to the families of those who are lost? What do we say to those who find themselves feeling lost?
What do we say to a young man denied proper housing because he’s not enough like the other young men?
What do we say? What do I say?
There have been a lot of words said the last several weeks as our world deals with these questions – and some of them have been beautiful, and moving, and impassioned, and heart-breaking.
And some have not.
Because, words are hard. Finding the right words at the right time, harder. We worry about saying the wrong thing. We worry about being judged, or being offensive. So we learn that sometimes, it is best to say nothing. But, we also know what can happen when too many people say nothing.
It is why I try to be careful with my words.
It is why I try to be careless with my words.
It is why I talk about sex, and breasts, and squat bathrooms. About sexuality, fear, failure, and doubt. Why I try to be funny, and serious. Why I try to be open, and honest, and unafraid to talk about the things that matter to me. And why I try to listen when others have things to share, even when I don’t know how to hear them. Because the words we use to define ourselves, our choices, and each other matter.
Our words can make us feel courageous.
Like when I said, “I love you.” Maybe I told him because of the way it felt when his stubble scratched my cheek, or how his arm was warm around my stomach. It could have been for no reason at all, but I’m glad I did. Though I don’t love him anymore, I love the version of me brave enough to tell him – and the version of him whose arm wrapped around me. And when I lay my own arm over my stomach at night, I love that I still feel giddy as my stomach warms.
Our words can make us feel cowardly.
Like the words I haven’t told her yet, and maybe never will. The words I didn’t even realize I wanted to say. There is so much risk in saying the wrong thing. If I say something, everything could fall apart. If I say something, everything could fall together. If I say something. And I may, one day.
And it can be worth waiting. Worth taking the time to find the right words – or the courage to be willing say the wrong ones. We never know the difference we can make with our words.
Who knows, maybe it is the lame jokes that will save the world one day.
Why do milking stools only have three legs? | Because the cow has the udder.
Why shouldn’t you write with a broken pencil? | Because there is no point.