I Speak, But I Don’t Hear All The Words

October 3, 2012 § Leave a comment


When I was about fourteen or fifteen, I wrote a story and showed it to my grandmother. I had shown her a few other pieces, a privilege I’d never extended to my parents. My grandmother enjoyed writing poems and often hinted at a lengthy memoir she was always in the middle of, one we’d be allowed to read only when she wasn’t around to write anymore. So I trusted her with my own work. She rarely had anything to say, other than that she could feel the passion behind my words. “And that’s what’s most important,” she’d say with a nod.

I can’t remember the specifics of the story, only that it involved a group of friends trying out a rope swing at the town lake, a rite of passage for soon-to-be high schoolers. The moment I remember most vividly is when the main character, suspended above the water, wishes to stay up in the sky wrapped in the faint glow of stars, but is forced to fall back down to earth, sinking into the rushing water that obscures the view from above.

I showed my grandmother this particular story on a lazy summer day in Cape Cod, out on her porch overlooking a garden filled with rusted leprechauns and a tall fence draped with ivy. Grandma had got me settled with a glass of Lipton ice tea, as was custom, and then delved right in. I pretended to be absorbed in a little bird hopping across newly laid grass seed.

My grandmother read and then nodded, read and nodded. She paused a moment at the end, and just as I was starting to get a little nervous, she looked up and asked me, “Why are you always alone?”

The words struck me dumb. For only a second I didn’t understand her meaning. The main character wanders alone throughout the story, hanging with a group of friends but still somewhat detached, one step removed. This wasn’t made blatant, but it was nevertheless felt.

“I don’t know,” I said. My grandmother frowned, nodded again, told me it was good, and offered me some more tea.

Looking back, I’m amazed at how something that was still undetected by my conscious mind-my lingering depression from childhood, my sense of detachment from others-seeped through into my writing. Powerful feelings lurked beneath those words, feelings that strengthened my story, made them more than just a fourteen year old girl’s ramblings about her friends and a trip to the lake. While a part of me understood these feelings, another did not. Even today I finish writing something, motivated by some unexplained feeling, and only half comprehend what I’ve tried to convey. Half because clearly some part of me understands what my conscious mind can only guess.

I guess we authors aren’t as in control as we’d like to think.

Take a look back at earlier works you’ve written; what do you see now that you didn’t see when you first wrote it? What feelings does it seem to communicate, and what feelings does it stir now? What were your original intentions writing the piece? What might have been other intentions?

Because they might not be what you think.


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