Friday, July 10

Words Fail

I am not sure how to explain what has happened the last couple of days. I have been struggling to write here. It's not about time. I've had time. I haven't even been willing to begin.

I would love to say, I have thought of saying, that I haven't had words, I haven't been able to coalesce my meandering into collections of letters and spaces. But that isn't really true. I've had a hundred phrases, and nearly as many opening sentences. Still, they have not found their way to this space, this screen.

I am only just beginning to figure this out. So I am being patient with myself as I write, and I hope you will be similarly patient as you read. We'll figure it out somehow.

I think what I want to say--because if there's anything I know for sure, it's that I'm not sure--is that I am beginning to understand my attraction to visual art over writing (at least in a historical sense). Because it is odd to have as your primary tool something that limits your expression by its very use. In this case, of course, I'm talking about words.

The reason I have not written down even one of those openings is that the minute that I write it down, it's wrong. Not wrong, like judgment, but wrong like not what i mean. Words, words themselves, really the sole medium of this craft, feel as if they are intrinsically limiting. Worse yet, in many cases, words are braggarts, showing off their solidity as if they know what they mean, and so should we. But I don't. Do you?

So I've been thinking about what is behind this phase, this place. And, ironically, I think it came from a comment that I got, or maybe even a couple of comments. If you are one of the people who left them, I fear that you are going to think that I took them wrong. Please trust that I didn't, I don't take them wrong. It is that I am discovering that I am uncomfortable being named, and that revelation has led me into wondering if I am uncomfortable with all naming, which, in the end, means discomfort with words themselves.

I am a writer. It was in the comments. I wrote a response asking why it is so hard to identify as such. And that was the end of words.

It came in being led, once again, to the words and writing of Mary Daly, and her insistence that words be altered to more accurately reflect a unique frame of mind. I remember listening to her read at Mama Bear's bookstore in Oakland, hearing for the first time a new language, a refusal to use words as if we all know what they mean.

It came in identifying my blog as a "women's" blog or a "feminist" blog, neither of which I doubt, but somehow once I named it as such, I felt limited and restrained, as if I can no longer write about cupcakes, which I fully intend to do. And in that restraint--you guessed it--nothing. No words.

You know the old routine. You go to a party, or you meet someone new, and they ask "What do you do?". Some of us hate that, some of us don't mind, some of us don't really care--but they ask and they will continue to ask, so there it is. I have never had an answer to that question. I notice that other people do. I am a lawyer. I am a teacher. I am a doctor. I am in retail. I am a social worker. I am a mom. I build houses. I am an accountant. People have answers. I have never had an answer. I stumble around, I try to describe what I do for my work, for my life. And in the end, after making myself and the other uncomfortable trying to fish around for words and descriptions that fit, I usually give up, and change the subject. Because, really, what do I say?

Do I say I'm an artist? When I do, people ask me what medium, and then I'm stuck again.

Do I say I'm a writer? No. I don't. I am a writer. But that's not what I "do".

Do I say I'm a consultant? Now there's a word that doesn't mean anything at all. A few weeks ago, I met a woman and we exchanged small talk. We discovered that we both work from home, we are both "consultants". She introduced herself as a computer consultant. I nodded. I introduced myself as a child development consultant. She looked confused and laughed a little and asked what that could be. See?

Do I say I don't do anything, that I prefer being to doing? Yeah, I could. But it's not exactly well suited for small talk at the PTA dinner.

And then there's the thing about what sort of blog this is. What I write about. People ask me that too (not to mention the nearly constant requirement to "label" blogs when they are submitted for inclusion in blogrolls or other sites.) People want to know what kind of blog, they ask "what kind of things do you write about?" I don't have an answer for that either. Not because I don't know--I do. But because the minute I answer, there is something lost. There is a piece of me, of my writing, of my experience, that is made invisible by that descriptor. I am reluctant to offer up a word that introduces limitations, in any form.

I suppose it is true as well for visual art, too. One is bound by the limitations and properties of oil paint, for example, or by wood, or clay. I think the difference is that, at least in my experience, there is rarely an assumption by the viewer that they know precisely the artist's ideas, their intentions, what they are "saying". In writing, people think they know. When I write the word "feminism", people think they know what I mean--or they use their own definitions as they read. If I sculpt feminism, people will gaze, they will wonder, they will circle, they will be confused, they will walk right past, they will ask me about it, ask me about my intentions, about the piece, often in an open-ended way. While the medium may limit the sculpture, the product stands on its own, subject to a potentially less arrogant interpretation. Few would tell me I used the wrong brush stroke, that that brush stroke didn't communicate clearly what I was trying to say. Not so in writing. We think we know. We all know what I mean when I write "women". No. We don't.

Let's just say I don't care for that.

And yet words are what we have.

Collections of words and spaces. Such a poor approximation of sensation.

And that, my friends, is where I've been.

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