words as gifts

I am just steps away from incoherent right now — I spent several hours today writing for other people — a piece for E and a very epic and thought-intense email — and I feel almost wordless now, a shadow of my usually verbose self. Each sentence hurts my head now. But this draining writing, this writing for others, was remarkable enough to, well, remark upon.

For several years now I have guarded my writing with fierce reclusiveness, generally viewing it as something wholly private — decadent, in a way self-indulgent, completely mine. I write selfishly; I barely even write letters or emails anymore. Blogging is just a way of record keeping: I don’t even try for eloquence most of the time. This is throwaway writing — my real writing is fully and only mine, so close to me that I have no perspective and don’t particularly want it.

Too often I forget just how powerful words are.

Tuesday I met E’s new boyfriend, an ordeal which I had built up as terrifying — E is one of my best friends, very central to my life, and she is so very much in love that it would be awful if he and I didn’t like each other. It was mostly okay even though I was hazy and awkward, so distant from reality that afterwards I promptly retreated to Faulkner for comfort without even bothering to plan what I’d say to E when she inevitably asked for my thoughts on the boyfriend. When she sat me down for a debriefing today I was blank. “Give me an hour to make a list,” I said. “I’ll know what I think of him after I write. You know I never know what I think until I write it down.”

I had homework to do, but I was happy to ignore it in favour of the list — a list which quickly turned into a narrative of the meeting in list form. By my fourth section I realized in my analysis of the meeting what I had somehow failed to notice before: that E wanted terribly for the boyfriend and I to like each other, that my thoughts on him and his on me actually mattered to her, that she had been just as nervous as I was throughout the encounter, and that what I wrote had potential to either wound or make happy. That was when I decided that I wouldn’t bother with my usual stumbling and rambling verbal summary of what I’d written. I’d just give her this list, which I had begun with the usual intention to keep for myself as I always do, as a private extension of my mind and memory. It would be a gift. I thought carefully about my words, I tried to be at once kind and honest. It was quickly written, with sloppy handwriting and misspelled words, a rambling fourteen paragraph points long, vacillating between attempts at self-deprecating wit and extrapolated insight into his character and their relationship. It was easy to write. I didn’t have to fictionalize my impressions; luckily, very luckily, I liked him. I would have liked him even if I’d hated him just for the way he looked at her — I knew instinctively (and to a certain extent I trust my instincts for people) that he would be good to her.

Because I did not give myself a chance to reread it more than once, because I didn’t get a chance to pick it apart and begin to despise it, I allow myself to think that at points it was funny, that I did manage to distill something essential about him from my nebulous and fright-tinged memory, that, at times, it reached successfully towards a higher level.

We met on the bridge above the thin creek that bisects my school. I handed it to her without saying anything. “Read it to me,” she demanded, but I shook my head and lit a cigarette. I never read out loud what I have written. I watched her face in my peripheral vision as she read, feeling as rabbit-hearted as I had when I met her boyfriend, my nervousness not calming until she laughed for the first time. By the end she was wet-eyed. “This is so you,” she said. “And so him. I’m so lucky, so, so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life.”

When I tore it from my notebook and gave it to her she held it carefully, as if it was something delicate and precious. I was dizzy and stunned at her reaction even though I’d had a sense when I was writing it that it was good despite its roughness. For all that I love and obsess over words, sometime in the past few years I forgot that mine can matter.

It’s odd to be reminded.


~ by Not Alice on September 21, 2007.

2 Responses to “words as gifts”

  1. This is beautiful…

  2. I would like to have read the list.
    Although, after reading a few entries on your blog, I’m certain that it was interesting and funny.

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