the absence of words

Everyone I’ve talked to recently who has been to the Grand Canyon says the same thing: “I can’t find the words to describe it.” Well, neither can I, so for now I’m not going to try. With the exception of business travel to Philadelphia, Charlotte and New York, my travel experience is limited to mission trips to the Dominican Republic and to the Gulf coast following hurricane Katrina. Vacation has always meant “beach” or “mountains”, both of which are abundant here in North Carolina. The first time I went to Santo Domingo I knew, immediately, that I would be coming back. I’d like to say that I know I’ll be going back to Arizona. I can say that my brain is already busy thinking about different ways to accomplish a return trip.

But, my brain is busier thinking about something else. Before we left I was journaling one morning and I noticed that it was becoming increasingly difficult to put words together. I think it started in earnest during the spring when I was involved in the Walking in this World class. Call it whatever: writer’s block, pressure, performance anxiety…or probably something more like just plain old apathy. Doesn’t matter; the end result is that I can’t find words.

I lied just now. I can find them just fine. What I can’t do is express them. A very strange thing happened when I was a working girl in the early 90’s. March was the traditional month for performance reviews and merit increases based on job performance for the previous year. I happened to go out on maternity leave in early January one year and returned in early March, just in time for my performance review for the previous year, which had been a doozy. We were redesigning an entire system and during that previous year I had learned new system, new programming languages, new techniques, you name it. One of those new languages was learned on the fly when the author of a big chunck of code went out on, you guessed it, maternity leave, earlier than anticipated. We were in system test. I walked into work on a Monday morning to find a hard copy of her program (all 200,000 lines of it) and a pile of system test error reports, and a note that said something like “Have fun!” And I did. Learned Algol on the fly, corrected the errors, made changes, kept my own programs up to date, yak yak yak, survived the holidays and then had a baby.

Then March came, I went back to work and immediately had a performance review that went something like this: “You did a great job last year, but your salary raise will be delayed for 8 weeks.” Funny thing, I was just out on maternity for 8 weeks. The review continued: “I know it looks like we’re delaying your raise because you were out on maternity the first two months of this year, but we aren’t.” I had to ask. “So, why are you delaying it?” The answer was: “Well, it’s NOT because you were out on maternity. And it’s NOT because of any problem with your performance during the past year, because you did a great job.” Huh? “So what you’re saying is that my raise is being delayed because I did a great job and the delay has nothing to do w/ my maternity leave which just happens to have been the same duration as the delay in my raise, right?” Right.

Kinda hard to argue with that logic. There aren’t words. Here’s another, much less complicated example. Suppose someone hits your thumb with a hammer. Hard. And then that someone says to you, “I know you think that your thumb hurts because I hit it with a hammer, but it doesn’t. Not only does it not hurt because I hit it, in reality it actually doesn’t hurt you at all. You just think it does.” Could have fooled me. Oh, and that bruise looks pretty darned real to me too, but that’s just an optical illusion created by sunlight reflecting on the swamp gas hovering above my hand.

Did I even have a point to this?

Emotions. Feelings. They are what they are. Sometimes they hurt and sometimes they feel pretty darned good. Sometimes the logic behind them doesn’t make any sense. But to say that someone isn’t feeling a particular emotion when it’s obvious that they are is a lie. Don’t tell me that I’m not feeling what I’m feeling, even if what I’m feeling makes no logical sense to you or to me. I may understand in my head that what I’m feeling doesn’t make any sense. And I can take steps to adjust my emotional reactions to whatever so that they are more in tune with the logic of the situation.

But for the moment, if something hurts, please don’t tell me that it really doesn’t. I know it probably won’t hurt as much tomorrow, or next week. But it hurts today.

There’s a list of things going on right now. Some are good, some are not so good. Some are scary, some are exciting. I’ve used writing, journaling, in the past to work through a lot of stuff and I need to do it now. But I can’t find the words. I think I have them and then when I read them back to myself I hear other voices saying things like “you can’t feel that way” or “you shouldn’t feel that way” or “you know your whole reaction to that is wrong” or my personal favorite: “Nobody would ever feel that way about what you’re experiencing so there must be something wrong with you.” I love that one.

I’m still not sure I had a point. Or maybe I did. There’s so much that needs to be said, about the trip, about getting the kids ready for college and high school and the added responsibilites that both of them are facing, about facing mid-life and mapping out the next path in life, about my personal successes or (probably more noteworthy) failures in dealing with any of this stuff. I think I have a handle on something, have some words wrapped around it that make sense. But then I hear myself thinking that my words might be misunderstood or might make someone angry or confused or whatever and it becomes so much more about making sure I don’t cross anyone else’s boundaries, real or perceived.

The end result is that I file the words away and say nothing.

No, it really doesn’t hurt.

Remember Yosemite Sam, when he inherited a million dollars and Bugs Bunny came to see if he was worty of receiving it? All Sam had to do was hold his temper in check because, if he lost his temper, he lost some of his inheritance. It took Bugs doing varous painful things to Sam through the entire cartoon, but finally Sam got his temper under control and, no matter what crappy thing happened to him, he just laughed and said “I like it!” Unfortunately it cost him the entire inheritance to get to that point. The things Bugs did to Sam were painful, but Sam wasn’t allowed to say “ouch!” or fight back. So he clammed up, smiled and said “hurt me again, it’s ok.”

Kind of like that.

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2 responses to “the absence of words

  1. Ho. Ly. Cow. You hit the nail on the head. I’m sure our details differ, but, but, but…

    Well, just “thank you” for writing that all out. Really.

  2. I’m so sorry. This: “Nobody would ever feel that way about what you’re experiencing so there must be something wrong with you.”

    Well, whether there is or is not something wrong with you is so subjective I can’t even begin to touch on it. I tend to believe there’s no such thing as ‘wrong with you’ unless we’re talking about me and in that case, there’s a world of things wrong with me ; )

    Feelings though, feelings are feelings are feelings and there’s nothing to be done about them except….

    Wait for it….

    Feel them.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to be trite about it because what you experience is anything but. However, I stand by that statement.

    And you know what CG says about people pleasing paranoia…

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