Unlearning Silence

When I speak I censor myself. But when I don’t speak, I censor myself more.

I’m careful with my words. They sit in an antechamber in my brain, waiting to be examined before I let them out my mouth. Sometimes I succeed in the illusion of sounding natural. But speech is never natural. It is practiced. Is this what I mean to say? Will this be read the way I intend? How can I be more clear? English is the only language I know well. But I am constantly translating between my English and everybody else’s. It’s taxing. So sometimes I don’t bother. I can’t miscommunicate if I don’t open my mouth.

Or, even more often, I struggle to grab the breaks in conversation. I see them. They are as obvious to me as anyone else. But person B chimes in when person A is done. A comes in after B. They are passing a ball back and forth and I fail to receive it. I’m caught in a game of monkey-in-the-middle that only I can see. I signal to speak. Taking in an audible breath of air, gesturing like I just got an idea, starting in with an ‘um’… But Person B is faster. I don’t know what they are doing that I’m not. But I never get the ball. If I want to speak I must steal it. Talk over B until they relinquish. Look like a jerk. But my choices are “interrupting” or silence. Often I choose silence.

When I force myself to speak, it feels like a rebellion. A war that takes place in casual conversation – each contribution, an act of defiance.

Those are two reasons, but there are more. I censor myself because I am embarrassed. My memory haunts me with decades of faux pas – times I misinterpreted a simple question, gesture, or request. I take questions too literally and overshare. It wasn’t until high school I realized I didn’t have to actually answer “How are you?” And until halfway through college, in a linguistics class, I finally realized, that no, I wasn’t as fluent in English as I thought I was. I have a deficit in implied meaning of speech. I don’t even know how to begin to explain what kind of revelation that was. All those years, I thought I was understanding people and I was off-base.

But there is another type of faux pa as well. I am weird. My likes and dislikes, my interests, my desires, are different than other people’s. Sometimes I err just by being me. If, by chance, I interpret a question correctly, I’m not home-free. I can still draw ridicule because my answer is weird. If you ask me about clothing, hair, nails, dieting, accessories… you are likely to get a weird answer. I just don’t have the answers you are expecting to those questions. Dating and crushes opens a can of worms I’ll be collecting the rest of my life.

Your innocuous questions aren’t innocuous to me. They are a minefield. And it doesn’t help that I have trouble with lying. So I smile and nod and let you pretend my answer would be the kind you are expecting.

I have learnt silence.

And I am trying so hard to unlearn it. When I force myself to speak, it feels like a rebellion. A war that takes place in casual conversation – each contribution, an act of defiance.

I never want for words. I have a sea of them in the antechamber of my mind, but I am my own jailer. I am not in the habit of letting myself out.

This battle has multiple fronts. Speech is one. Writing, another. You talk to me about writers block. I have a different sort. I never want for words. I have a sea of them in the antechamber of my mind, but I am my own jailer. I am not in the habit of letting myself out.

Even typing them does not assure victory. How many times have I written a lengthy response to a message, only to tap delete and walk away? How many posts do I have sitting unpublished? Because I think of my own counterargument. Because I will be misinterpreted. Because I am weird.

And when I don’t censor myself, I am my own critic. In the post about Greta, I curse. Why did I curse? It makes me sound crude, angry. I was neither. Merely frustrated, annoyed. My tone was imperfect and I wish I’d said nothing. It takes all my willpower not to tear it down.

People are happier with decisions when they are final. Writing is never final. It can always be retracted. Edited. Erased.

I must choose between silence and imperfection. I’m trying really hard to choose imperfection.

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