I used to be obsessed with words. One favorite was dusky. I’d picture it describing a hallway of your home. Imagine waking up from a nap to a dark blue room. You turn your head to the window, but the sun has left. And where is the moon? A clock ticks from an indiscriminate location. Your body rises and moves into the hallway, blankly stepping across the carpet. Dusky is that hallway.
Even today, that word wants to be somewhere. I never found a good place for it, whether on its own or before a noun. For example, a dusky run — warm legs, gentle sweat, and quiet panting in a cold October morning’s air, but specifically amidst a recent fallout with someone who affected you more than you would’ve thought. Dusky. Maybe the word is more of a mood, or a certain time of day, or simply a reminder that at the very least it makes me feel something, and that I still have something in me that wants to convey what I feel.
Other words drift away. When, for various motives and reasons, I began a journey of unwinding the constructs of my Christian faith, words like “Dear God” to start a prayer and song lyrics such as “I just want to be where you [referring to God] are” would quietly astound me. I’d stand at church unable to sing along or even mouth the words. What does it mean to be where God is? Isn’t God omnipresent? Where is God? I’d stare at the efforts of people on stage, their eyes and voices full of longing. G, o, d. G… o… d. Omni… present. Words can become so overused to the point of becoming abstractions.
When I used to blog a lot, those were the sort of words I profusely employed. It slightly unnerves me to recall how unabashedly I shared online my broody, introspective thoughts about literally anything, especially when those thoughts used the very words that astound me now. I still believe I had (and have) an emotional and spiritual relationship to what those words represent. It’s just that words form language, language creates narratives, and narratives cohere mysterious concepts. Words make sense of it all. When mysteries demand new cohesions, however, or a breaking down of cohesion itself, you search for new iterations. You need new words.
That is where I am now. I want new words. I am a snake shedding very old skin, wanting to writhe in a funky new one. Yet, old words that drifted away float back to me. Not because the words themselves are so important, but because, like dusky, what they attempt to describe continues to stir up something, makes me feel something I can’t quite locate. Even to say that I “feel something” gets it wrong. “How astonishing it is that language can almost mean, / and frightening that it does not quite” (Jack Gilbert, “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart”). I wish I could give these words a place, stick them where they aptly explain, once and for all, the mysteries they signify, but the bigger point is that the mysteries behind them don’t want a place. Perhaps this is what God meant by replying “I am who I am” when Moses in the Bible asked God what he should call God. God is what God is. To encapsulate God/him/her/them/that at all is limiting to the very nature of God.
So when I was awakened to all the rote and at many times harmful constructs surrounding what is a highly personal, mystical, and at the core inexplicable connection I felt with a great force, presence, and love named “God,” I was not only discontented by all hints of man-made narratives but the very act of narrative-making itself. This also meant resisting it over my own life by resisting introspection, because introspection requires words and words make narratives. Naturally, along with a simple desire to not be so vulnerable online anymore, I couldn’t get myself to write even if I wanted to.
At the same time, words seem to be a part of human nature. If this post were a conversation in real life, I would love to discuss, with some expert on Greek philosophy, about the notion of “Word” (logos in Greek) and its relation to God, and what this ancient metaphor could say about the nature of not just God and people but the relationship between God and people. But for now I just refer to recent Bon Iver lyrics: “Content to the phrases / That at dawn, we ain’t mazes / Just some kind of pages” (“Faith” — an awesome song by the way). As crucial as it is to deconstruct both social and personal narratives and the phrases that buttress them, especially when they work to suppress others or yourself, we need narratives. We are content to the phrases. I mean, look at all the books that have ever been written (not to mention all the bloggers who have ever blogged on platforms like this). Maybe we ourselves are stories, we ourselves just some kind of pages.
It’s been maybe one and a half years since I’ve written this introspectively, making narratives of myself. I’m still on that probably never-ending journey of unwinding the excess constructs around faith and of the world at large, but I think I have now accepted that narrative-making itself is not inherently bad. Without the narratives, I am detached at best, antagonistic-nihilist at worst. The former is nice, but virtually impossible to maintain, and often fuels that resistance to introspection by telling me that voicing myself in an already crowded sea of people screaming to be heard as true and smart, is ultimately meaningless.
All that to say, I want to be more confident with my voice again, not because what I have to say is the shit or because I want to be the loudest voice in the sea, but because to form stories and to share them are perhaps in themselves acts of being human, and no one should be ashamed to embrace that. Learning to navigate the channel between blind, pompous certainty and silent, timid detachment, I just hope that whatever I say — whether on personal matter like this or the academic stuff I study — is better than not saying anything at all.