Note: Started writing this February 2020, finished it September 2020 because I didn’t know where I was going with it. I guess I just kinda went with it.
Even though I’ve grown up with many languages and several cultures, I’ve always seem to run out of words. As a little one, I thought I was incapable of feeling. Everyone else around me seemed so adequate with describing sensations and inner thoughts but I thought myself a freak for not pinpointing to an exact word that described an emotion on a moment’s notice. The truth was, I had the emotions but lacked the words. Looking back, I was told many times not to cry, shout, or laugh on many different occasions. Words couldn’t save me while I was taught that emotional expressions weren’t proper. My tongue was lost, my limbs were bound, my heart never finished building a ladder to my head.
But I remember always loving stories. Language arts was my favorite subject stemming from my Korean elementary school days and continued to be through all my schooling days in different cultures. Reading was easy. Empathizing at black scribbles on white pages felt easier than processing my own world of unprocessable disconnect between my heart and head. I laughed at merry details, cried for losses, shrieked at horrors, and gasped at surprises.
If reading was a dear friend, writing felt like a monster. Life was much easier when my stakes depended on a single language. My little Korean self reveled at the phrases I could incorporate into my diaries from recent reads. Then Chinese creeped and English rampaged in. There was a time I thought only those capable of all three languages were worth my heart. Code switching was a necessity. Needing to write beautifully only in one language was a task only Shakespeare could handle. No words in a language was tantamount to the crises I had to face as a confused teenager treading through growth spurts and heartaches. Writing tasks were hateful. Reflections only escalated to sleepless nights. Relentless voices falsely confirmed that I was a dramatic attention seeker.
Then somewhere, people named my pains. “You’re a verbal processor” a wise woman once pointed out. It clicked. Precious words and feelings exist for my heart to draw lines to my head. It’s not a ladder with a single direction. Sometimes they look like jet planes, most often they look like a badly built paper plane. It’s not a ready built ladder. The distance from my heart to my head cannot be bridged but only travelled.
Then another named my pain. “I am a four” was a conclusion I landed on after a few weeks of intense podcast listening and gobbling up books about the enneagram. I’m still not sure if I landed on a landmine or solid ground. Something clicked, yet the discoveries were devastatingly useful and haunting. I still dare to trot these paths of self-awareness.
“Call everything by its right name” is a quote I appreciated from the film Into the Wild. No spoilers but naming things plays a crucial part at the end of this film. Naming my heart-head distances, linguistic lacunas, and inner wirings, is going to be a life-long work.
As I look back on my childhood meltdowns and teenage distress, I can see myself more and more with compassion. I’m never going to master it. That’s nothing to despair about, but to give myself a chance every day to bask in hope and faith. Love is not a currency that runs out; nor is it a self-reliant source. Every waking moment, I dare to keep my complexities awake.