Children have this irritating habit of telling the truth. We are, at this age, still somewhat primal. We are genuine beings, and the idea of tempering our tongue has not registered with us yet. In fact, for all of our early years, “You must tell the truth!” was imprinted in our brain's neural pathways. Our mothers and grandmothers drilled it so deep into our consciousness, it broke through to our very subconscious. We children are so excited by life, we know nothing of decorum. Our truth telling builds confidence and character; yet, it also leads us to dangerous places. Like the boy who boldly walked naked into his parent's dinner party and declared, “I have a penis!” Our the girl who jumped up into her grandfather's lap and said, “Your breath stinks!” After a few embarrassing situations, our parents adjust course and begin teaching us restraint. We learn we must govern not only our choice of words, but there time and place of delivery as well. Some people learn it brilliantly. These amazing verbalists can, in an instant, say an appropriate insightful comment or refrain from mentioning a hurtful or offensive one. They accomplish this with grace and ease. I marvel at them, for I am not such a person. My words must be thought over and edited with caution before I speak. If not, the worst could happen. My gift of gab was somehow corrupted. I open my mouth, regardless of the thought in my head, and what comes out is—well—adverse. My mind's teleprompter reads, “Hey! How are you? You look nice today!” My mouth translates this into, “Sporting that corporate look, today. Have an interview?” This was, obviously, not my thought or intention. It is, however, what I once said. My sentiment was complimentary, but my words were insensitive. A subtle insult without the gentle underbelly of subtly. Painfully, I have dealt with this sort of ill-chosen-word-demon my entire adult life. My daily conversations and greetings are, shamefully, incongruous. Anything which requires me to vocalize my thoughts is subject to the perverse contortions of my mental translator.
As a boy, one of my infuriating habits was not to talk. Even when my father yelled at me, I refused to respond. “Why did you do such and such?” he would demand. I would just stare at him. My younger brother would have to beg our mother to force me to speak with him. Most of the time, I just did not want to be disturbed. With my dad, perhaps, I knew discussion was futile because punishment was inevitable. I have no defense really. My not speaking seems to have had the opposite effect of what happens when most children do speak. They say the wrong thing, and their parents instruct them on its incorrectness. They, therefore, learn to communicate politely and appropriately. I did not speak, so, I had less corrective teachings; hence, I did not learn to speak politely and appropriately. When I finally did give into speaking regularly, I failed to notice how disrespectful my words were. It literally was years, before I realized how many times I had offended others. In almost all cases, offense or slight was not my intent. I could not understand why, until I realized what I thought I was saying was not what I was saying. Seeing I had no natural talent for diplomacy, I forced myself to be more aware of my daily speech.
Since, I have acted in plays, taught a class or two and spoken in front of different groups. These activities are not so difficult, as long as you plan and prepare. Public speaking has helped my conversation to evolve into a less atrocious ordeal by helping me to stay focused. Unfortunately, this is not always easy. For most of my neural activity is predominantly centered elsewhere. I can be doing one thing, while my mind is in several other places. It will stay there, until my inner radar reminds me I need be social. Pulling me away, however, proves difficult for I need my far away places. My sense of balance needs it. My writing craves it. What tends to happen is I speak before I completely leave this state. In so doing, I might say anything. It is likened to talking from a dream, where all your thoughts and images are simultaneously darting to and fro. You reach for meaning, only what you get is not a logical string of words but a jumbled mouthful of perception—or misperception. For me to communicate well, I must keep my topics straightforward and specific. This, like any medicine you may take, has its side effects. It can make me seem more different than I actually am: guarded, aloof or distant—possibly even strange and crass. This personal reformation of mine—this learning to integrate my various strata into an authentic representation of self—is an ongoing project.
Luckily, my writing seems to act as a form of therapy. If I have been constant in my writing efforts, I tend to have greater control over my spoken words. The practice helps me smooth out most of my misshapen phrases. Still the other place calls. Even with the work, it is nearly impossible to slow down the thoughts which bombard my mind. Nor do I want to, I suppose. Hiding behind altered meaning may mean something more than a broken tongue. It could be a mechanism for me to cope with the exposure caused by writing, thinking and sharing in the world. Maybe my awkward phrases are a metaphorical growl to remind myself, as much as the world, “I am alive!” So what happens to all the true sentiments left unsaid? Where do they go? Do they disappear? Have I lost the opportunity ever to say them again? Most do not matter in the context of mine and my listener's life. For the ones which do matter, I wish I could send rewrites of what I said. “Here's a better version, replace the old one with this one. Have a good memory of that time.” Well, no Undo, Redo, Overwrite or Stop button exists in the physical world. To those painful memories, I can only apologize for not saying what I meant to say, and strive to communicate better next time. And to my future conversationalists, should I seem uncommonly quiet, please forgive me. I have either mentally disappeared or chosen—for the good of us both—not to speak.