bee-stung tongue

I’ve been MIA for the past few months – but I promise it has been for a good reason. If not for a good reason, then it’s been for a reason I can’t necessarily divulge/qualify. At least not yet. I’m working on something that’ll do just that but I can’t promise when that’ll see the light of day.

I was considering whether or not I wanted my comeback post to be a poetry dump (because if there’s one thing I’ve been writing a lot of, it’s poetry) but I figured that would be a cop-out, and disingenuous to say the least. That said, if you ARE interested in reading things I should have written and subsequently burnt at 16, my instagram is where it’s at. Poetry has been incredibly cathartic for me over the past few weeks – the act of creating something beautiful out of moments of intense darkness and self-destruction is almost life-affirming in a way that can be difficult to do otherwise. But I miss writing prosaically so, well, here goes nothing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I use words recently. I’ve mentioned before that sometimes I get extremely self-conscious about how I speak, how my accent comes off, whether I sound…literate. And a lot of that is the product of perverse, internalized notions of literacy itself; as if to be literate you need to be perfectly fluent in English. But even aside from the accent aspect, language can be hard when you’re at least bilingual. You fumble your words all the time, and fumble them even more because you’re so self-conscious about how you’re being perceived – suddenly, you’re more foreign than you were before you started talking and if you’re like me and involved in public speaking, that can be incredibly stressful. I’m always worried my professors, peers and competition will underestimate me or expect less of me because they think I can’t grasp English as well as native speakers.

And then the hypocrisy of it all…it shouldn’t matter how well you speak English. It doesn’t, shouldn’t, affect how intelligent people think you are. Then why is it that I feel a treacherous tingle of pleasure at the top of my spine when someone says, “You’re very eloquent for a non-native speaker” or “Wait, you aren’t American?” That shouldn’t validate my intelligence. It shouldn’t speak to my worth as a student. But it does, and I’m still trying to unpack that from my psyche.

I recognize that as someone who operates within the realm of public speech, articulation is a large part of what I do. As a writer and a speaker, I operate almost entirely within the realm of words and that is where I’m most comfortable. But sometimes your tongue is so laden with all the ways you can phrase a sentence that you end up swollen and heavy-jowled, and all that comes from your lips are disjointed words interjected with hesitation and insecurity. You sit down, red, and pretend you aren’t being stared at by people who’re wondering what the hell you’re doing there; you pretend you aren’t pretending those people are staring at you because it’s much easier to displace the responsibility of criticism than admit you hate some aspect of your identity.

I love the English language. I love how it lends itself to accessorizing. But, as I have had to admit to my friends on multiple occasions, “Sometimes my tongue can’t wrap itself around English.” After talking to other polyglot friends, they’ve had the same struggle. Different languages require different formations, require reaching into different parts of your bodies and exhaling or inhaling just so. Speaking is a physical act, and sometimes your muscles are rusty, or overworked, or you just plain don’t want to use a language and aren’t admitting it or just have to get over it.

Sometimes I just want to wrap myself in the mantle of Urdu. Sometimes I want to court French, shy as I am after months of separation. Sometimes I want to lose myself in the full-bodied experience of Arabic, despite how little I understand it, because that is a spiritual connection that transcends speech.

Sometimes I don’t want to be eloquent.

I was talking to a (polyglot) friend in class today, and for some reason we started exchanging niceties in French. We went on for a while until I eventually asked:”Ça va bien?” “Da.”

There was a pause, and then we burst out laughing.

There is a beauty in being so full of language, so full of possible phraseologies  and syntax and unique colloquialisms, that you bubble over like an airy champagne. I want to learn to celebrate the days English doesn’t fit on my tongue because it means I have encountered, experienced, lived and loved so much. It won’t be easy, but I’ll add that to my list of invocations.

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