I want to write the other thing. The thing I’m afraid to write. The thing that has monsters and secrets where doors slam shut. The thing that would expose shame but would free me. The thing that whispers to me, You are bigger than you think. You are magic.
I want to write the bigger thing. The thing with gravitas but not pretension. The truth without the smugness. The unedited, bold lettered meaning of life. It is in a font called Impact; it is a compressed but unmistakably readable, thick font.
The editor in my head lives in the frontal lobe, swimming in judgment and inhibition and planning, directing traffic across the two hemispheres of my brain, avoiding accidents, muzzling truths that could hurt a loved one. I tell this editor to leave. Go out the back door. Take your suitcase of criticism and shushes and shame. Put all the nopes in your pockets. Zipper your mouth shut. Here’s your fedora filled with hot air. Here are your lazy shoes, shuffling brown shoes that step on commas and semicolons. Go out the back door, the alley way, down streets stained with patches of oil. That dark cloud can follow too.
I open the front door to joy. She is glittery and tap dances on my keyboard. Tappity, tap, tap. I love the sound of her click-clacky shoes. Her tuxedo tail coat flaps with each jump. I want to wear the tails and top hat. I want the words that shout, Yeah! Shimmering words. Words that crawl up your spine and make you shiver with knowingness.
I open the front door to grace and wisdom, gliding over the floor without putting their feet down, hovering, waltzing, defying gravity. They kiss my forehead and tell me I know more than I think I do. “It is all right there,” they say, touching my forehead, “All the things you want are inside.”
I want the words that say what I remember. Seeing the ocean for the first time, driving up 1A or whatever road it was that was closest to the sea, glimpsing the great stretches of blue in between buildings, wanting the buildings to disappear so that I could see everything, the white ships heading toward port.
Or the first time I saw mountains, the White Mountains, old men in an ancient range, craggy, steep. Tilting my head back as if to be kissed but only to see the peaks pierce the clouds.
I want the words that describe these things but also words to explain how events drove me from home, our landlocked Ohio suburb with lights on the porches of one finished street and behind our yard, the half-built homes and floors covered in saw dust.
The memories of all that I want to say live in my cells, woven into neurons, floating and waiting to be connected. Some day, science will tell us that those instant flashes of images, the ones out of the corner of your eye of some 19th-century girl wearing a plain dress and laced up boots standing next to a horse, those figments were written on a chromosome passed down generations, a memory stored and scribbled as epigenetic inheritance. I don’t really know what this means. It is a hunch.
But even if I did experience my great grandmother’s memories, remembered something my father saw, I still can’t write it down because of the living. The living have to live with my words, my truth, my bold font that can’t be erased. And that is what the editor in my head finds untenable.
Writing is so hard, left alone in a room with a tyrant. The same one you shoved out the back door. But just outside the front, miracles happen. Put your toes in the sand and think back to the first time you saw the Atlantic, or even just Lake Michigan, and the lone ship heading into the harbor that you spy in between the buildings on the highway, those interrupted glimpses of ship and sea. And look at the craggy mountains carved into the sky, as stunning as seeing your first skyscraper, head tilted back. Those old rocks pushed up from the earth as plates beneath your feet collide.
All of this is yours. The words are inside the rocks, seashells, tap dancing joy on your keyboard. Slipping from your mouth.