When Words Fail

Words haven’t been easy for me these days.

I can’t count how many times over the last month or so I’ve sat in front of my computer, wanting to write something that would, somehow, put into words all of this whatever-it-is that I’m feeling.

I’ve opened my Instagram feed and longed to post something, anything, to join the conversation going on out there about this craziness we’re all experiencing together.

Even in my journal, I stare at the blank page and sometimes it’s all I can do to write the date at the top. I know I am full of so many things—emotions and fears and hopes and anxieties and thoughts—and I know so many other people are too, and I want us to be able to explore them together, to somehow find a clear path forward, a point in the midst of all of this confusion where we feel like our feet are firmly planted on the ground, a moment where we know where we are and where we’re going.

I keep feeling like there are words to say—but I don’t know what they are.

This is not the first time I’ve opened my blog, thinking only a couple of weeks have gone by until I see the date and realize it’s been over a month. On many occasions over the past two years blogging has fallen by the wayside, the important falling victim to the urgent. The quietness and stillness of writing gets crowded out by the relentless pace of my day job and social events and visits with my fiancé in Canada.

But this time, none of the regular explanations apply. I still have a job, though my workplace is now a desk in the corner of my living room. But there are no social events these days, no gatherings of people other than through a computer screen. The border that separates my fiancé and I from each other is closed. My schedule has been cleared, abruptly and completely, for the foreseeable future.

With my suddenly empty calendar, you would think I would have more time than I used to. You would think I would finally have enough time to write without being constantly interrupted by urgent tasks and last-minute get-togethers. You would think my creativity would have space and time to blossom, that I would be able to use these empty evenings and unstructured afternoons to pour into my blog more rather than less.

But here’s the thing I didn’t expect—the thing I suspect not many people did in the early days of the pandemic, when the Internet exploded with excited people talking about all their newfound “downtime” and all the projects they were going to cross of their “quarantine bucket lists” during their time at home. I didn’t expect how draining it would be to not know when any of this would end. I didn’t expect the discouragement of watching one event after another get canceled until the summer loomed ahead of me, vast and empty and lonely. I didn’t expect how dramatically I could swing between overstimulated from anxiety and “Zoom fatigue” and too many news articles to under-stimulated from the lack of real, face-to-face human contact.

I expected to have the time to put everything into words. I didn’t expect to not have the words to even define what “everything” is.

As someone who thrives on words—someone whose career and aspirations and pastimes and very identity revolve around words—I find this inability to verbalize my own experience torturous. It is profoundly frustrating to me that, after spending the better part of an hour trying to write down all of the puzzlement and perplexity swirling around in my brain, I still have no more clarity than than I did when I began.

I want to have a moral to this story. I want to somehow end this post with a clear conclusion, a lesson learned, a practical takeaway we can use to make our lives more beautiful or more meaningful or just better in some small way.

I want to—but I can’t. Not today.

Yet even here, in the face of what could easily feel like failure, I find a small victory. I had no words when I sat down today; I feel I have very little coherence even now. But I wrote anyway—even if it felt like pulling teeth. I found some words—even if they weren’t the ones I was looking for. I showed up for something I used to love, even if doing it feels like it’s a thousand times harder than it used to be before the world turned upside down.

This is the closest thing to a takeaway I can offer you right now: the observation that, sometimes, there isn’t an explanation, or an answer, or a neat positive spin that makes everything all right again. There isn’t always a resolution that wraps all our struggles and confusions up with a neat bow on top. Sometimes words fail us, either because we can’t find them at all or because when we finally manage to lay hold of them, they don’t make anything any clearer or more coherent than it was to begin with.

But sometimes—and never more so than in times like this—just showing up is what matters most. Calling a friend when there’s nothing to say. Tidying up even though there’s no company coming over and no one, perhaps, will really care. Writing when the words don’t come easily and don’t say what you wish you could express. Doing a thousand little things that used to make sense and don’t anymore but, somehow, are the only things you can think to do other than sink into despair and purposelessness.

Words—and routines, and hobbies, and all the things that used to help us process and handle and move through our world—may feel like they’ve failed. Like they’ve lost their meaning, their purpose, their power, their strength.

But I have not.

And neither have you.

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