Just Call Me Edgar

22-oconnor-quoteThis is a long one…ready? 

Dear Flannery O’Connor, thank you for understanding me.

Do you ever find yourself stuck in those interrogation-like social situations in which, when asked a direct question,  you know exactly how to answer the question but instead end up rambling on and on, finding it quite impossible to say what you are really thinking? Is that just nerves? Fear of saying the wrong thing? Simple inability to pinpoint the correct dictionary word? Straight-up social awkwardness? Whatever it is, I suffer from it. It’s a realization that I came to recently, an awareness of how hard I often find it to speak what I know and feel. For some unfounded reason, my brain and heart say one thing, but my mouth ends up blurting out “I mean…it wasn’t bad,” when asked how a date went…on the night of the date…by the guy who asked you out {PALM TO FOREHEAD}.

Why is conversation, specifically the “important” kind (e.g. interviews, DTRs, general tough-but-need-to-be-had chats), super difficult? When such situations come about, I feel completely and utterly stupid (in the most literal sense of the word). All of the knowledge that I know and have seems stuck inside, unable to escape the bounds of my body. Unable to escape, that is, until I put a pen to paper. Vladamir Nabokov put it like this: “I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child.

Like many novelists and writers, I seem smarter in print than in person. Scratch that. I don’t just “seem to be,” I definitely am. When I write, I express opinions that I have never {and maybe will never} utter in conversation and that, if I was not writing, maybe would never have come to mind.

Fortunately (and I say fortunately because now I don’t feel as seriously crazy), Edgar Allen Poe completely summarizes my condition.

People talk about thinking, but for my part, I never think except when I sit down to write.

Writing doesn’t simply aid in the organization of my thoughts – though it does do just that – but it actually creates thoughts.

I once took an English Composition class from a professor that taught me the art of the “shitty first draft.” Essentially, her working theory was that if you start writing with just the topic in mind, no set form or outline, or even thesis statement, and just lay (aka word vomit) all of your ideas and random thoughts onto paper (or type it if you must), eventually that “AH-HA” moment comes along as soon as you write  that one genius statement that pinpoints the idea you could not form aloud.

Needless to say, the “shitty first draft” is my catalyst for every paper, blog post, letter, or draft of a hard conversation.

Something clicks when I simply start to jot down my thoughts, something that will eventually occur on a typed word doc and (hopefully) one day in conversation. Everything from the flow of ideas to the exact (may I suggest perfect?) wording of a phrase comes together in harmony, harmony that rarely occurs in face-to-face conversation or speech. I wonder if there is a scientific basis for this. Some scientist somewhere must have researched why brilliant writers are terrible speakers and storytellers. Those same scientists may then be able to explain why eloquent orators can barely manage to put words onto a page.

Remember in middle school when we learned about different sides/cortices of the brain? I would bet money that somewhere in the anatomy of the brain lays the answer. I would guess that, when I write, different neurons are at work that charmingly translates my thoughts into words. But if forced to speak, a totally separate set of neurons and brain functions make different connections which, in my opinion, are far inferior to those made with a pen in my hand, ultimately resulting in me stumbling over my words, pausing to search the dictionary stored in my brain that always fails me when put on the conversationalist spot. Crap. Maybe I should just walk around with a pen in my hand in order to trick my brain into thinking that it’s about to write (or a paper clip to act as a lightning rod for thoughts…Maid in Manhattan reference anyone??).

 So is there a remedy for this conversational awkwardness that plagues my everyday life? Is there some sort of step-by-step process that will help me take the clarity that comes out when I write and have that same fluidity when I speak? Most likely, the answer is probably just practice. Either that, or people are just going to have to get used to my introverted, awkward self continually struggling to put words into a sentence out loud. Well, I’m not ok with the latter, so I guess it comes down to practice. Do I have any takers willing to sit with me for hours and just talk? Don’t all jump up at once…I’ll give you until my next blog post to respond.