Holding My Words

“I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” Joan Didion


Tonight I get to write in a quiet house. I can’t remember the last time this occurred. There are seven of us living in this house, ranging in age from six to eighty-five. There are days there are so many words coming from each corner of this ninety-year-old brick home I can’t hear the thoughts in my own head. The house is constantly humming with the words of political pundits, sitcom stars, audiobook narrators, singer/songwriters, Barbie doll dialogue, and knock-knock jokes. But tonight everyone is either at work or asleep, so it is the sound of the keyboard and the wind blowing through the trees outside my backdoor that keep me company as I try to find my own words. Out of the corner of my eye I see fireflies hovering nearby. It smells like the clouds are holding rain but it is too dark to see if they really are. My to-do list is trying to call to me, but I know that nights like this are rare so I lean into the quiet.

The muse is mad at me. I know she visits those who make time to put word to paper, the ones who show up day in and day out. I haven’t been sitting in that chair with any regularity. Anne Lamott would have not one bit of pity for me. The muse used to come anyway, whispering to me while I washed dishes and sorted laundry, but the years of feeling bad for an overtired mom are over. She expects more from me now.

I’ve been keeping the words I do have pressed tight against me. They rarely feel the warmth of the sun and the months it’s been like this have been multiplying exponentially. It was July of 2012 the last time I felt this way. The hot summer weather was an incubator for all the thoughts and words churning inside and they all exploded into what became the beginning of public writing. For years I shared my thoughts and feelings in my own little corner of the internet. It all felt so anonymous and I was unencumbered by expectations or worries about who would be reading it. I could reveal anything I wanted without a second thought. 

But now I am acutely aware of the weight words carry and I keep my words inside and don’t let them out. Politics is consumed in 140 characters. Complex issues are disguised as a soundbite and I am convinced we are losing our ability to think critically. We absorb the quick and easy read all the while dissecting, analyzing, and ultimately criticizing the long form. I think of stopping altogether until I see a quote a friend shared. “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” And suddenly, I remember. I remember why I found my way to my computer night after night. I remember why I would steal pockets of time as I drank lukewarm coffee and cold toast. I remember why I need to let the words out.

It’s darker outside. The clouds did indeed hold rain and I listen to it pour in-between cracks of thunder. The sky lights up from the lightning that flickers behind the trees. Just like the clouds had to release the rain, maybe just maybe, I need to release my words again.

Brenna D'Ambrosio
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