Things I do not want to talk about at parties

by Stephanie on May 18, 2011

This is the worst thing. This dry mouth belly tumbling soul sucking can’t tell if I’m breathing.

People say the art of conversation is dead. That we don’t know how to connect any more. That our relationships have devolved into farce and fancy, as though the rules of engagement are tempered by deliberate pantomime and posing. As though in the past we all embraced like lovers at every occasion and bared our souls at the slightest prompting.

I didn’t always have so much trouble speaking. My father used to complain I spent too much time on the phone. ‘Why don’t you ask your friends over?’ he’d say. ‘What’s wrong with talking face-to-face?’ Then he complained that I never called, that the physical presence of people was trumped by faint blue light, by interrupting jangles and a split focus. By text on a screen.

Well, I’m sorry, Dad, but I know where I stand with type and carefully constructed sentences. It’s freefall conversation I lose myself in, spiralling, spinning, tumbling towards that inevitable uncomfortable end. And how could you say this life is disconnected? Because these lip flutterings and heart poundings and quick shallow breaths seem nothing but real, and I want to know why you think I should go through this, Dad? What life lesson is better learnt by embracing the corrosive paralysis of stress and unfamiliar society?

‘You’re going to learn the piano,’ he said when I was seven. ‘One day you’ll be glad. One day you’ll thank me.’ And Sister Loretta, who was old and stooped, came each week and smiled with her eyes and talked of crotchets, clefs and major chords, and gave me a prayer at the beginning of every lesson. Her fingers always shook upon the keys but her copperplate hand never failed to make me feel unworthy. Why can’t I write like that? I want to write like that.

We took a holiday to the High Country. When we got home I would remember the forest, the curling bark, the cold altitude air and the vast, aching distance. I tried to capture it, to curl my fingers around it. I tried to play what I saw into the piano. It was like trying to pluck tendrils of smoke from the air. Music slips out of my control and I can’t get it to look the way I want. Pianos are cool blue and lavendar. The bush is better served by a deep green bowed double bass or a guitar strummed in a minor key.

I once tried to explain to a friend how a song I liked had ripples of deep blue threaded with silver, ice and bursts of light. She stared at me, incredulous, and said, ‘I don’t think about music like that at all.’ And I thought, this isn’t what I think about it. This is how it is. And I try so desperately to get to that, to represent that, to make it tangible, to understand it, so that when you want to know what I think, I can tell you how I see. And I used believe I bumped mute through the universe, as though every fraught function of my mouth went unnoticed or unheard. But I’ve been speaking the whole time, just not with the right words. Sometimes I feel like my whole existence can be distilled down to one long lesson on learning to speak. And then you ask me how I am, and how is the writing going, and what can I say? A stutter, a stumble, an expulsion of meaninglessness. ‘It’s fine.’

This is the worst thing.

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