I may be a writer, but I am no speaker

I may be able to write—or, I like to believe I can—but, for the life of me, I cannot speak. Incessantly, my mind races at rapid rates, throwing thoughts against every corner of my skull with each moment. Yet, I fail to articulate these same ideas, these same ruminations, the minute I’m called on to vocalize them. My mind turns blank, my brain grows heavy. Physically, I feel myself clam up, my palms sweat, my intellect on which I pride myself shrinks to nothing but an illusion of what I wish it to be.

I notice this most when in class. I absolutely despise being called on to participate; I dread it when I notice my professors’ eyes scan a room, or I bury my head so far into my chest to render myself invisible. Oftentimes, this isn’t out of some ignorance or lack of knowledge on a subject. I could offer my viewpoints and perspective—sometimes, I desire to—but something always stops me.

Is it shame, a fear of public humiliation, an anxiety that, if I were to speak and say something incorrect or laughable, I’d prove myself a fraud? I’m not sure. If I had the answer to this, I could analyze this internal struggle at its roots and eradicate every worry, every concern. With others, it’s as if they’re natural-born speakers—even if inaccurate, these people amaze me with their openness, their willingness to have their mind be exposed in such a public sphere.

When I detect that a professor is leaning toward open discussion, I whip out a pen and paper and sketch my response or organize a structural setup for an answer in my head. Then, I recite. The same goes with public speaking: Something in which I used to be so competent now proves a dread. When, two Decembers ago, I had a reading for my book, every word uttered from myself, despite being written on the page, seemed entirely wrong. I hated the way my voice sounded, I hated my own prose, I dwelled on every stammer and each stutter.

What’s peculiar is I don’t attribute this to some unease toward others’ judgments. When I feel embarrassment, I never mediate on how I must be perceived by those around me; no, it’s more internal, more psychological. I feel myself—normally driven by boundless ambition—become an unfamiliar being, something I’m most terrified of glancing in a mirror and discovering in its reflection: an unremarkable shell of a person who believes themselves capable of bursting potential when, in reality, there’s nothing there.

That is why I will stick to writing. Here, I can hide behind anonymity; I mustn’t show my face and be exposed as the human being I am. Because, when it boils down, I am nothing but skin and bone; but at least with words I can elevate that, even if momentarily. In writing, I can excel at the same reasons at which I fail in interpersonal relations: I can calculate, outline, plan ahead. For all the walls I tear down in order to lay myself bare in my prose, in the act alone of writing, there will always be that one fortress still standing.

painting: “The Son of Man,” Rene Magritte (1964)

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