Stumbling to find the right words

English was always my worst subject in elementary school.

Despite being a fervent reader — I would beg my mother to take me to the library every day because I had already finished the stack I brought home the day before — when the words had to be my own, they never came.

My writing and comprehension skills remained lacklustre for several years.

My writing homework never received stickers like my friends', I fumbled on exams and every time I got a paper back with my comma splices circled, I wanted to rip it to shreds. I scraped by with Bs, and no one in my family cared as long as my marks in science and math stayed high.

It wasn’t until high school that I slowly but surely became absorbed by every aspect of literature. Thanks to the guidance of a good teacher, I came to enjoy the meticulous process of analysis, the struggle of conjuring an interesting thesis and the care it took to craft an intriguing sentence.

Now, literature, writing and stories consume my life. Whether I’m at my job at a newspaper or in my classes (I'm an English major… go figure), I always have a thesis idea for my upcoming essay churning in my head, or I'm reading something and editing something else. When I have a rare moment to spare, I write for myself.

I write letters to my friends or scribble in my journal. It’s not good, but when my writing is constantly being judged for quality, it is the only place I can happily be mediocre.

This doesn't mean I feel any better about my communication skills — especially when I have to communicate verbally. Spoken language is an entirely different struggle for me.

My friend recently said that for someone who studies words, I can never get to the point. And she's right. Rarely am I able to articulate myself the way I want.

People will confide in me, hoping for comfort, and I drown trying to think of reassuring words. I do not have the option to outline a rough draft, edit or rewrite whole sections until every punctuation, phrase and word is perfect, because I'm not afforded a redo in conversation.

Even when I practice what I'm going to say to someone, I end up jumbling the point I was attempting to make clear — I stare at them, red in the face, wishing they could read my mind because I swear, in there, everything makes sense.

None of it comes naturally to me, and it seems counter-intuitive that I want to spend my life studying this when I feel like I’m working so much harder than others.

Even when my family says it was a mistake to study English, I go back to my room to continue writing my essay through my blurred vision.

I dig my own grave when I speak, but I haven’t learned to shut up.

I have to return to this because I have something to prove to others — maybe also myself.

So, when someone, offhandedly, says they enjoy my writing or the few times my friends have told me I said the right thing is how I know it’s been worth my effort. The fleeting moment of satisfaction is all I need to be reminded why I do this.

Whether it's verbal or written language, I keep returning to it with the hope that one day, I'll figure out what I'm trying to say.

This article is a part of The Ubyssey's 2023 language supplement, In Other Words.