My mother, a classically trained dancer, didn’t stop dancing all at once. When she moved to America, she still performed, still taught. She stopped teaching when I was little. Still, she would sometimes be called into action, choreographing dances for the school plays my brother and I were in. A couple decades later, she stopped doing even that. Now, I know, she doesn’t even dance by herself, in her kitchen, as I remember her doing when I was a child. “I could give up dancing,” she told me once. “It wasn’t as if I was going to die. Only, it felt like the color went out of the world.”
There have been stretches of time when I have been unable to look at my life through language. What I mean is I was unable to write, but that is not only what I mean. There is a way I move through my life that is about putting language around its small pleasures, the sight of neighborhood flowers or strangers embracing or a crow slipped into a disorienting current of air and gliding backward: the narrative of my own life and the movements between its characters, and the narratives of my friends’ lives revealed through long conversations while walking through my city, on the phone or in person: a way of living in words even if they are not written.
I am not always going around in this state, catching the soft smell of the chamomiles in the tall green vase on the dresser, moved nearly to tears by the sound of my daughter’s laugh in the evening—I wish! Like anyone, I am often preoccupied with the petty anxieties and logistics that rule my days: it’s just that, from time to time, and sometimes more often than others, a window opens. I catch a gust of fresh air, of language. A sentence forms in my head. When I am able to live this way, I understand who I am, even if I am not writing. When I am not living this way, when I am unable to reach out to something beautiful and to name it, I am wretched, a stranger to myself. The color drains out of the world.