I am having a hell of a time writing my final essay for my lit class. I don’t know if it’s because the topic is off in some way, and I am somehow aware that I am writing myself into a hole, or if it’s just that end-of-the-semester feeling — that I just don’t want to do it, because I want to be done. it’s probably both. In any case, I just can’t quite seem to get past the beginning, which my professor has said is good. It’s “off to a very good start,” she wrote on my prospectus. Sigh. What good is a good start with out a better ending? And why can’t I seem to get there?
In the public library near my home, while other kids were reading Ramona or browsing the Judy Blume section, I was leafing through the card catalog to hunt down books about secret codes. I was an only child, and often spent solitary afternoons studying these books, copying out the codes, and writing secret messages. Occasionally I wrote to my best friend Mercy. She liked the idea of getting a letter her older brother couldn’t read, but she was considerably less patient about the fact that she herself had to do some translation to get the letter’s meaning. Most of my secret messages were for my eyes only then, and I imagined that I was a spy. I had been selected by my “superiors” because of my abilities with languages and codes. I would infiltrate enemy territory and succeed because of my fluency in another tongue. I would sneak messages back to my “base” in code. I would be a double agent.
I might not have been able to articulate it back then, but on some level I understood that language could provide a means of escape. Knowing another language, be it a secret code or a foreign tongue, offered the promise of becoming someone new. As I grew older and began to study foreign languages seriously, I saw that each new language was like a cloak. Trying one on was like putting on a new self. A new language was a new identity.
There. That’s the beginning. I’m going on to talk about my study of Japanese, and why it intrigued me so. How I felt I had two identities, one for each language. The question that seems to be slowing me up is why the need for two? What is it about having two that was so important? What was i trying to escape? Why did I want to be someone else? Why was Japanese able to provide that for me?
Actually, I can answer those questions, I think. It’s the fact that I no longer study Japanese, or use it, or any other language for that matter, that i can’t quite reconcile with this whole theory. That, and the fact that my study of Japanese was intimately tied to my relationships with my Japanese college roommate, my Japanese host sister, and my Japanese professor. The identity thing is, perhaps, secondary to those relationships. But every time I try to include the relationships in the paper, I trip myself up in the writing. The paper becomes an hommage to those women, not the story of my two identities, which is what it is supposed to be about. So I am leaving them out, which doesn’t feel quite like the truth. So I am thinking about putting them in. My Japanese identity allowed for a closeness that produced these relationships, I will say. This is a closeness I felt I was lacking in English, perhaps. Blah, blah, blah.
Eventually, in this manner, page 20 will come to be. At the moment, having been writing for several hours and somehow not having managed to grow the paper past its earlier page 6 state, page 20 seems very far away.