As a writer, I've always had my literary heroes - authors and poets whose abilities I especially admire and whose words give me the guidance and strength I need to carry on when I feel stuck. This short list has remained largely unchanged for years. Recently, however, I added another source of inspiration to that roster: my four-month-old daughter.
No slave to syntax, unvexed by an inadequate vocabulary, she is able to engage in an ongoing daily commentary of her experiences, her feelings, and her desires with an ease I can't help but covet. Gurgles and coos, shrieks and cries, her language, obviously, is the language of a novice, but she doesn't let that slow her down.
Only occasionally does she grow frustrated with her inability to make us understand. Then she'll swing her head from side to side, let out an especially ear-splitting screech, and huff impatiently. But when that's done, she'll go right on babbling.
So when I am at a loss for words, my skills inadequate for the job at hand, I try to remember the example she sets. My daughter knows there is a higher form of expression than what she is capable of now, just as I do when I am stuck.
However, while this knowledge can send me into a tailspin of doubt and selfcriticism, she is largely unaffected by it. She just keeps on making her squeaks and squeals until they sound more and more like the sounds her mother and father make. It is more important for her simply to express herself, to let out what must be let out, with admirable faith that she will one day be understood.
And that is what I try to tell myself to do. Keep on writing, even when every single word takes an eternity to conjure up. To let out what must be let out, no matter how bad it stinks when it hits the paper. Because that's the only way to get better. Because sometimes you have to go through a lot of garbage before you find anything salvageable. And, while there may indeed be much that I am currently incapable of expressing, I have no choice but to continue at my own pace, hoping someday I may achieve something as beautiful as my daughter's first words undoubtedly will sound.
Once, as my daughter lay on her changing table - a favorite spot for conversation because of the eye-to-eye contact it allows - I tried to see if I could get her to repeat a few simple words. "I love you," I said to her. "Ah ga ga la," she replied. "I love you," I said. Then again.
Her bare legs stopped kicking for a moment. We had done this before. She recognized the game. Her blue eyes opened a little wider and looked directly into mine. "I love you," I said.
Her mouth moved a little in response, a sigh, really, more than anything else. But I had her attention. "I love you," I said, and smiled. She smiled briefly too, demurely, then got serious again.
"I love you," I said. She paused, then opened her mouth. "Ah-loo," she said.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society