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Between Two Tongues
The Muse Letter No. 131
There’s a German word for that.
But not for this. The word I am thinking of die Muttersprachsehnsucht, the yearning for your mother tongue – that one; I just invented.
The homesickness to hear your real voice; not the contrived one, the one you created to fit in, to mimic an accent that is an act, really. A mixture of all the people I have in my ear all day, stored away to produce a strange symphony of sounds. Not quite here, not quite there.
I am between two tongues. All the time.
I love the surprise on people’s faces when I tell them that I’m German. Another one fooled. I think sheepishly. And I loathe the moment when someone is not. When they do detect it. Fallen out of the rhythm of my daily dance routine, missing the beat. Yeah, we can still hear it. You’re different. You’re still standing out.
It’s interesting this little wound in me: that hates to be different, yet also seeks every opportunity to be.
There’s a photograph of my confirmation at church when I’m 13 years old. Everyone wears black. I chose a neon pink woolen sweater.
I have always been one to stand out. On purpose often. I like adding colour, adding nuance, and uniqueness to life. Going against the stream, creating my own little pockets, following my desire lines.
But at times I have been shamed for it. Sometimes this wound takes the shape of a circle of 3rd graders on a school playground, accusing me of wanting to be the centre of attention. Sometimes it takes the shape of my mother telling me that my father just doesn’t understand me. Sometimes it’s diffuse and just a conglomerate of all the moments where little weird girls are shushed and silenced.
Humility is a virtue, I had to learn and then unlearn and then learn again.
The balance of it. When to take centre stage, when not. I still shift and shift again.
But this is also true:
For some people, it will always feel like you’re taking up too much space.
For some people, you are always a burden.
For some people, your mere existence is a nuisance.
But how can you know how large you can grow if you don’t try?
How can you know who you truly are if you don’t develop all of it?
If you don’t show yourself in all your facets?
How can they know you, if you don’t?
A huge part of me is about being German, that I was born in a small town in the middle of North Rhein Westphalia. To two parents who were also born there, and still live there. That there are certain ways I approach things, and how I see them, that are always interlinked with my culture and heritage.
No matter how far I am from the stereotypical German, I still understand and consist of these things that are highlighted and that are very different from where I live now. Some of it I find to be good qualities, others not so much.
Accents are just the catalyst of that. A signifier of difference.
When all I want to do is connect.
But connection is not sameness.
It’s not about being the same, thinking the same way that lets us connect, it’s the creation of space for another.
For so long I have tried to hide. Have tried to take cover in being elusive with my tongue. Or self-deprecating. Twisted and bent. Have tried to fit in and rejected this whole part of me.
But I’m different. I still wear that pink sweater, every time I open my mouth. I still wear it when I walk down the street and think of a German phrase, that I try to translate to a friend walking next to me. And I want to wear it when I’m writing.
I am between two tongues and it’s time to use both again.
If you’re German this is me saying: Hallo. Ich schreibe ab jetzt auch wieder auf Deutsch ‘Im Dazwischen’ und zwar auf steady hier. Das wird gut! xx
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