Just over two years ago, my husband convinced me that I should write a blog. Initially, I was hesitant, but he was persuasive and I decided to take the plunge. I wrote my first entry.
Then, something happened.
People actually read what I wrote. And they commented on my words. And they encouraged me.
They changed everything.
My Type A personality kicked in, and I felt compelled to write regularly. For the most part, this has been a pleasure because I generally have a lot to say. Actually, most of the time I have a lot to say. There are also times when I’m tired, or busy or just not inspired, so finding the motivation to write my blog at least once a week can be difficult. But I tend to be very obsessive, so I write anyway.
Until this week.
This week, I’m cheating.
I’m cheating because I’m spending four days with an amazing group of women in Hatteras, North Carolina. I just want to be lazy and laugh with my friends. I also want to meet my compulsive need to blog every week. So, I’m linking to two of my recent posts for the Charleston Daily Mail:
Next week, I’ll be back. This week, I’m not going to feel guilty about my lazy, cheating blog.
I am an incredibly imperfect woman living in a society of people who hide their imperfections much better than I do.
Some are better able to hold their tongues. Others have achieved such brilliant success that it hides any inadequacies. And then there are the people who spend a great deal of time and energy covering up any deficiencies.
Since my tongue often seems to engage before my brain, my successes are nothing out of the ordinary and I choose to spend my time and energy just being me, I don’t mind that people know I’m far from perfect.
Despite that, I’m always striving to become a better person. For that, I need inspiration, which most often comes from other admittedly imperfect women.
These are the women who make me believe.
They make me believe that even those of us who are flawed can accomplish great things. They make me believe that past mistakes and missteps are the fundamental ingredients for a rich life. And they make me believe that, despite injustice and unfair odds, believing in possibilities can only result in magic.
My inspiration comes from women who have overcome barriers and have an honest compassion for those who are still struggling.
And, of course, my inspiration comes from women who can express all this in writing — women like Maya Angelou.
Despite her splendid poetry and prose, her insightful observations of human behavior and the reverence she must encounter everywhere she goes, Maya Angelou doesn’t deny who she is: an imperfect woman who has struggled but, through the support and encouragement of others, done the most she can with the gifts bestowed upon her.
Last week, she shared both her humility and her humor with an audience in Charleston, West Virginia at an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the YWCA. Thanks to an invitation from a friend, I was fortunate to be in the audience as she poked fun at herself, challenged all of us to empathize with those who are different and encouraged us to think of possibilities.
She talked about her years of silence following the conviction and murder or the man who raped her as a young girl and how poetry freed her. She encouraged us to always find something to make us smile and, when we can’t, to write about something that does. And, she lectured about not blaming others for past injustices but rather thanking those who endured them and taking responsibility for future generations.
In short, she was amazing. I was either laughing or crying the entire time she was speaking.
And then she read her poem “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which she wrote in honor of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. About halfway into the poem, she lost her place. She faltered, fumbled then regained her composure as she finished.
I know during those moments of silence while she searched for her place, all of us seated at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences were holding our breath. She had earlier reminded us that she is 84 years old, and that fact sunk into our brains and into our souls.
The moment was brief, and it passed. But it had still occurred.
Yet, at the end of the evening, Dr. Angelou held her head high, showed appreciation for the applause and ended her talk with dignity.
Some might think she was trying to cover her mistake, but I know she was simply demonstrating why she is so great. Instead of being defined by her mistakes and struggles, she soars through self acceptance and overcoming challenges.
If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.
I wish I always came to the keyboard with the honorable intention of making people really think.
But more often than not, I write when people disappoint, frustrate or simply anger me.
Fortunately for others, I don’t usually share those thoughts publicly in writing. I do, however, write about them. I’ve always just been compelled to transfer most of my emotions and all of my opinions into the written word.
I scribble them in the margins of meeting agendas when the person speaking is a blowhard. I jot them on notepads when I’m on the phone with someone who is obviously making excuses. And I type pages and pages when I’m forced to sit on the sidelines while someone blatantly lies, manipulates and abuses his position.
I admit there are times when I’m able to quietly call out these people by surreptitiously weaving them into my blog. But, for the most part, I simply let my written words and the space they occupy clutter my desk, my computer, my brain and my life.
And if that clutter weren’t enough, the time I spend writing far exceeds the time I spend cleaning up those or any other messes.
For the record, I do clean. I simply do just enough to ensure my house will never be featured on an episode of Hoarders or that my family isn’t forced to wear dirty and stained clothes.
To me, the task of cleaning is comparable to cooking. While some people take pride in their spotless homes and fabulous meals (as they should), I only see a lot of time spent doing something that won’t last. Clean houses always require more cleaning, and meals that take hours to prepare can be gone in minutes.
Writing can last forever…or at least as long as someone is willing to read what you wrote (even when the reader and the writer are one in the same.)
I know my life would be less messy if I spent more time cleaning and less time writing. It just wouldn’t be as memorable.
I have a box full of diaries dating back to second grade. The spelling is sometimes amusing, but the narrative is always entertaining. The diaries chronicle my life from the first entry (a meeting with Senator Bob Packwood that ended with a reprimand from my mother for offering him my left hand to shake) to the angst of adolescence and the wonder of emerging adulthood.
I have drawers full of cards and letters sent in a time before emails.
And I have bags of notes that were passed between friends and classes in high school. These notes could be an exhibit about an art form that was lost forever with the advent of text messaging.
These items take up space.
Writing takes up time.
And life takes up emotional and physical energy.
We are all defined by how we spend those resources.
Recently, a friend was recalling an obituary published in the Washington Post several years ago. The name in the obituary had been forgotten, but a description of the deceased was seared in my friend’s memory: “She loved to vacuum.”
This statement and the obituary struck a chord in my friend. “Will people remember me because I vacuum or will people remember me for being passionate about something?” she asked.
For me, I hope the answer is easy. I’d rather be remembered for my passions – and even all the emotions they elicited – than to be remembered for whether or note there were dust bunnies under the beds.
Writing, after all, can be a very dirty habit.
For some people, a lack of words seems profound and noble. For me, a lack of words is simply awkward and frustrating. For the most part, silence has always been just beyond my reach, ability and even my belief system.
Even though I understand that silence is often a sign of respect, I also know that silence can do more damage and cut deeper than the harshest words.
I’m not alone.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” He also said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Even the dictionary validates my belief that silence isn’t always golden. While the simple definition is “the absence of sound or noise,” the more complicated definition is “the absence or omission of mention, comment, or expressed concern.”
I’ve straddled and struggled with both definitions my entire life. My battle has less to do with my tendency to talk and more to do with my overwhelming need to call attention to injustice, wrongdoing and inappropriate, self-serving behavior.
I’ve been witnessing a great deal of such behavior recently. Yet, for the most part, I’ve remained silent. Even when people have asked if I’m going to write a blog about certain situations, I’ve said, “No, that’s not my role or responsibility.” Besides, my words could easily be misinterpreted as angry and bitter rather than caring and concerned. So I have decided my silence might be more powerful than words.
And so, the silence continues. This change in tactics is also teaching me a new art form: the silent blog.
I think this one says a lot.
Silence is argument carried out by other means. Che Guevar
With the current year fading fast and all of the potential of a new year on the horizon, I’d like to suggest a resolution for everyone: don’t write on someone else’s blank sheet of paper.
Whether or not you let someone write on YOUR paper is up to you, but please don’t write on someone else’s.
Personally, I’m resolving to avoid both. For such an outwardly head strong, opinionated person, you might think the first will be more difficult. But, for the unsure, worried and perpetually questioning me inside, the second will be just as challenging.
For years, I’ve let way too many people write on my paper. . . altering my story with their advice, opinions and standards. And the difference between someone who writes on your paper and someone who cheers as you write is long-lasting.
I learned this from two teachers and the blank sheets of paper they expected their students to fill.
I absolutely loved those blank sheets of paper. I loved the smell. I loved the look. And I loved the endless possibilities.
During my grade school years, the paper wasn’t white. It was an indescribable shade of grey and tan with space for a picture above and a combination of dotted and solid lines below. The purpose of the lines was to ensure appropriate hand-writing form.
I never worried about my handwriting (and was generally graded down accordingly). I was much more worried about content. I was fascinated by how I could string words together to say something that nobody else had ever said. I adored the feeling of putting pencil to paper and creating something. And I loved being able to express myself.
What I didn’t love was having parameters placed on me.
And those parameters were set forth quite firmly by my first grade teacher, Mrs. Gladwill. Unfortunately, I can’t really say anything nice about the woman. I could write pages about the horrors of that school year –about the times I was stuck in the corner so other students wouldn’t cheat off me; about how needing to go to the bathroom was a nightmare because it was prohibited during class time (Mrs. Gladwill’s theory was that if you didn’t have the sense to go during recess or lunch, then you should wait); about how Mrs. Gladwill liberally used harsh words and a ruler on knuckles; and, most of all, about how Mrs. Gladwill required conformity.
For a “spirited” child, there’s no wonder that I didn’t thrive in first grade. I simply survived. And was beholden to a series of lessons that led me to believe that sometimes it’s easier to just let others control what goes on your blank sheet of paper.
That became evident when Mrs. Gladwill gave all of her students the assignment of writing (and drawing) an answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
At first, I was very excited about the assignment. With Mrs. Gladwill as a teacher, I should have known better.
I wanted to write about becoming a trapeze artist. My father had built and hung a trapeze from a juniper tree in our backyard, and I was already practicing my act.
The problem was, I didn’t know how to spell trapeze.
When I asked Mrs. Gladwill, her only advice was to look it up in the “book of careers” she had provided us.
Needless to say, trapeze artist wasn’t listed.
So I had to ask Mrs. Gladwill again.
Instead of helping me spell out my dream, she advised me to write about something “normal”, like becoming a nurse.
I had no desire to be nurse, but I recognized the authority she had. So, I reluctantly looked up nurse in the career book and wrote about how I wanted to be one. I even remember drawing the picture with particularly harsh strokes: I was angry that Mrs. Gladwill had taken control of MY piece of paper. At the same time, I did not want to be in trouble. So my blank sheet of paper became a full sheet of paper that was a lie.
Turning in that paper marked the end of my dreams of becoming a trapeze artist. Mrs. Gladwill had made it clear: if it wasn’t in the book about careers, there was no sense in pursuing it.
By second grade, my dreams had evolved anyway. My new ambition was to become a writer.
Much to my surprise, my teacher, Mrs. Roth, never told me to look up writer in the “career book.” In fact, she didn’t even have a career book. She simply encouraged me to write stories whenever I had extra time. She even taped my stories on the outside of her classroom door where others could read them. And they did.
I remember swelling with pride when fourth graders stopped by our classroom to read my stories.
Since then, that dream of being a writer has never died. I can’t say I’ve fully achieved that goal, but I never gave it up. It’s hard to give up something when others, particular teachers, believe in you.
So as 2012 approaches, I’m raising a glass to toast the blank sheets of paper everyone will receive in the new year. And I’m toasting the opportunity we all have to continue writing our own unique story without being told what the plot should be. I’m also raising a glass to how we can all cheer each other on. And most of all, I’m raising a glass to the great teachers who lead the way. Not only do they encourage so many of us, but they also serve as examples for other teachers by acknowledging that sometimes the most meaningful lessons aren’t the ones that are taught but are the ones that are observed.
Here’s to that! Cheers!