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“A Story Stuck in My Mouth”

 

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Blog Post #45

I have a sweet, precocious, six-year-old friend named Violet whose natural exuberance and keen mind often make it difficult for her to refrain from talking. While sitting next to her in church on Sunday, during the administration of the Sacrament when it is especially expedient that those in attendance are quiet and reverent, Violet continued to chatter away in a whisper I could almost comprehend, but not quite. I leaned over, put my arm around her small, but capable shoulders, and whispered for her to save what she wanted to tell me until later. At first, she nodded her head in assent, perfectly understanding the expectation. Then, after sitting quietly for perhaps fifteen seconds, she looked at me with that wonderful candor that children of her honest temperament possess, and quietly exclaimed, “I have a story stuck in my mouth!”

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And so she always does, and those wonderful stories easily glide from her articulate tongue to those with willing – and I suppose for some, not so willing – ears. I love Violet’s intelligence, I love Violet’s vivacity, and I love Violet’s stories.

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I find that, like Violet, I also have stories that are stuck, but not so much in my mouth as stuck in my brain. Being of a more taciturn nature, and with less ready wit than Violet has, I prefer to tap out my stories on a keyboard where, for me, thoughts flow more easily than they do when I must trip over the large, lumpy obstacle in my mouth.  (I am referring to my clumsy tongue, but I am forced to acknowledge that my foot is often just as great an impediment to articulate speech as is  my tongue).

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Just as it is difficult for Violet to rein-in the marvelous things that spill out of her mouth from her brilliant mind, it is equally difficult for me, without an easy gift of gab, or a particularly brilliant mind, to rein-in a desire to write. Each morning, I get up with a long list of to dos that I know I must attend to. While I’m scrubbing the toilet or picking up groceries, I feel an itchy sort of urgency to drop all of it and run with carefree abandon to my drafting table and begin typing away. Sometimes, that’s exactly what I do (even when the main feature playing on the screen of my mind is blank)! It doesn’t matter that I can say nothing in a million words. What matters is the need, the desire, the setting free of those things that are stuck within my mind and heart, begging for expression.

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Writing is a means of liberating those of my thoughts that haven’t the ability to take any kind of intelligible form in any other way. If I try to speak them, they come out in a terrible jumble. I am constantly apologizing for saying things wrong. Or I stand, mute, on the sidelines hoping silence will serve my companions and me better. Or I speak, and let the “fool” out.

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It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. – Mark Twain

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Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something. – Plato

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Stuck-y-ness may apply to other things, too. Instead of stories, perhaps songs and poetry are stuck within sore and bleeding hearts. Maybe movement, dance, or athletic prowess is stuck in petrified or disabled limbs. Maybe the desire to see the world is stuck in a nine-to-five workweek, or a tight pocketbook.  Maybe a love of numbers, technological wizardry, social awareness, education, or countless other interests become stuck inside hesitant spirits. Maybe a burgeoning desire to make lasting friendships is stuck in a heart that doesn’t recognize its own self-worth. Or maybe hope and faith are stuck deep within a fear of the unknown.

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Maybe you know what’s stuck inside you, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you think that when you un-stick what’s inside of you there won’t be anyone who will value your offering. Maybe you feel it’s too soon, or too late to try.

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I’ve always had a story stuck in my mind. I didn’t always know it, though. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I woke up to the fact that I had always had stories begging to come out. At a young age, I made books. Lots of books. I wrote mysteries, children’s stories and poetry, and illustrated every page. (In fact, most of the artwork I’ve created during my life has been illustration work – telling stories with pictures.) As a teen, I continued to make books…hand-bound books filled with pictures, and an outpouring of the tender feelings I had for my family and friends. One would think the production of books, making hard-bound, cloth-covered bindings, sewing in the pages with needle and thread, and filling them with illustrated stories would be a big enough hint to realize that writing and stories were important to me.  Not so. It took half a century before I figured out that writing had always been, and still is, for me, the satisfying channel of expression connecting my secret harbor of thoughts to the open sea of communication with others.

97bb6635c0317d74ff72b7761d791047It amazes me that Violet, at the tender age of six, is already cognizant of the stories stuck in her mouth that she longs to express, and it further amazes me that she is eloquent enough to relate that desire to others.

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Certainly, it is important to learn appropriate times and places to give expression to one’s innate desires; a worship service is probably not the best time to tell one’s stories. It’s important for children, as well as adults, to learn socially acceptable behavior, courtesy, reverence, respect, and self-mastery. Even so, perhaps you may learn, as have I, a lesson from Violet. It is important to know in one’s heart, as Violet does, that one has a gift that aches for expression, to acknowledge that gift, and to discover how to set it free at such times and such places as will most benefit oneself and others.

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We may be profoundly instructed from “…the mouth of babes” (if we will only listen).

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This is Violet. I love Violet.

My dear little friend, Violet, please keep telling me your stories. I’m listening.

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End Piece

© November 1, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

*All of the beautiful pictures included in this post, save the one of Violet, are public domain images, most of which originated in, or are covers from children’s storybooks.

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“Through A Glass Darkly….”

Blog Post #11: 


It took over a half century for me to understand an obvious truth: other people don’t see me the way I see myself.

When my granddaughter was nursing laryngitis, she commented on how strange her voice sounded. I replied that she hears her own voice differently from others because she hears it resonating from within her head, whereas others hear her voice from without. How similar that is to the way we see ourselves. Others see us differently and from without, while we see ourselves from a very personal place within. 

Not long after the conversation with my granddaughter, I was visiting with an elderly gentleman at church. In the course of conversation, he used words to describe me that I would never think of using to describe myself. His generous appraisal was humbling. I smiled inwardly at the thought, but found it difficult to believe his view of me was correct, and mine was not.

This brings me to another interesting observation: not only do I not see myself the way others see me, but I also don’t see myself the way I really am.



When I walk by a mirror, I am always surprised by the image I see of myself. I never look the way I think I look. Why is that? I’ve seen myself in the mirror at least every morning and every night for over half a century, so why don’t I know what I look like? I think it has to do with my perception of myself from within. 


I create mental models (often subconsciously) of who I think I am that contribute to my impression of myself. For example, I see myself as a happy person. At a very young age, I decided a smile should be my “normal” expression. (Of course, there was the time I was making jam, and burnt the bottom out of a 2-quart plastic pitcher full of granulated sugar when I inadvertently turned on the wrong stove burner. No, I was not smiling when eight cups of sugar poured out the burnt bottom like a glittering white Niagara Falls all over the stove and floor, but this is beside the point.)



There was a reason for the smile decision. I had noticed people who, unprovoked, looked as if they had a thorn in their shoe. Others wore a perpetual scowl, while a few looked as if they’d like to bite someone’s head off. (I am not referring to friends or family–just people I’d sometimes meet.) I wanted to see happy faces, and I wanted others to see happiness in me. I knew that when people greeted me with a smile, it set me at ease and lifted my spirits without speaking a word. (I’m not talking about pasted-on TV smiles—insincere and shallow,—but kind and reassuring smiles.) 


So, I try to maintain a cheerful attitude, and a positive outlook. I believe that I’m a cheerful person, most of the time. Or am I? Do I really appear cheerful to others, or am I fooling myself?

One day, many years ago, my brother said to me, “Cynthia, you are such a complainer.” I was taken aback….completely shaken. A complainer?! Is that how you see me? I began the arduous and painful task of self-analysis.  I noticed that I did complain from time to time. Indeed, was a complainer! That began a struggle to end the complaining that, unfortunately, continues today. Like a prizefighter, I have bouts of success suppressing individual urges to grumble as they bob and weave in and out of everyday situations.


Every now and then, a family member will act as referee when I go down for the count, and every single time it comes as a surprise! Was I complaining again? How can I repeatedly be so blind to my own behavior? I must conclude that to family members I am (sometimes, at least) seen as a whiny-fuss, which doesn’t fit my self-image at all, for I am a cheerful, happy person—truly content.



Another example of this conundrum is the question of introversion versus extroversion.  Surprising to me are friends who are surprised to hear that I am an introvert. The minute I walk into a large gathering, I become a worker bee, busying myself to avoid having to stop and find a place in the hive. If there’s no frantic buzzing to be done, I may find a flower or two whose nectar I already know to be sweet, and comfort myself in their presence. I prefer quiet family gatherings to social calls, I dread and procrastinate making phone calls, and I flee large gatherings in which mingling is expected.



The contradiction: I love being with people. I want to know all about them. I love hearing about their fascinating lives, about what they think, and how they feel. I love to connect with people. However, I prefer being with, knowing about, hearing from, and connecting with people one-on-one. I even prefer to skip the introductory appetizers and salads—the small talk—and cut right into the main dish, where the meaty juiciness and flavor is.

These kinds of incongruities raise disconcerting questions: Is what people see a true representation of what is at my core? And worse: Am I a fake and a fraud?

Fake or Fraud?

Am I a fraud if I profess love for others while preferring the quiet security of being the proverbial fly on the wall, or feeling uncomfortable in the wake of large social events? Am I a fake if my mental model is happiness and good cheer, but sometimes exhibit whiney-fuss tendencies?  
  
I believe I am cheerful, but there are those who perceive me as a complainer. I consider myself an introvert and somewhat clumsy at social interaction, and there are those who see me as extroverted. Examples of these kinds of paradoxes are many and varied. I would venture to guess that if I made an illustration of how I see myself and a group of family and friends collectively made an illustration of how I am seen, the results would be two entirely different pictures!*



“For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) I have pondered this scriptural passage, and have discussed its layers of meaning and application with family members and friends. It appears in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians at the end of a description of charity—that quality of character, that pure love—that Christ embodied and exemplified, and that is at the pinnacle of His teachings, for without it, He tells us, we are nothing.  

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Perhaps I am a fake and a fraud, but I don’t think so. I think it is a matter of perception, which is often flawed. I think there is some kind of middle ground on which I’m standing—the middle ground of Intent and Faith. If I stand there, then I must allow that others stand there, as well, even if I can’t see them with my limited vision.


We are such harsh judges of ourselves. I believe it is best to look for the good in others, and to recognize the good in oneself, to allow for imperfections, and to choose to believe that goodness will prevail. Seeing goodness breeds happiness and contentment. It is not blindness or falsehood. It is a choice about how to see.


Now we see through a glass, darkly.” I cannot now clearly see what I am, or how others perceive me. I cannot clearly see the results of my efforts, or my influence for good or bad. I cannot clearly see my true relationship with others.

But “then, we will see face to face.” “Then,” to me, refers to when I return Home to God who gave me life. Then, shadows of misunderstanding will disperse. I will see without clouded glass, without blurry, dark and tainted perceptions. I will see clearly, distinctly and thoroughly. I will see and understand all the thinking and feelings (my own, and those of others) that have influenced my choices and judgments—both good and bad. All the facades, fears and foibles that have prevented me from understanding the truth as it really is will dissipate. I will see truth in its glory, and will understand and know without falseness that blinds, sharpness that mars, or vague shadows and doubts. Now, I only know tiny particles of all the truth around me because of the limitations imposed by my experiences, biases and environment, by traditions and narrow histories, by physicality and mortality.

But “then, I shall know even as I am also known.” Then, I will understand.

Then, what I am is what you will see, and what I see is what is true in you.



I look forward to that perfect day.


© Copyright July 1, 2014

*After I wrote the first draft of this post, I discovered a wonderful little video (only 3 minutes long) about this very thing. Please click this link to watch the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video.