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“A Story Stuck in My Mouth”

 

once-upon-a-time

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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Drawing a Blank

Blog Post #30

A blank mind. A blank page. Both suggest one has nothing to say. While appearing to be intrinsically the same, I’m convinced that they are positively different.

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A BLANK MIND.

I’m especially dumb (as in the dictionary definition: unable to speak) when relying solely on my mouth to communicate. A monumental disconnect forms a gaping canyon along the neural route between the plethora of thoughts in my brain and my bumbling mouth. As articulate words attempt to cross the synaptic bridge of neurons spanning the chasm, they topple into oblivion, leaving me speechless—drawing a total blank. A blank mind. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t speak. Oh-ho-ho! No, indeed! I speak because it’s expected, and to fill the void, but a lot of nonsense often ensues. I must make a conscious and focused effort to say something of value. On one such rare occasion, a rather profound sentence–which has become my byword–emerged victorious: “I can say nothing in a million words.” And there you have it. My First Blog Post EVER! A blank mind isn’t always unwelcome. Frequent are the times I think without realizing I am thinking. It requires difficult and deliberate effort to focus my thoughts, but in general, thinking is an involuntary function. I’m grateful I don’t have to think to make my heart beat, or to breathe, that my brain is at work 24/7, whether I’m aware of it or not. The fact is I can’t seem to shut my thoughts off, even when I most want to. ill_pg_044_lg Two-thirty in the morning is the worst time for cognitive awareness—what I call the “twilight hours” of the brain. I am beyond counting the number of nights I have lain awake thinking. Sometimes, twilight thoughts merely annoy, distract, and burden with reminders of what I did or didn’t do that day, or what I need to remember to do the next. Other times, they plague me with an itchy pox of unanswered questions, or magnified views of my faults and failings in a relentless and irritating way. Thoughts often torment once I move from the vertical to the horizontal position, morphing innocuous, productive ideas into destructive, unsettling—sometimes frightening—nightmares. We all experience nightmares during sleep from time to time, but “awake-mares” can be even worse. There is a greater sense of credibility to these tormenting thoughts, as I lie wide awake when I should be fast asleep. When I’m startled awake by a nightmare, I can shake it off, saying it was only a bad dream, but when I’m awake in the dark of night and my thoughts shift from annoyance to torment, it’s difficult to separate what is true from what isn’t. I’m not sure why this happens, except, perhaps, that I am so tired, my mind can’t think rationally anymore.

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“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” by Goya

Twilight thinking occurs during a state of limbo between waking and sleeping, fluctuating between reality and fiction. It is at these times, I long to flip a switch in my brain and shut off thought altogether!  A blank mind would be a welcome relief. I have found prayer the only means of deliverance from this state—crawling out of bed during the wee hours to kneel by my bedside and ask for help turning off the incessant drone of faithless thoughts. Fear is nearly always tangled-up in twisted twilight thoughts, which is why faith in God is the necessary antidote. “Faith and fear cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time,” said Elder Neil L. Andersen. I’ve found this to be true. Once faith conquers fear, my mind is eased and I am able to drift into a sleep of blank-minded sweetness (only to discover I finally fell asleep a half-hour before my alarm was set to go off).

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A System of Elocution, with Special Reference to Gesture, to the Treatment of Stammering, and Defective Articulation (1846) by Andrew Comstock

A blank mind may occur at other times, too—times less welcome than in the middle of the night—namely, any other hour of the day. It is helpful to have intelligent, worthwhile thoughts when one is awake. These can lead to intelligent, worthwhile conversation and discourse. Having the thoughts is one thing, expressing them verbally is another. When it comes to speaking, I am a slow processor. It does not necessarily follow to believe that a person who is skilled in, and enjoys writing, is also adept as a spontaneous speaker. In most cases, impromptu speech comes clumsily to me. If I am expected to answer a question, make intelligent remarks, or add to a conversation with any degree of clarity, I often have to contend with a blankness equal, or exceeding, that of a king-sized, white bed sheet. My hands, almost by necessity, must be involved if I have anything at all to say. They fly about in direct proportion to the intensity and strength of my motivation, but they do not (I repeat: DO NOT) in any way, assist my mouth in fluency of speech. It is only when my hands themselves are directly related to the creation of the words that they wax eloquent. I suppose if my fingers shriveled up and fell off, I would essentially, be left speechless. This leads me to the other “blank,” that of the blank page. 433099854_39c0d130c9_o

A BLANK PAGE.

Many people consider a blank page daunting—the blankness prompting questions such as, “Where do I start?” or “What do I say?” Writer’s block, artist’s block, and other forms of blankness may cause anxiety, and delay progress. For many, a blank page is as unwelcome as a blank mind. A blank page may even trigger a blank mind, or vice versa. 2bcfc60e72daf7116600c0b6ee6aebad To me, a blank page stands in direct contrast to a blank mind. A blank page flashes with opportunity, freedom, articulation, and countless other possibilities. A blank page shouts, “Just start, and see where it takes you!” My First Blog Post EVER! A physically blank page usually requires some type of physical contact by a hand-held medium—the use of paints, or a ballpoint pen. (A virtual blank page, such as a computer screen, may allow for voice activated commands, but that places me right back at square one with blank-mindedness.) When my hands become involved with the blank page—touching a keyboard, or holding a pencil—my neural network kicks into gear, bypassing my dysfunctional mouth, getting right to work. Suddenly, I am able to make coherent statements, and clear analogies. My hands, instinctively, know how to transmit and translate a madcap assortment of thoughts into a form that makes sense, sorting the superfluous from the necessary, the ridiculous from the practical, and the idiotic from the profound. download Sometimes, my hands begin typing and I’m surprised to see what they will say! I’m not kidding. As each sentence unfolds, I discover things I didn’t know I knew, or find new insights I had not consciously thought about before. Somehow, the connection flowing between mind and hands engages my spirit, causing a discernible ink of language to appear on what was, moments before, the blank, white bed sheet of my mind. I learn when I write. Words I didn’t know that I knew appear on the page. After checking with the dictionary, I am surprised and delighted to find I had used them correctly and in context. Sometimes, I discover what I really think about things, I find reaffirmations of my beliefs, and resurrected knowledge appearing before my eyes.  I find joy in the written word. Language is a gift and is beautiful—I’m speaking of virtuous, uplifting, worthy language. Sure, a commonplace, counterfeit, vulgar variety of language is always out there, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about elevated intelligence flowing into one’s spirit, enlightening and filling with joy. notebook-paper-pencil-drawing-sketch-bird-draw Language isn’t the only way to fill a blank page. My heart takes wing when drawing, sketching and creating beautiful images with pencil and paint. Swirling hues and tints in a kaleidoscopic rainbow of color add to the joy, and heighten expression. Sometimes, black and white and subtle shades of gray are required to express truth. Equally worthy to spreading joy and hope, is the expression of truth, virtue, and beauty. These form the epitome of worthy expression. Filling a blank page with things that drag down and depress may express truth, but do little to fill someone’s cup, and elevate their soul. images The same is true of a blank sheet of music manuscript paper, a silent musical instrument, an empty stage, or other worthy possibilities of expression. 2d434d834dc0b979b8c5546482e18757vk7gF Blankness is paradoxical. On the one hand, a blank page, or a blank mind, signifies muteness, while on the other hand, the same signifies an opportunity for expression. Blankness signifies an impediment, as well as a doorway to possibility. Blankness also signifies a source of anxiety, and a path to peace. This morning, I sat down to a blank page with my mind blank as to what would fill it. I let my fingers touch the keys, and watched what unfolded. It’s always exciting to see what the blank page will teach me. muscari-114577_640

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft, and from thy slender store Two loaves alone to thee are left, Sell one, and with the dole Buy Hyacinths to feed thy Soul.

– Muslihuddin Sadi,  13th Century Persian Poet

© July 15, 2015

© July 15, 2015

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


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“In Defense of Worthy Words “

Blog Post #6 (Soapbox)

Illumination
 “Refinement in speech is more than polished elocution. It results from purity of thought and sincerity of expression. A child’s prayer on occasion may reflect the language of heaven more nearly than a Shakespearean soliloquy.”  – Douglas L. Callister https://www.lds.org/ensign/2009/06/our-refined-heavenly-home?lang=eng

I love beautiful words. I love to hear words eloquently spoken. I love to read powerful and illuminating words. I love words of truth. I love words that inspire a wellspring of goodness, virtue and light.  


I know a man—a very scholarly man—whose speech is that of a farm boy. Yet this humble, quiet man speaks with power and authority. He isn’t loud or bombastic. He doesn’t sound practiced in oratory skills. His words are born of years of sacrifice, intense study, and a commitment to principles of integrity. The words that flow from his mouth are deep, sincere, quiet, simple, and ring with truth that resonates in the deepest fibers of the soul.

This post is in defense of worthy words,—not ostentatious, redundant, or vulgar words—but words that cheer, uplift and enlighten. A farm boy’s drawling speech is of far greater worth than that of a hundred skillful orators if his words transcend theirs in wisdom and truth.

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 
‘It might have been.”  
― John Greenleaf WhittierMaud Muller – Pamphlet


“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. 

Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.” 

― Michael OndaatjeThe English Patient


  “We live and breathe words.” ― Cassandra ClareClockwork Prince



Words are important. They can alter relationships. They can bind hearts. Words are in and through every part of life. They Challenge, Inspire, Uplift, Depress, Weary, Strengthen, Appease, and Unite. Words begin and end wars.

Words are the beats in the metronome of language. When arranged in various phrases, with varying punctuation, the same words can mean completely different things, having completely different *effects.
Look at how words have shaped art, philosophy, emotion, and action: think Shakespeare and the scriptural language of Tyndale, think music lyrics and poetry, think Lincoln, Emerson, Wordsworth, and a host of others.

I’ve never understood why there are learned people who choose to pollute and dilute their communications—particularly the written word—with unworthy words. I am always especially surprised to hear and read swear words coming from a teacher, just as I’m often astonished to find a singer smoking. It’s baffling to me. It’s paradoxical. Why do they choose to do it?
A teacher, by virtue of his or her position instructing and correcting others, might at least attempt to articulate the most accurate and lucid words the English language has to offer. To teach is to model. While it’s true that actions speak louder than words, words uttered speak volumes about a person’s character.

Recently, I’ve noticed Facebook posts by a teacher I knew when I was a student in the public school system many years ago. His remarks sounded intelligent and friendly until he introduced crude and obscene words into some of his posts. At first, I thought it was just a slip of the pen, but I finally decided it was intentional. I no longer read his posts because I never know when these unwelcome surprises will surface. 

I was saddened by this revelation. Disappointed, really. For a man with a cultured persona, I couldn’t help but wonder why he would include foul language in his words to the public. He had to make a conscious choice to include obscenities. 

I realize that writing isn’t the same as speaking. When speaking, it’s easier to let inappropriate words slip out unintentionally, especially in emotionally charged situations, or when a habit of swearing already exists. A word sometimes escapes out of the mouth without thought, but unworthy spoken words are never retractable. They are like seeds in the wind, blowing wherever the wind (and people) will carry them, planting  ignoble thoughts in the minds of others.


When writing (as in a Facebook post) it’s so simple to delete or rethink words. Every word is retractable, exchangeable, and erasable. It’s easy to find relevant and appropriate words on the computer with Google and a thesaurus only a click away.
 

Visual Thesaurus for “word”


I guess I hold teachers to a higher standard of communication than the average person. Not because I think they’re better than others are, but because they should know better than others do by virtue of their position among those “enlightened by knowledge.” They should value the beauty and utility of language enough to use the most descriptive and accurate words for any given situation. They should respect those they once taught, and those they continue to influence, by holding their torch for the written word a little higher than average.
In my mind, using expletives demonstrates a lack of mastery of the English language. A person who uses expletives and vulgarities to express a wide range of emotions and descriptions reveals a limited vocabulary. Of all people, a teacher should value the example they set when it comes to word usage. After all, words, and word usage form a primary part of their job description. Communicating ideas, concepts, facts, principles and ideals is a high and noble occupation.

Plato, the teacher of Aristotle
from “The School of Athens” by Raphael

Would a professional athlete, such as Michael Jordan, purposely fumble or mishandle the ball on court? Wouldn’t it outrage his adoring fans? Wouldn’t that set him up for ridicule? Wouldn’t he infuriate his employers? I may be wrong, but I doubt he would allow himself to consider doing such a thing. It would be a humiliation to his high personal standards of performance. I think he would always perform to the best within himself. 
Why do we expect less of teachers? They are professionals. They are every bit role models for those in their sphere of influence as athletes are in theirs. Teachers who purposely use foul language show a slovenly contempt for the highest ideals of education they represent. They trample beautiful language under their feet while elevating the weakest, most deplorable form of speech. 


 “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, 

we seek after these things.” 

– Joseph Smith13th Article of Faith 

I love beautiful language. I love eloquent speech. I am not eloquent in speaking myself. I often trip over my tongue. I am verbose. I can say nothing in a million words. Perhaps it is better to speak simply—or to remain quiet—than to impugn one’s own character, while showing a lack of respect for those around you with unworthy, vulgar and profane language.
I have deep respect for most teachers. I’ve worked among them. I know how many strive to use worthy and appropriate words, and to live a high standard of behavior—“to walk their talk.” In reality, we are all teachers. Someone somewhere is watching us, listening to us, noting our example, and maybe doing and saying as we do. 

I hope my words are always worthy ones.

*See Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss


© Copyright May 15, 2014