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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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Middles

Blog Post # 25

All stories have a beginning, middle and end, including each of our personal stories. Most of us spend most of our lives in the middle of our stories. Few remember the beginning, and the end is a mysterious, ambiguous question mark quivering, mirage-like, somewhere in the future. 
 
 
I believe there’s a lot to be said for “the middle”—and, generally, I think we take middles for granted.
 
 
 The famous Tolkien understood the importance of the middle, creating the setting for his epic tale of Hobbits, elves and men in Middle Earth


Map of Middle Earth as it appeared in earliest editions of Tolkien’s books

An entire period in history is named for the middleThe Middle Ages
 
Middle Ages (Image: Public Domain)
 
Even historical time is marked from the middle—when Jesus Christ was born—and is counted forward or backward from that point. 
Jesus Christ–born in the Meridian of Time
So you see, middles are significant.
Other prominent middles you may be familiar with are:
Middle of the road
Middle ground
Being in the middle of things
Caught in the middle
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of something
Middle Aged
Middle Life (shortened to Mid-Life)
Middle Class
Meeting in the middle
Middle man
Middle of the night
Middle finger
Around the middle (referring to the tummy area)
Middle school
Middle roll or slice of bread (This is probably not important to anyone, but me. Everyone in our family knows how much I love the middle roll for its softness and lack of crusty edges. They have been very respectful of this preference, and always save at least one middle roll for me as they come out of the oven.)
 
You may agree that some of these middles have more positive connotations than others, but where would we be if there weren’t some kind of middle to things? We’d always be on the dangling “ends.” I submit that there is an aspect of safety and comfort to be had in the middle.
Take, for example, one of the most prominent middles: The Middle of the Road. When our children, grandchildren, and even a couple of our nieces were learning to drive, my husband, Brad, like Frodo Baggins, fearlessly stepped forward, volunteering to assist the hopeful, naïve drivers in their treacherous journey down backroads and freeways to destroy their “ring” of immobility. I was sometimes a passenger/companion in that fellowship down the road, and I can honestly tell you: the middle of the road is best! We came precariously close to trolls, dragons and orcs poised along the broken white lines separating lanes, and the solid lines on the edges of the roads—knocking an orc off the road here, and a troll off there. Several hair-raising (and hair-graying) incidents stand out in my mind, but I’ll only mention one. Our son was driving our old yellow Suburban along the freeway when a dragon of enormous proportions came up beside us in the form of a semi. 
 
I couldn’t believe there is really a truck painted to look like a dragon!
I had to include this picture I found on Pinterest!
 
Sitting on the passenger’s side of the front seat, (my husband Brad in the middle), I gripped the car door as if brandishing a shield in my defense. At the point when I knew if I stretched my arm out the window I could polish the scales on the dragon’s skin, Brad, meaning to encourage our son to drive ahead of the semi, said, “Move closer.” Of course, our son understood his meaning as “move closer to the truck,” and began sidling across the line towards the dragon in the lane to my right. I was scrunching down into the car floor with fear, at this point, certain if I ventured to stick my fingers a hand’s length out the window, the dragon would have bitten them off at the nub. Brad, as calmly as if he were ordering a cheeseburger and fries, told our son to move forward, not to the side, and our son corrected our route before sheering off my side of the Suburban. Afterwards, our son admitted that he couldn’t understand why his dad would want him to nudge up next to a fire-breathing dragon spanning the dotted line on the perimeter of his lair, but being the obedient son, he followed directions and nearly got us all killed or maimed. It would have been far safer for said “fellowship” to brave the middle of the lane leading to Mordor rather than flirt with danger lurking on the periphery.
 
 
The middle of the road is reliable and trusted for other reasons, as well. Any time you get precariously near the fringe edges of things there are risks lurking in the shadows. It is along the edge that one finds cliffs, soft shoulders, bridge railings, ditches, bodies of water, trees, and granite walls. Guardrails are called “guard” rails for a very good reason. It is their specific mission to prevent the risk of danger or accidents. Reflectors imbedded into some guardrails flash a warning at you that you’re veering off the path of safety into dangerous territory. If you opt not to heed the warning, you may find yourself careening down a cliff, or plunging into a swiftly moving river.
 
See the guy beyond the guardrail?


The middle of the road can apply to smaller, less aggressive thoroughfares, as well. If you’ve ever wandered a path through the woods or meandered down a country lane, you may have noticed the fringes of the path lined with stinging nettle, poison ivy, rocks, branches, downed or standing trees, stumps, or weeds full of foxtails and cockleburs. The well-trampled pathway has fewer hindrances due to excessive use, in most cases making it less hazardous–or perhaps to some, less interesting. (I, personally, have never been one to find interest or entertainment in trifling with risk, but I know some who do.)  
 
There are always exceptions to this rule, as I recall many times finding a less maintained pathway blocked by a fallen log. But stranger than nature causing obstructions are those man creates for himself! Here are two crazy examples:

Ahem….there’s a telephone pole in the middle of the road! 
It would be best not to drive this street on a moonless night.
Either the road should have been rerouted,
or the tree planted elsewhere, whichever came first.
When I speak of The Middle of the Road, I am not talking about haphazardly trekking over an imagined path across the middle of a perilous and fragile frozen lake, either. Shortcuts over thin ice are what the Foolish or Lazy consider a time-saver, and indeed, that route may insure never having to worry about going the long way around on solid ground again!
 
When I speak of The Middle of the Road, I am referring to a road built on bedrock: solid, steadfast, and immovable.
 
Wagon ruts in rock — Oregon Trail. (From Wyoming Heritage.org)
 
Other middles that have proven useful are Meeting in the Middle, Finding Middle Ground, and Being in the Middle of Things. I am lumping together these middles because, to my mind, they seem to hold hands and bridge gaps when put together. When I was a child in grade school, I often felt myself on the periphery. If you had asked me where I stood among my peers, I would have probably described myself as part of a circle (the type of circle employed for a game of dodge ball, or Duck, Duck, Goose), or perhaps more fitting, on the outskirts of the circle looking in, not the child in the middle (the chosen one). I was usually one of the last chosen for schoolyard teams, and rarely chosen by the teacher to lead up a team. I wasn’t very athletic, nor was I particularly popular. I was on the shy side, and completely average. I stood in the wings, awkward, and relieved not to be the center of attention. Sometimes I was observant. I learned to see and have compassion for others who were also standing in the wings—who were “different” in the sense of not quite fitting-in.
Duck, Duck, Goose, of course.
 
Over time, I learned a very useful lesson: how to find Middle Ground where people who were “different” (or at least felt they were different) might meet and feel safe as part of a unified whole (something I seldom felt during my elementary and junior high school years). It wasn’t until High School that I began to feel a sense of being a part of a united whole, as I found and honed some of my personal strengths and offered them to my school community in the form of choir and drill team. I didn’t need, or want, to be In the Middle—the center of attention. I was content not to be a drill team captain or co-captain, and not to have the lead in the school musical. I was content as a member of the team, or of the chorus—having the fun without the worry or discomfort of having all eyes on me.

Drill Team back in the day
(That’s me: 
right center front. I’m almost always in the front row
–what can I say? I’m short.)
There were times, however, when I enjoyed being In the Middle of Things, meaning, being a part of the greater good, or the greater whole to achieve something of worth. If you have ever enjoyed the uplifting experience of singing “The Hallelujah Chorus” or “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a member of a choir, you may understand the essence of what I’m saying. As a choir member, a drill team member, a member of an orchestra, soccer team, basketball team, dance ensemble, or any such group effort where every individual contributes to enhance the whole, one may experience a sense of synergy—creating something greater than the sum of the individual parts. One needn’t be the center of attention to feel one’s value in creating something beautiful and inspiring. One need only be a participant—a contributing part of the whole. In this way, one is indeed In the Middle of Things while being uniquely individual; a voice unique to oneself, yet blending with the whole—a true sense of unity.  
 
I’m in the front row again, far right of this picture. One voice in the choir–a part of the whole.
(This is from college. I couldn’t find a picture from high school.)
One of my favorite “middles” is not just being In the Middle of Things, but being In the Middle of Something. This is the story of my life. I am always in the middle of something, or truer still, I am always in the middle of several somethings at once! I laid aside some long-anticipated sewing that I was right in the middle of to sit down and write this post. I am not a slave to writing because, for me, it is simply a thing I do for fun. But writing was calling to me. The thing is—the sewing was also calling to me. Which do I answer first? Whichever calls loudest? No…. I think I answer more to whichever calls to the innermost longings of my heart, provided it doesn’t encroach on other, more important things—necessities, responsibilities, family, or service. One day, it may be sewing. Another day it may be time with my family—this desire accounts for most days. Yet another day, it is writing. Tomorrow, it may be sewing again. Or baking. Or going for a walk with Brad. Or building a puzzle while sitting with my father. Or playing the piano. Or tending to the roses. Or providing service. Or cleaning the house (yes, even cleaning the house calls to me from time to time.)  I could list a dozen or more things that, most of the time, I long to do all of the time. One may find oneself Caught in the Middle of Being in the Middle of (more) Things at once than one can handle at one time. It’s at these times, that I most long to run off to a place alone—In the Middle of Nowhere—where my mind can untangle itself, and quiet the noise, rest, and rejuvenate (this is rarely possible).
 
Two more middles and I’m done. First, being The Middle Child. Certainly, being the middle child has been given a bad rap. When you are the middle child, you are neither the oldest, nor the youngest, both of which are problematic. My own experience as the middle child was instructive, providing plenty of evidence that there are both advantages and disadvantages to this position in the family. The adulation that goes to the oldest, and the privileges that attend the youngest are somehow lost on the middle child. This is not all bad. I had the direct advantage of observing and avoiding the “guinea pigged-ness” of the oldest, while inadvertently also avoiding the privileges of the youngest. My older sister tested the waters, so to speak, and I saw what worked and what didn’t. I understood at a young age what was required to maintain peace and avoid contention through thoughtful observance of her experiences. On the other hand, my little brother was born just close enough on the heels of my third birthday, (the day after, to be exact), to give my parents virtually no time at all to consider spoiling me, and plenty of time for my brother to benefit from being “the only child” once my sister and I left home.  
 
Me, my sister, and my brother. For as long as I can remember,
the heads of my wonderful parents have been missing from this picture. Not sure why.
 
I must add that the home in which I was raised was a completely loving and nurturing environment. I had a virtually ideal childhood. In fact, it was a blessing for me to be in the middle. Among other things, being middle child taught me to save and budget my money, to be self-reliant and self-analytical, and to observe and learn how to have good relations with my parents and with others. (This is not to say that my siblings did not also learn these things. It is only to say that I attribute the speed of learning such lessons to the tutelage of being middle.) 
 
Lastly, I would like to speak from experience about Middle Age—a middle through which I believe I am gradually approaching the exit—or through which I have, in ignorance, already passed. Having turned sixty last year, I recognize that I have been very solidly engaged in Middle Age for many years, and that, although it doesn’t feel like it, I am entering the period know as Old Age. Strange as it may seem, my spirit gazing from the inside of this body out through ever-youthful, sixteen-year-old eyes, has never sensed the aging process. No, not for an instant! Having experienced Middle Age, I think I can safely say it has been, for me, a place of security and comfort.
 
Some of the benefits I’ve experienced during Middle Age are:
  • Being rooted solidly in family and all the accoutrements of a full and fulfilling life with husband, parents, children and grandchildren.
  • Having an understanding of ways I have been, and continue to be a contributing member of society.
  • Enjoying the many gifts of Time.
  • Having intact, faithful connections with friends, near and far, old and new.
  • Feeling at peace and empowered by my beliefs and the strength of my faith in God and Jesus Christ.
  • Continuing in the delightful process of discovering things that bring joy every day.
  • Recognition of all for which I am grateful.
 
The edges of life feel insecure compared to being cemented in the middle: there are questions; there is anticipation; there is the strange, empty sadness of impending or experienced loss; and the ecstatic joy of new beginnings. I look at my ninety-two year-old father, and think that if I have inherited his genes for longevity, I may still have another thirty years—half again the life I have already lived—left in me, and I wonder about that. When viewed from that perspective, I may at this moment, remain fixed in the middle of my Middle Aged years. And yet, I do not know the answer to that any more than my father knows at which moment he will pass into the rest of the eternal realm where he’ll enjoy the companionship of his beloved wife and other family members once again.  I’m okay with this unanswered enigma. Whatever the ending of my story will be, it was the middle that prepared me for what is to come.
 
The Middle of life has given me a sense of Eternity. Of Joy that knows no limits. Of Hope for what lies in the future. Of Faith in a Loving Eternal Father who is mindful of me and wants me to return home to Him. Of Love and Family ties that last forever.  
 
The Middle has strengthened me for the boundless Ends. 

“And thus it was, a Fourth Age of Middle-earth began. And the Fellowship of the Ring, 
though eternally bound by friendship and love, was ended.” – J.R.R. Tolkein


From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.
 
© March 16, 2015