Breathe a chilling calm:
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
Doris stood there, hand on hip, trying to figure out what to say. She’d already used up most of her standby phrases; things like, “Don’t forget, employees must wash their hands,” and “A smile will go a long way.” What worked for all the other ladies had not worked for this newest employee.
“Wash your hands” had led to the new hire carefully removing one hand, rinsing it, reattaching it somewhat sloppily, then attempting to repeat the process with the other one. Encouraging her to smile had sent the entire first grade screaming and running away from the queue.
Today, Doris had come to school ready for whatever came to mind. She’d thought to ask her fellow long-timers what they suggested. Looking hopelessly around the group, however, she realized they would not have any suggestions for the new girl. Rather, she had rubbed off on them already. They stood in a similar posture to hers, listlessly lolling their heads about and groaning. Doris cleared her throat anyway. Alerted, they all began shambling closer.
Expression is a noble attempt; one that must be made in lieu of telepathy.
I feel constricted, however, as my ideas form into that ever-inaccurate medium of language and attempt to convey an entire panorama of thought -that, honestly, has already moved on to different scenes.
“Mina! Thank heavens!” Mrs. Crandall exclaimed when Wil approached and opened the sliding door. “Your mom’s at the hospital. Lynette took her this morning and I only just got the text.”
Wil was too worried by this sudden announcement to think of tactlessly correcting her neighbor. She knew that her mother would have texted Mrs. Crandall immediately, so she suspected that her lazy neighbor had been lost, as usual, in the wastes of sleeping in and perusing social media.
“Are you taking me to the hospital?” Wil asked, instead. She ignored the sullen disapproval of the car’s other occupants -at least, the ones paying attention to something non-electronic.
In this case, that was Mrs. Crandall’s son, Eric, and their mutual neighbor, Vic. Reagan and Jorge, who lived near their apartment complex, continued finger-swiping their phones as their eyes and ear buds attended the screens.
“I’m afraid I can’t, Mina,” Mrs. Crandall said, making an effort to sound apologetic. She spoke as she eased the old minivan away from the curb, glancing at Wil as she didn’t actually check her blind spot.
Another driver honked, but the effort was wasted on one so immune to courteous driving practices like turn signals or proper traffic queuing.
“I’ve got to get back home,” Mrs. Crandall continued. “I mean, I’ve got to get you all home. I think Jakob’s planning on taking you.”
Wil bit her tongue as she buckled up in the moving vehicle. If she could have gotten home faster without this self-centered neighbor, she would have spoken her mind and walked. Retorts like, “lazy,” “selfish,” and “you know that we don’t have a car…” swirled in her thoughts and quite near to her voice box.
Even if they had an extra car, Jakob wouldn’t be home yet. Plus, he didn’t have driving capabilities. He’d passed the test, of course, but they had all decided that he and Wil couldn’t be added to the insurance yet. So, Jakob had nobly avoided all extra costs and not gotten his license.
Wil gripped at her knees. She hated forced inactivity. She needed to get to her mother as soon as possible, but faced too many barriers. She closed her eyes and tried the deep breathing exercises Cynthia had learned when her troubles starting becoming unbearable again.
Wil’s heart rate and anxiety only increased. She realized the exercises reminded her of the whole problem, and certainly did not calm her or take her mind off her mom.
Luckily, Mrs. Crandall was also a fast driver. They were home in minutes, though seconds felt forever for Wil.
Wil, Reagan, Vic, and Jorge clambered out the sliding door once they pulled into an empty stall. They all headed to their living spaces, Wil in a definite lead. She headed around a building, past a naked tree stuck in the dead, empty soil, then pulled out her key at door 2 of Building 4.
As she scratched a bit at the lock to insert her key, the door was pulled open to reveal Jakob. His harried look was replaced by one of relief, even though Wil’s short scream of surprise also surprised him.
“Let’s go, Wil!” He said earnestly. He grabbed her arm and turned her back toward the way she’d just come. Her backpack swung an erratic arc as she spun, nearly costing Wil her balance. She was so surprised at his intent manner and use of her preferred name, that she stumbled outside again before her mind caught up.
Jakob pulled the door closed and checked the lock. Then, he said, “Hurry!” He ran, hastily following his own advice.
Jakob was heading to the bus stop. She realized this finally, just as she recognized the sound of the bus approaching. This would be a close race!
Galvanized to action, Wil sprang after her step-brother.
She lightly licked her pointer finger, her pink stub of a tongue barely flicking out. Holding it aloft in imitation of her grandfather’s memory, she scrunched her miniature features in serious concentration. She pulled the small finger and fist back to her body. Looking determinedly solemn, she nodded to the setting sun.
She glanced down to her other hand; its grip tightened reflexively, pulling purple plastic wrinkles tightly toward it. Purple streamers of plastic rustled in anticipation.
Stooping, she used her licked-finger hand to scramble a spool into its too-small palm. Looping curves of cheap string threatened to come away between her fingers. Regardless, her grip was certain.
She stared ahead. Taking in the moment, her grandfather had called it. She breathed deeply in, raising her tiny shoulders up to her ears to ensure it was the deepest moment-taking-in possible.
Her breath came out dramatically, lowering her shoulders and entire upper half clumsily. She paused. Then, she ran.
Dandelion spores scattered, grass blades bent, and a languishing dog yawned near its park bench owner. Her stubby legs drove her rapidly down and up the small rising knolls of the field, convincing her of an immense speed.
Now! Her left arm flung wildly up and behind her shoulder, releasing its purple quarry. The flailing plastic tails flew behind her ungainly man-made bird. They struggled and whipped and bobbed in the erratic running rhythm.
The kite caught, tugging at her right hand and its death-gripped string. She kept moving as fast as she could, nearly outstripping a few passing, drifting butterflies. They floated translucently away, as their sunset meeting was rudely interrupted by the large, purple, flapping object.
No butterfly nor bird ever bobbed and wove such a barely buoyant path before. The purple kite fluttered and flopped obediently. It followed closely behind her pumping legs, her taut string, her stubborn grip.
Let out some string, her grandfather’s gruff voice directed her mind. Stumbling slightly, she loosed some string from the matted bunch inside her clammy hand. The freed clump reached the flapping purple animal tailing her; straightening, liberating, lifting.
She felt the tug of success. Chancing a quick backward glance, she saw her kite rising, rising!
Stop! Her furious toddler-run wobbled to a halt. She immediately turned, releasing yet more string and running it through both hands. That’s it, keep her steady, grandfather complimented.
Orange-red beams from the Westward sun glowed up the bobbing string. The plastic purple kite flew high and sure in the light evening winds. She pulled a few sweat-wiped strands of blonding hair from across her flushed face, immediately re-gripping the twisting, pulling string.
She looked up at her kite. Her whole face smiled.
From a higher vantage point amongst the painted clouds, Grandfather looked down. The glorious rays spread across the entire expanse as he smiled in return.
When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to grow up. Among my reasons were: the ability to drive, not doing chores, and having more friends because adults are so much more mature.
At least I get to drive.
I’ve noticed those who extol patience do not have a small child beating on their legs and vocally expressing himself as they do so.
Self-esteem is a tricky little bugger.
I’ve always had issues with mine; I mean, with the small amount that I even allow to exist.
Perhaps it’s my childhood? My sometimes non-religious views? A realistic attitude about what I actually provide to the world?
After reading a very good article written from the perspective of an artist this morning, I attended a local Mothers Of Preschoolers group my neighbor told me about. The article, about devaluing, opened my mind. The MOPs, whereat a fellow mother honestly detailed her life with anxiety and depression (and OCD and body image issues and …well, you get the idea), opened my heart.
“I’m sure men and boys experience it too, I know they do, but in my personal experience it’s women who consistently undervalue their work, their time and their talent and it’s women who desperately seek approval by making themselves small,” Johanna (the artist I mentioned) notes.
Caroline, the brave MOPs woman with constant struggles, spoke of a lifetime of hiding. She thought others would only want to see the perfect her, the one she wasn’t ashamed of. She was flawed.
Although I have not been diagnosed with a specific condition (yet), I felt like these women were speaking to me, or even about me.
“…I had subconsciously believed that valuing myself meant devaluing others which would make them feel bad which would make them not like me.” Johanna continued, “I had kept myself in a nice little box that would be no obvious threat to anyone.”
I feel my own box. Like a bad mime, I keep people away from the invisible walls with my facial expressions, body language, and comments. I push away, instead of invite in. Sometimes the box is literally my car, my house, or my closet.
Sadly, Caroline felt similarly. She spoke of assuming her own family wouldn’t want to know this dark side. She described herself thinking how her husband and child would be better off without her in their lives.
This is an extreme position to take, a sure sign that you need to talk to a counselor.
It is also one I understand, and have felt. Blearily, tiredly, I’ve looked around and seen the only problem is me. No self-esteem. The only logical parts able to stop anything remind me that death would screw up my children psychologically, or that I might fail and be stuck as a vegetable.
If I was truly logical, however, I would see that my thinking is, as Caroline said, twisted.
I have spoken with a therapist, a counselor. When I mentioned how deeply I’d allowed myself to sink into self-loathing, she agreed the thinking was wrong. “You need to see a doctor,” she said. “You need to test your hormone levels,” she said.
We wonderful, emotional women are extremely down on ourselves, and it’s often because of hormones.
In fact, hormones can be blamed for everything. Of course, despite my pleas to my husband, we cannot simply be rid of them. They are essential to other feelings, and to basic body functions.
Aside from functionality or regulation, I would also like to applaud an approach Johanna details partway through her crafting article.
She wrote the post to talk about an art submission to Craft Town, and how she had mentored applicants for this event in the past. “(A)bout six years ago, I banned my students from saying the word sorry, and we did a little experiment. They had to present their work without saying a single negative word about it, and throughout the exercise they would have absolutely no encouragement or feedback from me whatsoever. So no negativity from them and no approval from me.”
The results? “What happened shocked me. Some students weren’t even able to begin speaking. They looked at the floor, they took deep breaths, they took several minutes just to find words to begin with that wouldn’t include any sort of apology. Some were even brought to tears by the sheer frustration of not being able to criticise themselves.”
Can you make something, gift an item, talk about yourself -without devaluing? I cannot.
Well, I can. But, I don’t. I believe I should try.
Why? Fabulous results. From Johanna, one last time:
There would be a change in tone and volume that was so moving, so utterly inspiring that I can’t even describe it to you. They would speak without apology, explanation or expectation, about what they loved about their own talent. Then they would realise that no one was laughing at them, no one was horrified, no one had stopped liking them, and that they weren’t in trouble, then their voice would get stronger and clearer and calmer. And when they shone, something would happen to the other students in the room, and to me; we’d feel just a little bit closer to our own value because we could see someone else connecting with theirs.
And, what about Caroline from the mothers’ group? She admits to still struggling. However, as a plug for the group, her help came from joining MOPs but also from opening up. Instead of apologizing, hiding, pretending, she wore herself on her sleeve.
We are valuable women, valuable people.
Self-esteem has to come from within, my paid friend tells me. Johanna and Caroline have given me some tools to begin with. I hope we’ve helped you as well.
“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”