Speak Up!

Be_A_VoiceRecent events have caused me to think deeply on how I am called to be a woman of integrity in such a broken world. I find myself weeping over the hatred and violence in our daily news. What am I to say or do in the midst of such overwhelming pain? How can I make a difference? The political discourse has become so nasty that I often keep my thoughts to myself to avoid simply becoming another talking head, or worse, part of the problem. It occurs to me, however, that my voice is my power, and it may be more important than ever that I fearlessly use my authentic voice.

In her book “Faith and Feminism,” Helen LaKelly Hunt uses the story of Sojourner Truth to illustrate the search for voice, as one of the five stages of women’s ‘Journey Toward Wholeness.’ Sojourner Truth was a shy nineteenth century black female ex-slave who changed her name and courageously and effectively spoke out for the abolitionist and early feminist movements. Helen writes that Sojourner Truth’s life teaches us “when we are able to speak our truth we gain a new ‘name,’ a new voice – that is, a new empowered self-concept and identify.” “A search for voice is the search for self.”

Based on my own experience, and countless discussions with other women, I find that we too often experience a reluctance or inability to express ourselves boldly. We compromise to avoid hurting others feelings, or making waves, or appearing too aggressive. We find it easier to bypass the large or troublesome people in our lives rather than engage or confront them. We may have a trusted group of confidantes with whom we share our authentic selves, while putting forth a more guarded, or accommodating, public self with others. Although it is clearly not prudent to share everything with everyone, there are times when it is important to assertively express our true needs, beliefs and opinions.

This has been a lifelong growth area for me. Growing up the shy, youngest child with two older brothers, I had to work hard, in a military family that valued high intelligence and achievement, to be taken seriously. In school, I pushed myself relentlessly to overcome my own self-perception of insignificance, and vividly remember being pleasantly surprised to discover how talented and intelligent I was relative to my peers. I found that I had highly developed interpersonal skills, no doubt attributable to navigating my male-dominated family dynamics. On the other hand, I still carried that small internal voice which caused self-doubt and suppression of expression.

Over time, I grew very comfortable with the sharp verbal sparring favored in my male-dominated workplace and developed a thick skin. I could be a tough negotiator when it came to work-related issues and learned to stand up for my positions. But, to this day I know I often avoid expressing personal opinions contrary to others. I know I gravitate towards people with whom I share similar views, and avoid those who don’t. It’s just easier to share my beliefs with people who agree with me.

However, my inability or unwillingness to speak up only contributes to unbridged chasms (political, religious, etc.) in society, robs me of the opportunity to have healthy robust discussion, and diminishes my moderate, Christian, feminine point of view in society. I risk not being truly known by others, losing self-respect and not asking for what I need or want. I suspect there are countless other temperate voices who are silent for similar reasons.

Even within the church, if I am reluctant to question authority for fear of appearing sacrilegious or disrespectful, I may actually do a disservice to the church. As Helen LaKelly Hunt writes in Faith and Feminism, “if a religious institution does not support an issue that is based upon Christ’s teaching, it’s imperative to challenge the institution, not the teaching.” The early feminists understood this distinction and were instrumental in bringing change to church policies that suppressed, divided and excluded.

In short, my personal search for voice is a journey not only toward my own wholeness but the world’s. I was reminded of this recently when I stayed up until 1:30 AM (way past my bedtime) with two of my book club friends over a glass of wine. We were bemoaning the state of current politics, with two of us feeling it is rather pointless to publicly state our views on social media. My other friend passionately admonished us to speak up. She challenged us to think about chapters in world history where courageous voices made a difference, and conversely where silence allowed hatred, violence or intolerance to triumph.

“God’s wisdom is not a pathway of escape but a road of faithful engagement,” writes Mark Labberton in his book “Called.” “God’s wisdom breaks passivity and leads to action. If we don’t take action, our house is built on sand, even if we profess that it’s built on rock.”   Speaking up is action, with consequences, and we have responsibility to ourselves and to the world to speak our truth in love, respectfully, but with conviction. I may not change entrenched minds with my words, but I should strive to be a seeker and speaker of wisdom, and may then, through example, influence those looking for alternatives to the noisy mainstream talking heads.

Of courage, John O’Donahue writes in “To Bless the Space Between Us”:

“Close your eyes,

Gather all the kindling

About your heart

To create one spark

That is all you need

To nourish the flame

That will cleanse the dark

Of its weight of festered fear.”

Oh Lord, in this time of great strife, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and give me wisdom and courage in thought, word and deed.

Breaking Up….Is Great to Do!

Last week my husband bought me a new Dell printer, making me ridiculously happy. I had no idea an inanimate object could bring me such joy. I find myself smiling at it, even singing to it, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, “So Happy Together”, “You Light up My Life.” The Era of Good Feelings has once again come to my home-den-office.

My devotion to my new Dell is best understood by my dysfunctional, at times abusive, relationship with my ex, an HP. For over two years, since I retired and became wholly dependent on our home office equipment, I was victim to the dark moods and spiteful whims of this evil HP. It wasn’t that it didn’t print – it just didn’t print consistently.   It was always slow as molasses. But at times, it would grow inexplicably temperamental and stop functioning, usually when I was rushed or needed to print something important. Other times, it would print, but the colors would be whacky. Or, it would suddenly stop printing PDFs, or pages from the Web, or any number of other programs it would single out for punishment. Then the next day, all would be operational. It felt like it was playing me for laughs.

My husband has a higher threshold for this type of inconvenience than I do, mainly because he is responsible for fixing things and he didn’t know how to fix this thing. Since the HP did work sometimes, it never qualified as “broken” so he was not in favor of buying a new printer. And, most maddeningly, that little stinker would print just fine for his computer (which sat next to and connected to the HP). So, we resorted to increasingly irritating work-arounds, like me emailing documents to my husband to print from my his computer, turning the printer off and counting for 60 seconds and turning it back on, and (my favorite), smacking it on the side. After days of stomping back and forth between the den and the printer, turning it on and off, on and off, on and off, cussing and yelling at the HP, my husband would calmly say things like, “Hmmm, maybe I need to take it apart and fix it.” And I ‘d say, “Or maybe I need to take it apart and kill it.”.

One day I came home and my husband was doing printer brain surgery. He had hundreds of little parts spread all over the kitchen island. He had my late father’s loops (the magnifying lenses my dad used in his dentistry practice) on his head and an extra bright office light trained on the patient.   The surgery was temporarily successful, and the printer worked like a champ for a few months.

UNTIL, last spring, as I was preparing for my son’s USNA graduation week and planned to produce packets (including schedules, maps, and nametags) for all our guests. After spending countless hours designing, drafting and collecting materials on my computer, I began printing. The HP-from-Hell would print five of something, and then stop. Or one of something else, then stop. Then no more that day. It just refused, flagrant acts of insubordination. The next day, it would print three more of something and nothing of the other. There was one PDF that it never printed correctly. And all this after trying all the work-arounds – the turning on and off and emailing and smacking. I was mostly alone in the house those days and the swear words were gushing from my lips like a Roman fountain. I finally downloaded everything I couldn’t get that damn printer to print on a flash drive, drove down to Kinko’s, and had everything printed in less than 30 minutes.

In the months following the graduation, I felt myself pulling away from the HP. I was no longer willing to work on our relationship. If I encountered any resistance at all from that little nutcase, I took my flash drive and turned to Kinko’s. By the end of summer, HP and I were at an impasse. It basically wasn’t printing anything for me; meanwhile, my relationship with Kinko’s blossomed (and feeling the expense was worth every cent to my sanity).

And then a wondrous thing happened. Not having me to kick around anymore, HP started messing with my husband.   I began hearing a few swear words coming out of his mouth, and noticed that he was increasingly having problems printing. Now things were getting interesting!

In September, we decided to get a new laptop for me, so we’d each have a laptop when we’re traveling, and my husband said something incredible. At least, I thought he said, “Maybe we’ll get you a small printer to go in your office.” I tried not to get too excited, as these initiatives take time to come to fruition in our house.

Then that HP stupidly kept messing with my husband, and he began researching in earnest what might be wrong. What he discovered online was that an “update” pushed out by HP in the last few years basically destroyed some key part of the printer. That did it! Now he was angry! HP had just messed with the wrong guy. (A little slow, but glad he was now feeling my outrage.) He found a part on eBay that some claimed could be a DIY fix to the problem, which he ordered and it came last week, and then my heart sank. Now we might be in for another protracted period of “fixes” to that blasted HP.

The Good (Dell), The Bad (HP) and the Ugly (also HP)

The Good (Dell), The Bad (HP) and the Ugly (also HP)

But, last Friday I came home to a huge empty cardboard shipping box sitting on our living room floor. I went into my den/office and there it was…my new Dell. It was love at first sight.  The reign of HP oppression has ended.

Since then, I’ve been printing to my heart’s content. Color! Two-sided! PDFs! Webpages! That document from graduation that HP never printed! Everything is done quickly, cheerfully and perfectly, with no attitude. I may even be able to print my Christmas letter myself this year. It all just makes me want to sing. I love my new printer.

So Why Do I Blog?

In the peculiar, lonely world of blogging, there is nothing like writing a good post that hits the mark in some way for someone else and then to hear about it. An incident that absolutely made my week was in connection with a recent post I wrote in tribute to my yoga teacher, Diane.   After reading it, Diane wrote me a sweet note, delighted that I captured the essence of her teaching and expressing how much the post meant to her. Which utterly warmed my heart. Then, last week she sent me an email saying she loved the post so much she forwarded it to her husband to print on special paper, and HE was so impressed that he had it enlarged, printed and framed for her, and it is now hanging on the wall in their house. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

The framed copy of my blog post in Diane's house.

The framed copy of my blog post in Diane’s house.

Those glorious and infrequent moments aside, blogging is a rather odd experience. I easily think of countless potential topics each week (in fact, I often find myself viewing life events with an eye towards how they would play as blog posts) and just as easily discard most of them. I spend hours writing and re-writing my posts, sometimes composing in my sleep (I never write and post the same day as some of my best work happens in my subconscious).

Then when I’m at least 95% satisfied with a post, after pouring my heart and soul into it, I press the Publish button, sending my latest fragile masterpiece, my recently birthed baby, careening into a cyber-universe of mostly complete strangers, asking them to read and judge my work. It is an odd, one-way, vulnerable, terrifying, intimidating, and exhilarating moment. I worry about over-sharing personal information and experiences. I worry about violating the privacy of my friends and family. I worry that an axe murderer will figure out where I live.

After publishing, my posts are answered, for the most part, with a deafening quiet.   I receive a few likes and comments, typically from a small, loyal, vocal and much appreciated core group of followers, but mostly radio silence (which I suppose is good when I think about that axe murderer).  Or, another creepy aspect of blogging is that, more than a few times, I have been with friends or acquaintances who reference things about me that I am pretty sure they shouldn’t know. Then it suddenly hits me (it happens every time) that they’ve been secretly reading my blog (should I be flattered or not since they’ve never said anything?), and that my life is a potentially unhealthy, semi-open book. So why DO I blog?

One of my favorite websites, Brainpickings, recently discussed Elizabeth Gilbert”s new book (now on my reading list) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which seeks to empower creative endeavors. A quote from Gilbert that particularly resonates with me:

“This, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

[…]

Surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels — that’s creative living.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place — that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

The often surprising results of that hunt — that’s what I call Big Magic.”

I love the notion of “Big Magic” and it helps me understand the artistic drive. For me, writing is my Big Magic. I find that during the creative process, I grapple with experiences, discover things about myself and often come to surprising conclusions. Frequently, I will start writing a post, only to find it going in an entirely different direction than I anticipated. There is a deep satisfaction in finding the right combination of words that most fully captures my thoughts and emotions. It is the joy of finding my “buried treasure.”  When Gilbert challenges us to have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within us, I think of the trepidation I feel each time I push the Publish button. Blogging makes the creative process frightening, invigorating and more rewarding by openly sharing my “strange jewels” and my personal journey of finding them.

Another quote from the same Brainpickings article:

“When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand.”           – Amanda Palmer

It took me awhile to understand that, notwithstanding the occasional Diane mutual admiration moments, my blogging is ultimately for myself. I quite simply love to write. I love to write about the random things that peak my interest. I enjoy the creative process and I push myself to produce the best writing I can. I take pride in the end product. I hope that others enjoy reading and experiencing my journey, but at the end of the day, I would be horribly disappointed if my ultimate goal was affirmation and recognition. I have to hit my own head with my own handmade wand and consider myself a legitimate writer. Blogging is largely a one-sided, lonely form of communication, but one that also carries an unexpectedly deep internal richness and connection with self.  However, if there’s one thing I learned this week, as a writer (and I will strive to remember as a reader), it is that the occasional (and heartfelt) affirmation is treasured indeed!