Sunday, January 13, 2008


And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. - Anais Nin

A couple of weeks ago when we had one of our infamous metro area snow "storms" I noticed a little blue flower still growing, nestled up against the concrete foundation of my house. Although the winters are relatively mild in these parts, conditions have still been against what is generally considered conducive of its ability to thrive. Looking at this little plant, I think of all the ways in which we allow other people to become the inclement weather that curtails our own attempts to blossom.

Recently in corresponding with a friend of mine, she made the comment that she lists facts rather than telling stories. This is not the first time she has mentioned this. It has always puzzled me, because when I think of her, I think of the quick witted young woman I knew in grad school, who used to keep me laughing for ages with her funny stories and commentary. Being in contact with her now, I see the same person. Yet a nonsense comment made to her by an ex-boyfriend has stuck with her all this time.

I too have similar stories. My writing/creativity anxieties alone could fill pages, but the one that comes most readily to mind right now is a meeting I had with an academic advisor when I was twenty. Up to that point, I had been majoring in two of my life long passions - music and foreign languages - and getting pretty close to a 4.0 average in both. I was transferring to a new school and meeting with a geriatric male professor to go over the course requirements for my intended majors.

We met in his office. After looking over my records, he lifted his piercing stare toward my eyes and said, "Do you really intend to major in both languages and music? Some people do manage a double major, but you really have to be academically gifted to do so successfully. I would advise against it." Now, if someone were to say this to me today, I would want some explanation. At the time, I already spoke German and French and played violin and piano and was getting good grades at all of them. There was no reason to expect that I would do poorly. And, yet, my inexperience did not allow me to dare think "this guy is an asshole who has no business counseling young people on their futures if he's going to squash them like bugs on a sidewalk". Instead, I took his advice, dropped the music major, and adopted a secret worry that I was an imposter who wasn't smart enough to be there. This sense stuck with me all the way through grad school, where (despite my good grades) I wasted a lot of energy working up my nerve to actually talk in seminars, fearing that my intelligence didn't measure up to my peers and that it was only a matter of time until they found me out and realized that I didn't belong there.

The thing is that people squash each other's spirits all the time. Sometimes they do it purposely, but more often, I think, they do it inadvertently with a casual comment. Think about it: How many times in your life has someone said you were too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, too loud, too soft, to shy, too gregarious to be good at activity X? And how many times have you listened? How many times have you let that color how you see yourself or, even worse, whether or not you chose to even do the thing in question? Maybe I am just a nutjob and it only happens to me, but I doubt it.

And, so, my commandment for the week is not only to take what other people say with a grain (or, if necessary, even a tablespoon) full of salt, but also to be more careful about the words I use with others.

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