Tag Archives: clarity

Make Yourself Small

I’m getting ready to turn over the manuscript of my first book to a developmental editor. Getting ready means I’m doing one final read through and combing out overused words and phrases using the search (and destroy) feature in my word processor. Over the months and years I’ve been working with my book and mastering the mechanics of writing, I’ve learned a lot about language and my own personal tics and patterns. The biggest problem I’ve found in my writing is unconsciously using passive voice.

On the face of it, the process of cleaning up a manuscript is straightforward and occasionally mind-numbingly tedious. Looking at 4000 plus occurrences of the word ‘was’ throughout 1000 plus pages is not filled with giggles and takes a long time. I entertain myself with battleship noises every time I eliminate ‘was’, ‘were’, ‘had’, or ‘have’. I also come up with amusing similes for the process. My favorite is that editing is like combing nits out of a child’s hair.

On the plus side, this practice opens up a lot of time in which to notice my unconscious language patterns and think about how my word choice reflects my choices in every other aspect of life. Editing word by word in this way is also a great habit breaker. When I write ‘had’ or ‘have’ now I notice it and I stamp on it immediately.

In the past, I’ve also overused ‘gently’, ‘lightly’, ‘quietly’, ‘a little’, ‘went’ (that’s a common one), and ‘softly’. As these patterns become visible to me, I ask myself with some annoyance, why not ‘fiercely’, ‘loudly’, ‘a LOT’ or ‘strode, galloped or dashed’?

I’ll tell you why not. Because I’m female and my culture has successfully taught me to make myself small. That lesson is so central and ubiquitous that I’ve only recently been able to identify it and begin to organize resistance. The message is impossible to see until you see it, and then you can’t unsee it.

Do you know the old French fairy tale of Bluebeard? A serial wife killer instructs his latest victim to refrain from opening a door in his castle, the door a particular little key opens. Then he leaves her alone with his keys (of course). In his absence, Bluebeard’s young wife and her sisters explore the castle, opening every door, and (naturally) the wife is persuaded there’s no harm in just peeking behind that last forbidden locked door. In the room they discover a row of headless bodies and a pile of heads belonging to Bluebeard’s previous wives. They exit the room (as you might imagine) and conspire to pretend they never unlocked the door. The only problem is the little key that unlocked the door begins to weep drops of blood and nothing they can do makes it stop. Bluebeard returns, discovers the infraction, and … I won’t tell you what happens, because different versions of the story end differently. This fairy tale is embedded in my own book, The Hanged Man, as well. The point is, once some things are understood and seen, they can’t be unseen. There is no going back.

The Roaming Gypsy Angel

So, consider this commandment with me: Make Yourself Small.

  • Adhere to the arbitrary cultural ideal of acceptable attractiveness. If you can’t, hate your body, torture it, starve it, distort it, color it, shave it and beat it into compliance. Make yourself conform.
  • Let the media, social media, experts, professionals, your favorite news channel or radio host, your religious leader or the men in your life tell you what to believe and what to think. Don’t you bother your pretty little head trying to understand anything.
  • Make your sexuality, passion and lust small. In fact, make them invisible (you slut).
  • Make your intelligence nonthreatening.
  • Tame your creativity.
  • Don’t ask questions. Don’t search for clarity and truth. Don’t do your own research. Restrain your curiosity.
  • If you must have needs, make them as infinitesimal as possible. Your needs are dust in the wind compared to the convenience, habits and preferences of others.
  • Be silent! You are disqualified from having an opinion. Don’t tell your truth. Others are speaking. Censor your voice.
  • Capture, restrain, cage, shackle, chain and abandon your dreams. Who do you think you are?
  • Deny, belittle, smother and minimize your feelings. Control yourself!
  • Shame on you! Cringe, cower, hide your head! You’re bad and wrong!
  • Be self-contained. Be self-sufficient. Don’t take up too much space. Move lightly. Don’t spend too much money. Don’t be too dramatic. Don’t be too sensitive. Don’t order dessert. Don’t attract attention. Don’t breathe too much air. MAKE YOURSELF SMALL!

You get the idea, I’m sure. This list goes on and on. The message is everywhere, and we’re all affected. It cuts across social, racial, economic, political and gender divides. Failure to toe the line, whatever that line is, results in harsh social and professional consequences, up to and including death. Show me a headline and I’ll pick out this theme. I trip over it a dozen times a day in my own life. Spend five minutes on Facebook reading any thread on any subject and you’ll find this underlying message.

The surrounding cultural mandate to make ourselves small is toxic, but it’s not the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is that we internalize the mandate before we’re even aware of it, and then it becomes so woven into the fabric of our experience we no longer discern it.

Ironically, stubbornly pursuing my passion for writing and my determination to be bigger is what reveals to me the outlines of my self-sabotage. My habit of making myself small has trickled all the way down to the words I choose. Editing my manuscript has become editing my thoughts and choices, and noticing the words I write and think in has helped me notice my feelings.

My feelings contain a lot of fury and a lot of rebellion, far more than I was aware of when I created this blog last summer. Minor friction with my partner about planning a day or how we utilize counter space taps into a deep vein of lifelong rage and pain about allowing and participating in my own repression and oppression. I have systematically colluded in my own erasure. I’ve agreed to make myself small. I’ve agreed to abdicate my power.

No more. I opened Bluebeard’s chamber, and saw what it contained. The key that unlocked the door was writing, and I’m deleting all the blood-stained words that make my art small. If I fail as a writer, I’m not going to do it softly, gently, lightly or a little. I’m going to do it thunderously, monumentally and profoundly.

Original art by David Wyatt

It’s time to make myself big.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

The Power of Happy

For many years, I’ve been a story teller. I’ve told stories in nursing homes, schools, at seasonal events and in women’s circles. I think of stories as medicine, as guidance, as blueprints for living. Old stories from the cultures around the world contain information we’ve forgotten or lost about how to live well.

It’s striking how often I share a familiar and oft-told story with an audience that suddenly turns out to be what I most need. Oral stories, if written on a page, look static and lifeless. They’re not. An oral story lives. It twists and turns and wriggles unexpectedly in the mouth. Every time I tell a story it’s a different telling than I’ve ever done before. Every time I tell a story I’m different than I was the last time I told it. Every audience is different.

I’ve discovered blogging is like that. As I blog, I think of the reader. I blog to make an external connection. As I create posts, though, I also discover deepened connection with myself. My writing reveals my truth to me, and shines a light on the places where I’m not living what I know is my truth.

Last week I posted about quitting. In essence, I gave permission to all of us to change, to grow, to seek happiness in our work and in our lives. Ever since I resigned from my job (last day will be Saturday) and wrote that blog, I’ve noticed an internal feeling of rediscovery, freedom and fizzing joy.

I only worked 20 hours a week at that job, but the choice to force myself to do it, even though it didn’t make me happy or meet my needs, cast a shadow of apathy over the rest of my life. It dulled my response to my own distress. It fed all those powerful voices that tell us there’s no help for it. We have bills to pay. We have responsibilities, duties and obligations. The most sinister voice of all says this is the best we can hope for or deserve.

I was empowering fear, not love.

All of a sudden, I’m operating with new clarity, the kind of clarity that the right story at the right time brings. This week I’m acutely aware of what’s working well for me and what’s not. I feel my power to choose afresh. I’m not motivating out of fear. Somehow, fear is taking a vacation. I’m motivating out of curiosity, pleasure and the desire to actually be happy.

For me, this is a daily crime of immense proportions.

I want to be happy. It occurs to me this isn’t a childish pursuit. It’s the pursuit of real personal power.

I follow a blog by Dr. Sharon Blackie,  who is a writer, psychologist and mythologist. I’m reading one of her books, The Long Delirious Burning Blue, which has a passionate delicacy I haven’t experienced in a new read for a long time.

Dr. Blackie recently returned to the place she calls home in Connemara, Ireland, ,and her last couple of blogs are about taking a walk with her dogs on the land that she loves.

That’s all. Taking walks. She posts pictures of the lochs, a stream, the bog and the mountain. There are pictures of her dogs, and I imagined wet, muddy paws and soft black and white coats tangled with leaves and stems. I think these posts are among the most joyful and powerful things I’ve ever read, not because Dr. Blackie is an extraordinary scholar and writer, which she is, but because she writes as a woman who’s come home to the place she belongs after a long time away. Her delight and reverence for the land and the life it supports radiate from every word and picture.

That’s how I feel this week, but my homecoming is internal rather than external.

I’m familiar with some of my terrain. Over the years, I’ve learned some of what I am. Always, though, there have been caverns, edges and deep forest I haven’t explored. Perhaps I knew all of myself before my memory in this lifetime begins, but if so, I’ve forgotten.

This week I’m a wanderer, an explorer, a solitary traveler. I leave my well-worn internal paths to roam under trees. I follow the sound of water. I read my own spoor and run my hands over moss-covered rocks.

I hunt in vernal pools for singing frogs the size of my toes.

I hunt in vernal pools for singing frogs the size of my toes.  I wade through bogs of memory, getting my feet muddy and losing my shoes.

I’ve found old, abandoned structures that smell of rot and damp where birds nest and bats cluster. I’ve stumbled upon shallow graves where, once upon a time, I discarded and abandoned parts of myself. I’ve tripped over fallen idols that are now covered in a lacy blanket of ferns, found forgotten altars and pulled mats of dead leaves out of fountains I haven’t seen in years so clear water can flow again.

I’ve found shed skins that whisper and rustle with memory, overgrown paths that are nearly invisible now, and ruts and scars from old burns, floods and landslides.

I suddenly remember the happy feeling of waking early in the morning and going straight outside. I release myself from the expectation that I’ll work well in the last third of the day, a thing I’ve never in my life been able to pull off. I listen to music I love. I read what interests and moves me. I write lists and journal entries, blog posts and edits for my book, The Hanged Man.

Like Dr. Blackie’s dogs, I follow what catches my attention. I move along scent trails, noting the passage of all my selves, spiraling from what I’ve been to what I’ll become  and back again.. I dance from thought to thought, from word to word, from dream to dream. I cast myself into a wider pattern of life.

It’s not that I don’t want to do anything. On the contrary, I want to do a hundred things. I want to do much more than I did when I was structuring my time and energy around my job. I can hardly wait to get out of bed and see what the day brings. I want to play outside, take care of tasks inside, read, write, watch the birds at the feeders, stretch, dance, swim, listen to music, make a list and check things off, be present in my relationships, make new friends, pursue intriguing new connections, earn money joyfully, and see how much I can want and how gloriously I can dream.

I want to see how much I can want and how gloriously I can dream.

I’ve written about leaving home before, and in that post I wrote that in some counterintuitive way leaving my old external home in Colorado allowed me to begin to finally come home to myself internally and reclaim my power. I’ll never think of home solely as a one-dimensional place in the world again. Home is not just a house, not just a beloved landscape, but the place where my dearest friend, my most passionate lover and my most loyal companion reside, along with my deepest power.

Home is my own wide-flung arms, my own pulse and breath, my own joy.

Home is my own wide-flung arms, my own pulse and breath, my own joy. Home is me, myself.

Somewhere along the way, we forgot that the most important things are also the simplest. There’s great power in being happy. If happy is missing, life is muted and apathetic at best. This is when the power of boredom and the power to quit come to our aid. This is when choice becomes something we must fight to reclaim as if our lives depend on it … because they do.

Check out my Good Girl Rebellion page for more happy.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Spoor

I took a walk yesterday on our land. I have a route over our 26 acres that winds around the open fields and keeps me out of the heavy woods and brush, where the ticks are waking. It was grey and overcast, not raw but damp, a combination of snow and rain coming down and turning my already wild hair into a mad woman’s wig. The surface of the snow is glazed hard in most places, but when I got too close to the tree line or the streams that trickle down to the river I punched through it and sank. Walking on the thick layer of leaves under and among the trees was like walking on a sopping sponge. My winter boots immediately let the water in and my socks became sodden.

I saw thickets where the deer had slept, melting the snow with the warmth of their bodies, lying out of the wind in the shelter of trunk and branch. I’ve seen them bedded down before, and I imagined them rising to their feet, squatting in their awkward way to leave pellets and a splash of urine, and then stepping away through the snow with those delicate hooves and legs. Their spoor was everywhere.

The medical transcription business is wildly unpredictable. One seesaws between frantic pleas from supervisors for overtime because of a sudden flood of work and the dreaded “no jobs available” message upon logging in. As I’m paid by production, no work means no money. Since the new year, work has been slow in the company and transcriptionists and supervisors alike are feeling the stress.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my fear of not enough these days, and how small it makes me and my experience of life. One of the reasons I like to go out and walk is because it pushes against my tendency to curl up in corners and play hours of solitaire while I make up stories about living under bridges and berate myself for NOT PULLING MY WEIGHT and WASTING TIME.

The river is still ice covered, but the edges are yellowish and slushy. I could see animal prints in the snow over the ice, but I wouldn’t have dared try to walk on it. As I leaned against a tree and looked down at the ice-bound river, I heard a nesting pair of barred owls calling to each other, though it was still early afternoon.

The truth is my medical transcription job is nothing more than a means to an end. It’s all about the paycheck. I take some modest pride in my ability to do an accurate, fast job, but I’m just a pair of skilled hands and ears. One day, when the job and I are finished with one another, I’ll leave no remnants of myself, no track, no scent, no spoor. It irritates me that it has so much power in my life when it means so little.

The bare twigs and branches of the trees were hung with water drops and the pussy willows are beginning to bud out. In the cloudy light the willow buds and water drops were the same silvery grey and I had to get close to tell the difference.

We’ve lately found a local lawyer to help us update our wills and take care of end-of-life paperwork. It’s made me think about all the fragments I’ll leave behind me, the furniture I’ve loved and polished; the mirror I’ve looked in since I was a child; the books I’ve handled and read in cars, in bathtubs, at tables, in beds and chairs and waiting rooms. All these things will be sifted through, separated, sold, passed on. What money there is will be divided and wind up in other bank accounts or hidey holes or cast back into the flow somehow. Perhaps whispers of me will cling to a few objects, but for the most part no one will ever know I passed this way.

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We have an old shed/garage on the land and the snow slide off the roof has had the door blocked and partially pushed open for most of the winter. I was just able to squeeze in the door over the thick layer of ice on the threshold, formed by melting snow dripping off the roof.

We had cleaned out and swept the shed last fall, but when I went in I found pages of paper blown all over the floor. It was a few pages of the first draft of my book manuscript. Last summer we had visitors who used the shed, and I’d hoped they would read and give me some feedback. They didn’t, and I’d never found the manuscript when I looked for it after they left, but the winter currents and drafts discovered its hiding place. Perhaps the wind read it as it ruffled through the pages with chill fingers.

It was odd to stand there and see those pages. It gave me a desolate clarity. Those written words are the most important thing I have. Working or not working, large paycheck or vanishingly small paycheck, all the objects I love and use and call mine—none of that is really who I am. None of it really matters, though it takes up space in my life.

None of it contains the smell of my breath, the taste of my pain or the spoor of my love the way my words do.

None of it contains the smell of my breath, the taste of my pain or the spoor of my love the way my words do. It was as though it was me lying there, discarded, damp and wind strewn, unseen, unread, unwanted. It hurt me.

As I gathered up the scattered pages, I noted where the snow had drifted through gaps in corners. Wrinkled beech leaves lay on a discarded futon, whirled in through the broken window above it. I opened a ramshackle cupboard and found a roll of shredded toilet paper and evidence of mice at work, making the most of the unexpected bonanza of nesting material.

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I found a bottle cap and cigarette butts on a window sill. More leavings. I know who stood there, smoking, looking out the window. I stood where he’d stood and picked up the butts, knowing his lips were around them, his long-fingered hand had carried them from pack to mouth and then stubbed them out in the bottle cap, a tiny ashtray. I wished for the nose of a wild creature so I could search for the cold, lonely ghost of his scent.

He was here. I am here. Deer crisscross this land we call ours. Mice go about the business of ensuring more mice, and the barred owls carry on their early spring conversation about mating, nesting, eggs and all those mice. We are so caught up in jobs and money and things. We give them so much meaning. The days go by and we alternately struggle and dance through them. But one day we’ll be gone, and we’ll all leave spoor behind, a scent or sign or footprint that is uniquely and simply ours.

These words are my footprints, my scent, my lingering warmth in the places I came to rest, my spoor. They are the signs of my passage and the truest things I have to leave behind when I’m gone.

Visit my Good Girl Rebellion page for a song as this week’s antitoxin. 

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted