Posts Tagged ‘what am I like anyway?’

… all of the things, apparently.

I pulled a prompt out of my writing prompt envelope tonight, and it said: “What I never tell anyone is …” I started my freewrite and the first thing on the page was, “I never tell anyone how scared I am pretty much all the time. Of so many things.” That wasn’t what I was expecting to write, but that’s what came out.

I wrote for about 20 minutes … and uncovered a whole host of fears I wouldn’t have imagined myself to be carrying. Mostly I’m afraid of screwing things up … whatever those “things” might be — my job, my friendships, my health. I’m afraid of being too quiet, too loud, too clever, too dull, too serious, too frivolous. I’m afraid of the spotlight, but afraid of being ignored.


This isn’t something I’m aware of 24/7, but then I’ll suddenly notice it, notice how tense my shoulders are, how tense my jaw is … and I’ll have to force myself to unclench.

What is that? Why am I so constantly afraid? And of such just-live-your-life things. And have I always been? I know we have a family joke about how fraught with tension I was, even as a small child, but is that real? Have I always been afraid?

People who’ve known me a while might point to things I’ve done that seem “brave,” whatever that means. I’ve traveled alone. I’ve done a lot of public speaking. I’ve read my work in front of audiences of people who aren’t just my family and friends. I stood up to a surgeon and his staff who wanted to sterilize me.

Okay, all of that is true. And more. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t also afraid. I’m terrified every time I have to read. I’m often afraid when I’m traveling. I was entirely afraid during that hospital experience. I was so afraid during one of my surgeries this past summer that I cried through almost the whole pre- and post-op period. I may be able to do “brave” stuff, but that doesn’t erase the fear.

And I certainly don’t want to get rid of fear all together. There are plenty of real things for me to be afraid of.

Job security was a big one in the mass of fears that spilled out in my freewrite. That surprised me, but it’s real. It’s something I would have dismissed before the debacle at my last job. Seeing how quickly and easily I could be cast out was a real eye opener. Seeing how casually someone I’d worked with and thought I could trust could knowingly sacrifice me for her own gain was shocking. So this fear of about safety on the job is new. And rough. I hate worrying about whether I’m giving ammunition to the wrong person, not making myself useful enough to the right one. And yes, that’s in my head … but in my current job, it’s also real. I see that happening around me all the time. Feh.

So, fear. It’s hard to admit that I have so much of it, that I carry that stress with me regularly. And that it comes in many forms and from many directions. Yesterday, walking away from a friend’s house, the first handful of blocks of that walk had me tight with worry because people hadn’t cleaned their sidewalks, and I was so afraid of slipping and falling and messing up one or both of these bionic (but still breakable) knees of mine. I carry that fear — of slipping and falling — all the time. When I’m going up or down a flight of stairs or an incline, when I stand up on the subway or bus, walking down the street. Yes, I’ve had this particular fear for many years, since my knees were first damaged and a bad slip or fall would put me in bed for a few days, unable to do more than hobble slowly and painfully around my house. There was a brief, shining moment after my first knee surgery when I forgot about it, forgot to worry about falling. That was glorious. It was a revelation — Oh, this is what it feels like not to be disabled! But it didn’t last long. Less than a year later, I was in pain and moving toward my second surgery, back to worrying about uneven pavement, every flight of stairs, the slippery tiles on the subway platform.

Carrying fear all day every day has to be chipping away at me, shortening my life. Certainly making me curtail my movements, my plans. Fear is what makes me bite my tongue in conversations — and then feel frustrated when someone else says the thing I’ve been thinking all along. Fear is what has kept me from expressing my feelings again and again — God forbid I should tell someone how I feel and get slapped down with rejection. Of course, I’ve had plenty of rejection even when I haven’t put myself out on any limbs, so have I really protected myself by not being honest about my heart?

In The House on Mango Street, Esperanza’s mother talks to her about shame, about how it holds you back. And that’s real, of course. Shame has played a big part in my life, too. But I think fear has played a bigger role, a more dominant role. How sad is that?

So, what do I do with this realization? What’s the next move, the next step? How do I shut the fear down? Is that even the right goal? Should I be investigating it to see where it comes from? Is that the secret to releasing it? Do I acknowledge it and then crush it harder and harder until it’s compressed into diamonds or coal? And then what? Does it somehow become valuable to me?

I’ve been working on developing a better relationship with my anger, feeling it, living with it, embracing it, using it. Clearly there’s some equally serious work to be done with fear. Okay. Here we go.


In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week. It’s only Week 3, and I’m beat!

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!


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Tomorrow’s the schadenfreude reading. I haven’t written a word. I suspect that may be because I’m realizing that — no matter how callous I sometimes with I was — I’m really not a schdenfreude girl at all. Yes, there is that news story that inspired me to sign up for the reading. But when I think about it, the feeling it generates is one part schadenfreude with four parts sadness and seven parts anger. Definitely not anywhere close to pure schadenfreude.

Which, of course, is what I should (and surely will) write about. While I’m neither surprised nor disappointed to find that I’m schadenfreude-challenged, I am surprised to find just how badly I wanted to feel it, wanted to be able to feel some unadulterated pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. The fact that I’m not able to is nice, I guess, and maybe says something about my humanity (maybe), but what does that yearning say? Can’t really pat myself on the back when I’ve already seen the venal little woman behind the curtain.

I’ll write something for tomorrow. And it will fit the theme and be just fine. But what do I do with what I’ve learned about myself? What do you do when you learn something surprising and negative about yourself?

It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

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I got on the A train the other night and slid into an empty seat … next to a ventriloquist. Why would that be necessary? Why, of all the people I could sit beside, would I have to find the one over-chatty ventriloquist? I was so with the young man at the end of the car who announced loudly: “Do NOT take that dummy out.” But of course, as soon as he said that, our friend the ventriloquist opened his case and pulled out a dummy.

I don’t hate ventriloquists. Not really. And he was talented. But really. They’re creepy, ventriloquists and their dummies. Creepy.

Let’s pause here. You may agree with me about the creepiness of ventriloquists and their dummies. You may not, but you may know someone else who finds them creepy. Fine. But I have to be clear. My feelings on this subject go deep, deeper, deepest. I so totally have pupaphobia. My puppet fear traces back in a perfect straight line to the movie Lili. No, seriously. That dream sequence scarred me. The only silver lining of this horror is the discovery of “automatonophobia” … which, really, is a way better word than pupaphobia.

Okay, back to business. You know how, if you don’t like cats or are allergic to cats and you go to a house that has cats, they come for you? They could have been asleep at the back of the hidden closet three floors away in the attic, and they come down and come running, looking for your lap? Yes, ventriloquists are the same. Because when that man on the train opened his dummy case, did he try to interact with the people who’d begged him to take out the dummy? No, he turned to me

Puppet Master: Say hi to the nice lady.

Creepy-ass Puppet: She don’t wanna talk to me.

Puppet Master: She’ll talk to you if you say hi. Say, “Hi, pretty lady.”

Creepy-ass Puppet: You think she pretty?

Puppet Master: She’s pretty.

Creepy-ass Puppet: She aight.

Yes, because not only do I have to be accosted by ventriloquism when I was just trying to get home for the night, I get a puppet who has what to say about how attractive I am or am not. Good times.

#NoThanks #NotHereForThis #CREEPY

It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

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I had a rough day yesterday, ending with the scuttling of a project I’ve been pouring hours and hours of my day, night, and weekend time into. Felt a little shell shocked when I first realized we were going to call everything to a halt. This morning was a little better. This afternoon, having to make the announcement to all the partners loomed large and unpleasant over my head, but it was my job to do, and so.

As much as I am a snarky somebody some of the time, I hate being the bearer of bad news. Hate it. Which is silly to say. It’s only the rare person who enjoys bringing other people down.

In the end, the announcing wasn’t a complete misery. I pointed to some of the good things that have come out of this process and to the good-sounding plan we have for moving forward. So, you know, silver linings.

But really why I started writing this is word choice. Every time I talk about the end of this project, I use the word “scuttled.” This isn’t a word I use. I may, in fact, never have said it ever prior to now. Where did it come from to suddenly appear on my tongue? Let’s be clear: I use a lot of words that a lot of other people don’t. I am regularly mocked for this behavior by family, friends, coworkers. But scuttle? No.

And then I wondered if I was even using it correctly. Yes, because even though it seemed correct when it tumbled out of my mouth, the moment I paused over it, all I could think of was a “coal scuttle” (another super-commonly-used term!), and I knew that was wrong.

Happily, my dictionary had more going on than my brain in that moment. I learned that “scuttle” can also mean to scurry, which I’m not sure I care for unless we’re describing the sideways nature of crabs. And then I found my scuttle, which turns out to be an old nautical term for intentionally sinking a ship, meaning to wreck or destroy.

There is some relief in knowing I’ve been using it correctly. There is still, however, the puzzlement over using it at all. When did that word sink into some dark, quiet pocket in the back of my brain? How did it know to rouse itself just now? And what will it do with itself now that it’s here? Is it going to keep turning up in my casual speech? It certainly isn’t a word I’ve felt any need to introduce into wider circulation, so I hope not.

If I’m going to be given the chance to introduce a fallen word back into the day-to-day, I would prefer “swink.” Or, if you prefer, “swinken.” It means to work hard, work to the point of exhaustion. I learned this beauty from Chaucer. I love the sound of it, but I love this next even more:

Swink – third-person singular simple present swinks, present participle swinking, simple past swank or swonk or swinkt or swinked, past participle swunk or swunken or swonken or swinkt or swinked

I’m saying. Go ahead and try it. Say “swunk” a few times and see if it doesn’t make you giggle. That’s handy when you’re working to the point of exhaustion.

Or when your work gets scuttled.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

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Earlier this week, Pamela posted about teaching drawing and then shared a post to get her readers drawing. Both posts are wonderful.  When I read the first, I related so strongly to the student who announced that he couldn’t draw … and to Pamela’s desire to take an eraser to that statement.  Because I can’t draw … but I can, too.  I used to draw all the time, used to be pretty good at it, even.  And then suddenly I believed I didn’t know how to do it.  How did that happen?  In my life as a teacher, I drew on the board all the time.  I would always remind my classes just how much I couldn’t draw and ask them to be generous in their critiques of my illustrations.  And that wasn’t about being falsely modest.  Those drawings really weren’t good. 

Last night at the Museum, as Grace and I were heading out of the gallery, she asked me — totally casually, as if it wasn’t in any way a loaded question: “Do you draw?”  And I stuttered on my answer.  I was going to say, “No.”  And then I wanted to say, “Yes.”  And then I wanted to say that I used to but didn’t really …  And in the end I gave an answer that came out all of those things at once.  Grace laughed, said that she figured I must draw because I do so many other creative things.

That made me smile, but also made no sense, you know?  Just because I do other creative things (write, sew, knit, make paper, whatever) it shouldn’t automatically follow that I  would be able to draw.  And then it made me sad.  Because I could draw.  And how did that get put in a box at the back of a closet?  When did I stop drawing?  Why?

Pamela’s second post gives a step-by-step of how to draw an egg.  I haven’t tried it yet, haven’t given myself enough free time to have at it.  Maybe this weekend.  I don’t know if I can draw and egg, but I’ll try.  Maybe it’s the way to re-open the door to that skill I used to brandish proudly.  Maybe doing the exercise will jog something loose in the recesses of my brain, make me remember how I lost my drawing in the first place.


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Thanks to a comment from Paul on yesterday’s post, I’ve been introduced to Jeremy Rifkin and this excellent video about creating an empathic civilization:

When I went to Detroit last year, one of the messages we kept hearing at the conference was that equity is the answer (not surprising, as I was attending the Equity Summit).  Thinking more about Noguera’s speech yesterday and my response to it reminded me of the conversations I had the speeches I heard in Detroit. 

One of the panelists we heard the first day was Jeffrey Canada from the Harlem Children’s Zone.  I’ve had the opportunity to see and hear Canada quite a bit in the last year, and sometimes I find myself feeling a little jaded when I listen to him, and sometimes what he says is like a bright light switching on and clarifying some point I haven’t been able to articulate.  The latter was my response to something he said in Detroit.  He talked about the need for us to think about all children as our own children.  Again, like Noguera’s empathic conversations comment, this is pretty obvious on its face, pretty basic.

His point was that the people who hold power make sure their own children are well taken care of, but often seem little concerned about or perhaps magically and blissfully unaware of the environments in which they allow other people’s children to live and be educated. He said he finally realized that the secret to changing the odds for children like the ones he serves was to make everyone see that all children are our children, that there is no mythical sub category of “their children.”

Totally obvious.  And fits so well with Noguera’s comment about empathy.  If, as Rifkin says, empathy is how we show solidarity with others, extending the group of others with whom we show solidarity would mean that we’d be extending the range of our kindness, the reach of our compassion.  We wouldn’t be able to accept the fact of children living in poverty or being witnesses to violence at home or school.  We would be so moved and horrified by these things happening to our children that we would do something about it.  We would change systems and create equitable, socially just policies so that our children would grow up well, safe and happy.  I like it.

As far as my personal Empathy Quotient goes, I’ve been monitoring my thoughts today.  It doesn’t serve to monitor my behavior, because I’m usually quite well behaved.  My thoughts, on the other hand …  You might be thinking that it hardly matters what’s in my head as long as I’m not acting on all my unkind musings, and it’s true that we’re all better off if people exercise impluse control and don’t act on every thought they have.  At the same time, the things I think about affect my mood and my behavior … and souring my mood isn’t good for me and can’t be good for anyone who has to be around me, either.

I monitored … and by lunch time I had had to stop myself about a dozen times — cutting off my disparaging and disdainful thoughts about someone I heard being interviewed on the news, people I saw on the bus and subway heading to work, two of my colleagues.  And those are just the times I was observant enough to catch myself.  I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.  Surprised and saddened to see how intolerant I’ve become.  Maybe I’ve always been this snarky, but I don’t think so. 

So I have work to do.  It’s not just stopping the thought, it’s replacing it with a new thought, a thought that’s coming from the empathic side of my brain.  It’s not as simple as finding an I’m-trying-to-relate-to-who-you-are thought … and that’s already not simple.  It’s interesting looking so closely at what I’m thinking, hitting “pause” when something ugly bubbles up and reworking my brain to a kinder, gentler place.


Check out the rest of today’s slices over at Two Writing Teachers.

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