Photo: Quiet Thoughts on a Friday deserve rainbows. Don’t they?
So I’m talking with a friend this week about this blog and how it came about, and she asked me a poignant question that went something like this: “So, your friend challenged you to get involved where you live. What the hell does a blog have to do with that?”
It was a great question, and one that I didn’t have a great answer to at the time. I looked away and rambled….something about finding a larger community in a larger world and the yadda yadda.
The truth is, the blog has nothing to do with the challenge. The blog is about realization and affirmation: I’m a person who thinks, I’m a person who observes, I’m a person who conveys. Most importantly, I’m a person who loves words.
I remember the day that I learned how powerful words are. I barely knew how to put together a coherent paragraph, but at some point in my childhood, my mother had made me angry. So I wrote her a letter telling her just how much I didn’t appreciate whatever it is that she was doing to piss me off. I couldn’t have been any older than a 2nd grader. My mother, to this day, hasn’t let me forget that letter. I have no idea what I wrote in it. She won’t tell me.
A second lesson in the power of words came in 7th grade. I had a history teacher who was teaching 3 tiers of classes (Teachers among my readers are familiar with tracking, I’m sure)–I was in the middle or “regular” tier, but many of my friends were in the magnet class or the “upper” tier. The magnet kids were doing super cool things in their classes–writing newspaper articles and producing television shows… interesting things that I wanted to do, too. I didn’t understand why he would change his curriculum and his expectations for my class. And I let this teacher know, in what I thought was a very polite way, that I expected more challenge and creativity out of his curriculum.
My mother often reminds me of the parent-teacher meeting where he basically cried through it, expressing to her how “bright” I was, and yet, so terribly, terribly mean.
Words matter. I didn’t get it when I was younger (though Mom made it a point of making me “get it” after that particular incident). I didn’t start to make the connection between words, relationships and actions until I encountered a character in a book. Hushidh, of Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming Saga, set something off for me. She had the ability to see the nature of relationships between people–all people in the world– and she was able to manipulate those relationships with her words. It was an incredible power, something highlighted but not magnified in the books, but there was something about it that clicked for me. Words have consequences.
It wasn’t until college that the fullness of words came into focus for me. Another history teacher, a professor, on the first day of my sophomore U.S. History course, wrote in the largest letters he could: Ideas Have Consequences.
I mean, yeah, duh.
But then he spent an entire semester breaking it down in the context of American history. I mean, do I have to tell you? It blew my freaking mind.
There is a space, between the mind and the mouth (or fingers) that I am fascinated with. The Filter. The place where words go and get caught (or not). I love thinking about the words that aren’t stated–the words that weren’t allowed to get through. I like to think about why people choose not to say what they really want to say, what they need to say. I’m also fascinated by the active choice to let certain words and ideas go through. When I think about this gray space where words live, I get goosebumps.
The filter is a crazy thing, isn’t it? We often make side-shows of the people who don’t have one–we say that it’s entertaining or “refreshing” but really it is just stupid. The filter is where the truth lies. People who write or say whatever they are thinking all the time aren’t always speaking the truth. It becomes hard to discern their real thoughts and feelings from the sideshow or the nonsensical banter in their head.
What I’ve learned over time is that the words in the filter are the words that matter most. The words that I don’t say to my father-in-law when he is being a bigoted asshole for the umpteenth time matter. The words that my mother doesn’t tell me outright, but shows through the way that she looks at me and my children, matter. The words that my friends and I keep out of our gossip matter. The sentences I end up deleting from e-mails matter. The texts that I never send matter. Even the words that I keep out of this blog matter. The words that we leave, the words that live in the filter, are the words that power the world.
What I love about blogging is that my filter gets to be different. There are so many words that leave the gray space of the filter to reach the fingertips, and yet so much more that still cannot be said. My real name, the names of my children, the name of my husband, the communities where I live and work–I keep these in the filter. But my feelings about my mother, my father, my husband… those find light of day in new spaces. How liberating to see words manifested and owned outside of the realm of my own thoughts!
Words have power. Sometimes, when I’m alone during my day, I whisper “I love you” into the ether. I don’t know why–sometimes it is while thinking of a moment with my husband or with my boys. Missed opportunities when I could have said it but didn’t. Sometimes it is when thinking of a family member, or a friend, and the words will slip out of me. The three words are so meaningless in the context of a whisper in an empty room, and yet so powerful in the sense that they left my filter zone…even if at the wrong moment. Their concept still matters: There are moments when they should have been said that I missed, or people who I should have said them to that I haven’t (and never will). Sometimes, I think, I said those three words to myself. How many times have I missed the opportunity to say them to myself and mean it? Do I mean it when I say them to myself now?
I wrote back to Ivy after two days of internal rambling. There was so much that I wanted to say to her and yet I felt like the medium was wrong. Yet, I was able to find a few, and some of it, I’ll share here:
…It takes years to build yourself up. To develop a core of values that really matter to you and keep you and get you up in the morning. I’m not talking about the values that others give to you: not church, not your parents, not society. I’m talking about the set of values that you choose from all of those places. This is what makes up the content of your character. This is what gives you the positive image that keeps you looking at yourself in the mirror with pride in the morning. This is your spirit, your light, the thing that absolutely cannot be extinguished or taken. High school is a hard time because all of these virtues and values are tested on every front–you try some, you discard some, you adapt others, you evolve more. Everyone survives and a select few come out the other side stronger.I need you to come out of [your school] stronger.…Become a truth teller. Tell the world who you are and why you are and where you are going and how you are getting there. Write until there are no words left. Write often, write regularly, write well. Tell your story, [Ivy], because it’s a good one. Tell the world your truth, your narrative. Shine your light upon the world. Like so many moths are attracted to the lamp on a summer night, people will flock to you and what you have to offer…
None of these words would have manifested if I saw Ivy in person. As much as I want to see her and give her a big hug and tell her that things will be ok, I know that these are the words that she needs (among many, many others. I write notoriously long emails). The words left in the filter were my fears, my hopes for her, my shrill scream for her to refocus and stick it out. Those words mattered, but they were not helpful.
I leave you this Friday to think about your unsaid words. Words to your babies, words to your partner, words to your mother or words to your father. The words in your filter that are targeted at your boss. Or your mother-in-law. Or your troll of a neighbor. Or the barista who always gets your order wrong. What words matter in your life and how often are the let out of the filter?
I’m traveling to Maryland, my Maryland this weekend without my husband and sons. I’ll be giving extra kisses and “I love you”s before I leave, because I know how important those things are. I’ll embrace my family members, especially my little sister who is moving to Austin, Texas and I’ll tell her how much she means to me. I’ll kiss my grandmother and tell her just how much I adore her. I’ll honor my uncle and his long-time partner and wish them a lifetime of happiness. I’ll look at my cousin, the loud mouth one who is spoiled rotten and always has something asinine to say, and I’ll have many unspoken words for her in my filter. Her mother, most likely, too.
Because it’s the unspoken words that often keep the peace.
And make the world go ’round.
I’ll leave you with these words that leave my filter: I’m humbled that you choose to read my words. I’m further honored and humbled that some of you choose to regularly read my words and talk to me about them. Thank you for your precious time and for your reach from far away places. I know that some of you are “right up the street,” but I also know that I have a lot of folks from Canada and the U.K. and even the Middle East who choose to read and engage and I say thank you. Every time I see another “view” on my stat page, I say Thank You.