Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Important Stories

Memories. Some just float through the mind like lapping waves and recede, maybe forever.  Others, you notice.  Perhaps because they are cherished or, obversely, tamped down or just because they recur but for no apparent reason. Like plot points in a novel, they reveal more than others.  They are in the "My Important Story" category; vignettes worth examining for what they disclose about your life.  Here is one of my important stories.

I'm three years old sitting alone in a large room at a work table in an orphanage.  I have a tablet with slots in it. In front of me is a big pile of letters that I must sort through and match on my tablet words that have been written on a blackboard.  I've been at it for a long time.  I'm tired and I can't find a second "b" in the letter pile to write my final word, "baby" and hi Mr. Freud.  Fear is my strongest feeling.  A woman dressed in a black robe and hood will be coming through the door to check on me at any moment.  Just as the door opens I find a "b" and insert it in the tablet.  End of memory.

For a long time, this was a sad memory for me but no more.  What happened was that I found so much in it that fits my life story.  Fear is still a presence in my life (duh) but in this vignette I am industrious, I like the little letters and the noise they make as I insert them, I don't give up, and most importantly, despite my fear, I'm successful.  Also, letters made into words have always been important to me and finally,  I know that when I am lonely, someone always comes through one door or another.  As you can see, I squeezed a lot out of this memory. It's good to tell your important stories.

Here's a poem that somewhat relates to this piece.  How, I'm not quite sure . But it's a room, unopened for a long time, full of memories.

Jim's Cottage

Shocked by the breeze,
the room moves.
Newspaper meal
blows off the table,
coal dust shifts in the grate
and on the wall, a palm crucifix

the curtain lifts its grimy hem
and waves.
A small remembrance
of another time.
Of April air,
of clean and white
and free-flapping on the line.

Bridget Harwell

Monday, July 1, 2013

Help Yourself

One of the most useful questions you can ever ask yourself is this: Who do I want to be in this situation? Whether it's a first date, a fight with a partner, a difficult good-by or asking for a raise you will have more self-control and greater self-satisfaction if you hold in mind an image of who you want to be.  This does not mean choosing a false front.  It means choosing (and practicing) a different set of attributes, attributes that help you in whatever situation you find yourself.  So, rather than being the irrational, screaming, threatening or bawling, foolish one, you choose to be a cooler self, a person who is able to listen, who can get across a point clearly and respect other points of view.  Rather than being the shy one, you choose to be the friendly person who you know lives inside you but rarely gets out. Rather than being the one who crumbles or fights back when criticized, you're the one who is strong enough to weight and measure an opinion and accept or reject it on its merits.

One of the reasons some people never change is that they never truthfully ask themselves if they are who they want to be.  Does Rose really want to be known as the bossy person others resent? Does Martin want his kids to be afraid of him?  Does Phil want to be the one no one can count on?  "Yes" is sometimes the answer, but more often it is not.  Understandably, people avoid painful self-knowledge.  My suggestion, creep up on it.  Ask yourself who you want to be, not in a broad, global sense (more spiritual, more understanding etc) but in a particular situation. "I want to be able to be with my mother for thirty minutes without snapping at her." Act on that image. It really does lead to change.

More on this topic in LIES. chapter 30, "Look Out For Yourself"