Tuesday, May 22, 2012

One. Loud. Mouth.

I’ve pissed off a good many people simply by saying what I think. Sadly, or not, I have no filter. Well, sort of, I do, but it’s old and worn and most thoughts slip right through. I have offended family, shocked strangers, and lost friends because of the words that I have spoken. It is the losing friends part that bothers me most. I don’t much mind about the rest.

I was sent to see the principal my senior year of high school. I gave my French teacher a long held back opinion of her teaching style. I may have stood up and commanded presence while doing so. I may have stolen the floor, undermined her authority. I may have been a bit disrespectful. I may have. The facts are blurry and somewhat uncertain. What is clear is that I found her practices unfair toward certain students. I found her classroom unjust and a confrontational learning environment. I let her know this. I wasn’t sure she was aware. I don’t really remember much about the incident except my burning indignation at the fact that the only time I got sent to the office in twelve years was for speaking my mind. Free speech, my foot.

The problem is that I never seem to know when speaking my mind is a good thing, beneficial to myself or others, and when it is just something I should refrain from doing.

If I were granted a superpower, I would choose the ability to read minds. If I could see what was in a person’s head, then maybe I could rein in my thoughts a bit to avoid hurt feelings, anger, or shutting down. Maybe. How much of who we are is the image others have of us, the expectations they set? A friend began a question the other day, “If it weren’t for societal influence…” The rest of the question was moot. Nothing is without societal influence. I don’t exist independent of others. And yet, I just can’t seem to focus my thoughts in a constructive direction. They go this way or that with no real sense of purpose. They seem to have a mind of their own.

I am just antagonistic enough, too, to get a secret kick out of stirring the verbal pot. Sometimes I say a thing just to see the reaction it will get.

I remember learning in school of the term “devil’s advocate.” At first I didn’t get it. Why would someone debate my argument when I am obviously correct? I have the facts. I know how they play out in this story. Somebody explain the need for this “suggesting that I am wrong” business. But once I got it, I always wanted to be the devil. To this day, I stock a good supply of pitchforks and horns.

It is when my words get me into trouble with friends that I am saddened. Let’s first, though, qualify that. It may sound harsh, but I am not about mollycoddling. If you are not interested in hearing my opinion, get out of the room because I will offer it. If you are looking for someone to metaphorically hold your hand, to assuage your doubts with falsehoods that are soft and gentle and easy on the soul, but that are essentially a load of crap, then I am not your girl. If, however, you want to know what you are looking to know, if you want a straightforward, honest, well thought out, but up front opinion, I will tell you. I will tell you in the most delicate manner possible, but I will tell you. Scratch that. I usually just shoot my words straight from the hip. Delicate be damned. If you are not the sort of friend who can handle this, it’s been wonderful crossing paths. I wish you well in your life. Needless to say, I do not have a huge number of close friends.

Sometimes, though, I share things I shouldn’t. I am a bit more open than need be concerning facts and feelings that are in my head. I lose the line between you and me. I show you more than you want to know. This, too, has lost me a friend or few. After such a loss, I find myself asking, Why was this person in my life? What do I have to learn from this? What did this person contribute to my world? What did I contribute to hers? If it is true what they say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, or in this case, you never get a do-over on what could have been a great friendship, I am thinking that maybe I need to occasionally set aside my horns and pitchforks, stop off at Target for a new and improved filter for my thoughts, and find me a hero in red Spandex who can grant me some of those mind-reading superpowers.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Red and Yellow, Black and White

In the span of thirty minutes this morning, I heard three interest groups bashing the beliefs of the opposing groups. Thirty minutes. An acquaintance expressed her desire to go vegetarian. She wants to improve her health. She wants to feel better about her food choices and the impact they have on her body and the environment. Her omnivorous friends commenced to tell her what a horrible idea that would be. But meat is so tasty, so delicious. We’re SUPPOSED to eat meat. Vegetarians are just freaking not right. In another discussion, a friend expressed his concerns about gay marriage and the president’s recent decision to support the issue. This friend feels same-sex marriage wrong, sinful, and just a bane on the fabric of society. He feels that gay marriage would corrupt the very institution of marriage itself, would reflect horribly on the country and the people in it. I, then, came across a news article covering outrage in response to a recent magazine cover photo of a young mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son. Proponents of attachment parenting feel it important to nurse a child until that child is ready to wean. They believe developmental needs vary from child to child and do not adhere to random dates on a calendar. The article was supposedly informative, but confrontational at the same time. The magazine was very clever in its attempt to sensationalize the issue, to provoke the exact response it did. As a mother who once nursed a four-year-old and three others past their second year, I found nothing shocking about the photo other than the fact that it was designed to pit mother against mother, to cause a divide in a group that could use all the unity it could muster. Each of these discussions was particularly disturbing to me as they touch on issues dear to my heart. Let’s be clear here. I am a firm proponent of veganism, gay marriage, and attachment parenting. No surprise there. And each of these issues could be an entire essay in itself. I would love nothing more than to offer up an opinion and some related research on any of these topics, but for the purposes of this work, I’d like to focus, instead, on the underlying theme between the three. I’m right. You’re wrong. I’m good. You’re bad. Let’s create a culture in which we all look the same, act the same, and believe the same. Excuse me, but I think that’s been done, with some very ugly results.

When my son was a little guy, he would color with just one crayon. I would set aside some time to sit down with him, turn on Raffi’s De Colores, grab a juice box, some cookies, and pull out the big box of Crayola sixty-fours. Inevitably he would grab for the green or the red or the blue, depending on the day and his mood at the time, and then he would push the rest aside. No matter the amount of goading, the suggestion to explore, to break out the brown or the magenta, he would finish the entire picture in different shades of just this one color. When asked why, he never said he didn’t like the other colors or that they were ugly or wrong or defective in any way. He said he just preferred the color he was using.

I learned a secret in sales training once. Never resort to bashing your competitor. Instead, promote the heck out of yourself. If you have a desirable product that you firmly believe in, then there really is no need to trash your opponent. It’s ugly. It’s unbecoming. It’s unnecessary. I realize my director was talking about lipstick and blush, but I took liberty to apply the philosophy to life.

I have a friend who stands for everything I do not. I have another who is me as much as anyone can be another. I have unfriended the first eighty times in my head, once for real. I work hard not to tear him down in front of others. I work hard to look for myself in his eyes. Where are the similarities? Where are the common interests? How can I appreciate the differences? What do I have to learn from this person? What does he have to teach? I try my best to be open and to not criticize. I try my best to find the good. I don’t always succeed. I am, after all, a product of the culture in which I have been raised. But, when I do succeed, I see a person who is basically kind and funny and true to his nature. I see a person who does not cow to the expectations of others. I can learn a lesson from that. That is a desirable way to live a life.

When I look at the other friend, the one who is me only different, I see something that bothers me to no end. For all of the kindness, the compassion, the interest in the good of humanity, his words can be biting and judgmental and harsh. I think on that and realize that in my efforts to promote love and peace and tolerance, I, too, can bite and judge and harm with my words. I justify this by telling myself that I want only the best for the world in which I live, that I want to promote goodness and end suffering, but how indeed to promote the end of suffering without contributing. I’m right. You’re wrong. I’m good. You’re bad. Let’s create a culture in which we all look the same, act the same, and believe the same. I am as guilty as those I am looking to change.

Tell me. If you and I were the last two people on earth, would you love me? Would you find a way? Would I love you? And why should we try?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Another Day, Another Scholar

“If you could tell us what Tammie’s all about in just a couple sentences, what would you say?” I had my first class of the new term last night. I never just jump into material at the start of that first bell. I like to begin by building a sense of community, a sense of team. I think the best learning happens when students feel free to share, when they feel accepted, appreciated, an important part of the whole. I feel the need to be approachable. We’re together in this effort. We are one, in this class, in this community, on this planet. Peace and love, Kumbaya, and all that shit.

So, in the getting to know you stage, I allow for questions, any question at all, everything-you-always-wanted-to-know-about-your-instructor-but-were-afraid-to-ask, only now you have permission. It’s sort of like speed dating only nobody goes home with any phone numbers or insanely hot prospects. But c’mon. “All About Tammie” in two sentences or less?? I just can’t do that. I’m too complex. And yet I’m not. I’m an open book, but only to the chapters that I want people to see. I’m an easy read and Anna Karenina all at the same time. I’m like those run on sentences that plague every eighth grade English teacher’s existence.

So I thought, because she was due an answer. Who am I, in two sentences or less? I am a mother, a wife, a daughter and sister. I teach, and I write. I still have days where I question what I want to be when I grow up. I’m vegan. I have an opinion, and I’m pretty sure you want to hear that opinion. I’m religious, but not a fan of religion. When it comes to politics I am, to borrow a line, lefter than you. I’m a Midwestern girl who loves to travel. My singles ad could be filed under “cheesy romantic.” Tammie loves soft music, candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach. I enjoy a great conversation even more. Poetry, to me, is like a foreign language. I never understand it, but I love to hear it. I’m not afraid to throw out an “f” word and do it probably more than I should. I read more than I breathe. If you’re smart, funny, and nice all at the same time, you pretty much have my heart forever. I’m a book nerd, a research nerd, and a glass of soymilk half full kind of gal. Two sentences?

Then it hit me, the baby on the floor. I worked day care once for about a week. I hated it. I quit. I was told not to play with the kids. I was to stand back and supervise. I wanted to play. I was given the job of sitting with a little girl who was inconsolable. I rocked her to sleep as she sobbed, both of us drenched in snot and tears. I think the owner of the center was glad to have me out of the way. I put the wrong size diaper on a different child. She had a permanent wedgie until the next change. I knew nothing about babies or day care or working parents. I wanted to rock and soothe and hold and play, but no. And then it happened. I was relegated to the infant room. All I had to do was feed, diaper, and shake a few shiny red toys. What could be more simple? Except that I didn’t know babies had to be strapped into changing tables and that if I were to reach for a diaper without strapping in or without a hand on baby, then baby would fall onto the floor with a wail so loud that it would notify both the owner of the day care center and the parent with whom she was talking. Let’s just say it was a mutually happy day when I turned in my notice.

I don’t believe in spending time doing things I don’t enjoy. Sure, there are times when an offensive task is a stepping-stone to a desired goal, but if it’s not a rock on the path then I’m not interested. I don’t have that kind of time. I’m on a deadline in this life, and I’m not here to grouse and complain or hate my days. I need to love what I do. So I set my priorities and, as a result, I’ve lived a pretty good life. Friends have prefaced comments to me in the past with the phrase you’re lucky, but I don’t really think luck has anything to do with it. You’re lucky you can stay home with your kids. You’re lucky you have a job you enjoy. You’re lucky you have your health. No. I’m not lucky. I’m focused. I set my priorities. With each choice, decision, opportunity, I ask myself, “Does this serve my purpose?” If not, then I have no further interest. If so, then I’m in one hundred and ten percent.

And, so, the answer was clear.

“If you could tell us what Tammie’s all about in just a couple sentences, what would you say?” And I said this, I live my life to move, motivate, encourage, inspire. I believe in peace and love, compassion, kindness to all. Me. In two sentences.

How about YOU? What are YOU all about?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Write Like Nobody's Watching

I never kept a journal. I tried. Seriously. But for the life of me I could never understand why anyone would want to pour out her innermost thoughts with the risk of being found out. I know. I know what you’re thinking. Good Lord, she writes! Yes, but it’s not the same. Journaling done right involves the spilling of one’s guts, leaving everything one has on the page. Writing, in theory, is the same. In theory. In practice, however, writing often involves a much more judicious use of story.

If you read me, you may think you know me. You may think me unnecessarily free with my thoughts and a bit too loose with my pen. You may feel that I have opened my heart and bared my soul to the point that you indeed HAVE retrieved that peace and flower covered diary from under my mattress and opened straight up to all the juicy parts. You may imagine me the equivalent of a cheap floozy selling herself, not for a raucous romp in the hay, but for a chance to flash her passions to those who might want to take a look.

I am so guarded with my thoughts. You have no idea.

The things I could write if I would just let loose, just cast off my cares. Oh, the things I could write if, indeed, I would just write like nobody is watching. The problem with narrative essays is that there’s no place to hide. The stories are real. They happened to me and to anyone else who flits across my page. Granted, I color my words to make them more entertaining, fail to remember life exactly as it played out, and sometimes stretch the truth just a wee tiny bit, but I can never back my way out of a story by claiming, “It’s not ME! It’s FICTION! I TOTALLY made it up!!”

With each word I pen I have forty more fighting to get out. Who might see this? Would he be offended? Would he think I’m talking about HIM? Did this really happen or did I just imagine it? I THINK it happened. Maybe not like THIS, but I THINK it happened. What if my kids see this? How embarrassing. Not exactly the picture you want of your mother. What if my students see it? YIKES! How will they focus on lecture when they know what I’m wearing underneath this conservative cardigan? Conservative cardigan. Is that redundant? Why do I write so much on underwear? What the hell? I’m smarter than that. I should write on world peace and love and compassion, social issues. Shit like that. Do I swear too much? Fuck it. I don’t even care. What if my writer friends see this? Geez. Would they think me, then, their “writer” friend and not just their writer friend?

Why do I feel the need to impress with my writing? Why do I feel the need to tread lightly with my words? I pass those books with all of the bare chested young men and think, wow, SOMEbody writes that and how FUN it would be, but oh, I could never. Well, the truth is that, yes, I could. I COULD write that. I am very clever with my words and not as prim as one might think. I COULD write it, but I choose not to for fear of judgment. Such a waste. So capable. And people will see that. What is she thinking?

So I ask myself, why do I write? Do I write to educate, to inform, to entertain? What do I want for my reader? What do I want for YOU? Regardless what it seems, I don’t post essays just to flaunt my fabulousness. It’s a great start, but not nearly enough. No, I craft my words to move you in some way. I want to move you to action, to laughter, to tears, to thought. But what if, instead, I forget that for a minute and focus on my own needs, focus on me? What if I rip open this soul for an up close look? What if I give you everything I could possibly give? What then? Would you continue to read me? Would you respect me in the morning?