Having Something to Say

It occurred to me recently that before you can be a writer, you must first have something to say. You have to have opinions and thoughts and ideas. You have to be good at explaining and/or describing things. You can’t be hesitant to speak your mind.

I’ve always had something to say. No doubt about it. Even when I would take those tests at school that are supposed to help you decide what career path to take, mine would always come out “writer” and nothing else. I mean, seriously, while my friends would have 5 or 6 suggested career paths, all I’d have was writer. (I strongly suspect bridgetenders are not even on the list of careers for those tests. Most people don’t even know we exist.)

My whole life I’ve been told that I have very strong opinions. But that was meant as an insult. As in, “Shut up, female, and leave the thinking to the rest of us.” People rarely accuse men of having strong opinions. And I would get that criticism from men and women alike, because a lot of women don’t realize how complicit we can be in our own oppression.

Well, I thank God for my strong opinions. Without them, this blog wouldn’t exist. And I’d be a heck of a lot less interesting.

Fortunately, I’m not the kind of person who expects everyone to share my opinions. People like that are insufferable (in my opinion). I don’t think I’m very good at pointing that out, though. It’s definitely something I need to work on. It never occurs to me that some people view opinions as coercion.

I don’t see opinions that way. I also don’t think of them as being right or wrong. Opinions are simply points of view. No two people will see things from the same angle. The world might be easier to live in if we did, but it would sure be monotonous.

If you want to be a writer, I urge you to get out there and experience life, and, yes, form opinions about those experiences. Listen and learn as much as you can. Be open to unique people, places and things. And most of all, don’t be afraid to express yourself, even if the whole world tries to shut you up.

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Creative Expressions of Grief

I had the distinct honor of participating in a reception for The Healing Center the other day. It’s a grief support community here in Seattle that is a welcoming and safe place to express your feelings of loss. They have been wonderfully helpful and understanding to me.

The reception, which is held annually, is called Healing Hearts. It is an opportunity for people to show the creative ways they have of expressing their grief. I have to say, this is quite a talented crowd. There were poets and writers there, and singer/songwriters and musicians and photographers as well. I was really pleased to be included in their number.

I read two excerpts from my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. Before the event, I was having trouble choosing which parts of the book to read, so I asked for feedback from some of the regular visitors to my Facebook group, The View from a Drawbridge. The entries we finally chose were I Am Not Who I Was Yesterday, and Scars.

My main takeaway from this event was that there are so many ways to express one’s emotions. In fact, that’s what art is, really: a way to reveal what is inside you. That’s why the arts are so vital to any healthy culture.

I truly believe that it’s very important to open yourself up. Your inner self needs to see the light of day in order to thrive. Things should not be bottled up, lest they fester. And that’s what communities like The Healing Center are all about.

If you are experiencing grief, you do not have to go through it alone. Seek out the equivalent of The Healing Center in your community.

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Grief, by i_strad

Oh, the Humanity!

My dogs are no longer speaking to me.

Quagmire is full of righteous indignation because I sprung a surprise bath on him the other night. Apparently while I was at work, he took every opportunity to stick his head under Devo’s urine stream and then he rolled on dead things for added fragrance. When I got home, I smelled him before I saw him. He was so proud.

Now he smells all flowery. And he’s a boy. The least I could have done was use Axe shampoo for men. Or, I don’t know, canned gravy or something. But nooooo.

But his outrage pales in comparison to Devo’s. (And I have to confess that if someone did this to me, I’d be rather furious, too.) I took him to the vet. And not just for the Annual Charming of the Entire Staff, either. This time it was so that I could learn how to express his anal glands. The indignity of it all!

To say he was not amused was putting it mildly. But then, neither was I. And I still can’t imagine how I’ll pull off this caper alone with him at home. I suspect that will be fodder for a future blog entry. At a bare minimum, he’s going to have a PTSD flashback whenever I break out the rubber gloves. (My apologies in advance if your habit is to read this blog over breakfast.)

The things you do for your pets. Next time someone in authority says, “This is for your own good,” I’m going to try really hard to cut them a tiny bit of slack.

Now, please excuse me while I go bribe myself back into my dogs’ good graces with Greenies. Yeah. They have their price.

I wrote this post about a week ago, when everything was fine. Then Devo, my best friend, had a sudden, completely unexpected health crisis that caused me to have to make the horrible decision to put him to sleep. Rest in peace, my beloved friend. I’ll miss you.

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Quagmire and Devo, conspiring my overthrow.

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Creativity is NOT a Luxury

As more and more public schools cut back on their art, theater, and music programs, I wonder about the deleterious effect this will have on our society. Without creativity, we would all be living in soul-sucking communist era apartment blocks. It would be nearly impossible to express new ideas. We would have relatively few ways to interpret the world.

If we had no way to express our originality, we wouldn’t be able to distinguish ourselves from everyone else. There would be nothing to read, there would be no forms of entertainment. The internet would disappear, as would television and radio. We’d all be wearing the same clothes. All our food would taste the same. We would have to completely rethink our concept of beauty. Nothing would be unique or at all special.

We wouldn’t be able to come up with elaborate excuses to avoid blame. Criminals would become entirely predictable. Politics certainly wouldn’t exist. These might be the only upsides to this situation.

As we go through life, we rely on creativity, often without realizing it. In fact, creativity is what allows us to thrive. It is our ability to transcend, progress, invent, and solve. It allows us to have dreams. It is our reason for being. We cut back on it at our peril.

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My dear friend Amy. Creativity personified.

“Toughen Up”

On the heels of my blog entry “Having Your Heart Broken by a Career Choice” I got a lot of comments from people in the Dental Lab industry, many of which were very constructive and informative and have greatly influenced my concept of what I need to do as I move forward. But just as many were along the lines of “Waa waa waa,” “Toughen up,” “You need a thicker skin,” “You’re too emotional,” and “You sound like a crybaby.”

Comments of that nature, regardless of whom they are directed at, never fail to amuse me. Yup, I am an emotional person. When something makes me truly happy, it can bring tears to my eyes. When I hear tales of horrifying abuse or injustice, I may also shed tears. And most of all, when I’m angry I tend to cry, which can be confusing because it may elicit sympathy when none is needed.

But what I am not is someone who throws tantrums, tries to get attention, incites drama, is manipulative or expects pity. I don’t pick fights, take delight in being cruel, intentionally push people’s buttons or insult others. I set great store in being respectful.

I also don’t view myself as a victim. Yes, sh** hits my fan, and as often as not that isn’t of my own doing. But I have a clear sense that everyone has a fan, so I wipe mine off, do what I can to prevent it from being soiled in the future, and move on.

I have emotions. I own them. I express them, more often alone or amongst friends, of course, but that’s on a case by case basis, and it isn’t a function of some type of fear of others’ reactions. I’m not afraid to be open and to feel what I feel. There’s no shame in reacting to experiences. I don’t give emotions a score, as if some are more worthy or valid or appropriate than others.

The point is I don’t view emotions as a weakness.

People have to be taught to suppress their feelings, and it’s been my experience that those who learn those lessons too well are generally more prone to being unable to communicate effectively, are often incapable of making healthy social connections, and are plagued by a variety of mental and physical health issues.

They are also more apt to have outbursts way out of proportion to the situation, and expend more energy on a slow burn. Emotions are like the steam in a pressure cooker. If you don’t let them out, they will find a way out in a potentially unhealthy manner.

I’ve found that it’s much better to feel what you feel when you feel it and then carry on. People who do this seem infinitely more trustworthy to me, because I always know where they stand.

I laugh a lot, too, by the way. Mostly, though, I’m just in neutral mode, taking things in, seeing what the world has to offer in terms of life experience. I don’t expect anything from anyone as a result of my laughter or my tears.

My question is, why on earth would it bother you if I express my feelings? What do you think will happen? What are you afraid of?

Maybe you should toughen up.

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[Image credit: facebookemoticons.com]

Embracing Negative Emotions

“Few situations –no matter how greatly they appear to demand it – can be bettered by us going berserk.”

Codependent No More, Melody Beattie

Most of us have been taught that there are negative and positive emotions. Anger, sadness, grief and frustration are bad. Happiness, love, joy, and bemusement are good. Because of this, we are often less skilled in coping with the negative emotions. We are taught to suppress them, deny them, ignore them and fight against them.

I think we do this at our peril. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for anger, and if you are not allowed to express it in a healthy way, it can fester and build up and find its way to the surface in the form of violence or at the very least, inappropriate outbursts.

Growing up, I was plagued with migraines, and they would often be triggered by tears. My migraines would last for days and be accompanied by copious amounts of vomit and excruciating pain. Thus the family creed became: Don’t Upset Barb, She’ll Get a Migraine.

Because of that, it took decades for me to learn that it was okay to cry sometimes. It was acceptable to be upset. It wasn’t the end of the world, and it didn’t have to get blown up to epic proportions. I could be one with my tears, embrace my tears, and move on.

Someone I love has a problem with anger. When he gets angry, usually for political reasons, his fury comes out like a nuclear blast that tends to flatten everyone in his vicinity. I’m not sure why he never learned to direct his anger at the source, but it’s definitely a problem that impacts every aspect of his life, including his health and his relationships, and it breaks my heart to bear witness to it.

And then there is the fact that the vast majority of men on this planet are taught that they shouldn’t cry. Is it any wonder why they are much more prone to violence? I honestly don’t think it’s nature as much as it is nurture, or in this case, the lack thereof.

It is important, in fact imperative, to teach our children that it’s okay to feel what you feel, and express those feelings in healthy ways as they occur. If you want adults who are assertive rather than aggressive, you need to teach children how to communicate what they are feeling. Not to do so can have societal, even global implications.

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(Marvin Martian has long been my favorite cartoon character, because he allows kids to have conversations about anger.  I think that’s important.)