I was told that at work the other day. Have you ever noticed that men are rarely told such things? When’s the last time a man was told,
You’re being hysterical.
You’re rocking the boat.
You have strong opinions.
Just shut up and take it.
I’ll tell you when you can speak.
You’re taking things too seriously.
You’re too emotional.
Men are allowed to defend themselves. Their anger is tolerated. They can interrupt. They can explain. Their opinions are welcomed. It is assumed that they’re intelligent, rational, and have earned their confidence.
No matter the injustice that is dumped upon the head of a woman, she is expected to be quiet. She is always getting just what she deserves. She was asking for it. She is mentally off for being angry or upset about poor treatment.
Just for having the nerve to defend myself, I’ve gotten all that push back and then some. And I’m the one who pushes? I’m so pissed off right now. But that’s probably because I’m a girl. Perhaps I should just lie back and think of England.
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.
Just the other day I got told I have a strong personality. I get that a lot. The observation usually comes from a man, and it’s not intended as a compliment. I’m also often told that I “speak my mind” or am “opinionated”. (Uh, isn’t that an opinion?)
I can’t deny any of those descriptions. I’ll often speak up when others are afraid to. And if you ask me my opinion, I assume you want to know what it is, so I oblige you. I’m baffled as to why these qualities are supposed to be negative.
Yes. I have opinions. Everyone does. Never once have I insisted that anyone agree with mine. I’m not a bully. I never have been.
I also refuse to be bullied anymore. I was bullied half my life, and I’ve had it up to here. I stand up for others just as often as I stand up for myself. Again, tell me why that’s a bad thing?
Recently I’ve started considering the source of these criticisms. These people never make the same observations about men. Or if they do, they’re transformed into compliments. That’s interesting. And they are usually people who are, or would like to be, in positions of power over me. I’m quite sure that they’d prefer that I simply shut up and do as I’m told. They don’t want me to think, or have an opinion, or be strong, or even have a mind to speak. I’d be so much easier to deal with if I were soft and compliant.
Sorry to disappoint. Not gonna happen.
Portable gratitude. Inspiring pictures. Claim your copy of my first collection of favorite posts!http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve always had piss-poor self-esteem. I’ve always felt kind of weird. Different from everyone else. Like I don’t fit in.
Because of that, I leave myself rather vulnerable to criticism. Any hint of censure from someone else causes me to think, “Maybe THAT’S it! That’s what has always been wrong with me!” I’ve spent most of my life searching for that puzzle piece that will make the picture complete, the problem solvable, and allow me, finally, to be like everyone else.
So when the moderator of a local storytelling group kicked me out and said, among many, many other things, “Your ego has been growing exponentially for months… Your need for more and more recognition has been tiring for me to deal with,” it caused me to place myself under a very harsh microscope.
Am I egotistical? To me that means being selfish and uncaring about others. It means being vain and conceited. It means feeling like I’m better than those around me.
That doesn’t feel like me at all. But that’s the trap, isn’t it? If I am egotistical, would I be capable of seeing that?
Is that the image I project? I asked a friend of mine who is a counselor, and she said, “If anything, you’re the most understated person I have ever met.” That was a relief, because I truly, genuinely don’t feel superior to those around me. If anything, it’s just the opposite.
And I try really hard to use my blog to highlight causes that need help. I’ve also volunteered and donated, and lent my writing skills to people and groups that need to spread the word about their organizations. I vote. I recycle. I try to comfort people when they’re hurting. I ask for help even when it makes me uncomfortable. I compliment those whom I admire. I try to give people credit, especially when I feel like their efforts have been overlooked. Are those selfish acts?
But egotism also means talking about oneself, being opinionated, being boastful. I do have to own that. My blog is mainly about the things that rattle around in this head of mine. It’s about the way I see the world. Is that bad? Is it wrong? How could I write every day about anything other than my own experiences? And 99 percent of my entries are, in fact, opinion pieces. Everyone has opinions, don’t they? As far as I know, I don’t try to force anyone to agree with me.
I asked my counselor friend if it is wrong to be proud of my blog and my book. She told me I should be proud of both. I worked hard on both of them. There’s no shame in feeling good about things that have taken so much effort. There’s also nothing wrong with gaining confidence from their success.
It occurred to me that this critical man only knows me from the stories I’ve told in his group. Well, one of his rules is that the stories you tell have to be about yourself. It seems to me, then, that talking about oneself in that context isn’t egotistical. It’s what’s required. But it did cause me to look back at all my stories. Most of them have been recorded and are on line, if you’d like to hear them.
The first story I told was for the theme Who Do I Think I Am? I told the story of Chuck, the love of my life, who died unexpectedly, and how that sent me 3100 miles across the country to start over. I think this was my best story of all of them.
The next theme was Personal Mountaintops. This was a story about moving from Florida to Seattle, and comparing and contrasting the two places. I’m a little bit embarrassed about this one, because it sounds like my attempt at stand up comedy in retrospect. But that wasn’t what I intended, and it came from a sincere place. I was trying to bring across the profound changes I was experiencing.
My third story was on the theme of Comfort Zone. I told the story that I had told years before for StoryCorps, which they decided to include in their anthology. It was about being the last person to see someone alive. Supposedly. And then learning that my reality wasn’t the only reality.
The theme he gave us for my fourth story was Change of Heart. I talked about my insecurities about my looks as opposed to my confidence in my intelligence. And basically I was trying to say that beauty comes from within.
Story five was on the theme The Hardest Thing to Say. So I talked about the nightmare that is internet dating. I thought this one was pretty good. Several other people have used that topic as well.
In January, 2016, the theme was Starting Over. I told the story of having a gypsy give me the evil eye, and how that kind of gives me an out of jail free card. In other words, if something goes wrong, blame it on the evil eye.
Mistakes was my 7th story. Now, this one may be why that guy began to think I’m egotistical, because I told a story about all the amazing things that had been happening to me recently. I talked about the StoryCorps anthology that I’m in, and all the media publicity I was getting, and the fact that I was about to publish a book. But the story was mainly about my shock that all this great stuff was happening, and how I really felt that I had done nothing to deserve it. Still I have to admit it was shameless self-promotion. But, hey, you can’t make this stuff up.
My next to last story was about the theme Say Yes. This was about desperately wanting my sister’s approval, and how hard I tried to fulfill her dying wish, and how devastating it was that I couldn’t do so. And it was also about how amazing my nephew is.
My very last story didn’t get recorded, unfortunately. The theme was You Can’t Always Get What You Want, so I told the story of my recent vacation all alone on the romantic Oregon coast, and how in the end it turned out to be a wonderful time regardless of my being all by myself. It’s still a beautiful place, after all.
Do any of those (well, except that one) seem egotistical to you, given the requirement that stories are to be true and about yourself?
So after a week of soul searching, and trying to determine the health of my ego, and picking my stories apart with a fine-toothed comb, I tend to agree with my counselor friend’s ultimate conclusion. Apparently I represent something to this guy that pushes some button or other, and causes him to be hostile and have a low opinion of me, but this is through no fault of my own.
Maybe he has a book in him that’s dying to come out, and somehow my pride in my own book has triggered him more than my many compliments of his writing ever did. If so, that makes me sad. But this is pure speculation. I’m quite sure I’ll never know.
Yes, I’ll continue to write about myself, because I’m pretty much the only frame of reference that I have. But I’ll also continue to be fascinated with the world and all the people therein. I’ll continue to want to learn from others, and about others. I’ll continue to delight in those who get me and support me, and be confused by and try to figure out those who don’t. I’ll continue to be glad that I’m just a tiny part of a big, amazing universe, and I’ll always, always enjoy observing bits and pieces thereof in this blog and getting your feedback.
And maybe instead of trying to figure out what’s wrong with me, I should just work on getting a thicker skin. There’s a thought. Sigh.