Tuesday, February 9, 2010

If You Haven't Got Anything Nice To Say...Say What's On Your Mind Anyway

I’m a little hard pressed today to say much since I’m in one of those skin crawling, anxious/irritable moods. If I were three, I’d be whining or I might stomp around. My throat would ache. I might break something that isn’t mine just because I feel like it. Or shave off my eyebrows. Probably best to put myself into a self-imposed time- out until I snap out of it. A week ago I was in a nice juicy flow, feeling generally strong and calm and grateful for everyone and everything in my life. Today I want to break glass. Maybe it’s Menopause (sung to the commercial jingle tune of Maybe It’s Maybelline).

My irritation is partly barometric. In Bloomington, Indiana, they called off school last Friday in response to warnings that the storm of the century would slam in to us. It missed— barely brushing us with its frosty fingers. A couple of inches fell twelve hours later than predicted. But the whole town stopped for a day. Waiting. And so things were put off. We lost our good sense to get our work done. Hours were lost to television weather reports, walks across the room to see if anything was freezing on the car windows. Getting up. Sitting down again. And by the time it did start to stick, it was time to venture forth to a show I didn’t have tickets for. I did NOT want to mobilize.

But venture forth I did. Not without some low pressure anxiety on my part and gentle prodding and an offer to drive from my friend, Carol. She felt optimistic and fearless about going out in a wintery mess. My impulse was to continue to sit. To wait. To wave a feeble flag for nothingness and not-doingness. I’m ashamed of this, given that I truly wasn’t engrossed in any other meaningful activity in my house-bound state and given what I might have missed and the fact that my husband and some very good friends were IN the show… but it’s the truth.

The show, (Woody Guthrie’s, American Song), made me momentarily happy. Thank you Carol. Thank you cast and crew. I watched family and friends pick guitars,play and sing songs most of us have known most of our lives. Masses of folk showed up in spite of the weather. I felt the triumph of the community arriving for one another snowfall- be- damned. And inside the warm space of the music hall (ok, a church) I forgot that I’d spent the better part of the day completely disengaged from my self and others.

Maybe my tooth-grinding irritation is a purely self-indulgent perseveration on my own shame. I ask people so often to show up, to engage, to sing along even when they think everyone in the room is listening and they're sure they can’t sing. I've exposed my own resistance to being out in the world, my failure to walk my own talk. I’m showing my ass; exposing my limitations when it comes to showing up –particularly where crowds are concerned. It’s always been big work for me. Tiring. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve got issues with the "being seen" part. A big narcissistic piece of me still wants to hide behind my Mother’s skirts because I’m sure you’re all looking at me and I can’t really take it. Another part of me knows, on the cusp of my next changes and nearly 50, it’s not one bit about me. But old neuroses die hard.

Lots of us don’t want or enjoy the responsibility of showing up or taking the risks that engagement requires. Our culture sure isn’t picky about what it means to “engage”. Heck, engaging in the questions arising for me as I write this little essay are kicking my butt! I mean, how many of us sit for days in solitude waiting for our lives to take shape and become known to us? How many of us cannot even fathom the worlds we live in because we cannot fathom our own lives? How many of us cannot risk showing this vulnerability to others until life hands us something too big to bear alone. Even then...how many of us do? It’s sad. My guess is there are lots of us. And there are so many more of us for whom circumstances, weather systems, war and forces of nature offer no choice but to engage in the bloody work of survival alongside of others doing the very same thing.

I realize as I write this that the hard times Woody Guthrie’s music gave voice to, Great Depression, Dust Bowl Refugee Reality and the forced communities that sprang up along the railroad tracks, brought people together in unfortunate circumstances -- unintentionally, but necessarily they found ways to share their struggles in their own words. And then more intentionally, no? People’s Movements rise out of dust. They are living things, just as the words and songs and art that come out of them live. Did the songs lead the way or did they follow? All I know is that people have been singing about their hard traveled lives since the first poet songmaker decided to declare her first rose-fingered dawn after a storm, or cry out his loss, chant her gratitude, or trill a tender moment.

Today, the sun is shining and I can smell the earth trying to come back to life underneath the crusty white stuff. I want to embrace that promise of spring, but predictions tell us there’s another bunch of snow coming our way. I’ve got a day full of important meetings tomorrow that might be put off again due to the weather. As my life has become ever-more dependent on things happening on time in the right sequence, and as my already legendary tendency toward control and order has led me down a predictable path, the mere prospect of having to rearrange another day has me on edge. Mini-Me still grumbles knowing full well my struggles are the struggles of privilege. Mini-Me wants an unobstructed way. She wants to get her blasted work done and resents the distractions of being trapped inside a snow globe.

The grump in me recognizes not much good or productive or life-giving emerges from complaining, from laziness or self-imposed paralysis… but I do want to tip my hat to the kind of ordinary “hard travelin’” lots of ordinary folk do. For the sharing we manage on whatever level we manage it. And for the tolerance to accept the woes of our fellow humans along the way with compassion no matter the relative scale of the woe.

The image shown here was drawn from the University of Texas Ransom Center's Sanora Babb manuscript collection and the California Migrant Farm Workers Slide Collection (Discrete Collection 191) in the Photography Collection. The slide collection is comprised of 221 black-and-white 35mm slides in glass mounts, taken by Dorothy Babb, the sister of the American writer Sanora Babb.

Beth for the Poplar Grove Muse 2/8/10


  1. Beth,
    What a beautiful essay. We're travelin' the same ordinary road, sister, and I love your naming of it, rich with paradox, vulnerability and lyricism.

    Thank you!!!!

  2. Beth, I love your writing. There are a lot of us like you, who let the weather shape our feelings and activities and then hate ourselves for it. I was SO glad to see you at the UU church and like you, I was SO glad to enjoy the talents of our local people and hear the old songs. Hang in there. The daffodils will emerge soon. Love, Carla

  3. This is a GREAT post! I love the honesty.