Celebrate yourself!

Me as a baby. Cheek city.

So I have been comparing my old beliefs and new beliefs a good bit lately.  I guess there was one old and new habit that I haven’t explored much yet. Maybe I haven’t explored it because I haven’t settled comfortably into the new habit even as of now?

I used to believe that it was sinful to have a hobby, likes and dislikes and even a personality. I also believed that it was sinful to love yourself, since you were at your deepest core a sinner. Can you believe that? I can hardly believe it either, but somehow it was a way of life for me. I was taught that the only God approved pursuits in life included Bible study and prayer. All else was bordering on the slippery slope of being worldy. Working, eating, speaking, interacting with people, simply being OK for even a moment with being in the world… these were carnal activities that were to be limited strictly. These activities would bring punishment from God if indulged in, and were supposed to be engaged in as rarely as possible.

I learned early on to remain as quiet and colorless as possible. That was the safest course of action at the homestead where I grew up. I obediantly shunned development in my personality. I learned to avoid developing likes or dislikes. I learned that I was supposed to float in a dark and quiet, joyless world that included only stictly religious thoughts and activities. I did question this particular belief and fought against it in my mind, but out of fear I gradually bent closer and closer to the will of God and my father and I became a colorless soul. Mild as luke warm water and safely bland. I carried this belief unfortunately throughout my life, up until today. Even right now it is a part of my make up. I am glad I’m writing this post so that finally today I realize that this is a groundless, false belief. I have had a hard time being brave enough to identify in public, in conversation or even to myself what I believe in, what I enjoy, what makes me tick. But I plan on exploring who I am further.

I know now that the best way to celebrate God is to celebrate your own colorful self in the world. So I’m now going to practice focusing my energy on celebrating me without shame or fear.

Where do I begin? What do I love? What makes me smile? I feel hesitant to even answer these questions. I feel guilty taking up the time and space on this blog to focus on  me. But I should remind myself that this is a new page in my life. This is actually a healthy process! It’s alright to do this.

I love the warmth of the sun on my skin. I love the second of transition between the freezing chill before the sun drapes suddenly on my body and the goosebumps that instantly sprout up the second I sense the warmth of the sun spreading like a glow, like warm butter seeping through toast.

I loved laying on my bed looking through my bedroom window screen as a child during the late afternoons after school, watching the sun highlight the curve of hill in our backyard. The screen pixilated the yard into thousands of tiny dots, each a different hazy shade of green. I would squint my eyes to make the view more blurry and dreamy looking, then I would open my eyes to make it crisp and neat again. Over and over. No wonder my mom thought I was autistic, right? I would get lost staring at the dotted variations of green, trying to replay them in my mind as if I were going to paint each tiny shade on a canvas, dot by dot. My view would change depending on the slant of the sun, time of day, and season. Sometimes golden yellow, with purply green shadows. Sometimes almost bleached out when the sun parched the grass in summer. And autumn? I would sit for hours on my bed leaning against a pillow, cuddling with my safety blanket, sucking my thumb and contemplating the colors outside my screen window. Those were good times.

When I was a kid, my ears looked like elf ears, and I was little and thin. My parents jokingly told me I was part elf and part angel. The angel part because my shoulder blade bones stuck out when I moved, and they told me those bones were angel wing stumps. I half believed them. I got mad because my dad would try to “pull” my “angel wings,” which meant he tried to touch my shoulder bones to check if they were wing stumps or not. I used to spend a lot of time in the woods behind my house in a kind of quiet contemplation of nature. I would swing on a swing up there by myself, thinking up stories and poems, getting lost in appreciating the sun glancing off the trees and reflecting on the meaning of life.

As a child, I didn’t talk in school. At first, it wasn’t necessary because I was so busy observing and storing up images in my mind of what was going on around me. One day in maybe third grade, I was standing in the recess line, and I turned and said something to a girl who was playing jump rope with me earlier. One of the boys in my class heard me, turned around, and let out this loud whoop, yelling “She talked!!!!” I was mortified, because that was the boy I had a crush on. All eyes in that recess line turned slowly toward me in slow motion. They were asking me if I was going to talk again. I didn’t like the attention at all, so I clamped my mouth closed. If it was this big of a deal to say something, then I  certainly was not going to talk again anytime soon. So I didn’t. The only time I said something the rest of elementary school was when I spoke very quietly to my almost friend Jennifer when no one else was paying attention.

So I had a blanket when I was little. It was cream colored with silk edges. I used to take it everywhere. Even to dinner. I would sit with it in my lap at the kitchen table. To fall asleep, I would rub the silk part and suck my thumb. I did this until I was eleven. I kept the edges of the blanket until I was 24. I was good for a few years without it. Then when things got stressful for me when I was 27 or so, I had to go buy another blanket with silk edges, so I could sleep. When I was under severe stress, I cut the edge off the blanket and kept it in my pocket so I could feel it there. It got to be a habit, and I still have an edge in several of my coat and sweatshirt pockets. It’s kind of like a lucky rabbit foot that people keep in their pocket or on a keychain. Except it’s not a rabbit foot, and it doesn’t make me feel lucky. I’m not sure how I picked up this blanket habit, but I’m going to celebrate it, because it makes me unique, and it is what makes up me.

Helping a little tyke.

I love music. I play the piano and just started learning to play guitar. Animals. I am drawn towards them. I feel more comfortable around them than I do around most people. I feel like I am grounded around them, and I draw energy and peace from being around them. I like to think that I bounce that energy and those good vibes back to them. I was holding my nephew’s bunny Alfie the other night. I was at a dinner party and I was on the verge of passing out and feeling sick. But if I concentrated on Alfie, I could re-center myself and not go as deep into a crash as I otherwise would have.  Alfie’s nose just kept wiggling and his whiskers kept time with the movement, and it made me laugh. Each time I laughed, he twitched nervously in a knee jerk reaction kind of way, so I would relax my body and stroke his head and put him into a bunny trance. Not the deep bunny trance, just a mild version of one. I was giving him a bunny massage, so that if he had any aches or pains or worries, I could ease them away.

Our cat Maggie is still getting to know me. I don’t know why she doesn’t seem to bond with me… yet. She has been the only connundrum as far as me jiving with pretty much any animal. Maybe this is just how cats are. I wouldn’t know because she’s my first official cat. But I just love her to bits. She likes to be held upside down, and she stretches her front and back legs out as far as they go in either direction so she looks like a skinny rocket. That’s her way of saying, “Rub my belly. Now.” I lay my face on her belly and rub my cheek on her fur and listen to her heart beating.

A few people have told me that when I talk, I sound like I’m speaking poetry. Like I speak in metaphor, use similies, don’t finish my sentences, and speak of impressions, nuances, subtleties. It’s true. I don’t like speaking about facts. It feels too direct, too bald, stark, naked. I don’t like getting to the point in a direct way. I’d rather circle around intuitively and let people draw their own conclusions, since I’m sure they are smart enough to do so without me doing it for them.

As far as careers go, I was an elementary school teacher. Most of the time, I loved it. But in a way, I didn’t always fit in. I remember we would have meetings where the principal would focus on a discipline such as academic rigor. Ugh, that those words drove me nuts. Then she would have us brainstorm in groups what academic rigor meant. Then we would have to share out loud, and then write it down with these colorful markers on a huge sheet of paper taped to the wall. Or her smart board if it was working. It was tiresome and monotonous pinning those facts down. I wanted to focus on how “academic rigor” personally affected the children in our particular class and each of us as teachers and how we could change it to fit our own unique teaching styles. I didn’t like the depersonalization in those meetings.

                                                                                       Reading to some kids

So in some ways I was resistant to the typical teacher stereotype. But in other ways, being a teacher suited me quite well. I loved being the one responsible for teaching 28 children each year how to read. What a priviledge!  My favorite memory from childhood is the very second I first realized that I was actually reading, and that I could read anything I wanted to from then on with no help from an adult. I was seven years old, and I was leaning against the lattice of our porch in the shade because the sun was too bright in the center of the porch. I was wearing shorts and I had goosebumps on my legs because I was reading “The Ghost of Windy Hill.” Well, I was actually just looking at the pictures, which were drawn in charcoal with these  mysterious dark strokes. Even the wisps of hair of the children on the page were waving in the wind spookily. The folds in their clothing and the thinness of their legs was spooky. The dust poofing up from their stage coach as it pulled away from their home on the hill was spooky. I don’t know how many countless times I sat and “read” that book by falling into the story through the portal of those thinly drawn, whispy pictures. I didn’t know how to read, but I remembered the jist of the story from when my mom read it to me, and I had the first few lines of each chapter sort of memorized.

That afternoon on the porch, I was planning to just treat myself to a spooky session with the illustrations. I would run certain cryptic lines through my head like, “On a dark and cloudless night, when the moon was full and the hoot of an owl lingered in the wind….” Then I found myself looking at the lines in the book, and suddenly, the words were flowing and it wasn’t the pictures telling the story. It was me….reading the story. Suddenly, I was in the book for real, and I was the reader, not my mom and not my sister. I started getting goosebumps on my legs again. So I hugged myself really tightly, then scooted over to the slant of sun in the center of the porch and stretched my legs out. The goosebumps were going big time, and I felt a warm chill of excitement and sun. I was reading on my own! I was unlocking the mystery of the Ghost of Windy Hill all by myself! I felt such power, like I was on top of the world. Finally! I can’t remember a childhood thrill higher than what I felt that day. It was like the wealth of the world suddenly spread out at my feet, and I was master of all I could see. I had the key now, and I could unlock a book and the richness of the world anytime I wanted!

I had to tell somebody. So I ran into the kitchen, banging the screen door behind me. I tugged on my mom’s sleeve while she was cooking at the stove. “I can read! By myself!” My mom barely turned her head. “I thought you already could read?” she said. I knew she meant that I could read the simple little boring, basal book that I brought home for homework. “No,” I said, “I just read The Ghost of Windy Hill’! I never could read that by myself before. Now I know I can read anything!”

My mom was happy for me, but it was not monumental news for her. She had dinner to get on the table. I wasn’t deflated by her inability to see how amazing this event was. I walked on air the rest of that evening and week. I remember when I was 17 and I took my own car out for the first time by myself. I was completely elated and felt like I was set free. I could go anywhere I wanted, anytime, without asking. Talk about freedom. But as exciting as that was, I remember thinking… this doesn’t even compare to how amazed I was that day I learned to read on my own.

Me sporting some serious under eye darkness.  I was also bummed that the illness

caused me to loose too much weight.

Looking back, I remember that I actually didn’t go to kindergarten. My mom asked me one year if I wanted to go, and I said, “No. I want to stay home and play.” She said, “OK,” thinking that I was too shy anyway. The next year she asked me again, and I said, “No.” She said that I would have to go, but I had missed kindergarten, so I would have to go straight into first grade. I went into first grade not knowing my alphabet and not knowing how to read.  I remember my first grade teacher showing me these flash cards with words and pictures on each card. Most of the cards I could guess just from looking at the picture. But then there were two cards that each featured a purplish jar on them. One card said “jam” and the other said “jelly.” For the life of me, I couldn’t get them straight and I was mortified each time. My teacher asked me to sound them out, and I had no clue what she was talking about. I was such a people pleaser that it broke my heart to see my beautiful teacher purse up her lips in a slightly frustrated way. Many years later when I became a first grade teacher, I would always remember  how lost I was, and how much I wanted my teacher to smile and be proud of me. It makes teaching such as honor, to be entrusted with such impressionable little people.

OK, so what else do I like. I like when men speak in quiet, calm gentle voices. I feel so validated when I see a man helping a hurt or crying child, animal or helpless person. It is quite healing. When I witness this, it is like everything suddenly becomes right in the world, and my brain goes, “Ahhhhh.” I feel energized when I see a man choosing compassion and love over a “rule” or tradition that would indicate otherwise. I like when people ask “why?”

I like when people see past the written word to the idea underneath. I love when others see the big picture with me, or show me the big picture. When you can see the forest and the trees in crystal clarity both at the same time. It’s also great to have a connection with someone past the spoken word. It’s neat to run into people who I “get” in an instant, even though we don’t exchange an ounce of conversation. Sometimes I can even tell from a photograph. It doesn’t matter what their bringing up is, their nationality, religion, or life experience…. I intuitively can read people and make connections on a level where speaking isn’t necessary.

Summer 2008 with a rum and coke at Lake George, NY

You could say that I am a day dreamer. People can tell me pretty much anything, and it goes in one ear and slightly out the other. I have to focus to catch on when people are talking. But if I read something in print, I grasp the concept effortlessly. Which is why I’m interested in sharpening my auditory skills. So I can be more in tune with the rest of the world. Listening to audio books might be helping, so I’ve been investing time with them and my ear buds lately.

Most times, I feel like I have the mind of a teenager even while I’m in an adult body. I don’t know who I am, so I still try on different ways of being. I’m a chammeleon, changing to accomodate who I’m around, who I’m speaking to. Afraid to commit to being anybody, with any kind of thoughts of my own.  Trying to wear bland colors and blend in, trying to act like I don’t exist because I don’t have the right to a place in this world. Not asserting myself in conversation. Listening, absorbing, and deflecting what people say to me, making them feel good about themselves. Leaving my opinions untouched, because I feel I don’t have a right to them.

I’ve been practicing saying what I really think to those closest to me. Those closest to me are mainly my family members caught in the religious web, and let me tell you, I get guff from them. Resistance, averted eyes, shame, guilt. And yet I don’t back down like I used to. I always feel my temperature rising, my heart beating faster, my adrenaline pumping. I know I’m standing up for myself, and it takes effort. I feel their judgement of me, I feel the heaviness of their resistance towards me. I feel like a caged bird beating it’s wings very fast and hard against the bars of a cage, banging the door and almost popping it open. I feel like a half smothered bird trying to peck at whoever is holding me down when I express myself to these family members. I know I must speak up in order to keep my head above water. To stay silent anymore is detrimental, and something deep inside of me knows this.

I’ve let others decieve me long enough. I’ve ignored who I am long enough. Well, those days are gone. I believe in myself now, and I want to befriend who I really am.

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