Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Words

It's been a while since I posted. I've been feeling a little "worded out" the last few weeks. I read somewhere that women say about 20,000 to 25,000 of them a day. As a stay-at-home mom, I feel that number is a lot less for me most of the time. But I haven't been doing a lot of staying home recently. In fact, I just got home a few days ago from two and a half weeks away, every day spent talking. A lot.

But not just talking . . . processing. Family stuff going on, some major and some minor, all of it requiring me to not just babble but to think before I open my mouth. I don't want to offer up my opinion without really, truly considering whether it IS my opinion or just the easiest thing that seems to roll off my tongue. Someone might listen and pay attention, might think those hundred words or so I said have some merit. And then what if my opinion comes across as advice? What if it's really awful advice and I make matters worse? Add to the equation the possibility that what I say to Person A gets back to Person B--either verbatim or approximately, it doesn't matter. I try really hard not to ever say something that can be thrown at someone instead of just shared with them. But when you're speaking 20,000 to 25,000 words a day, there's a lot of room for really screwing up.

My little sister had a quote at the bottom of her email for a while that read, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel." Maya Angelou said that. And I love Maya Angelou. I've read five or six of her books, her poetry . . . I even wrote a paper about her in college. I think she's brilliant and wise. But I think she's wrong here, because I think people remember all of it: the words, the actions, the feelings.

I used to love to draw as a kid. My older sister gave me an art kit--the kind with the thick, bumpy paper and the charcoal sticks and the white smudge-free eraser and the various lead pencils--and I sat one Saturday morning drawing a duck-pond scene, complete with a barn and animals, hills in the background to reflect the Blue Ridge Mountains just a 20-minute drive away. I recall the red chair I sat on the floor beside in the corner where we once found a green snake. I remember the feel of the beige carpeting under my knees. I remember the quiet. It was a good morning for me.

When I was done, I showed that drawing to my mother and asked what she thought. She said, "Well, it's not as good as good as you sister's . . ." And my heart sunk. She didn't mean to tell me to put away my pencils and paper. The intention behind those words were not "you'll never be an artist." But that's what I heard. I'm sure she wanted to encourage me, to tell me how if I kept practicing I could one day be as good as my sister. But I was a kid and I didn't get that at the time.

While visiting my mom this past week, I was doodling as we were sitting with some other family members around the table. The next morning, she saw my picture--a cartoon man walking a dog--and asked who'd drawn it. When I told her I had, she said, "You're really good." I shrugged it off with a "It's not exactly art." And I didn't tell her about the time I did put away my pencils and paper because I thought that's what she was telling me to do. She doesn't need to feel bad now about something that happened 30 years ago. Those words don't need to come out of my mouth.

People do remember what you say. They may not remember every single word, but they'll remember enough that it's worth a few extra minutes--or hours or days--to hold them in before letting them out slowly, one thoughtful syllable at a time. You can't do much editing once they've escaped.

5 comments:

Brigid Kemmerer said...

This is a GREAT post. One of your best. I always try to think about what I'm saying before I say it, but when I'm tired or irritated or just not paying attention, I tend to say the things I most regret. Not mean things, because I'm not a mean person, but careless things. And you're absolutely right -- you can't edit spoken words.

Val said...

I agree about the words, but I'm really taken by the idea of people remembering how you made them feel. I suspect that if we can get that right, the words and actions are just the tools that get us there, rather than something that can stand apart.

David Liberati said...

If you were still here in the Burgh, you and your family could never say too much for us...
Miss you!

Bobbie said...

I suppose, Val, that I have several strong memories of people saying things that made me feel bad, so it's hard to separate the words (and actions) from those feelings. But I also have many memories of people making me feel good, either by the calmness of their presence or acts of quiet service. And I fully agree that it would be great if our words and actions were the tools that get us where we need to be.

And, Dave . . . I miss Pittsburgh and the Liberatis! I so wish we were still neighbors, especially as I see the pictures of Olivia growing up!

susan said...

I know the post was more about what you say to people and how that makes them feel, but.... I don't think I've ever seen anything you've drawn, but your cakes are amazing. So the artist is in there- maybe that is something you can do with all of your "free" time now that Ivan is in school- an art class!