Use your words (a meditation on making art)

Parents tell children to “use your words” when they are feeling frustrated. But what if they don’t have words? What if the problem is that the things that they are experiencing are too large for words? It is important to give children as many different ways of expressing themselves as possible. Consider this – studies have proven that babies who are taught sign language before they are able to communicate verbally show a greatly reduced level of frustration.

I think that learning many ways for self expression is the cure for everything. Everyone needs to learn different ways to communicate. Sometimes words fail us.

The arts provide us with many other ways to communicate. Dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, drawing, painting, knitting, beading – the list is endless. It is only limited by your imagination. Whatever you try is good.

Plenty of people are upset that the public schools are cutting their budgets and eliminating the arts. You don’t need to go to school to make art. In fact, school can’t teach you how to make art. You already know how to do that. Children do it without thinking, and this is the best way. Just have fun playing and you are on your way.

Not having a lot of money is also not an excuse. Crayons and paper are cheap. You can find used musical instruments at a thrift store. You can even create your own tools to create with.

I used to write a lot before my parents died. After they passed, writing was too much for me. Every time I tried, too much would come out and it would get tangled up. My feelings were too big to be expressed with words. Thankfully, I had beads as a form of self-expression at the time. I would string together beads like I had strung together words. They had rhythm and feeling. There was an internal logic to them. Did others know what I was saying? Not always. But that isn’t always necessary. In that instance, it wasn’t important that I communicate an idea to others. It was essential that I got those feelings through and then out of me.

These days I work on visual arts such as painting and collage as well. I find I can process deep emotions this way, handling them in a safe and healing way. Some things that come up while I’m making art were so buried that I didn’t even know they were there. I’m grateful for my practice of making art as a form of self-healing.

Art doesn’t have to be “good” to be useful. It can be more abstract than representational and still do the job. Nobody else has to even see it. In fact, not thinking about an audience usually means that you’ll do more and better work because you aren’t trying to edit it to make it “safe”.

If you want to use images and you aren’t good at drawing (yet), you can cut out pictures from magazines. Don’t have any? Ask your friends – someone has a few that they would normally throw away. Not good at mixing paint? Buy art paper with pretty designs and cut it up and glue it on. Consider having an art-supply swap meet, where everybody brings materials that they are tired of and switches out. You’ll find new ways to express yourself with new supplies.

Remember that anything you want to do well takes time and practice. Nobody is a Rembrandt overnight. Have patience with yourself, but most of all – play.

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Bad seeds

I think it is very dangerous to spread news about young boys and guns in school. The stories about mass shootings at school where boys are killing strangers just encourage more of the same, rather than preventing it.

I think the media mentions it in the news so that everybody else knows what to look out for and be careful. But the problem is that when they spread the news they’re also telling other boys here’s a thing to do. People who never thought about taking a gun and killing random strangers at their school now have that idea in their head. It’s not that the rash of it spreads on its own, it’s that we plant the seeds.

So now, kids who feel ignored and overlooked have an idea of how to get attention and be noticed. Any attention, even negative, is attention. Attention is energy. That is what everybody wants. Being famous for a bad thing is still being famous. And, briefly, they feel powerful, which they have not felt before.

We have to address that sense of powerlessness and give everybody the attention that they need. Every person has the chance to grow up into a beautiful flower. Ignored, abused – they will grow up into misshapen weeds.

It is our choice.

All people need to learn how to express themselves and how to respect others while they express themselves. All people need to learn how to self-soothe and not rely on others for their self-esteem and happiness.

Achieve this and we will have peace.

Bad mind reading.

I was getting the paging slips in the stacks and I saw a lady sitting sideways in a chair near the computers. She was working on some paperwork. I thought about it, and wondered if there was some advantage to sitting that way. I’m always looking for new ways to do things. That is the main reason why I like learning about different cultures and reading biographies.

I asked her if there was an advantage to how she was sitting and she took it as if I was chastising her. She said she was just waiting for #18 to be available. Then she looked at my tag and asked if I was a librarian. I said no, but I work here.

“I can take a hint, I’m in the way of the walkway” she said sheepishly.

She wasn’t, I assured her.

I said “If I needed you to move, I’d ask you to. That isn’t why I’m asking. I’m legitimately interested if there is an advantage.” Maybe it helps with core strength, or her legs are short and it helps her. I wouldn’t know unless I asked.

She didn’t believe me, looked around and said “It must be really selfish of me to take up all this space” and started to gather up all of her papers.

I again assured her that was not the reason I was asking.

She got up, said “I’m sorry” – and went to stand near the computer that she had a reservation for. It was still in use, so it wasn’t time for her to use it yet. This would only annoy the person using it.

I shook my head and walked away.

This kind of conversation was normal in my house when I was growing up. People thought they could read each other’s minds, and acted accordingly. They never listened to what was being said, but what they thought the other person meant. They always assumed the worst. They always got it wrong.

It was bad mind reading.

This lady had to have grown up in the same kind of household.

I’ve come to realize the insanity of this way of (not) communicating. I’ve also realized that I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings.

It has to be hard to live in a space in your head where you are constantly second-guessing what people are saying, and assuming the worst.

There is something about being able to read social clues, sure. But there also has to be something about stating your mind, and being honest about what you need. Conversations are two-way, after all. If you grow up with people who won’t honestly express themselves, then you have to try to guess what they mean.

Too many people hope that others will guess what they mean, and won’t say it. They are afraid of saying what they want or need or feel for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings.

Then their feelings get hurt, because their needs aren’t being met.

I heard about a time in the pool at the water aerobics class where a new lady was too close to the regulars, and they were being pushed closer and closer to the deep end. They had no more room to get out of her way. They kept glaring at her, hoping she’d get the hint.

When a regular complained about it to me later in the changing room, I asked – “Did you say anything to her?”

No.

So they all got madder and madder, and the new lady didn’t learn that what she was doing was causing a problem. They expected her to read their minds.

We have to learn to say what we think. We have to learn to be adults and use our words. Otherwise, just like toddlers, we will get more and more frustrated and more and more angry.

There is no reason for it.

We aren’t being nice when we ignore our own feelings. And we aren’t being smart when we try to read other people’s minds. And we aren’t responsible for the feelings of others.

This doesn’t mean to not care or be hateful.

It means that their feelings are their feelings. If they get mad, that is their choice. If we say what we feel or need in an honest and kind manner, then we have done what we are supposed to do.

Unappreciated – on gifts and on using your words

I know a lady who has jumped in to help her husband with his parents. Really, it is more accurate to say she has taken over the care-giving chore. They are getting older and needing more help. She feels like it is her responsibility to help out. The problem is that she wasn’t asked for her help, and nobody is taking her advice anyway.

She feels ignored and devalued.

Plenty of women feel it is their wifely duty to help when their parents in law get older. They feel that is a chore that women take care of. They feel that their husbands are inept at care-giving. They then shoulder the burden all by themselves, and they feel put upon.

There are a lot of problems to this.

A gift that is given freely is a good gift. It isn’t a gift if it has to be given. It isn’t a gift if it is given under duress. Even if nobody asked, but the giver felt obliged, it is duress.

Now, of course, that is all on the giver’s head. It is never a good idea to make up a script. If nobody told you what was expected of you, but you just felt that was something you had to do and did it anyway and felt unhappy about it, that is your problem.

Another problem is that it takes away responsibility from the husband. Men are just as able to be caregivers as women. There is nothing biological about being a caregiver. There is something in our society about it, but that isn’t set in stone. Roles can change, and often should.

If a wife takes over the care-giving responsibilities of her parents in law, the husband may feel grateful. That is one less chore he has to deal with. Say he always mowed the lawn, but she always felt he was doing it poorly. One day, she takes over that responsibility without saying anything to him. He notices what she is doing, realizes that this means he has more time to do what he wants to do, and lets her. She, then, feels resentment that her hard work isn’t appreciated.

It isn’t a gift. She didn’t do that out of love, but out of something darker.

There is a lot of unspoken expectation mixed up in all of this, and because of that, a lot of feelings will get hurt. Un-asked for promises and rewards aren’t forthcoming, because they weren’t put in the contract. There is no “if I do this, then you’ll do that” that is mentioned. The wife will feel unappreciated, and the husband will simply feel like she is doing something she wants to do.

She’ll continue helping (read “taking over”) with the care-giving of her parents in law, and he’ll keep not getting that she really doesn’t want to do it because she hasn’t said anything about it.

People can’t read minds. That is why we invented language.

Notice how small children get frustrated when they want something but they don’t use their words. They are hungry, or tired, or want their favorite toy, and all they can do is wail. Their parents can’t understand what they want, so the child’s needs continue to not be met, so the wails continue and get louder.

“Use your words” they might say, and the child has to slow down long enough to get out what is the problem. Then healing can start.

As long as the wife continues to do something she doesn’t really want to do, something that really should be the responsibility of her husband (because after all, they are his parents), resentment will build. She won’t wail outwardly, but she will seethe inwardly. It will come out in ugly ways.

It isn’t his responsibility to second guess her. It is her responsibility to talk, to say how she feels.