Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Thanks Eleanor

Eleanor Roosevelt said that, “no one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” With this in mind, I've written more permission slips than the average mother of any grade school student that ever took a field trip. I'll have to be very quick to admit that feeling inferior is one of the demons that I wrestle with on a regular basis.

I've been given talents as gifts of a loving heavenly father. Some of those gifts are used in my work, some in my community, some for my own edification and some for others. (On Christmas Day while having dinner, my sisters, mother, brother in law and a niece, nephew or two, told me that my beef and noodles would make an Amish grandmother weep for the beauty of them. I will say, they were one of my better efforts.

My introduction to this demon came at the hand of my paternal grandfather and I understand that he learned the art of the put down at the feet of the master, I mean mistress rather. I have learned that the knack for taking the wind out of your sails was one of his mother's greatest attributes. I'm told that she didn't mind telling her children and grandchildren exactly how low they were, steerage would have been a class above them by her description.

When it came to my grandpa it was easy to take his painful words to heart because of his size alone. To a six year old he was mammoth. As far as I was concerned people didn't come any larger. He was nearly six foot tall and was easily 300 pounds. He introduced me to feeling, “less than,” while he was standing on a ladder, which made him even larger. He pointed to me, a scrawny six year old pulling a wagon and bellowed, “and that one will never amount to a hill of beans.” What is the current value of a hill of beans anyway?

It really doesn't take a great deal to seal that feeling into the life of a child. Have a third grade teacher tell you a time or two that you won't ever learn your multiplication tables and chances are you will have a fourth grade teacher who ends up telling you the same thing. When I was coming up in school it was rare to receive encouragement, but put downs and discouragement ran like rain through Ranchipur. The put downs ran freely on the playground too. It is hard to learn self confidence and self worth when facing put downs nine months of every year for twelve years.

Throw into the stew the fact that I felt, “different” and figured out it was because I am homosexual. You don't have to hear too many times that your creation as a sexual minority is grievous and you have even more fuel for the fire. I work in an arty, creative field, that puts you in line to be the object of someones criticism most of the time, it's like sitting on the tracks intentionally and knowing that the train is regular.

Well Elly, I mean Mrs. Roosevelt, it's easy to give that permission after a while. It takes a while to establish a new rule in ones life. George Carlin once said, “it's hard to establish a new path, you have to hold the grass down by yourself at first.” ( I think his statement is every bit as profound as Mrs. Roosevelt's.)

I remind myself every day that I've overcome some of the put downs from my past. My sexuality is no longer an issue, those who criticize my artistic work are welcome to their opinion. I own a calculator now, so I really don't care what those elementary school teachers had to say. The other feelings that I face get a good talking to quite often now, those inferiorities that I haven't mentioned because I don't like to share them, it's easier if you are around me, you'll know them without me saying what they are. . I can see some growth, but growing never ends.

I got a card from a dear, loved and highly respected person in my life this past week. His words of encouragement are absolute treasure to me and quite often solace too. He put himself down by saying that he wished that he had the gift of expressing his feelings in words, he wanted those words to come as freely as he believes they do for me. I didn't understand how he could put himself down the way that he did. His writing expressed beautifully how he felt, his emotions and the power behind them. The letter was written with great honesty, even though he felt he didn't know if he was using the right words. (As far as I could see, each choice of word he made was perfect.) He was influenced by the giant on the ladder too. I've been wondering how I could tell him how he did a tremendous job in that letter, every word the right one. I want him to know that he has no need whatsoever to feel inferior in his gift for writing or saying the right thing. But how can I do such a thing?

Maybe I just did.


Anonymous UNK said...

I guess we are more alike than different. I can't express myself as I wish I could but wouldn't it be wonderful if we were close enough. That I could tell you what I think and you could write them down. I bet we could win a prize.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Troy said...

That permission lesson is still hard for me to learn. Thankfully, I don't think we have to have learned it "for good" before we get far along in other areas that being different forces us to deal with.

I remember when I came out to another gay friend who is a little older and told him I was a little scared about what would happen next. He said, "Troy, think of all that you've been through so far. You're stronger than you think."

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