Am I Too Nice?

Octavia E. Butler At a Book Signing

“Being nice doesn’t necessarily mean you’re weak. You can be nice and be strong at the same time. That’s a character trait that we need more in Washington.” ~ Shelley Moore Capito

“Certain people are like ‘Oh, here come the Feminazis!’ You end up acting 10 time nicer than you even need to be, to be the opposite of the stereotype like ‘You’re the man haters!’ We’re always bending over backwards being extra nice. And I don’t know if being nice is my legacy.” ~ Kathleen Hanna

“All that you touch, you Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change.” ~ Earthseed: The Books of the Living, from Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Today a bunch of things I’ve listened to and read have collided in my heart and head. The collision brought tears to my eyes. I’ve been living in a kind of cocoon for the last few years only going out occasionally to teach a class, or go grocery shopping, have a date with my husband, or meet with my writer friends. For the most part it’s been lovely. On the other hand there have been times when I’ve felt like I was stagnating. Today it feels like big changes are coming to my life, that I’m going to break out of my safe little nest and move into something I never expected would happen to me.

One of the shifts that I know I have to make is to just let my real feelings spew out onto the page. Since I’m highly sensitive, I almost ALWAYS think twice before I speak or write. One particular time when I didn’t, I hurt someone and made them angry. Since I’ve been hurt so many times in my life, I don’t want to be the cause of pain for anyone else. But today I realize that I can’t control that, because deciding whether or not to be hurt by what I say or write isn’t up to me. It’s in the hands of the people I interact with. So here goes, I’m going to attempt to be totally honest about a couple of things I’ve been thinking about.

Last week I wrote about finally finding a label for my spiritual and religious beliefs. That word is Omnism. It’s the idea that truth doesn’t reside in just one religion, but that it can be found in all religions. That word describes my deepest feelings perfectly. Since I wrote that post, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about truth. It can be found not just in religions but in lots of places, if we are looking and listening deeply enough. I found it today while listening to Anne Bogel interview poet, Amena Brown on the “What Should I Read Next” podcast.

Amena was describing what it was like for her to write her poems and how that is completely different than writing the nonfiction book she has coming out in November. I was in tears because everything she said broke open my soul. The discussion was funny and light, but also so honest. In a flip of the emotional coin, I knew that the reason my book of essays that I have been working on has been falling flat is because I was hiding my true inner reality. For some reason it’s easier for me to be honest when writing fiction, but even there I have to work hard not to be too easy on my characters, and not to shy away from the darkness they feel when bad things happen to them.

Though I’ve been trying to be more open emotionally in these posts, I often continue to hide behind nice words and sentiments. But I can’t fool myself any longer. I’m almost as mad as hell as Peter Finch in the movie Network, and I’m not going to take it any more. This anger has been building for many months. One part of me knows that the way things are going in the world right now is leading toward an eventual awakening of humanity, and an overhaul of our systems of government, business, education, and all the rest. But I’m completely exhausted by the violence, and total disregard for human life running rampant in almost every aspect of our current reality. We’re in such a dark place of fear that it’s really difficult for me to feel that we might actually find the light at the end of the tunnel.

I want to be one of the people persisting in shining the light of love, but I’ve been afraid to go out and participate in those demonstrations because of my hyper empathy. That’s a term I learned from reading the book, Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler. The main character is hyper empathetic because her mother took a certain drug while she was pregnant with her. She not only feels other people’s emotions, she feels their physical pains as well. When she was really young she even bled with the injured person. There are times when I feel like that, like I’ve been shot, or my head bashed in, or I’ve been betrayed by loved ones, or even the system.

I’m almost half way through Octavia Butler’s book. It’s almost a prophecy of what could happen to our society if we don’t examine our fear and look for ways to heal ourselves. It’s so dark that I nearly put the book back on the shelf last night. I didn’t think I could finish it. And yet, the main character, Lauren, has connected to profound truths about God that she hopes to share once she leaves her walled in neighborhood. What she has written about God, has touched me deeply.

When I heard the podcast with Anne and Amena, I knew I had to finish reading the book. Lauren has found a way out of the darkness. Maybe I will too if I finish reading.

Another insight came to me as I listened to Anne and Amena talk. I’m still ticked about things that happened to me while I was in college. Today’s insights actually began when I read the book, A Brief History of Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice. by Jack Holland.

I have always been deeply interested in the mysteries of God and the spirit world. So, it was natural that I should study religion when I attended my church college. This was in the mid ‘70s. The population was small, and like small towns, everyone could potentially know everyone else’s business. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when a group of extremely conservative male students, tried to convince me, over a series of weeks or months, (I honestly don’t remember how long this went on.) that because I was a woman, I had no business studying religion. I would never be ordained a minister in the church. I was wasting my time. (A side note: Just a few years later, our church did begin to ordain women into the priesthood.)

Here is where my highly sensitive nature worked against me. I was furious with those young men. I wanted to tell them to piss off and leave me the hell alone. I wanted to yell and scream at the injustice of being a woman with road blocks in my way and nasty people telling me how to live my life. But I didn’t. I was a good girl. I didn’t want to cause them the same pain they were causing me, so I stuffed those feelings. I engaged them intellectually countering their Bible quotes with other Bible quotes, and with discoveries in Biblical Criticism. And I built a trench with a resolve to stay on the front lines until they gave up and went away. Which they eventually did. But rage had taken up residence in every cell of my body. It was eating me up. I deceived myself for a long time that I was fine. That I had won, having graduated with my religion degree, and I need never think of that chapter in my life again.

It was reading, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck that woke me up. I did a great deal of personal work to heal that rage. And I thought I’d finished until I read, A Brief History of Misogyny. Wow, I’m still holding remnants of anger, and the situation with the GOP declaring a war on women is bringing it all up again.

I still don’t have a clear idea of what I’m going to do to persist in asserting that men have been in charge long enough, and that it’s time men and women learned to work together as equals.

I do know that the ideas for my sequel to The Space Between Time are crystalizing in interesting ways. Jenna and Morgan are going to engage as advocates for women in their separate time periods. Their story lines are becoming more clear in my mind. I’m excited to get off of the hump I’ve been stuck on for these last few months and be able to move forward with the book.

Maybe I never will be a marcher. Maybe I’ll work one on one, or in small groups with women to heal their wounds through journaling or through activism, or creating artwork. I don’t know. I just know I feel the Change coming and maybe that Change is God.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and will soon be available in a print-on-demand version at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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What I Learned from Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock

“I’m full of fears and I do my best to avoid difficulties and any kind of complications. I like everything around me to be clear as crystal and completely calm.” ~ Alfred Hitchcock

“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” ~ Alfred Hitchcock

“The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.” ~ Alfred Hitchcock

I’m a little slow on the uptake, or maybe it’s just that now I fully understand, on all levels, that key ingredient that makes great writing endure. It’s emotion. You have to engage the reader, or audience member emotionally, or they won’t remember your work. “I remember most how the books made me feel.” A recent guest said on the “What Do I Read Next” podcast by Anne Bogel, that I have recently subscribed to.

I’m also taking a course through Turner Classic Movies about Alfred Hitchcock. An interesting thing I’ve learned about his style was that he always wanted his audience to connect emotionally with his main characters.

Then I felt chagrin when I realized, my last two posts, which got no likes or comments, were too intellectual. They didn’t express the emotion that I always feel when I make connections between big ideas. I often feel a sinking or rising feeling in my solar plexus. What I feel physically confirms what I think I know intellectually. But now I see that I have not done a good job expressing those emotion so you, my readers can connect to my excitement, or dismay, or whatever the heck I’m feeling. In a way, I’m just following my strengths.

I don’t mean to play “The Devil made me do it,” card. Let me explain before I go on. When I was teaching high school, someone recommended that I read the book Teach With Your Strengths, by Rosanne Liesveld and Jo Ann Miller. I love finding out more about my personality traits, so I bought the book. At the end you take the quiz to discover what your top five strengths are. Mine are empathy, intellection, connectedness, ideation, and strategic. Four of those strengths have to with the way I use my brain. Even though empathy is at the top of the list, I have to admit, I was completely surprised by the last four traits. Never before had I even thought about why I love to analyze everything. But when I watched the interview segments last week with Alfred Hitchcock, I got it. I’m a little bit like him, deadpan on the outside, swirling with emotions on the inside.

When something happens to me, lots of emotions are churning around inside me. But over the years through lots of moves, and toxic school, and work environments, I’ve learned to play ‘possum. It’s my defense mechanism to keep myself from getting ridiculed. So on the outside I look perfectly calm, while inside my emotions are doing somersaults. Alfred Hitchcock was the same way during the interview we watched in class. He was so deadpan. Yet what his many biographers, the instructor, and many movie critics have said is that, what makes his movies endure is how they make us feel. So, he must have been in touch with universal human emotions on some level.

That’s something I need to keep working on as a writer, especially when I’m working on these blog posts and other non-fiction work. Because the best non-fiction books I’ve read tell personal stories that engage my emotions as a reader. I can relate to the feelings expressed by the author.

This insight couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve begun working on a new book titled, Inner Life of a Late Bloomer Baby Boomer, and even though it’s not a memoir, the essays do express my personal viewpoint about life. Each piece needs to reveal my emotions about the ideas I’m sharing. I think this will be easier now that I’m older and have been more open about expressing how I really feel instead of keeping silent. No more playing ‘possum for me.

Just now as I write this post, I know why I didn’t continue on with a higher degree in religion. It’s because theater grasped my emotions and taught me many of the same things that were expressed in my religion classes. But, theology is too academic. I honestly don’t remember many of the concepts I learned during those years of studying religion. What I do remember was how excited my instructors were to share the subjects they loved. Their excitement rubbed off on me and my world view was expanded, but the details of the concepts are gone.

So, I feel I must apologize to all of you. I’m going to work on infusing my work with more emotion, even while sharing the interesting ideas that spark my imagination. It’s a goal that should keep me busy for the next twenty or thirty years, and I hope will improve my writing.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and will soon be available in a print-on-demand version at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.