Love Locks, Stickers and Disenchantment with Words

Love locks on the Brooklyn Bridge

This past weekend, my brother talked me into downloading a chat app for my phone. One of the app’s most notable features is a prolific library of downloadable stickers, many of them tiny, animated gifs of strangely whimsical cartoon figures. I have to admit, I have had a lot of fun finding and using clever stickers – a donut doing push-ups; Rodin’s “The Thinker” with an animated thought bubble that says “So?”; a cartoon gladiator giving a big thumb’s up. Until I started playing with this app, I would never have understood the attraction to a set of tiny images of a horse and frog dancing sinuously together. The idea is this: why use words when the perfect gif speaks volumes?

Also, this past weekend, I was reminded of the Love Locks phenomenon. While I have never placed one, my understanding is that people use love locks as a visual memorial – whether to a relationship or to the achievement of a personal milestone. The fact that it is a lock symbolizes permanence, the lasting nature of whatever the love lock is memorializing or testifying to.

These two phenomena are very different. The stickers are momentary ephemera, created by the thousands, used a couple of times then forgotten in the rush to find newer, more amusing or creative gifs. Love locks, on the other hand, are intended to attest to the permanence of whatever they are commemorating, be it true love, friendship, or self efficacy. It strikes me, though, that while motivated by different impulses both attempt to transcend the use of words in order to communicate emotion.

Images have always spoken powerfully to our hearts. But there seems to me to be a new weariness, even a cynicism, about words residing underneath the popularity of and preference for images these days. I see much less sharing of motivational and inspirational quotations on social media lately – perhaps understandably, as overuse of meaningful quotes and well-turned phrases clashes with the lack of both inspiration and thoughtful rhetoric in our current political and cultural discourse. Mistrusting what people say, are we placing greater faith in images? Certainly, it is easier to slap a cynical cartoon sticker on something than to find words that convey what you truly feel. But is the image more true or trustworthy?

I’m not opposed to images, and these ruminations are not intended to be “against” anything. Rather, as a lover of words, I’m wondering if we are likely to miss them as we, increasingly, omit them from our communication. Words, used well, offer a precision that can be lost in images. A crying toddler is an image, but there’s a reason parents the world over say to that toddler, “Use your words!”

So, I plan to keep having fun with the app. I’ve downloaded new stickers of sushi sumo-wrestlers and I can’t wait to use them in some witty repartee with my brother. And who knows, I may one day feel the need to click a symbolic padlock shut in testament to something profound in my life. Meanwhile, I’ll continue using my words – and encouraging others to do so as well. There’s a deep connection between using your words and having a voice. I believe our voices are sorely needed in today’s world.

“Words… They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos…”

–Tom Stoppard

 

 

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Have a Little Faith

“Sometimes beautiful things come into our lives out of nowhere.  We can’t always understand them, but we have to trust in them.  I know you want to question everything, but sometimes it pays to just have a little faith.”  ―Lauren Kate

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Having faith is something that doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. There are things I believe, things which are pretty steady and unshakeable: that God is; that love is our most pressing action and responsibility in this life; that there is a point to our being here. Faith is different – faith is about trust, which isn’t one of my natural responses to the world, other people, or my own efficacy.

The amazing people in my life regularly encourage me to trust that the right path will reveal itself to my feet. And while I believe that it will, I struggle on a daily basis to keep the faith. To trust enough to relax and let it unfold.

But my own recent history should inform me here. This blog began with the “Hunger Challenge” and has led to uncountable gifts that were never foreseen or promised. This morning I posted my 500th post! That’s quite a milestone, given that I began with only a vague idea what I was doing!

In his “Letter to a Young Poet”, Rilke says, “Keep growing quietly and seriously throughout your whole development; you cannot disturb it more rudely than by looking outward and expecting from outside replies to questions that only your inmost feeling in your most hushed hour can perhaps answer.” Blogging through the most difficult issues of emotional denial and repression – the things inside me that I had never brought to the light – proved to be incredibly powerful. Telling my own story in my own voice has been more healing, more central to my weight loss and current physical health, than the changes I made in diet and exercise. Rilke was on to something important which in our crazy, loud, rushed world is often overlooked. Silence and solitude allow what we carry deep inside to bubble up to the surface – if we are listening, we hear our own voices, and we learn.

Voice. I had been using my voice in journaling most of my life, and I still appreciate journaling as reflection. In posting to Jenion, though, I discovered the powerful nature of voice in dialogue with others. We live in a time when people are quick to share prurient details but slow to openly speak what is truly in their hearts. The incredibly amazing gift of this blog has come primarily from readers – both friends and strangers – who have listened to what I had to say and responded from their own deeper selves. It still feels like such a humbling grace when someone comments on a post – either sharing their experience or simply saying, “Thanks, I needed that”. I am not special or different, as I assumed in my younger years when I felt so isolated from others. I am blessedly ordinary. When our hearts are able to speak together honestly about our experiences and feelings, something extraordinary grows from that conversation.

As a teenager, I often looked for the perfect quote to share as my favorite with my senior portrait in the yearbook. (Never mind that, as it turned out, I didn’t take a senior portrait and was certainly not asked for a quote!) I thought I would probably use, as had countless others, the famous proverb: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I believed this to be true. But I hadn’t the life experience to have faith in it. Jenion has taught me the visceral truth of it – along with the unexpected knowledge that you may not know that you are taking an important first step. A step that will lead you someplace you didn’t know you wanted to go…but which is exactly where you need to be.

And with that experience and knowing, perhaps it is time for me to become a person of faith, not just a person of beliefs. Time to close my eyes and take a step, trusting that I will put my foot down in the very place I need to be.

Friends, family, readers: thank you for coming with me on this Jenion adventure! Hopefully, we have many more experiences and exploits to share!

Passages: What Women Mean

Today, I will be attending the memorial service for a former student, Katie Beckett, who passed away suddenly on Friday. Katie touched my life and the lives of countless others through her tenacity, honesty, and willingness to fight for what was right. Please take a look at this piece from NPR, one of many tributes to Katie posted in the past week. I’m happy the piece mentions Katie spending time at the Barnes and Noble coffee shop, as this is where I’ve visited with her in the years since she graduated. In fact, we spoke there just two weeks ago.

Later in the weekend came a facebook post from my friend Sheila. Sheila told us that her mother, Ruth, has decided to enter hospice care. I had the pleasure of becoming reacquainted with Ruth last summer, when Sheila and I reunited with Mary, another high school friend, at Ruth’s apartment. Sheila and Mary brought their guitars so we could do what we did in high school – play and sing John Denver songs. Ruth requested the first song, “Forest Lawn” – a humorous song about an imagined funeral. She said it was funnier to her now than it was thirty years ago. Later in the fall, Ruth sent me a lovely letter in which her honest and opinionated voice rang in every word. When Sheila posted that Ruth was entering hospice, she said Ruth had declared that “its time to kick the bucket”, a direct quote from a very direct lady!

Ruth, enjoying the John Denver sing-along last July

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about these two very different women this week. Different, yet similar in that they have both been known and respected for speaking truthfully what was on their minds and in their hearts. Tonight, I had coffee at the Starbuck’s Cafe inside our local Barnes and Noble store, and their voices were very present to me.

As I left the store and started my car, the John Tesh radio show, “Intelligence for Your Life” came on the radio. I was caught up in my thoughts, but suddenly keyed in on what John Tesh was saying – it was a list of “When She Says…What She Means Is…” Two items I remember from the list:

“When she says, ‘Are you hungry?’, what she’s really saying is ‘I’m starving’.”
“When she says, ‘We can do whatever you want tonight’, what she’s really saying is, ‘Please, let’s do what I want.’ ” (click here if you want to see other examples from a similar segment on the radio show)
 

 I’ve heard, and disregarded, such lists before. But tonight, I have to say it pissed me off. And frankly, I think we should all be angry about this crap. Whether the message of these lists – that women don’t say what they mean or mean what they say – is true or false is secondary to the fact that it should make us angry. If true, it suggests that women are both socialized to and feel prevailed upon to lie, dissemble, prevaricate…anything but say what we really feel. If false, it suggests that there is something in our culture which wishes to belittle women’s reasoning and communication skills, to reduce our voices to a series of stock (and stale) jokes.

So I looked into my own soul, and saw that there have been times when I’ve said the opposite of what I feel. Times when I’ve said I was fine, but wasn’t. Times when I’ve told someone I’m not offended, but I am. Times when I’ve said “Sure, it’s perfectly ok by me”, when it SO wasn’t. And as I thought of these examples, I got pissed at myself. For buying into the lies I was taught (in part by drivel like the list above) about what it means to be a woman. For believing, in those moments, that I didn’t have a right to feel what I felt. That if I said what I felt, others wouldn’t love me anymore.

Women, like Ruth and Katie, whose voices have been clear and present in their lives and in our world have a lot to teach the rest of us. First and foremost, that we don’t have to be anyone other than our honest selves to be loved. So let’s honor these women by working on this whole concept of saying what we mean and meaning what we say, in the full expectation that our world can change and our relationships deepen as a result. Luckily, we have some great role models to emulate!