Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Across the table

My mother-in-law has a favorite saying,”If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything.” How well I remember some lengthy silences around their dinner table when I was a young bride and expressing some of my more out-there ideas about life. But even though they remained silent, their facial expressions still came across loud and clear—I was treading on sacred ground.

After several years passed, I came to understand my new family’s way of life. I’d been raised in a different town and they were country folk—living on a dairy farm with values much different than my own.

Eventually, I learned to keep my more brash opinions to myself. Eventually, I came to understand why they felt the way they did and you know; it was okay. No longer did I need to be right or think that everyone had to agree with me.

I still express my feelings and ideas but much more often on paper than in person because I can still read facial expressions. They aren’t always what I’m hoping for.

We have an immense freedom as writers. We can write about almost anything we want and not see our readers’ immediate reactions. That gives us a safety net—unless the reader chooses to track us down and tell us how they feel.

We also have an immense obligation as writers. I want my readers to think about what I’ve written and feel comfortable responding. I don’t want them to sit across the table from me with an expression that asks, “Why would you even say that?”

Sometimes I am still that twenty-one-year old new bride with some strong 70’s opinions. Sometimes I let some words and thoughts slip that I should have thought more about before I did. But what’s different now is I care about that look that comes back to me.

Do you?


Sassy Granny ... said...

Oh my; what a loaded question! You just have to know that the header on my blog is there for a reason: "Let the words of my mouth & the mediations of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord."

I often wish the mouth came with a zipper. Since it doesn't, I have had to learn & discern ... a process that's taken nearly a lifetime. Today I'm actually able to hold my own counsel.

Then again, I've been known to acknowledge the pachyderm in the room too.

Wisdom is such a precious commodity.


Janna Qualman said...

I've always cared entirely too much about that look, and therefore haven't been true to myself - only what I thought others wanted of me. I've discovered this through some deep soul-searching, and attempt to find the happy medium.

Cindy said...

I agree, Janna. I used too, and still do very much of the time, care a lot about the looks I receive when I say something. Because of that, however, I find myself holding back on a lot of conversations. I imagine people probably wonder who I really am. Still struggling to find that happy medium.

Tracy said...

Fantastic post! Yes, in my. . . growth and maturity, I've learned to tame my tongue. . . somewhat anyway! I do take seriously the things I write and to write in a life-giving, affirming, and encouraging way. Except maybe when I'm writing about current events! ;-) Blessings!

Ang said...

I have to admit my children and my husband say I am the one that gives the "look". I don't mean to and never really knew I did it. I care about people's facial reactions to me and so I have worked hard over the years on controlling mine. Very good question Terri.

Angie Ledbetter said...

I was stung so often with those sharp looks, words and stink eyes in my early marriage that it took a very long time to get over caring as much. Now I do as I feel like doing (even wearing costumes or acting crazy in public) to make up for wasted time. It's also helped teach my kids not to care more about what other people think than what they think of and for themselves. :)

Those "looks" make excellent additions to written works too. They say way more and better than what we could write/tell. Hope that made sense.

Carmen Gamble said...

Oh Terri, this was so good! I know those looks! Now I tend to think, "I'll be patient with you, please be patient with me...God isn't finished with me yet!" Thanks for sharing that!

LisaShaw said...

I can understand completely what you're saying. Truth be told I think I've been on both ends. The one making the facial expressions and the one receiving them and so I had to learn to be patient with others and with myself.

We are all a work in progress. Thanks for sharing Sweet Terri.

Melissa Marsh said...

Yes, absolutely, but it depends on what I'm writing. I do care about how my readers respond but this is normally geared toward my nonfiction. My fiction is not so cut and dried - its the world of my characters and often those characters see the world through different eyes than I do.

Barbara said...

I am still so involved in reading expressions and body language that it makes me somewhat miserable at times.

Although, when I look back at my young adulthood and some of the things I said and did (all well-meaning, it leaves me embarassed and humbled at my lack of real world knowledge and wisdom.

A few weeks ago, I read a blog where the blogger and her friends were talking about not wanting to associate with "older" women. I felt terrible afterward, not only about my age, but that those women would not want to be friends with someone like me. Very little wisdon was contained in their words. Perhaps, I'm again too sensitive.

Michaéle said...

I sometimes lack that "brain to mouth" filter, especially in my writing. I am slow to say anything but quick to write it and I often had scathing letters to the editor when I was a columnist about the things I had said or chosen to write about, not that I was picking on anyone in particular, but I just have strong conservative views that come across abrasive.

I could learn a thing or two about watching what I say AND what I write, I must admit!

giddymomof6 said...

Yikes! LOL! You remind me of me with my inlaws... they had no idea what to do with my umm giddy/crazy personality. They've learned to love me now, but it took a few years, since I was basically fearless when it came to new people and situations and sharing my energy. I still am me, thank goodness, but I do now gauge my crowd and act accordingly to who i'm around. And it's great, because I can show the best of my serious, spiritual and fun sides to the people who will appreciate them most. Jenni

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Terri -

I can't count the number of times when I wished I could reel my words back into my mouth. Putting them in writing is even more frightening at times.

Thanks for the reminder to watch our words whether spoken or written.

Susan :)

Pistolmom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Technonana said...

As my mother-in-law now says now at 84,"I'm old and I have a right to express my opinion".
But she still has a plaque in her kitchen that says.'Lord fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff, and nudge me when I have said enough.'
Often times I need that reminder.
As I have taught my children when they were small, this little saying that comes from BAMBIE, Thumper's mom,
"Thumper, what did you Daddy say?." Thumper,"If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin'at all."

Greg C said...

I always try to think before I speak. I look at what I am about to from several angles. First off, is it important to me? If not, then why bring it up? Second, what are the possible outcomes from me saying what I want to say. If I think I can change something or someone then I say what I have to say. If the best I can do is make my opinion known then I keep quiet.

On the other hand if a conversation is going on and someone asks my opinion, they better get ready because I won't hold back. Don't ask if you can't handle the answer.

Kasie West said...

LOL. What a question. Do I care about the looks? I could say no, but that would be a lie. Yes, I care what people think of me. I like when you said that you learned that other people didn't always have to agree with you. It took me a while to realize that I'm not always right. (even though most of the time I think I am). Other people have valid opinions too. Go figure. LOL And when I listen, I'm generally much better for it.

Small Footprints said...

That was a wonderful post. I think there are ways to say just about anything ... ways that won't offend people. In my blog travels, I sometimes come across people who seem to think that using profanity or being abrasive and rude are appropriate ways to communicate. I personally think that it just shows the author's ignorance and it turns me away. We can have our opinions and even share them ... in ways that are kind.

I can't imagine that you would ever get one of those "looks" from your writing. The posts I've read have always been respectful and caring! And I appreciate them! :)

BTW ... I hope you'll be celebrating Earth Hour 2009. :)

Small Footprints