Visit Beyond Studio and Nurture Your Inner Crazy Aunt

Beyond Studio makes me appreciate my wild inner self. The one inspired by my favorite aunt.

You know that aunt of yours . . . the one your parents didn’t want you visiting because you came back from her house wanting to sleep outside in your hammock and you wore your plaids and dots together and your cowboy boots with your dresses and refused to eat red meat?

I think it’s time to be her.

Where did I Unlearn the Wildness?

When I was in the second grade, at Lipscomb Elementary in Nashville, Tennessee, I told my classmates I could write their names in Spanish. No, I didn’t speak Spanish. I took each of their names and scrambled the letters and gave them back with a little accent mark at the end. They loved it. They stood in line to have me write their Spanish names on little pieces of card stock and embellish with purple crayon swirls. Until after a few days, one of them figured out my secret and started writing everyone’s names in Japanese. The jig was up.

The memory mortified me at age seventeen and twenty, but now I love the pre-entrepreneurial spirit I showed in that enterprise, even if I was scamming my peers.

Later, this unconventional child got stomped out of me at Christian school. This excerpt from Wife Material shows a fourth-grade Elizabeth, the fictional girl based on my real self, learning to suppress everything natural about her personality as a new student at Waltham Academy.

From Wife Material . . .

Mrs. Crandall sat at her desk in the beige polyester, one of three outfits she rotated
through each week, watching the flow of children for several long seconds while my jaw locked
and my abdomen tightened. She cleared her throat as the last child exited to the hallway. Then
she swiveled her eyes to me.

“Lizzie,” she began, “I understand you’ve been making nasty noises.” Her voice thickened
with breath. “On the playground.” She clucked her tongue like she’d just eaten peanut butter. “Is
this true?”

Heat-rash at the backs of my knees. I memorized her beef necklace while blood beat
against the inside of my face. I sputtered stupidly. There was no air. My brain reviewed the
scenes of hysteria with Abbie, the loud, forced-air sounds, giggly confessions of Saturday
morning-fabric-store flatulence, following our moms at a safe distance, hiding behind bolts of
crushed velvet and muslin, the crotch-grabbing and the laughter and Mr. McHail. Crandall
cleared her throat and spared me.

“You shouldn’t be laughing about nasty things,” she said. “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I replied, thinking of Bible story sinners who covered themselves in sackcloth and
ashes. My limbs wilted and wobbled as I fell off the moral high road. All those seventeen
classmates were no doubt disappointed in the new girl who drew horses and laughed at farts. I
wanted so much to be like them: muscled, perky, and pain-free. They had such exquisite control
of themselves.

What was good about me and my friend making rude noises on the playground? We were bonding in our hilarity and our humanness. Just like today. Therapists need to shake loose from the clinic, get a little crazy, bond over lemon curd, draw naughty pictures, hold meetings in the sauna, bring their dogs to work, and paint the floor.

Beyond Studio Team

 

Beyond Studio and My Inner Crazy Aunt

Bonding over the zany makes me appreciate Sesame Street and Tim Kreider cartoons. It makes me appreciate my wacky yet oh-so-smart therapist friends at Beyond Studio, where I get inspired to make finger puppets and decorate chandeliers with dangling Barbies and race cars. Beyond Studio is a place for combining the serious and profane. I love catching people in delighted confusion, especially when they think they’re supposed to be in a solemn office. And who cares about being correct? Skill can Kill. Rightness is overrated in its ability to produce joy. We lose so much when we try to be good. We (therapists) have more fun, find more love, and experience more exuberant life when we cut loose and open our silly, rude ideas to the world.

Thank you Auntie!

 

Deepening our Relationships by Letting People Know Us

Relationships: Knowing and Being Known

Relationships: Knowing and Being Known

Yesterday, I had a conversation with friends about how we become known inside our relationships. Where and with whom can we be truly ourselves? How much do we share? What parts of ourselves do we keep hidden?

Loneliness and social isolation pose serious health risks. So the question of how we share with the people around us matters to our longevity and overall well-being.

 In my Tuesday morning cardio class, hilarious thoughts spring to mind. The shared misery of burpees takes me back to embarrassing 7th grade gym class moments or a random image of Will Farrell in a Little Debbie Costume or what my butt looks like as I lumber from squat to thrust. Sometimes I share, but in classic introvert style, I keep far more to myself than I ever let loose with anyone. Anyone.

While we all keep quiet volumes locked inside, in relationships, most of us yearn to fling open the doors of our souls and let someone know us completely. This is pretty much universal human need. But we hesitate, analyze, stifle. Relational-Cultural Theory describes this process in detail. We wish for deeper sharing but we keep our most interesting thoughts and feelings unspoken, protecting ourselves from potential rejection and shame.

Even old friends and long-married couples hold back from each other. We fear rejection, hurting each other’s feelings, starting an argument, or just being wrong. Sometimes I coach partners to trust the material that bubbles up inside them. As I do, I realize I need the same kind of coaching to support courageous connection. I grew up with the religious teaching that women should be quiet. Add that doctrine to an INFJ temperament and you get a girl who rarely speaks.

In fact, I still have trouble coming up with spoken words on the spot, especially if I’m standing up and balancing a plate of appetizers. If I could sit and write my part of a conversation, I’d be fine, but who wants to wag around a notepad and marker at a party? As I move through middle age, I need a strategy for sharing more of myself, aloud. It always pays off in the long run: I make a new friend or deepen an existing one; I learn something about myself; I feel less hidden.

So, I say (to both of us): Go for the Mistake: Trust it, and say it Out Loud.

Here’s my plan for letting people know me.

  1. Cartoons: I pledge to draw more cartoons of myself in awkward social situations, especially if they involve verbal faux pas. Use my creativity to turn embarrassment or aloneness into art that can be shared.
  2. Slowing Down: I pledge to take my time and find the words I need in the moment. Keep breathing. Learn to savor saying it…even if it’s wrong…even if people yawn and squirm.
  3. Journal Sharing: I pledge to read selected chunks of my Morning Pages to my partner; maybe even to my friends. Maybe this will encourage them to share their journal writing with me.
  4. Self-Acceptance: I pledge to enjoy my social bloopers and embrace that they’re part of me. Remember that time I said Save the Cork at your son’s bar mitzvah and your family thought I was talking about pig meat? I pledge to take these moments less seriously.

I need to remember: when I set out bits of my inner life, it’s like feeding the neighborhood cats. I give a gift and an invitation to my friend, my partner, my acquaintance to go deeper with me, trust our connection. I take a risk. And if nothing else, I help somebody else feel better about their gaffs by making a well-intentioned ass of myself.

Writing and EMDR therapy help this process along. Contact me if you’d like to learn more about how life-writing and EMDR therapy can help you strengthen relationships, tap into your creativity, and deepen your knowledge of yourself.

(An earlier version of this article was originally posted on http://www.howtowinamansheart.com/blog/)

Contact Deborah