Who Am I Talking To?

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Myself?

I read a blog the other day and I noticed something down-right peculiar. The writer kept assuming that everyone of his readers were exactly like he. That every bias and opinion and aesthetic that he held was equally shared by all. And so I began to judge this person. And that is a good thing because I have trained myself to hold up a mirror the second I begin to judge anyone.

I ask myself, “Am I like this in any way?” and I am surprised at the high percentage of times that I answer yes to that question. Then I realized,  “Oh my GOD!” I shouted it to myself at that very moment, “I do this in spades!” (meaning I do it at the highest level possible, I do it all the time).

I suppose it’s not too much of a surprise since we can only see the world from inside ourselves. Needing to rely on our senses, emotions, ideas and whatnot to experience everything around us is bound to make us a tad self-centric.

I spent a little more time analyzing the phenomenon, I actually assume the world feels exactly like I do on every topic. I remember when I was 16 years old…

It’s three forty-five in the morning, pitch black night outside and Dad is shouting, “Get out of the house!” By the time I regain some semblance of consciousness, he’s pulling me up by the arm and telling me the house is on fire and we have to get out. I sit up into a solid bank of thick, black smoke and start to choke. I cannot see. When I bend down to grab my pajamas I can see again. So I quickly dress in my pajamas and crawl as fast as I can toward the door in order to remain beneath the deathly, blinding, toxic smoke.

It had rained for three days leading up to this November night/morning, but it had froze on this night, so we are standing in bare feet on ice and cold mud watching a fire consume everything we have ever possessed, including my puppy and all our family photos.

To be left owning nothing except a pair of pajamas is probably devastating at any age. I just happen to be alive in that awkward stage of overwhelming adolescent hormones, questions about life and authority, and the need to fit in at any cost.

The community Seventh Day Adventist church starts a collection and the next day we have clothes (however ill-fitting) and food (mostly cans) for the coming Thanksgiving holiday. We move in with my grandparents who, thankfully, have room for us.

The next day I go to school. Mostly to show my parents how strong I am… to show them how resilient and unshakable I am. But when I arrive at school, no one asks me if I am okay. No one consoles me or shows any sympathy and I watch them all going about their business as if nothing has even happened. Never mind the fact that I have not announced my dilemma. That there is no way on earth that any of them can know my circumstances in the first place. I just expect them all to know and to treat me accordingly.

What a wake-up call!

I know this sounds odd, but I suspect there is a default state that we all live from that parallels this outlook. Unless we consciously think about it, we just assume that everyone around us knows what we know and has experienced the lion’s share of what we have experienced.

Hopefully I’m wrong and this is just another perfect example of self-centric thinking. But if I am right, even just for myself, then I have to know who I’m talking to. I have to realize you have NOT had the exact same experiences as me. You do NOT know everything I know. I must be mindful and speak to you with respect for the experiences you may have had which differ from mine and the mindset you may have that differs from mine.

This experience of reading a blog, judging, mirroring, and realizing how it sounds when self-centric generalizations come from others has shown me that we do not really write for others. We write for the benefit of ourselves. We write to better understand ourselves on the deepest levels.

I suspect that even self-help books benefit their authors more than anyone else. If we happen to benefit from reading someone else’s ideas, it’s all the better of course. And I pray that others may benefit from the things I write. But I must remember to ask myself, “Who am I talking to?” and realize it’s not just me.

Can you relate? I would love to hear your take on it. Please leave a comment.

Make Them Marvel

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If you’re an artist, you may remember the kids in grade school marveling over one of your drawings. This is big stuff! When someone looks at what you’ve done… and gasps in excitement, you know you are somehow onto something.

I experienced my first brush with magic in second grade. The teacher asked us all what we did for fun last summer. I, myself had experienced my first Carnival. Not the big one in Rio, the small one in Oregon with the air hanging thick with the smell of spun sugar and waffle cones mixed with cigarette smoke from overly tattooed Carnies, and the super loud music and flashing lights coming from noisy, chaotic rides.

I grabbed the nearest crayon (red) and drew all the rides I could remember. The next day, when our teacher handed our assignments back to us, she said, “Congratulations! You’ve won second place!” There was a shiny red ribbon attached to my paper which clearly read SECOND PLACE.

This was somewhat exciting (although I had no idea what a “second place” even was). But not near as life changing as the words that came next:

“You’re quite the artist.”

Something registered inside me at that moment.

When I got home and shared the good news with Mom & Dad, they both said, almost in unison, “Well! You’re quite the artist!”

There it was a again.
It was a credential. It was a possible profession. It was a proclamation of my talent and I swallowed it hook, line and sinker! I believed them.

I spent a lot of time that night on my way to sleep thinking about the new turn of events. Mostly I remembered the look on my teacher’s and my parent’s faces. It was a look of astonishment and surprise. It was a look of deep interest. And these were adults! I saw something rare, I saw the unmistakable look of curiosity, awe, and wonder in their eyes. I really hadn’t seen that very often in the eyes of adults.

And so there grew in me a seed. Not just the one that would produce an artist, but one that made me desire, on the deepest level, to make them marvel.

Now my first question for any project I begin is “Will it make them marvel?”
Will I see that look in someone’s eyes again?

It may sound like I am talking about approval seeking behavior. There could conceivably be a parallel drawn between what I’m talking about here and approval seeking. But I can assure you I am not seeking approval, I’m seeking the evidence of magic. I’m seeking the immortal sign of wonder and curiosity again and again with each project I birth. It is such a strong force in me that it is nearly all I can concentrate on as I ready myself for the next piece.

I want to encourage you to do the same, no matter what your medium (auto repair, hair styling, accounting, or art-making)… just ask yourself,

“Will it make them marvel?”