Monday, July 16, 2007

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: INVALIDATION

Invalidation

It started with a comment a close friend made while we were running, side-by-side, on the treadmill, catching up about the weekend.

First, I told her– with glee– that I am, finally, after all the agonizing and struggling over this year, finally I am ready, ready, READY to get pregnant again. Her reply caused this sick, creeping feeling to slither over my scalp, resulting in a tingle of the worst kind:

“So if I remind you of this conversation in a week, you won’t have changed your mind.”

Tingling with sadness and anger, I spat back:

“So what if I change my mind? This is how I process…I won’t change my mind, but if I do, what does it matter?”

The rest of the run was filled with stilted chitter chatter about nothing.

I couldn’t talk about it, speak it, write about it, all week. A balled up, balled up tight- like multicolored yarn that is from all different spools- a balled up, knot of emotion curled itself up inside me, growing larger each day that went by.

I didn’t say anything to my friend. Didn’t call or email her about it, ignored it when we did speak and email. But it kept growing. It grew larger each time a thought about her and what she said rose up in my brain, and I would tell the thought, “Oh, Hannah you are too sensitive, overly emotional, reading too much into it…just stop talking to her about it.” it was like as soon as the thought of her and pregnancy poked through the thicket of other thoughts, I would take a prune to it and lop it off before it had a chance to grow.

By the time I saw her for a weekly walk on Saturday morning, almost a week later, my brain was like a overly pruned thicket, a thicket dried out from winter and my stomach carried this hairy tightly balled up knot of emotions. I was a mess inside. Worse, I felt like the awesome rapport and connection I have with her was as dried out and hairy as my insides (how’s that for an image!) The walk was fine, it would be fine, I told myself before I walked outside to meet her, because I would no longer speak about pregnancy with her. That was the agreement I made with myself the moment after she made the comment on the treadmill, and I vowed I wouldn’t break it.

I didn’t.

But at the end of the walk she turned to me, furrowed her brow and said, “We didn’t really get to anything.” I had to rush off to a coffee date so we had to cut the walk short, which I was relieved to do.

Later, I taught my Saturday class and brought to it my hairy ball of yarn emotions and pruned thicket brain, and I did what any good teacher does, I used it in the class for warm up. Not the metaphors, because, at the time, I didn’t even have words to describe these feelings. No, I just had us all meditate on conflict, where it showed up in our lives this week.

The result was…I tried to write about what I felt with my friend, the feelings I had during the week…but nothing, no metaphor came to me, no words to describe my emotions. So I just wrote what happened. I felt worse after I wrote it.

Then I did the required sharing and everything changed.

Thanks to a long-time student, "M".

“She invalidated you,” she said simply. The light hit her glasses in a way, at that moment, that caused a reflection, so that I couldn’t see her eyes, which I wanted to see because her words struck lighting into that friggin’ ball of yarn, unraveling it to long pieces.

Such wisdom, simple friggin’ wisdom.

Now in my class I am really careful to tell every one that when we share warm up pieces (which is simply a mind dump before we begin class) the idea is not to therapize, fix, solve, or change what we hear–the content, the subject matter. But rather to simply, aha…”validate” the writing and expressing.

But you must know that this time I prefaced my piece with:

“Someone please tell me what I am feeling!”

As the teacher, I am allowed to break my own rules.

Anyway, in her infinite wisdom, "M" later said to me, as we all walked out of class, “Talk to her. Tell her how you feel.”

Because if I don’t, I am invalidating myself.

A flashback, images of women friends from high school to my last full time position at a high school, who said things to me that I didn’t react or respond to, that I let get inside of me and ball up into terrible knots. Knots that filled me up to a point of saying enough. ENOUGH. Snip, snip. I cut up the balls and cut off the friends.

“You have a big mouth.”
SNIP
“You’re too impulsive.”
SNIP
“You trust people too easily.”
SNIP
“You change your mind too much.”
SNIP
“You’re too sensitive.”
SNIP
“You get too involved.”
SNIP

With each snip, went the possibility to stand up to these women and say, “Hey, that sucks. I thought we were friends and friends don’t talk to each other like that.” Or, even better, what I said to my friend on the treadmill, “So what? Who cares if I am?” Because each time I didn’t do that, I reaffirmed that perhaps what they said was true, because what they were saying– the subtext of “you change your mind too much”– is “there’s something very wrong with you that needs to be fixed”. This then made me cut them off without explanation or hesitation.

I raced through female friendships in my teens and early to mid twenties, like I was in some kind of running marathon.

The images of these women, because they do have names and faces, scrolled through my mind, which by now was not filled with loped-up thicket thoughts.

The last image was Her, the friend from the treadmill this week.

SN–

NO!

This time, I would not snip off a friend, at least not before sitting down and telling her how I felt and deep down, I knew that I loved her, unconditionally, that this was so worth standing up and baring my true feelings.

Armed with the wisdom of my student and carrying a notebook that had the assignment to myself, “Write about Invalidation”, I strode out of the building alongside my students.

A half hour before my friend and her husband arrived for dinner, I began to write this.

Just a few paragraphs in, they walked through the door and my stomach gathered itself into a hairy yarn ball and my thoughts formed thickets again, but I was ready to face my friend.

****

“I don’t walk away,” she said after I spilled my feelings to her. “No matter what, you could walk away, but I won’t, I will always be here.”

We untangled my knots, delicately, together, we cleared the thickets, carefully, together. I put away the scissors. There will be no snipping.

We sat in the back seat of the car, weaving the delicate threads of our friendship, as we talked, understanding, forgiveness, laughter– validation for all and both of our feelings about that moment on the treadmill.

No one, besides my husband, has every said, “I don’t walk away, I won’t walk away.”

No one, besides my husband, has ever said, “I am so sorry that’s how you felt when I said that.”

My friend is that other soul mate, the one who loves me for me, who doesn’t want to change me, who whether or not she gets me, validates me.

***

Validation came from writing this.
Validation is the motivation for why I write and why I teach writing.
I don’t know if true validation can come from another but more maybe from my self.

3 comments:

Jeremy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremy said...

Thinking about your post. Writing helped you sort out a problem. The issue I was considering is in the story itself. Basic human problem: you want to express how you feel to someone.

In terms of writing...

Option A:
Just write what you want to say as clearly as possible. Short and sweet.

Option B:
Go through a lot of rigmarole to sanitize what you want to say in order reduce the risk of hurting feelings, but at the same time you minimize the impact.

I think most of us operate in terms of Option B when comes to personal communication.

I do a lot of technical writing and read a lot of technical writing. IMHO, short and sweet tends to be the quickest way to success. However, sorting through all the tangents, conditionals, and non-essentials is a difficult process. I tend to just write statements down as they come to mind (WRITE) and then weed out everything (REVISE) until I have pure statements of things I will take action on. In many instances it becomes a series of bullet points. Not very pretty, but it is easy to read and easy to know what to do.

I work with others who go through great efforts to write a lot of details down, but it becomes near impossible to sort out what they are trying to do.

Question: How do we get to the point where we can express ourselves via Option A?

Maybe we all need editors in our personal lives as well as professional.

-J

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