Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Spewings of a discouraged, uptight visionary

There was an old eighties song with this refrain: "What are words for when no one listens anymore?" (Remember that song, that band, the singer with her trademark breathy, squeaky style? You do? Then you, too, are old.) But the song stuck with me, and I keep singing it to myself lately. More true, it is, every day. (Now I'm being Yoda.)

When I was young, I loved words. I loved to read, to write, to journal, to gab for hours and hours on the telephone. Words were magical, a sanctuary for me, a means of achieving change and growth, of acquiring new relationships and knowledge. Back then, I put a lot of stock in words.

Years passed, and I began teaching school. I honestly became aggravated by my own voice; perhaps every teacher does at times. And then there was grad school, where words themselves started to become tiresome. Often, nothing new was being said, it was only being expressed in a different way. I wasn't quite as enamored of words; I stopped short before finishing the Master's. I just didn't want more words in my world.

I switched careers, and technical writing and editing fit better, because it encouraged a more terse, to-the-point style of writing. Fewer words seemed like a good idea; being taciturn was downright appealing to me.

Words took center stage once again when I had my baby. Watching a child learn to understand language, then try to speak for himself, is fascinating. I grew tired of the sound of my endless voice, explaining, conversing, reading aloud, but it paid off. Thankfully, my son speaks and reads well.

But now? It seems I release my words into the wind, where they soar away, unheard, resented, ignored. My words have become traps, because what I say can and will be used against me. The words I employ are almost always displeasing to others, because they involve responsibility, work, jobs, schedules and timetables, commitments no one wants to keep. I am the lone Type A, and therefore I am the regular bearer of bad news.

I was recently accused by my partner; he informed me that I love telling people what to do. Truly, I do not. I am a reluctant leader. On personality tests, I always score high in leadership yet low in soft edges and relational skills, and I know that about myself: I'm effective but often insensitive when in charge. I don't enjoy leading, just like I didn't enjoy teaching; since I know I can be a cruel leader, I am guilt-stricken the entire time I'm doing it. Am I being too black-and-white? Do those I'm leading find me callous? Will I achieve anything other than hurt feelings? Usually, I end up leading only because there is a lack of leadership and an abundance of indecision, which I can't stand. Sometimes others are willing but not able—or the others who want to lead would clearly wreak havoc for various reasons.

I tried to defend myself, to explain to the accuser that I don't enjoy telling people what to do. I don't. But someone has to do it. To make matters worse, I told him, I am skilled not only at seeing inefficiencies, but also in foreseeing danger and mishaps and the like. I imagine the near future, and all sorts of avoidable but probable events leap out with crisp clarity. I want to help people get work done faster, reach their destination sooner, avoid any silly foibles. I want to help them steer clear of painful consequences, of injuries and unfortunate occurrences. And a lot of times, I am right; the things I foresee with concern pan out just as I'd feared. I hate it. There's no joy in being right about that stuff, just as there's no joy in leading when you know you're likely leaving a wake of bitterness.

I ponder the rest of my life, and I feel laden with the burden of silence. In all human situations where I'm involved at more than a surface level, I will be required to either bite my tongue or annoy people. Always. And how can I bite my tongue every time? Work still needs to be done, projects still need to be completed, meals need making, shopping must happen, laundry and tasks and cards and gifts and homework checks and appointments... how to accomplish it all without speech? Must I be the responsible, nagging wife and mom for all my days? And there's anxiety in being that one who supposedly "loves telling people what to do": I fear for my son and husband if I die. I ask my friends, Please, check in on them. Make sure they don't become hoarders, make sure the kid still goes to school, eats something other than pizza.

Would a big chalkboard work? A daily agenda that is written and need not be spoken? Doubtful. I fear it would go unseen, as do the jobs, assignments, timely meals, household messes, grass un-mown... It would likely be one more thing to go unnoticed by them, and yet one more item on my to-do list ("#47-update daily agenda"). I am weary, so weary.

I wish I would remember that no one is listening, and that more importantly, people learn best by doing... even if that do-ing involves falling flat on one's face. I wish I could remember to pray more and talk less,. And I really wish I were a mature enough Christian to say that I find as much satisfaction in God's working things out instead of me warning, reminding, carping, and then saying, "I told you so." No one likes hearing that.

Alas, I am not that big a person—yet.
I'm a small man in some ways, Bart. A small, petty man.
-Principal Skinner from The Simpsons


chris h. said...

I can feel your angst, my friend. I'm not a leader, but I often think I can see the "what ifs" and "what will be's" and think everyone would be a lot better off if they just did what I said. I'm the driver who yearns to live an orderly life and get projects done so we have time for more pleasurable pursuits (i.e., I'm the nag). I wonder what would happen if I just stopped -- but I don't do well in chaos, and that's the what if and what will be I foresee (and can't live with).

Lynnette said...

I feel your pain, too! I get very weary being the one ordering everyone around. I wish that they just knew what I know... every nook and crannie of our lives, what needs to happen at every given moment. But alas, I bear that burden myself. There are times I wish I could give it up. I swear sometimes that I'm going to stop managing the household, and let things fall where they may. But like Chris said, I can't live with the chaos, so every time I decide to give up, I just as quickly give back in, and find myself nagging again. And I get so discouraged at myself for being a nag, but I don't know how to get results any other way. I do find myself sometimes biting my tongue, in hopes that someone will notice the overstuffed garbage can, or the mound of granola bar wrappers on the counter, and take care of it themselves. But my problem is that, while these things might get taken care of on someone else's timetable, their timetable and mine don't jive. I'm looking for more immediate action, and in my house, the other two people seem to have a more lazy attitude about it all. So know that you're not alone. It happens to many like us that want order, see efficiencies not being utilized, and feel the need to fix what we think is broken with others. I do wish I could just give up.

Cari Skuse said...

Oh my. How did you read my mind? I have the very same thing going on here! Maybe it is also the whole man vs. woman thinking thing too?
I can tell you that I gave up on DH. It did absolutely no good to nag and I try to keep it at a minimum now unless something is really important. I just do it myself if I can. Things may not get done when I want them, but in the whole scheme of things it wasn't worth it. Now he does do things himself when he finally notices it needs done. Like right now he's diligently working on getting our driveway prepped to get paved! No prodding from me!
It also helps that the kids prod him and it isn't seen as nagging from me!
I am truly the leader by default. I hate being the boss. I do not want to be the one in charge. Men -- wake up and be MEN! But since they don't want to do it, I have to.
I do nag the kids, though. I have to do my duty there and try to make them into productive members of society. We are back to chores and responsibility here this summer!

chris h. said...

I wish these comments had a "like" button so I could "like" what Lynnette and Cari said... It's nice to know that birds of a feather are out there!