Sunday, August 30, 2015

A New Look At Bragging Rights & Other Cultural Fibs

A New Look At Bragging Rights & Other Cultural Fibs
              Just so you know, I don’t come up with these topics by my lonesome. I have generous help from people in my everyday life. This idea came from Cheryl, one of our “girl” group. We girls hit mile-marker seventy this year. We still call ourselves “girls”. Another friend, male, refers to us as “you ol’ hides”. He means well.

            Cheryl made a rhubarb pie. Rhubarb, however, had historically eluded her culinary efforts. So she was telling us girls what she’d done and how she’d created the ultimate rhubarb pie.

            This was no surprise to the rest of us. We girls are pie bakers. We grew up down the hi-line, in Harlem, home of the Montana Seed Show and the best homemade pies in the world. In our generation, we were not allowed to grow up unless we baked pies.

            A few hours later Cheryl, having thought through her pie message, had sender’s remorse and wrote again, apologizing for “bragging”. One could actually feel her cringe.

            I suggested we all rethink this teaching given to us with great love by our stern-mouthed parents. What is wrong with honesty? Why cannot one say, Hey, I did a really good job. Or, Look at this beauty. I made it. Or, I won the race; I’m excited.

            Our first impulse is to hang our head, shuffle feet. Oh, it’s okay. Or, Yeah, I made this but it could be better. Or, He should have won the race but I think he stumbled or he had the flu or some other preposterous excuse. Hey, we grew up with this. It is ingrained.

            So, to illustrate, I shared a chair story. This happened in ’85, my first full year of recovering furniture. At four am I put away my tools, stood back and looked critically at the finished chair, which I had committed to mid-morning delivery. Out loud, and this part is critical, out loud, with nobody in the room but me, I said, “Sondra, that is beautiful. You have done a great job.” With that one little action, I broke the mold. Nobody else was going to tell me good or ill. No amount of money could equal the sense of accomplishment, of having created beauty, that I felt that morning, tired as I was.

            You want balance? A month later I had to tear down and reorder fabric for a chair with which I had problems. That ding-blasted chair was worth 6 months of schooling. It’s about being honest with one-self, both directions. 

            Cheryl shared a story of a visit with Norwegian cousins, who had built a beautiful home. Her cousin’s wife told about giving the home tour to his parents. They had not one positive thing to say. This could have been done differently. Don’t you think that would have been better? Why did you put this wall here? It was all negative criticism with a dour face.

            Cheryl, that’s my family. We are sisters. I recognize my family. I’m English. You are Norwegian. Scratch the DNA and I know we are related. Oh, those Vikings!

            A kissing cousin to the teaching that we not toot our own horn, is the lesson, equally well learned, that if we lose or fail at something, we are not to express disappointment. What is wrong with saying, “Shucks, I gave it my all, my best shot. I failed. Congratulations to the winner. But I do feel disappointed. I really wanted it.” That’s honest.

I’ll never ever forget the day I brought home, with shame and trembling, my first report card marred with an “A-”. Sixth grade, Catholic school, St. Joseph’s. In music, mind you. Tin ear, etc. A beating would have been kinder than the tight lips, couldn’t you have tried harder. I cried myself to sleep that night, old as I was, big baby. High school freshman, B+, algebra. You think these teachings are not life-long? No wonder I’m screwed up.

Another chair story; Twenty years later, I got a call from my same customer who owned the chair with which I broke the family mold. She had another project. Silly as it is, I walked into her living room afraid to look at the chair that had so pleased me. What if my perceptions that morning were flawed and today it looked like junk! Oh, fear! Oh, trembling!  My customer cut to the chase.  “Look at the beautiful chair you made for me. I love it. Now I want this other one done.”

Know what? That old chair was as lovely as the day I’d delivered it. No brag. I felt soft with pleasure.   

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

July 16, 2015

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