Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I've been hearing voices...no, not the kind of voices that will land me in a psychiatric evaluation but those inner voices that keep me on the straight and narrow, or prevent me from being courageous.

For example, I have been knitting socks lately. I used to knit them, but I hated working with 4 double pointed needles, because I was forever dropping one, or losing stitches off the end or leaving ladders because I could never pull the yarn tight enough at the turn. A few months ago, Nathalie Nasr, one of the singers in the Grand Philharmonic Choir, and one of the fastest knitters I've ever seen in my life, taught me how to do the Magic Loop. Instead of knitting the sock on 4 needles, you knit it on a long circular needle. All of a sudden, I could knit socks: no more dropped stitches, no more dropped needles, and much more portable to throw in my purse and take with me to knit while I wait. I am still learning, however, and when a sock turned out much floppier than it should have, I realized too late that I had forgotten to do the decrease after turning the heel. At first, I tried to pretend that it was fine. Then I tried to felt it to fit. And then I heard the Voice.

Sr. Mary Alfred of Jesus was a nun at Queen of Angels Academy who went to school with Moses, or so it seemed at the time. She taught us needlework, and many's the time I sat in her room, unravelling completed work because it wasn't perfect. Imperfection was not an option. As soon as I tried to settle for "good enough" with that darned sock, Sr. Mary Alfred's voice appeared in my head. "There's no excuse for shoddy work, especially when you can fix it." she would say. I stalled a couple of days longer...and then ripped back the sock and I'm fixing it. I heeded the Voice.

My mother has always been concerned with appearances and apparel. Even when she was working in Ottawa during World War II, earning something like $75 a month, and then paying $40 for room and board, she managed to have her suits and skirts tailored and she wore cashmere sweaters. She didn't have many clothes, but she took immaculate care of them and she folded them very precisely, so that she would always know when her sister had borrowed her clothes, because her sister could never fold the clothes precisely the same way. My mother had definite ideas as to what was appropriate to wear, and she passed those ideas on to her only daughter (who is in turn, passing them on to the kid).

I've struggled with my weight quite a bit the last few years (Not another Day) and not everything fits the way it is supposed to. Sometimes I'm tempted to wear it anyway, and then I hear The Voice. I can clearly hear my mother stopping me halfway down the stairs when I was in high school and marching me back upstairs to put on something a little longer, a little looser, a little less revealing, a little more appropriate to the occasion...a little...whatever. While I have developed my own sense of style, her basic principles still guide me.

Appropriate also translated to maquillage in my mother's world. She wouldn't dream of leaving the house without at least powder and lipstick on. That was hammered into my head from when I was old enough to wear makeup, along with that fine line between being made up and being a clown. I have left the house a few times without makeup this summer, usually to take the kid to a water park where makeup is a hazard because chlorine and mascara are not generally a good combination. I always hear the Voice admonishing me for "letting myself go." Sometimes I shrug and go anyway. Other times, I scamper upstairs and do mascara, blush and concealer....because grooming matters and I want to set a good example.

Other voices are harder to ignore. When I am struggling with self esteem issues, it is the drunken voice of my father telling me that I am stupid, lazy, fat, ugly and a slut. I don't think he knew what the last one even meant, (and I was far from it) but it was hurtful and insulting, and so he used it. When I am struggling with body issues, I hear the voice of the man who molested me when I was 12-13, blaming me for his depravity because I chose to wore a turtleneck sweater that clung a bit to my breasts. It took me years to silence that voice. When I am struggling with professional self doubt, it is the voice of a former boss who did more to undermine and demoralize me in a year than anyone before or since. I was left with no real picture of my worth, my abilities, my value, my intelligence, my integrity or my professional qualifications.

I can often silence or ignore these other voices, but when I am struggling, the task of challenging and blocking them becomes more challenging. I try to replace it with the voice of my Grandma Harvey, who loved her grandchildren unequivocally, but wasn't afraid to kick our butts if she didn't like how we were behaving. We knew without a shadow of a doubt that she loved us with that fierce grandma love. We also knew without a shadow of a doubt that we would not be able to put something over on her. She knew more about the goings-on of her grandchildren than the respective parents did. She listened, she loved us, and then she set us straight.

I'm still trying to develop my own voice-to learn to trust my judgements, my instincts and my abilities and talents. Some days are better than others, but I will get there. I think I will add a new voice-one that I hear frequently from my stubborn and independent 4 year old daughter. "Oh yes I can" she will exclaim petulantly, when she has been advised against taking a certain action or acting in a certain way. I think I need to add a bit of petulant and defiant 4 year old back into my psyche. "Oh yes I can."

So who do you hear? Who is your Voice?

1 comment:

Janet Jarrell said...

"Yes, You can!"

Strikingly honest post. Thank you for sharing these intimate thoughts.

You have said so much here that I connect with. I also went to Catholic school, and I spent almost a year living with nuns too. The nuns I lived with were fabulous and I am sure they are talking to me, I just need to listen closer. Maybe that is the key, having the strength to choose which voices to listen to, as there are so many. Not easy.

You are beautiful.