Monthly Archives: June 2012

mealy mouthed

mealy mouthed adj. reluctant to speak frankly

Scarlett O’Hara versus Melanie Hamilton – Gone with the Wind….best illustration of this adjective.

Back in the Civil War South, the reluctance to speak frankly came with a certain type of grace – case in point Melanie Hamilton. Scarlett was the proverbial “bull in the china closet” while Melanie had a quiet and graceful piety. They were opposite sides of the coin. In the end both lose as Melanie dies and Scarlett drives away the last person left who could love her, Rhett Butler.

Today being called mealy mouthed would be quite a derogatory term. Unfortunately I don’t think many people are mealy mouthed these days. In our modern times, passive aggressiveness has become far more prevalent and has replaced the quiet piety of mealy mouthism. The quiet, seemingly meek kittens that are sweet and friendly to your face turn into rabid lions on the phone and over email. I have met too many people like this than I care to count. It has become a right of passage in the workplace and I believe it is reversing the inroads that feminism has made over the years.

I would like to call myself a moderate feminist. I believe in some of the feminist tenets, but not all. The one tenet I do hold important when it comes to the rights and liberties of my gender is the ability and tendency to speak out on opinions – to stick up for what one believes in. Passive aggressiveness is weak and does nothing to further the cause of womanhood.  Men can be passive aggressive as well, but I really do believe it is far more common amongst females. Why are women so afraid of other women or men that they cannot even debate or have a difficult conversation face to face, resorting to emails or voicemails to show their true colors?

It is a baffling conundrum. Females have the courage to achieve many difficult tasks – child bearing and rearing, education, political office – women can do anything. Yet why is this passive aggressive trait so common amongst my gender?

Perhaps it is a sort of crisis of confusion caused by all of the goals and ideas of womanly success. Woman are told to want it all – the man, the baby, the house, the car, the career. Maybe for some women this actually happens. For most, it’s a trade off. You may have it all during the course of your life, but I doubt all at one time. I believe women in the workplace have been conditioned to think that they should use a combination of sex and aggression to get ahead – a corporate version of “a lady in the parlor, slut in the bedroom.” In an effort to achieve “it all” some women tend to put on the facade of grace and manners while tearing people to shreds undercover – a lethal combination of Melanie and Scarlett wrapped up in a power suit.

Frankly, my dear, it’s sad.

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vainglory n. excessive vanity

A few months ago I was watching an absolutely horrible show entitled “Wife Swap.” The premise of the show is to take 2 families at completely opposite ends of the economic spectrum and switch wives for a week. For the first week, the “new” wife had to follow the usual house rules of the home she is temporarily visiting. Then the next week, the family had to live by the visiting wife’s rules. This particular episode featured a mother who was a self help guru and had a series of books and lectures on how to “Be Your Best You.” This included dressing well, eating all organic food, wearing make up and being overly friendly. During the episode she gave a lecture at a homeless shelter and tried to sell her book to people who didn’t have any money. The much less affluent family she was staying with was appalled.

The question is where to draw the line on “Being Your Best You.” What does that mean? Isn’t the phrase somewhat narcissistic in itself?

To clarify my thoughts I looked up the story of Narcissus which I remembered the basic plot of but not all of the details. I stumbled upon an excerpt from Milton’s Paradise Lost that captures the mythology beautifully:

“That day I oft remember when from sleep
       I first awaked, and found myself reposed
       Under a shade on flowers, much wondering where
       And what I was, whence thither brought, and how
       Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
       Of waters issued from a cave, and spread
       Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved
       Pure as the expanse of heaven; I tither went
       With unexperienced thought, and laid me down
       On the green bank, to look into the clear
       Smooth lake that to me seemed another sky.
       As I bent down to look, just opposite
       A shape within the watery gleam appeared,
       Bending to look on me. I started back;
       It started back; but pleased I soon returned,
       Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks
       Of sympathy and love. There had I fixed
       Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire,
       Had not a voice thus warned me: ‘What thou seest,
       What there thou seest, fair creature, is thyself;” etc.
                                              Paradise Lost, Book IV.

Every morning when I awake, I look in the mirror. Most days I am somewhat apathetic to my appearance. Other days, I hate what I see. Rarely am I pleased. Now that I think about it, I look at my reflection a lot during the average day. Not even because I am trying to. There are just mirrors everywhere – windows, puddles, etc. I am sure if you think about it, you are looking at yourself a lot too.

The world would be much better without mirrors. Imagine that you had a rare opportunity to look at yourself – perhaps once a week. Imagine how much less time you would spend on yourself and what you might do with that time. If Narcissus had not been able to stare into the water, perhaps he would have fallen in love with someone other than himself. Perhaps we would all stop trying to “Be Our Best Us” through physical appearances. Perhaps we could use other people as mirrors.

Other people can reflect us. Our families and children. If we focus on using people as our mirrors then our reflections are our actions and not just a facade that people see. Think of how different “Being Your Best You” would be if all you had were other people to be your mirror and you theirs. You would most likely be a nicer, respectable person. Or the opposite – if you’re an asshole, you would get it thrown right back at you.

It scares me to think that we live in a world of vainglorious people. I fear that vanity is the default for the vast majority whereas it used to be a deplorable trait. Yet another modern dilemma. I wonder if things will level out as the years go by…

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rotifer n. a minute multicellular aquatic animal of the phylum Rotifera, having a wheel like ciliated organ used in swimming and feeding.

After a week at the beach, this seems like a fitting word. I can only imagine how many rotifers we came in contact with on Block Island. It is also a fitting word since I have taken such an extended hiatus from this blog. I needed a good noun to write about – not some pesky, emotional adjective or energetic verb.

Rotifer reminds me of high school biology – a subject I adored when I was 16. I think I have lost quite a bit of intelligence since then. I have no idea how I handled the mathematics and technicalities involved to study science, let alone think I could continue my biology studies in college. Sometimes I feel like I copped out when I changed my major to English. It was an easy major for me. I didn’t have to struggle to write or read as I had always loved to since I was young. I chose the road most travelled by when it came to my higher education.

This brings me to the subject of life decisions. Since having my son, I have had to make some very weighty decisions about my life, not returning to work being the largest and most influential one. Believe it or not, it would have been a lot easier for me to return to work. Work was familiar for me. I knew I could do my job well and what the challenges were from day to day. In contrast, baby raising is a constant challenge. Regardless of how much I read or research there is always so much more to learn. I also made the decision to be more health conscious after being pregnant. I run and try to eat right (mostly). I take my art and creativity seriously now and give it the time and consideration it deserves. Moving away from Brooklyn was also difficult. It would have been really easy to just stay in our old life and simply insert the baby into it…or at least try. Ultimately I miss Brooklyn immensely, but I know that Maplewood is a real home for all of us. I suppose I am always a work in progress and always trying to make the right decisions. It gets overwhelming sometimes.

There are many people in (and out) of my life that I like to study. People watching is one of my favorite hobbies. It’s interesting to see what doors open and close by the making of difficult decisions. Even in small ways, perhaps as small as the rotifer, we are always making decisions that blaze a trail for our future. What to eat for lunch? What to wear to work? Whether to bathe or not? Go running or watch TV? The fascinating thing about making decisions is how one minuscule decision can be life changing at any moment in your life without any warning whatsoever. Even more fascinating is the fact that sometimes making the more difficult and painful decision is the better one to make. Of course this leads me back to Robert Frost in his much abused poem:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

 Perhaps it would be easier to be a single celled rotifer with less decisions and mistakes to make. And maybe I should have persevered with my studies in biology and become a doctor. The one thing I am sure of is that my road has been very windy and interesting due to the decisions I have made. It also double backs over itself, goes backwards and then forward again. Sometimes it dead ends and I have to go back the way I came. Frequently there are rocks and boulders to climb over, scrapes and bruises to heal. Some days the trees may cloud the sky and leave me in darkness. Other days the sun blazes down to show me the way.  A straight and level road would be pretty sad. I’m glad I’m not a rotifer and that I have many, many cells and appendages to help me travel along my road and make good and bad decisions all along the way.
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