Anyone who has been in my home knows that I have a thing for arrows. Old ones, new ones with colorful fletchings — I collect them, head down, in jars; I arrange them, head down, on the wall; I bundle them with strips of leather and leave them hanging about as an emblem of friendship — a single one can be easily broken but several together are strong. Always a symbol of protection and defense, and in more modern times an indication of direction and achievement, arrows are elegantly swift even without moving. They encourage action and flow, even when they point down, sometimes especially so. And in my home, they always point down — in Native American culture, a single vertical arrow pointing down symbolizes peace.
Peace. This word is always on the ends of my fingers and the tip of my tongue.
Still, I need an abundance of reminders that peace is my goal and not the opposite. I want my inner arrow to always point down.
But it doesn’t — I am often at war with myself. As I told H. this morning over coffee, if I heard anyone speak to anyone, even to someone I don’t have a particular fondness for, the way I speak to myself, my arrow would most certainly not point down. So, I feel like I have to have several inner arrows. I need some to point this way for direction, some that way for flow, and some need to point straight out in preparation for war, for fighting the unmerciful bitch in my head, the one that carries in her quiver arrows dipped in poisonous language that reminds me I am not worthy of peace. She keeps them pointed right at my heart. She often releases one and hits her target which, I, of course, readily make available to her. I am usually unsuccessful at hitting her back, but even if I have been, she hasn’t suffered a mortal wound, much less died. She probably never will.
On Sunday, I woke up feeling anxious. I had a livestream scheduled for that morning at 11 am, something I normally look forward to. Not that day. I didn’t want to do it. That felt weird and off to me, but I went about my preparations and tried to get centered so I could deliver the best show one can from her living room through devices and signals that may or may not cooperate with her vision. I kept trying to figure out why I was filled with dread — I’d asked for song requests for the show and the stories behind them and had spent the evening before happily going through them, shedding tears at some and laughing at others — and then I dug deeply enough. I finally figured out, and admitted, that I was afraid. Scared to death. The show I’d done two weeks prior had been a rough one for me as someone decided to disrupt it and leave all sorts of nasty comments on the Facebook feed — that I wasn’t who I said I was, that I only do my Sunday Selfie project to make others feel bad about themselves — all manner of insults that I know aren’t true and are in fact, ridiculous. But that I know they aren’t true does nothing to take away the sting of someone’s meanness. I have my confirmation bias — i.e. the unmerciful bitch in my head — to contend with. Anything she can get her hands on to use to discredit the idea that my higher self holds, the idea that I do deserve peace and goodness, she will most certainly use. I hate it when she finds allies.
Regardless, I sent my best intentions to whoever the troubled person was the day they wreaked such havoc on my show and I tried to let it go, but I said more than one prayer that they wouldn’t show up again this Sunday. They didn’t.
I’m teaching a creativity workshop at a university this semester. On Monday night, I pulled out the Theodore Roosevelt quote about the man in the arena versus the critic on the sidelines. Some of my students had never heard it. I hope it sunk in for them — maybe it did for some, but for others, it might take years. I fall into the latter category, and honestly, I didn’t really get it until I was talking to them about it two nights ago. I’ve known the quote for many years and am 48 years old, so that doesn’t make much sense. But as I firmly pressed on the idea that the person doing the work is the person whose opinion counts at the end of the day, as I encouraged them to be brave in their creative work, to be proud of themselves for having the strength to reveal themselves to the world through their offerings of songs, poems, photographs, and drawings, I started to realize that I’d never done those things for myself. I can talk a big talk and use the right words about self-care, self-respect, and the like and even believe wholeheartedly in them, but the truth is, I crumble like the edges of a good pie crust when I actually have to take up for myself. And I have to take up for myself, not surprisingly, mostly with myself. Myself is my worst critic of all. Myself is the unmerciful bitch in my head. She, for some reason, looks to those who are outside the arena, those who are also armed with arrows that have been dipped in poisonous language, those who join her in doing exactly none of the work and instead only judge and says to all of them, “Look — she’s right here. Point it this way so you can be sure you get her good this time.” I thought I had to let her talk. I was wrong. I didn’t know until today who she is and what she does. The unmerciful bitch in my head has been partners with those who decide to tear me down just for the hell of it all along. She loves them because they help her do her work. She doesn’t want me to point all my arrows down. If I did that, then what would she do?
I know she isn’t going anywhere. But I had never, until this morning, personified my inner voice. I had never, until this morning, wrapped words around how she goes looking for even the most miniscule motes to prop up her idea that I suck. Now that I have, I have begun telling her, “You aren’t in charge of whether I’m at war, I am, and I don’t want to be at war anymore. Every one of these arrows that I’ve kept pointed at you is now pointed down, and I’m bundling them together so they can stay that way — resolute against your attempts to shake me out of what I’m working so hard for in this life. I know you’re here for a reason, but I’ll figure out how to use you for good too, just like all the rest of it.”
So far, it’s going well. I’d say I’ll let you know how it goes, but I hope I won’t have to.
Sending love everywhere today,