In Writing

The other day, I asked my daughter to clean up her room.  She did, then came out and said, “You know what I need?  Some bins for inside that trunk in my room.”

“Good idea,” I replied.

“As I was cleaning, all I kept hearing was your voice in my head saying, ‘Messes only happen when things don’t have a designated spot.’ So yeah.  Bins.”

She walked away, leaving me dumbfounded, mouth agape.

Let me explain why that’s an astounding thing to hear: I am not a particularly organized person.  My coat closet downstairs unleashes an avalanche of footwear on any unsuspecting guest that dares to open its door.  The closet right across from that contains messes that date back to the Clinton administration, chock full of things without a designated spot. But, somewhere along my travels (on a Martha Stewart binge, no doubt) I came across this nugget of wisdom – ‘Messes only happen when things don’t have a designated spot’ – and regurgitated it to my kid, who now hears it as the Voice of Mom.

My god.  What a power to have.

It made me wonder about the many Voices of Authority I host in my brain. There was Mrs. Van Houten, my fourth grade teacher, who gave me my first and only F in grammar school, for penmanship. I have what by all accounts is impeccable handwriting, but there Mrs. Van Houren sits on my shoulder every time I handwrite something, telling me what a sloppy mess it is.  What did her handwriting look like?  I don’t remember. I only took her at her word.

Then there was that girl in high school.  She wasn’t a friend, really, more like a frenemy.  She was part of the “nerd” group, which I looked down my nose at, because although I got great grades, I thought that should be mixed in with partying, and they did not.  (She must be running a Fortune 500 company by now).  I got some unexpected grooming advice from the very unlikely source that was her: “Just because one nail breaks, you don’t have to cut the other ones.” Every time I chip a nail I hear her voice, even though it’s been nearly thirty years since that advice was delivered (and since I saw her). Goddamn it, Nerdalia.

Of course, the big part of the voices in our heads are the people close to us: parents, siblings, lovers. There are too many ways to count how they feature in our minds.  Perhaps you have someone who, every time a story breaks on the news, you imagine her ranting about it? Or every time something good happens, you imagine exactly what that person would say?  There are people who live inside us, people we see every day and not at all.  If you’ve still got that person in your life, give her (or him) a big hug. And if not, thank them from afar for shaping the way you look at the world.  For voices less than positive, give yourself the authority to evict them.  Real estate in your mind is precious. You can lease it to nothing but the best.

It’s on my to-do list to buy my daughter those bins.  The best reward of all? When the voice you are in someone’s head is the very best of you.  It’s like going on… but better. So be mindful of the things you say!

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