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Be what you are…

9 Comments 31 May 2010

Sounds kind of hokey, I know.  But at its core, there is such a profound truth, such a freeing and life-giving and honesty.  I am longing to own this as a forty-two year old woman and it is difficult.  I look at my fifteen year old daughter and I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for her to own it.  I think about it constantly and I read this particular phrase in a quote from the actor/singer/producer Barbara Streisand.  The entire quote read like this, “A human being is only interesting if he’s in contact with himself. I learned you have to trust yourself, be what you are, and do what you ought to do the way you should do it. You have got to discover you, what you do, and trust it.”

Barbara tends to be a bit political for some, but her talent is another subject.  She is quite remarkable.  I personally love the movie The Way We Were with the absolutely beautiful Robert Redford (Isn’t funny how no one seems to care how political Robert is, is it because he is a man? Huh?).  It is a one of those great films that can provoke a dozen different conversations and make you laugh and cry, mostly cry.  Barbara is a woman who has chosen her path and persevered.  That I respect, regardless of politics, and this quote, I agree with as well.  I must admit that I wish someone had given me this advice when I was seventeen.

I was reading my new friend Judy Helfand’s post today called Bystander Effect on Broken Blogs and Websites and she talks about looking out for one another when we see something that’s gone badly.  She has a very funny clip from the fabulous show Designing Women, in which Julia has walked down the runway with her dress tucked in her pantyhose.  Unfortunately, Julia wasn’t wearing any underwear, as many of us southern gals don’t with pantyhose, and she gave the entire fashion audience a “full moon.”  She is completely humiliated and simply asks, “Why didn’t somebody tell me?”

That was the case when I was seventeen.  It seemed that everyone, and I mean everyone wanted me to be Miss Olive Branch.  Why?  Well, I suppose they wanted to make me more feminine and they thought this was the vehicle to do it.  Or maybe they wanted me to feel more confident and felt this was the path to get me there.  Or maybe it was because my sister was the one and only original Miss Olive Branch and they thought that if I followed in her footsteps I would blossom into the lovely woman she had become.  I really don’t know, but they were determined.

Practices began, the dress was purchased and the proverbial snow ball was pushed over the edge of the precipice and it began to roll down a hill of no return that I will never in my life forget.  Even the high school principal cheated a bit in that he gave me the keys to the high school auditorium so that I could sneak in after school and practice on the stage in order to lessen my nerves and gain some much needed confidence in my “floating” across the stage.

I had a dear friend who was probably ten years older than me and she spent countless hours coaching me on my walk, my talk, and everything in between.  The main thing that mortified me was the opening dance.  I absolutely hated to dance in front of people.  I had started drinking at age 14 because I was so brutally insecure about what I saw as my inability to dance.  I had not made that dreaded drill team in seventh grade because I couldn’t do the “rock” and it had scarred me.  Now they wanted me to dance, on stage, in front of the whole town.  This was a nightmare.

But if I was anything, I was a pleaser and I wanted the approval of all of these people.  This went against everything in me, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t what I wanted to be.  Me as a pageant girl was like Laura Bush as a pole dancer.  It really wasn’t my thing.  But approval, that I wanted.  So, the big night came.  I stumbled, with great humiliation through the opening dance.  I put on my fuschia gown and I did what I thought was a fairly awesome job of “floating” across that stage.

However, as I caught the faces of those I knew in the audience, there was a horrifying look on their faces.  Especially my coach and friend.  What was wrong I wondered, I was floating, I was gliding?  I would later learn that my left hand, was acting out my inner angst and anxiety, unbeknownst to me.  It had frozen itself in the shape of a claw, very much like that of an eagle’s claw.  So, as I paraded around the stage, heavy eye make-up, hair high and tight with hair-spray, lip stick and big smile, my hand was screaming, “Get me the hell off this stage, this is not my gig!”

I got 4th Runner-Up and it was all over.  Don’t get me wrong, I certainly never expected to win, and it was a great learning experience, but as I giggle about it today and tell my friends about “The Claw,” I think about how backwards the entire event was for me.  There was a voice in my head that was saying, what are you doing.  This is so not you, but I did not trust my voice.

As I look back now, I want to ask the question that Julia asks, “Why didn’t somebody just tell me?”  We all need someone in our lives to just say, “Hey, that isn’t you, you can say no.  You can listen to yourself and be true to who you are.”  I want to be that somebody for my daughter and I want to be that somebody for my friends who are big girls in my life today as well.

Whether it is what I can do or what I cannot do, I want to know myself better and trust myself.  I am a writer, not a techie, I love to travel, not cook, I love people and helping them, I love my family, I am a learner and a teacher and a multitude of other things, but I can not do it all!  That means saying no to a lot of things so that I can say yes to the things that matter.  I would much rather be myself and do the things I do well than try to do what others want me to do the rest of my life, making others happy, and end up living like “The Claw.”  😉

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9 Comments so far

  1. Judy Helfand says:

    I love this post and not just because you mentioned me and my post. The reference to The Way We Were, I sometimes wonder if Sydney Pollack and Arthur Laurents knew the impact this movie would have on multiple generations. Sometimes more memories than I care to think about.
    Your “Julia” moment was described with such detail and emotion, I felt like I was in the auditorium feeling your pain. I liken it to Carrie Bradshaw’s modeling moment in ‘Sex and the City” when she fell on the runway. But these were both television shows and what we are is real women with sometimes horrific memories of our childhood, teen-age years and young adulthood.
    Most things don’t come easy, but our challenges are what often define us as a people and a person.
    A few easy days would be a welcomed change…

    • Jorja says:

      Judy, thanks. Believe me, I can see it like it was yesterday. Although it was a nightmare then, it certainly shaped who I am today.

  2. keri says:

    ok, it makes me laugh that you put that eagle claw picture on there to give us more of a visual! 🙂 (oh how i wish i could’ve seen that pagaent!) anyway…i have always appreciated that about you…being who you are and owning it, especially in the last few years.

  3. So, now Judy and I can call you Claw when we are on the front porch 😉 I never made it to the beauty pageant- does Sears Charm count? (can you believe that) and then I had to make my debut into southern society.

    I can still see myself in that double breasted pink number I wore down the walkway at Sears, with some horrendous tortoise shell pumps!

    Where we you two when I needed you!
    –that was my last charm school, but if wondered where I learned my southern graces, I have now revealed my source.

    Easy day Judy, I am the one who had my dress tucked in my panty hose- in debt 😉

  4. Sallie Chalkley says:

    Mama made me try out for cheerleader at the high school because both my sisters were cheerleaders and homecoming queen. I guess cheerleader was the easier of the two? Anyway, I had always been on the field and was not the type to be off the field cheering, but there was no saying no to Punky! So I was the good daughter and tried out. In those days you sat on the gym floor in your group of 4 that you tried out with and they called the “winners” up. All 3 of the others made it, leaving me sitting by myself in our spot. Even though I never wanted to be a cheerleader and knew I wouldn’t make it, it was a humiliating feeling that I remember so well to this day! I guess what doesn’t kill us makes us grow stronger!

    • Jorja says:

      sallie, sweet sallie, what was punky thinking? i too tried out for cheerleading, and the drill team. oh, why don’t i have any happy stories from those days? ha! but yes, i do agree, those moments make us, they break our hearts at the moment, but those broken parts come together to make a lovely mosaic, sometimes! 😉 i certainly admire the one i see in you everyday!

  5. krissy knox says:

    Good for you! This is a lesson I am just learning!

    krissy knox 🙂
    follow me on twitter:

  6. gail Kreunen says:

    Jorja, sweet Jorja…..I can see you now, as you paraded across that stage. I knew you truly didn’t want to be there but, hey..there you were. You looked beautiful but, WAIT, WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR HAND? I giggled, as I slowly slid down in my seat. Oh..I thought, if I could just get you OFF THAT STAGE. hahahaha You moved on and proved that pageants aren’t for the faint hearted. Your “gigi” 🙂

  7. I was drawn to the title of this post, because it’s a challenge I have faced before in my travels, and one I have helped many women face in my teaching.

    What I love about the topic is that there are not only so many different women out there, but so many different stories, paths, tears and smiles taking us step-by-step through our lives in pursuit of ourselves.

    As you described your claw, I was giggling, I could picture it perfectly!


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things to make you wonder~

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...” Annie Dillard

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