This story that has nothing to do with Harold the Ballerina and everything to do with Harold the Ballerina. Hang tight with me here, people.
At Rick Griffith’s MATTER party last Saturday night, I met a guy who had worked as an artist’s assistant in Philly. He spoke of working-class roots, long days, foundational learning. A desire from deep within to try harder, do better. A desire to accomplish things he and others thought he couldn’t do. This guy spoke from the heart. He got that words matter.
Some people are natural talents. They’re born to do the thing they do, and they excel at it without much effort. I’m not one of those people, he said, but I make up for it with work ethic.
I get that life story. At its core.
The guy’s girlfriend joined us. He introduced us and told her I’m a writer. I asked what she does. She shrunk back, lowered her eyes. “I’m just a marketing manager at a small cannabis company,” she said. This description bothered me, and I told her so. And I told her why. It was the addition of the word “just.”
I think “just” (synonym for “merely”) is a shitty word.
From infancy, we’ve integrated verbal input from others into our very being. We’ve internalized the words people have used to build us up and tear us down.
Some people tell us we’re princes and princesses, lovely and perfect and everything good. Some tell us we’re garbage, zero, nothing at all. Some people are builders, some people are destroyers. Sometimes it’s the same people doing the building and destroying. At times they serve up the praise and attack in the same conversation. The highly practiced can do both in the same sentence.
And then there’s the pinprick deflation in morale that comes from a blasé meh barely a passing glance shoulder shrug from someone you respect. An “I never got around to listening, reading, watching, paying attention to the thing you busted your ass to create” from someone you love also does the trick.
What’s worse than all that? The blasé meh barely a passing glance shoulder shrugs we give ourselves. Me? I’m just [description here]. What do I do? I’m just [description here]. It’s subtle self-denigration, the surreptitious kind that chips away at the will from within to try harder, be our best selves, accomplish things we think we cannot do.
Some people do their best to try to make other people feel small. Some people make themselves feel small. They’re doing a bang-up job on their own. They don’t need anyone else’s help.
We are the stories we tell ourselves. Words matter.
Harold the Ballerina photo courtesy of The Bloggess.