The other night, I was upset by something someone had dropped into a phone conversation, and for hours afterward I struggled with the impulse to demand an explanation or retraction.
By struggle, I mean I actually had to stop myself repeatedly from sending an email to outline my hurt feelings and question the person’s motives. Why bring that thing up? Why are you being hostile? What was your goal in saying the mean thing?
I needed my husband to talk me down; I stopped feeling agitated and accepted that for the greater good I could just let it go.
For me, this is a real triumph. My whole life seems like a series of embattled relations with someone or other due to the fact that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I just remembered that my dad used to call me ‘bigmouth’ when he was mad. He also called me ‘dummy’ but bigmouth felt like a worse insult.
When I was a kid, I loved my book of Aesop’s Fables. The illustrations were nice and the morals were easy to understand. But there was one story called ‘The Turtle Who Couldn’t stop Talking’ that I felt was directed at me personally:
There’s this really talkative turtle who wants to travel across the sea. He asks a pair of swans if they will carry him across by holding a stick in their beaks. He can just hang on by his teeth. The swans warn the turtle that if he opens his mouth, he will fall. Half way across the ocean, the turtle has a comment to make and can’t contain himself. He starts to speak and falls.
I guess the moral is Keep Your Mouth Shut. Who the fuck thought of that moral, Stalin?
In any case, my stubborn belief in freedom of expression has brought plenty of unhappiness but I persist in shooting my mouth off at the slightest impetus. I hate rules that threaten my so-called efforts at honesty and frankness.
Revealing myself is easy. It just comes naturally. Shutting up is hard. But just shutting up on this one occasion has been so positive!
The power to shut up is worth developing. We’ll see if I can keep it up.