Soft to a Point

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All my life I have been told that I was soft spoken. In the 7th grade I was humiliated in class by a teacher for not speaking loud enough. I was shy and quiet ….until I wasn’t. There came a point when I realized shy was no longer working for me. So I was like, “Efff being shy.” Well, I didn’t actually say that in the 7th grade. No way. Not only quiet, I was naive and a rule-follower. I would never have said  THE  F-word, but now that I’m a grown adult, I say that when I have reached a certain point; “Fuck it.” Here’s the deal... I know that’s a pretty sharp tone right off the bat, and you’re expecting some softer language from me, but that’s what I’m here to discuss. The real honest truth can seem surprisingly sharp when you are expected to be soft. 

My Dad taught me that “first you have to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with anyone else.”. He was always finding a way to inject that lesson into all kinds of circumstances. I have grown up with that foundation, and in many ways it has made me who I am. It is the same advice I give to my own children. It is the same message that comes across in my children’s book, and it’s essentially what I am discussing in all of my work, but most definitely in my recent series of art informally known as the “Efff It” series of 2019.

The first title for this series, “Tending the Garden", was in reference to caring for one’s sense of purpose, but the truth is, this artwork was also tangled up with some strong emotions. Painting always lets me be honest with myself in a raw kind of way. While painting this series of work I realized something. I was being soft and malleable by going along with someone else’s way. By being an agreeable rule-follower, I was being hesitant, unwilling to be brave and bold. The thing is, I’ve been working hard to pave my own path. Did I forget that applies in my work too? Was I afraid to find my own way? Was I afraid to be honest with myself?

It’s really easy to get stuck in a train of thought or a rhythm of how things are done without realizing that it’s not working for you. Often times we take the beaten path because it’s soft and smooth, but that is not the only route. There is no right or wrong way to go about your life…within moral and healthy reason. What I am saying is, we can only go with flow for so long until we realize it’s not working….we can be soft, but only to a point. 

Originally, I gave the series that smooth poetic name- I guess because I thought that was what you’d want me to say. “Tending the Garden” is pretty and relevant, but then it lacked the powerful and honest emotion that this art was carrying. I was not shy about letting you know that I really wanted to name the series, “Fuck It”. I was venting that day when I posted those strong words on Instagram. I had finally realized that I had been through a year of learning what it takes to truly find my own path and trust my own heart. It was not an easy year either, but I grew in ways I didn’t know I was capable of. So, why had I stopped short of bravely trusting my heart in this one area? That sharp tone was my way of saying “I am ready to do this my way.” I suppose that was the first step to opening my own gallery, but all I knew at that point was- I was about to change things up. 

I was uncertain of what my Instagram audience would think of me when I busted out loud and proud with the F word in that post. What was I getting myself into?  Who did I think I was talking like that? These are the people who read my posts about soft tender things, like my heart and God. It seemed like a contradiction, but all I knew is that I wanted to be totally truthful and these honest emotions, sharp as they were, seemed to step up and take over. Some people were probably offended by my choice of words. Many were probably taken back. But, then, maybe some found it to be refreshing and real. Maybe I’m not the only one who is relieved when someone doesn’t censor themselves so much. I like to hear people speak genuinely and passionately even when it comes across as shocking …sharp. I admire someone who owns the honest truth of themselves, no apologies and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Because isn’t that the truth? You can’t please everyone so you might as well be real. Take it, or leave it. Plus, I can always tell when someone is holding back those explosive words for the sake of not offending anyone, and I just want to be like, “Go ahead- say what you need to say!”. Those words are loaded with emotion, and sometimes they hold everything you need to express in four little letters. 

Many people responded to my “Fuck It” post, but not the way I anticipated. I waited for my following to drop and to get a finger-shaking talking-to by at least one holier than Thou individual. But, that did not happen. Maybe I was being paranoid, and that’s nothing new. What I got was a whole lot of reenforcement. Turns out, there are other people like me thinking, “Go ahead- say what you need to say!”.

You know those times when you felt too modest to be honest, and then, when someone else comes out with the same thing- you’re like: “Oh ma’ gah! ME TOO!!! I thought it was just me!?” And then you feel relieved that you aren’t the only one with that thought. Being honest with yourself is an essential step, but it’s the easiest one, too. Finding the confidence to let others know about your sharpest edge is another story, especially when the expectation is to be soft. Not only was it hard for me to be honest with myself in this case, it was even harder for me to be a level of real that would surprise some, but when I did it anyway, it showed me something. Speaking the honest truth let’s another modest and soft-spoken person say, “OMG me too!”. Being honest with yourself is great, but the good stuff is letting your outward honesty strike up another person’s courage to be honest, too. 

See, I have a strict policy for the way I represent myself on social media. My policy comes down to being completely and totally real….as real as possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to be loud and proud and real.  It’s actually extremely uncomfortable at times. Because this is about being totally honest, I’ll tell you that my biggest worry with social media is that I’ll be mistaken as vain. Probably has something to do with the whole talking at myself in my phone screen routine. Or, the pretending I am talking to an audience bit, when I’m actually looking at my own face. Or, maybe it’s taking selfies and photos of myself on a timer. That younger generation has this shit down to a science with no complex issues, but that’s a discussion for another day. I do all these things, and it’s awkward AF, and if you do this stuff too, I’d find it hard to believe if it doesn’t make you self conscious. But, even though it’s uncomfortable, and I risk seeming vain, I do it anyway, so that I can be relatable and stay connected with the people who are interested. I share my art and my words to be an encourager, a bright spot, to be the voice that speaks out so that you can be the one to say “OMG me too!”. 

There is such a thing as going too far; revealing too much; being too real. I was positive I was dancing on the line with that F bomb dropping vent. So, you may have watched as I tinkered back and forth unsure of whether I felt comfortable using this sharper voice with my entire audience. I seem to save that voice for my closest peeps- the voice sprinkled with words fit for a sailor, when I totally let loose everything thats buggin’ me. It was kind of a bratty WHINE. It was, and the soft-spoken 7th grader, that in part I still am, is kind of mortified, but the determinate hard candy shell of me says: I want to be bold and brave and real as hell, even if it makes them (and me) uncomfortable because I want to make a statement in doing so. So, that’s what I did because I’d rather be considered “shockingly honest but sharp” than “vainly dishonest and dull”.

Here is where the irony comes in. Here’s why I am writing this piece about having an odd combination of conflicting characteristics. Because when I’m being honest with myself, I realize that everything I write is actually for my children. And now you might be sitting there going…. “Wait. You’re saying kids should cuss and rant on social media??” I know- I’m jumping around here, so before you think I am being totally cray, stick with me for a second. No- I’m not encouraging kids to use adult language or to over vocalize their discontentment on Insta. I am reminding you to be and say the truth, and the truth is:  real life, the real honest version, is full of contradictions.  Real life contradicts our expectations. It’s feeling darkness and knowing their is light. It’s being quiet and subtle inside but bold and colorful outside. It’s expecting soft but getting sharp. I want my children to know these things coexist.  I want them to grow up knowing that everything about them was perfectly designed with intention, even when it feels like they are a mess of contradictions. 

My most honest words come out when I am writing to my first audience: Lelia. My first baby was the reason I began writing like this in the first place. She was the bright spot in my life that inspired me to look inward, and find out who I honestly was. In writing to her, I found the courage to come out and say the truth. I started with a hand written journal for my 18 month old first born as a keep-sake for her and our children to come so that when they became confused adults one day, they could read my words and know that I, too, struggled and prayed my way through life. I wanted my adult children to see that I was a work in progress, that I was humble and scared but faithful. When I think about writing to my children, I find the courage to be honest. 

I’m laughing right now thinking about my little babies as grown adults reading this piece of writing, and, first, being totally shocked because I do not let them hear me say cuss words. But then also, they will see that at 34, I was still remembering my dad’s advice, and challenging myself to be honest. And, when they read all that I’ve written within this last year, they will realize that for an entire year I embraced every single inclination I felt in my heart, regardless of my fear and other’s concerning looks. They will see that I was always working to strengthen my faith and build confidence in who I am and who I was created to be, and that as a 34 year old I was still learning to accept the unique handful of character traits that make me me. I want them to see that it’s ok if you make some folks shocked and uncomfortable when you are as honest with them as you are with yourself. It’s ok if you’re not the person you are expected to be. Not only is it okay to be you, it is essential- because you are you by design. You were perfectly created to have even the most unlikely and peculiar concoction of characteristics that you find yourself to be; dark and light, quiet but bold, sharp yet soft. To be honest with yourself is to accept who God designed you to be. To be honest with others is to present the person you were designed to be. But, to be a bright spot is to be so bold in your truth that you inspire others to be all that they are and nothing they are not. If you think of someone who’s been a bright spot in your life, my guess is they are as honest with you as they are with themselves, and because of that, they make you feel pretty cute in your own weird ways. 

Thank you for that ageless advice, Daddy. 

 

Be beautifully bold and bright in your ways.

Trust in your heart and value your days.

Be all that you are and nothing you’re not.

Be color. Be light.

Be a bright spot. 

-Sarah Otts