Thursday, December 7, 2017

Have Some Chutzpah

My mother was always my best cheerleader. From that early,”Look Ma, no hands,”  to the ups and downs of life, my mother was always the first call. To have someone believe in our capabilities even as they understand our inner struggles is a tremendous gift, one that if we are lucky we often receive from our mother. When I realized that she would not always be around, I considered the fact that I would need to learn to rely on my own inner voice.  

I have realized since her death that her voice resides within me. It has taken up residence with my inner choir with its odd assortment of singers, each with their own melody. My mother loved my writing as only a mother can.  I used to read my blogs to her and later the book I was working on before her death. I wrote in this blog about a video recording I rediscovered this year of us reviewing memories we had shared. In the middle of it she says, “Oh Susan, you’ll write a book. You’ll write lots of books.”   Those words of affirmation were quite welcome at that time as I was midway through the process of publishing my book. 

Then there was my father who upon hearing of an early career upset came out with the memorable line, “it was about time you landed on your ass, you were getting entirely too smug.” Yes, this is what we considered encouragement in my family and because I am a product of that family, I recognized it for what it was. Failures happen, we land on our ass. Then we figure out what we need to learn from it and move forward. That line has reverberated many times throughout my life.

One of the most useful messages in my head actually came from my ex-husband, an engineer. Whenever something would stump me, he used to say, “Study it.” I have often echoed that reminder to myself.  

I’ve been thinking of inner voices because I realized recently that I have no lack of inner dialogue and it often offers excellent advice. Recently I received an announcement of a talk by an author from Lithuania. The topic was one I knew well. She wrote of the rewriting of Holocaust history by Lithuania, a country that had been often complicit with the Nazis in the murder of their Jewish population during WWII. Today they rewrite that history to a more palatable version.  In 2009 I had spent a month in Lithuania studying Yiddish and observed the incongruities in how the Holocaust was addressed. When I returned home I began to paint my observations in a series called The Silence Speaks Loudly. The author was addressing essentially the same topic so I immediately resolved to attend. I looked at the sponsors, many local Jewish organizations, one which I knew well and which had co-sponsored one of my shows. The talk was at the Museum of Russian Art.

I pulled up their website and read about the director. Hmm, I wonder...That inner voice chimed in with a nudge,  “Susan, have some chutzpah!”  Before I could retreat, I quickly typed an email to the museum director mentioning the shows I had of this work both locally and in London and the organizations that had supported it. “ I know you plan far ahead and may not have additional room to exhibit work, but I’d like to explore the possibility.” As I debated hitting send, that voice sensed my hesitation and reminded me, “You have to ask for what you want. What’s the worst that could happen?” I hit send. I quickly received a reply from the director and later met with him and his program person to pitch my idea. It was a go.

I have been creating and showing work for many years now and my confidence has grown with each success,  still my days of being “entirely too smug” ended in my twenties. I have learned a few things since my smug twenties. Much of what we want is within reach if we ask. And if we ask and don’t get, big deal! What have we lost? A bit of pride? Part of life is about playing the odds. Some of what we ask for will come through and it will lay the groundwork for that next serendipitous moment. 

My other pursuits often offer me reference points. In my financial career, I would have considered it from a venture capital perspective, many investments will fail in exchange for a few wins. Failure is built into the equation. 

And another learning. . .When I do genealogy research, I find that the most direct and obvious path often surprises me by leading to resolution. Part of me feels it shouldn’t be that easy. In fact, sometimes life is easy. What we want is easily within our grasp if we aren’t afraid of what many view as  failure and instead view it as playing the odds.  The hard part is getting past our fear of not getting what we want, that seemingly fearsome hologram guarding the gate. We need only step through it to get to the other side.

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