How words are food, and we are starving ourselves and each other. AND one way to fix it. Or two. Stay tuned.
Eleven years ago next month, for the first time in my long writer’s life, I held a book in my hand. MY book. It had taken me nine months from idea to soft cover final product. That book would go on to garner three prizes, both state and national, to my utter surprise. It was all about how words are food. Not a new idea. I coined and trademarked the term “Wordfood” and made both a brand and a training program out of it.
The idea behind it is written through nearly all religious teachings. When we speak to each other, we feed each other nutrients, if you will. They can be sweet, sour, toxic, uplifting, damning, eviscerating. Ten years later that book, although it didn’t exactly become a best-seller (I am terrible at marketing my own goods), is more relevant than ever.
The rising tide of online ugliness isn’t just shocking. It’s a form of self-immolation. And before you accuse me of pointing the finger at others, as with all my articles I speak to myself as much as to anyone else. Increasingly I find myself struggling to hold my tongue, to keep from losing my shit at people. For me personally, as the author of a prize-winning book on how to be kind and uplift each other with our words, there is a particular shame and humble pie when I use them to hurt or damage.
Look. That isn’t just a lesson in deep humility. It’s a reminder of how hard it is to maintain that point of view. And, it’s also an even better reminder of how we write what we most need to learn. A book might make someone look like an expert, but I would posit that more so, it’s proof that the author is at least at some level well aware of their frailties. Sure is the case here. I grew up with two expert tongue-lashers as parents, and a string of exes with the same brutal skill didn’t help.
We feed each other in our friendships, and we also provide desperately-needed nutrients when we compliment each other either in person or online. So much of the time, it’s those quiet, small everyday gestures which heal. I will share a few in a sec.
But first, since I am re-watching The Hobbit as I pack my luggage for five weeks in Africa, to that comment about the power of small things:
In our need to be “saved” by some great grand gesture, we have completely forgotten the far greater power of everyday goodness. We forget how powerful those small things are, the tiny daily kindnesses which soothe. We forget how powerful WE are. How a gesture or a word can transform day, transform a life. That is goddess work, that is what is inherently sacred in all of us. Anyone on earth with the ability to express themselves has this ability, if only with eye contact.
For whatever reason, and there are likely a great many, the last few weeks have been brutal. I landed in the ER this past week with spiking blood pressure numbers, a shocker if there ever was one. I let one member of my posse back in Denver know, she called another friend, that friend called to check right away. That’s how you know you have a posse. That posse exists because I have consistently done the same thing for them. One gets sick or loses a parent or whatever, I call others in my group, we gather as best we can under quarantine and now across states. We show up for each other.
My social media buddy calls his The Justice League. I’m part of his Justice League. He called in a state this past week too, and with a few focused words, I reminded him of why a potential implosion with his biggest client was perfect, and why he was the perfect person to handle it. He did, too. Like a champ. We need people to remind us of our greateness, our grace, our value, our worthiness. All of us do.
My Thai masseuse friend Melissa is my closest friend, then Sonja. Sonja got married at 58, and while that takes up more of her time, Melissa also fell in love. However, neither of their partners provides what I can provide, and vice versa. That’s why a full Justice League or posse, if you will, is so important.
That posse is attentive enough to know when to throw some well-timed sweetbreads my way. To that, I received this from Melissa this week, when it was sorely needed:
Sonja fires me extremely funny memes, knowing that I will bang an elbow falling off my office chair, and laugh at that, too. All of my closest friends have superb senses of humor. When I need a poke in the side, that’s when I ask for time on the phone. Works every time.
Melissa must have been on a roll this week because she also sent me this:
I have a posse of close personal friends, and I have a Medium posse, too. You know who you are.
I am directing this one straight at my fellow Medium she-wolves, like Yael Wolfe and Elle Beau ❇︎ and Elle Silver, and all those greying wolves like me over at Crow’s Feet. I made a new connection yesterday with fellow serious late-in-life bodybuilder, gym rat and fitness pro Shannon West, who reminds me that there are more of us out there than people realize. Shannon is 70, or thereabouts, and an even more serious gym rat than I am, which delights me no end.
In the midst of the recent month-long onslaught from trollers, Trumpers and folks who were dealing with overwhelm and exhaustion (my hand is up), I also received Wordfood from a number of extraordinarily kind Medium readers who have reminded me of why I write. Those comments were so lovely I found myself tearing up. They were a reminder of why I wrote that book in the first place. They often say they joined Medium primarily to read my stuff. That takes my breath away.
I can’t speak for you but rather than swell my fat head, that compliment is a terrifying responsibility. I don’t want to let anyone down. However, I also know that the willingness to fail publicly and then own it publicly is also precisely why so many folks read me. I have no aspirations to be an Influencer, and every aspiration to be authentic, funny, and of real value. That is enough of a bucket to carry.
No matter how we might think we’re an expert in something, others who love us will remind us in the kindest possible way that we really don’t know shit. That’s a fine thing indeed. For the moment we lose our humility and our porousness to other’s goodness, when we become impervious to how others can do some things better than we can, and that we can slide off the Podium of Expertise like everyone else, we fall from grace.
Words are nutrients, in ways far more important than diet. For the right words give us a purpose in life. When we feed ourselves the nutrients of grace, kindness and goodness, self-respect and self- love beginning with the first time we see ourselves in the mirror each morning, we transform ourselves. That gives us the power to do it all day, if we commit to acknowledging what is good in others.
There is plenty of good in each of us. Everyone. Lately that’s been hard for me to see, and the diamonds which have been dropped into my bucket by fellow Medium members as well as my posse have been incredibly powerful.
Our species is in terrible trouble. I don’t add value if I choose to operate at a basement level, and use words to hurt. I wrote that when you use words to heal and grace others, those words soothe, uplift and make you rise in ways that are simply unbelievable. In other words, what you say to others, you give to yourself.
The reverse is true. When we hurl epithets at people with an intention to harm, it’s the verbal equivalent of pulling barbed wire up through our throats. We do far more harm to ourselves than to anyone else, for we have an inherent belief that we’re good people. Yet at a very deep level we know we’re living a lie when we seek to damage others. The cognitive dissonance creates even more harm. I went through that this week. We are a nation full of such people. It’s indicative of our pain, but causing more pain doesn’t solve it. It heats everything up, which is what we’re doing online.
We are starved for love. On top of that, we have armored ourselves against the love that is all around us in the form of a beautiful earth, what’s left of her, and people who would give us love if we could stop attacking them. People who understand community. In my world, where I am returning next week, those are the tribes and villages where community IS life, and problems are solved collectively because the health of all is reflected in the health of one.
That is true for the entire globe we inhabit.
It saddens me that often, most of my higher-earning stories on Medium are when I rant, not so much as when I write about the goodness in all of us. I recognize how we’re wired. I also know that had I chosen to focus on outrage, my readership at three-and-a-half years out would be more like the top writers.
I refuse to make money on misery. Not all top writers are ranters, but there is too much focus on outrage, especially outrage without answers, suggestions and a way forward. My Black Medium writer friends are justifiably outraged but invariably they offer a way forward. That’s different. This is just spewed hate, served up as burning lava. Justified or not, that outrage isn’t just unhealthy. It feeds the monster that forces us to vent our vitriol onto others who didn’t deserve it.
I can’t do that. I can’t damage my heart, my innards and my sense of responsibility. I try to keep my rants to one a month or so, as best I can. It’s letting off steam. My stats spike. But that’s not the point. I want to reduce the heat under us to begin with. That is the point. I’m not always that good at it because the more trollers come after me, the harder it is to keep that stuff at bay. You can relate. It’s a very different world today than the year I wrote Wordfood.
Since I first wrote Wordfood in 2010, society has slid sideways as it relates to online abuse and hate. I never imagined such a thing. However, humans are wired for negativity, which is why it is so wicked-hard at times to hand out sweets instead of razor blades. Razor blades bleed people, and blood sells.
As a journalist, I get that. Headlines that promise gore get more hits than those that promise the milky smell of a puppy’s breath.
I pick puppy breath. I will continue to fail every so often, and vent. Like most of us at least, I’m human, therefore that’s a given. But in being human, there is no middle ground. We either add value or detract value from our human experience at large.
Got posse? Good. Use them for the greater good: yours, theirs, and as a result, everyone you touch.
No posse yet? You build one by giving what you most want. I sent a private email to one of my favorite writers which was very similar to the kind notes my readers send me. I don’t expect a response and I sure as hell am not looking for a hero button. It felt terrific to pen that note.
That’s Wordfood in action. I am fed when I offer kind words to others. You can be, too.
That’s a diet worth having for life.