I’m mean all the time

“You’re so nice.”

“No, I’m not. I can be mean. I’m mean all the time.”

“Oh…. Uh… I’m sorry?”

I have to admit, I was surprised when my new acquaintance launched into a tale of one of her most notorious mean moments. I wondered, why is she proud of this behavior? Because, in my experience, she is compassionate, patient, friendly, and considerate. Always ready with a smile and a supportive comment. Those things make her seem notably kind to me. But yet she felt the need to inform me of times when she has been uncivil. I asked myself, “When did being “nice” become a bad thing?”

Upon further reflection, I realized I do the same thing. I joke, “I’m such a bitch,” about something seemingly harmless. I will tell stories of how I got short over the phone with a rep from my cable company, or when I finally said what I was thinking to a guy I couldn’t stand (and it wasn’t the “polite” version, for sure). Truth is, I swear at inappropriate times, I say blunt things about other people that I would say with tact-or not at all-to their faces (some call it venting, I call it “spouting”), and I make careless comments without consideration for others. But unlike others who may delight in manipulating others or making their day more difficult, my usually accidental acts of incivility and brash or crude behavior are met with shame and embarrassment rather than pride. Yet I would be lying if I said I didn’t ever proudly tell a story of when I stood up for myself in an unpleasant way.

My aunt told to me this weekend, “When you put yourself down, you are giving others an indication of how you want them to view you.” She was pointing out the flaw in my statement that I was “a piece of shit,” which of course I didn’t mean. But yet there are times when I am inclined to promote a negative view of myself, much like my new acquaintance did with me recently. Why is that?

Sometimes it is a measure of bravado – or “talking big.” Telling stories to make one seem grandiose. But more often than not I think it comes from being sensitive or as a defense mechanism. When I think about myself, or my friend, I understand that we have both been treated unkindly. I imagine she may be sensitive like myself, and I bet she has been taken advantage of like I have in the past. I suspect she, like me, tells people these stories because we need them to be aware that despite our friendly demeanor – when pushed far enough – we will assert ourselves and it is typically not so pretty. I tell people this early on because I don’t want my heart broken or to experience the pain of a betrayal. Perhaps if they know I can be “mean” they will think twice before mistreating me. I believe it is an issue of trust in others, and – for me to be sure – an question of self-confidence. If I place a degree of self-worth in others’ perceptions of me, it would be easy to be abused, used, or manipulated. I will do what they want because I need them to be pleased by me if I am going to feel good about myself. Eventually though self-esteem breaks through the crust of insecurity and reminds me that this is no way to be treated, and I move on with another piece of emotional baggage to carry through my next journey. So after years of experience and hurt, a defense grows in the form of one simple statement: I may seem nice but I’m not always nice so don’t you dare cross me!

The frustrating problem with this warning is that I don’t want people to think of me negatively. I want them to like me for the confident person I am. I want them to say, “That Jen is a nice girl. Crazy sometimes, but fun and great.” I don’t want them to think, “She had one hell of a bark and a bite.”

As I learn to pay no attention to the esteem afforded to me by negative, callous, or unkind people, I am able to listen more intently to the affections of truly valuable influences in my life. I hear their praise for good deeds done, I see their delight in my kinder moments, I reap the rewards of my good treatment in their reciprocated benevolence. Perhaps through this process I will drop my “warning” once and for all, and – rather – adopt a quiet and confident assertion whenever I begin to be mistreated: You are not treating me right, and I will not allow this to continue any further. Treat me well, or be out of my life. Your opinions and behaviors are not essential to my happy existence. No, they run counter to it. I have no need to be cruel or unkind, as I am strong enough to draw this line and stand by it. Indeed, I am an even better person for disallowing such negativity to permeate my day.

Sounds pretty good to me. I guess I’ll be off for the evening – and work to mindfully monitor what comes from this mouth of mine! What about you? What would your “speech” sound like without a warning within it?

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Brooklyn students embroider their ideas: Part 20

This is the last post with work by the Brooklyn middle schoolers who so generously allowed me to share their work with you! There aren’t any excerpts with these pieces and a few are unfinished, but they are all quite accomplished and amazing! I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading!

Believe, by Jane

This is really interesting Jane! I love the beginning of the border. I hope you finish it!

Promptness is a... virtue!, by Briana

That is so true Briana! And this is very well done!

Be honest, by Amber

This is really interesting Amber! I like how the “e” works for both the “be” and the “honest” parts of your image.

Live life, by Lucara

This turned out great Lucara! The border is very nicely done and I enjoy the multi-colored words.

Always try Your Best, by ?

I didn’t get a name for this student, but this turned out to be a lovely image! Well done!

Never Give Up, by Jada C

This is very interesting Jada! I like how you chose to make your letters with the dashed lines.

Vino y risata, by Madison

This, I believe, is Spanish, translated to “live and laugh.” Excelente trabajo! Me gustan los colores!

Don't Hate! Congratulate! by Nathalie

This is a marvelous message Nathalie and well done! I enjoy the different ways in which you stitched the words. It makes the image all the more interesting to look at!

In Mandarin, "Wear Helmet", by Anita

And last, but not least, the piece made by the teacher of these accomplished students, Anita! Her student challenged her to sew her phrase in Mandarin and she did a stellar job!

Brooklyn students embroider their ideas: Part 19

Walk Rambo, by Miguel

Miguel wrote, “I chose my message because at first my dad would walk my dog, Rambo, but now I walk him everyday. At first I didn’t know anything about cross stitching, but now I know what to do. I make a number line to help line everything up.”

You did an excellent job Miguel! This turned out great, and I’m sure your dad is grateful you walk the dog every day!

Unfortunately, I don’t have images for the following stories, but I felt that these students deserved recognition for their work. I hope you enjoy their thoughts, as much as I have! :)

Sam W. – “Do Great”
I worked hard and I am working hard at doing my best. I think that my choice for a message was appropriate and it’s a thing I do need to work on. I made a number line. I feel that I am on my way to greatness.
Colin –  “Pronounce Pinyin Fluently”
Yeah, this was my way of learning the pinyin tones (for Mandarin). I did not use a number line on my Aida cloth because it would just have made it harder. Unfortunately, I did not finish my project.
Zoe  – “Don’t Carry The Weight Of The World”
Viewers will learn that I am trying to not be so stressed out and that I work hard.
Mila  –  “LIVE IN THE MOMENT.”
Viewers might notice that I always think about “what I could have done,” or  question “if it was right to have made a certain choice.” I like my message, it’s personal, and by stitching it, I feel like I’ve learned to actually “LIVE IN THE MOMENT.” I enjoyed making this.
Penelope  –  “No More Tacos”
I really like tacos and I need to stop eating them so much.
Luis – “Study Luis”

My message as “Study” because I don’t really like to study. So I made it to remind me to study and to learn more and pass tests.

Brooklyn students embroider their ideas: Part 18

Some of the works here are unfinished, but they look wonderful and I had to share them with you! Enjoy…

Don't be late, by Sophia B

Sophia wrote, “Viewers can learn from this piece that I am late sometimes and I really need to stop this because it is hurting my grade. They can also learn that I like the color pink and that I am trying to not let myself get a bad grade by being late. I actually do care!”

You know, Sophia, this may not be done, but it looks great! You can see the effort you put into the stitches–very clean, very consistent. Embroiderers everywhere would be proud! I hope you finish this piece for you, even if the deadline has passed.

Don't Rush, by Jessica P

Jessica P wrote, “Viewers can learn that I hurried a great deal on this project instead of taking my time. I also change my mind a lot. I started out with the message “Don’t Over Think,” but I decided that was really a problem for me, so I changed it to ‘Don’t Rush.’ I did make a number line.”

I have that problem too Jessica (over-thinking). You wouldn’t believe how long it takes me to decide on dinner! This is a very dynamic image. I know the project was focused on cross-stitching, but it is interesting how quick the word “rush” looks.  A little ironic, funny, and a nice way of getting the message across. Sometimes a balance between rushing and working slowly pays off!

Get back up, by Owen

Owen wrote, “My message choice was ‘Get Back Up’ because I really need to stop beating myself up. When I strike out in baseball I get mad at myself. If I miss a practice, even accidentally, I think that I’m stupid. I need to remember that sometimes it’s not my fault.”

One thing I am still learning, Owen, is that our “failures” or “mistakes” or “strike-outs” are sometimes the best way to learn. We wouldn’t become the people we are if we didn’t make mistakes (all of the great inventors “failed” a ton of times before they discovered their “great invention”). It is how we bounce back and learn from our mistakes that defines us. We can never be perfect. We can be better at something with practice and hard work (like baseball), but we can never be error-free. Your message is great! Excellent work!

Brooklyn students embroider their ideas: Part 17

Be a Better Person, by Abigail

Abigail wrote: “I work[ed] really hard on this project and I’m learning to ‘be a better person.’  ”

You’re not alone Abigail! I think most people want to be better people. The other good news is that most of us are already pretty superb people. 🙂 Great work!

In Mandarin, translates to "Don't be afraid." by Lucara

Lucara wrote: “Viewers can learn that I am precise and I like doing cross stitching. I followed my pattern except in a few places where what I had drawn wasn’t possible on the Aida Cloth. I made it all work out though. My number line didn’t really help me after the first few stitches. My attitude towards the project stayed the same the whole time; it was very positive and excited.”

I really enjoyed the lower border on this work–it really brings out the middle character. This is a great piece, and message!

Decide, by Merlin

“People might learn from my project that I can be indecisive. That’s why I chose DECIDE. To help me make my project I used a number line and made a pattern to follow. However, in the end I didn’t use the exclamation points that I put in the pattern because I thought they were excessive. After doing this project, I have become better at deciding.”

In my experience, too, I am awful at making decisions! My poor husband has to wait all the time while I figure out what I want (he doesn’t need to learn patience, that’s for sure)! Making decisions is a tough thing to do. I admire you, Merlin, for achieving that goal!

Brooklyn students embroider their ideas: Part 16

In Korean, translates to "Eat less junk." by Nina

“My Aida cloth project is in Korean and it says, ‘Eat Less Junk.’ I’ve wanted to eat healthier for a while but when I started working on this I actually began to follow my message. It took a lot of persistence and hard work to make the Aida cloth because it would get knotted and the needle would get stuck. I persisted to the end though and achieved my goal. Now I can officially say that I’m eating healthier. It’s not about weight it’s about being a strong, healthy person and achieving my goals.”

Nina, you have a great attitude and should be really proud of yourself! I can tell you from experience that when I started to eat healthier, I felt a lot more confident because I was achieving my goal. Your focus on being healthy is really admirable. And your piece looks marvelous!

Never say never, by Jessica O

“Viewers can learn that I never gave up on my cross-stitching. I followed my pattern very well. I didn’t need the number line because I had an imaginary one. I used graph paper. I loved doing the project from beginning to end.”

I’m so glad you liked the project Jessica–it looks great! I hope you keep cross stitching if it’s something you continue to enjoy!

Neat handwriting, by Sebastian

Sebastian wrote: “Viewers can learn from my personal message that I need to work on my handwriting. I worked on 14 count cloth so I had to split all the threads. It was challenging. My project shows how my technique worked out, and how it helped me. One thing viewers cannot see is that the back of my project looks just as neat as the front. : ) ”

Sebastian this looks great and you are right: splitting threads is trying on one’s patience sometimes. My husband loves the back of my embroideries too–the “map” the threads make as they overlap and criss-cross each other is really beautiful! I’m glad you liked the outcome of your project.

Brooklyn students embroider their ideas: Part 15

Be a hard worker! by Jackie

Anyone who completes a cross-stitch project like this for the first time is definitely a hard worker. Keep it up Jackie!

Be with the flow, by Michael

“I always had trouble focusing in class. So I decided to do this message to remind me to be with the flow of the class. I made a number line. I ended up really liking it in the end.”

This turned out really great Michael! Your border is a nice addition to the image, too. Good luck with your goal, I bet you’ll have it done in no-time!

Text code, by Elijah

Elijah wrote: “That things look really good,” probably in answer to the question, “What have you learned from this project.” I’m not sure that my interpretation is 100% correct, but this piece looks really nice so I’ll assume that is it! Good job Elijah!