When I was growing up, I was taught never to boast, act like I knew stuff, or defend myself against criticism. A lot of girls were raised that way back then. In our household, it was called "being ladylike." It was long before the whole self-esteem movement. I don't think I heard the phrase "self-esteem" once in my entire childhood. But I did hear the word "modesty" a lot.
In reaction to the old-style child rearing I was subjected to, I think quite a bit about pride. I'm especially interested in the things people are proud of that they have no reason to be. I'm not talking about the woman who's proud of working her way through college or the guy who's proud of the great children he raised. Those people have something you might call justified pride. I'm talking about the things we're proud of even though: a) we didn't actually have anything to do with them or b) they don't matter in a hill of beans.
We all have these things. And a great exercise is to figure out what they are in our own lives and, for that matter, in the fictional and nonfictional lives we write about.
Here, for example, are some of mine.
Being blond. When I was growing up, being blond was a a Big Deal, made bigger by movie titles like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and advertising slogans like Is it true blondes have more fun? and If I only have one life, let me live it as a blonde.
The only reason I have any pride over being blond is that occasionally someone tells me they wish they were. I’m actually a little jealous of women who can pull off looking exotic, which blondness pretty much precludes. Besides, I’m not even blond any longer. Well, I am, but only thanks to a L’Oreal product with the ironic name “Natural Blond.”
Being a Gryffindor. Several weeks ago, in my usual state of insomnia, I went onto the Pottermore website to pass the wee hours of the night. For the uninitiated, Pottermore is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter website, in which you can progress through the books, create potions, cast spells, and duel with other wizards. You also get sorted into one of the Hogwarts houses, on the basis of obscure questions like, “You’re on a path that forks in three directions. Do you go to the sea, the castle, or the forest?” In an ominous video before the test, Rowling herself tells participants that, once you’re sorted into a house, there’s no switching. Needless to say, everyone wants to get sorted into Gryffindor—the house of Harry and his pals. I thought to myself that Ravenclaw wouldn’t be bad. I could handle being a Ravenclaw, or even a Slytherin. But, god help us, Hufflepuff?
When I somehow managed to end up in Gryffindor, I felt like I needed to tell all my friends. Because it obviously means that I’m an especially courageous and valiant person. Or else it means I accidentally gave the right answers in a children’s game.
The cover design of my books. When my first book, No Walls of Stone, came out, I was barraged with compliments on how the book looked. “The cover is gorgeous! You must be so proud!” someone actually said to me. I kept wondering if they thought I had anything to do with the design of the book. I wasn’t, in fact, even consulted about it, and had no idea what the book would look like until I received my box of complimentary author’s copies in the mail (which, incidentally, my father threw out, mistaking the box for trash).
I’m often complimented on the cover of Writing as a Sacred Path as well. That, I had a little more say in the matter, since I was given the choice of two covers and allowed to pick one. All I can say is thank heaven they didn’t let me design my own cover: The artists did a WAY better job than I would have.
Being half Swedish American. Not that being Swedish American isn’t something to be proud of, but what does it really have to do with me? And is it somehow better than being anything-else American? No, it’s not. It’s just what I happen to be. I had no say over the fact that my father’s parents immigrated from Sweden. And it’s not like being Swedish American ever had any effect on my life. We didn’t speak Swedish in my home. We didn’t eat Swedish food. We didn’t do Swedish things. The only connection it has with me at all is the fact that I look really, really Swedish. Honestly, the English half hardly shows.
Try it yourself. What do you feel a little secret tingle of pride about even though it isn't really an accomplishment or even something anyone else would care about? Find those funny little points of pointless conceit and then accept them. Write about them. Celebrate them even. They make you who you are.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...