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loosen that grip

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

Hi there. Nice to see you again.

So, I’m in my 7th grade art class, and we’re working on gesture drawings – drawing an object anthropomorphically, or giving it human characteristics. We’re supposed to do this by bringing the object to life and capturing movements and emotions. The goal is to exaggerate form, relax into the process, and, for lack of a better phrase, find a groove.

I’m hunched over my pastel radio, trying my darndest to artfully capture its happy dance. I think I’m nailing it with my strategically-placed, undulating lines – until my art teacher walks over to see my work. With her usual supportive cheer, she gently encourages me to be more free with it.

My heart sinks. Apparently I’m missing the entire point of the exercise, which is to learn how to loosen my grip. Here I am, doing my first art class assignment – the daughter of an artist, eager to prove myself early on – and I’m failing already. Damn it!

This gesture drawing became an ongoing source of entertainment for my teacher as I progressed through high school art classes.

“Remember when you struggled with that gesture drawing?” she would say. “Look at how far you’ve come.”

I remember appreciating her saying that one time in particular, while admiring my “freer” pointillism painting with a huge grin on her face. I felt that that version of pointillism was leaps and bounds freer than the first, four years earlier, which required many after-school hours of painting painstakingly perfect teeny tiny dots. I felt I deserved an A+ just for commitment.

Flash forward to a paint & sip class just last week and my sister playfully reminding me, “It’s all in the wrist, James. All in the wrist.” She finished the leaves on her tree in about a minute, while I spent significantly more time thoughtfully varying the colors, shapes, and placement.

I’ve come a long way, but I’m a work in progress, as are we all.


Okay, I know. You probably never want to hear about the Let it Go song from Frozen ever again. But, you know, it’s a great – albeit somewhat rather over-dramatic – example of loosening your grip.

Because, here’s the thing:

“Life is about loosening your grip. We suffer when we hold onto things...It’s in the letting go that we experience who we really can be.”

That was a quote by Janine Shepherd in her TED Talk called A broken body isn’t a broken person. Her story is a rather remarkable one, as are so many people’s stories. I highly recommend checking it out.

Letting go of things like control, perfection, and a need to do things “right” can be incredibly challenging. Letting go of internal battles and attempts to stay under the radar can be equally as challenging. But it's worth it.

Opening yourself to vulnerability, to experimentation, and to doing less can propel you toward refreshing new perspectives, abilities, and freedoms.

Case in point: I spent a lot of time over the past few months learning about my stutter. You’d think I would have a better grasp on it, as it has been a companion for over thirty years. We have an interesting relationship, my stutter and I. I call it my Big Stuck. It has been at once a continual obstacle, a lifelong motivator, and so much a part of my automatic mental and expressive process that I kind of forgot how big a role it plays in my daily life – until this past year.

I have many tricks for navigating my Big Stuck when it creeps up, often unannounced. You might not notice anything from the outside, but my brain and mouth are working a mile a minute to improvise some semblance of effortless speech. Sometimes you will notice, in which case, I consider that a personal win. Why? Because that means that I was able to let it go, stumble a bit, and keep rolling – rather than fighting it.

One thing I’ve learned about navigating my Big Stuck is the value of loosening my grip. When I feel a stutter approach, my body essentially goes into “lockdown” mode: My jaw and tongue tense, and I forcibly try to break through the block. I push through the sticking point in order to release the words I want to emit. The push might take a microsecond, or it might be more sustained – especially if my stubbornness kicks in.

I’ve also been known to rush through the ends of sentences after pushing through a stutter, as if to make up for lost time. Yes, I’m very cognizant of my listeners, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time. But it's also probably a way of proving to myself that, yes, I had a tough word, but I got this. See that? I’m competent and eloquent – and I’m bigger than my Big Stuck.

As it turns out, attempting not to stutter can be the most disabling aspect of stuttering. In other words, I’m my own worst enemy. I’m trying so hard to not stutter that I stutter. In short, it’s a verbal manifestation of that gesture drawing from two decades ago:

Relaxing brings freedom.

But, you know, when you have so many things to say and so many ideas to share, you have to figure out how to speak. And I’m a doer. When something is important to me, I make it happen.

In this case, the goal is expression. As with many other aspects of life, this often means doing less. In this case, it means loosening my grip and surrendering to the fact that I might stutter – and that there’s no need to hide it.


Back to that quote:

“Life is about loosening your grip. We suffer when we hold onto things...It’s in the letting go that we experience who we really can be.”

While, for so much of my life, my Big Stuck has been more of an afterthought than an obstacle, it remains as stubborn as I am sometimes. Though my instinct is to raise my fists in defiance and push it out of the ring, I’m continually learning the value of shaking hands with it and welcoming it not as a worthy opponent, but as a valuable mentor.

I’m working on loosening my grip. In fact, maybe I’ll go try another gesture drawing right now – with a perfectly loose wrist.

How about you? Could you benefit from loosening your grip in any areas of your life? How did you learn to let go a little?

Thanks for stopping by. And keep sharing your stories, because someone wants to hear them.


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