A Conversation with Raggedy Ann: The Choice of Confidence
by Jennifer Paros
When I was eight I had an important conversation with my Raggedy Ann doll. She was three feet tall and had always seemed more like a kindred spirit to me than a toy. I locked myself in the bathroom with Raggedy Ann and began to talk. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it reflected the kind of urgency one might have calling 9-1-1 and finally getting through – and Raggedy Ann was the trained professional on the other end who would send assistance as soon as she could figure out what was happening and where I was.
It was a conversation that, to the outsider, would have appeared one-sided. It was a conversation about school and misery. I don’t remember my exact words any more, I only remember confiding the story of my distress and feeling as though Raggedy Ann offered me a place to put that story. In that way, the conversation was not one-sided, for my experience was that what I wanted and needed to express was received. I confided in her. With teary eyes and a wobbly voice I entrusted this jail of a story. And she, in her stuffed-ness, cloth-ness, and button eyes held it for me, while I struggled to take the next steps in my young life.
She was a receptive audience. And at the time, I felt as though someone, something was hearing me. My conversation with Raggedy Ann provided identical relief to having spoken to an actual person - maybe more, because of her inherent lack of judgment.
When we write, we are talking on paper and no one but ourselves is actually there. But we are talking to someone – if only ourselves, much in the same way I entrusted my story to Raggedy Ann. And at the moment, the difference between feeling insecure or secure lies in our choice of how we see our audience. Those black button eyes of the universe are either friendly or unfriendly to us. If they’re friendly, we trust. And in the act of trusting another and ourselves, a nice bonus happens: we feel confident. For to confide in someone is to trust in them, and to trust in them is to have confidence in them and ourselves.
More recently, when my first book was released, I was offered the opportunity to have a launch party at a local, independent bookstore. The bookstore owner suggested I give a talk about the book, how it came to be, and my experience writing it, as part of the evening. I wanted to give this talk, but when I considered the audience - family and friends and friends of family and friends of friends, as well as not having done anything of this nature for years, a wave of nervous anxiety rushed through me. And then it rushed again--and again. I knew then that in order to give the talk in a way I could enjoy, I was going to have to put my mental foot down and make the decision to let the calm inand stop feeding my rumbling, panting anxiety with like thoughts.
Over the next weeks, I practiced disallowing my mind from roaming into nerve-racking territory. And when the night of the launch party arrived, although tempted to resort to familiar panic and problem-making talk, I remained resolved and firm. Let the calm in, I would say to myself. After some time of this, I started being able to feel my ability to do it; I came to understand the choice I actually had the power to make. And when I made that choice, my own non-reactive stance allowed me to believe the same could be true of others. No longer was I focused on anyone’s judgment on me. The equanimity I had cultivated within was now coloring my perception of my audience.
Just as I had recognized the lack of judgment in the eyes of my doll, and was able to find relief in entrusting my story to her all those years ago, on this night I was able to look beyond and into the eyes of my audience and find that same, still receptivity. And when I decided to see beyond any judgment they might hold, I felt that which I could trust. And when I trusted that, I trusted myself and felt the confidence that is the birth rite of us all.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.