"As a girl, I would imagine myself in this world, and I'd wonder: Did I speak diamonds or snakes?....I am no longer scared of the girls, the ones with diamonds or [snakes]. The secret is, both of those girls could be me. I choose diamonds."
--Hannah Pine in her essay from The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage
In the essay she contributed to this collection, Hannah Pine tells of a fairy tale she read when she was a girl about two sisters: one who spoke snakes and toads, one who spoke diamonds and pearls.
Growing up she was afraid of these girls because she thought she knew which one she was and nothing good came to the girl who spoke snakes.
As she became an adult she realized that she had a choice, to become the girl she wanted to be, and she chose to become the girl who spoke diamonds. As that girl she says, she lives by kindness and by her brain. That is, she tries to think kindly.
I thought about this quote yesterday without remembering where I had heard it (thank goodness for Google!) because I caught myself speaking snakes again and wondering why.
Even after eight years of practice, I still find myself saying things - and, oh yes, thinking things - that are unkind, unnecessary, sometimes even untrue. And I am always surprised at myself, even as they come out of my mouth, thinking, "Aren't I past this yet?"
How long, I wonder, does it take to break the habit of speaking snakes?
Maybe as long as it took to get into the habit?
The first time I can remember "speaking snakes" was in third grade. I lied to my best friend. I told her that I would choose her to help me pass out the snack and then I chose JD, the boy I had a crush on, telling her that the teacher had said I should choose a boy.
It felt bad to lie, but exhilarating to choose him, and thus began a long series of lies designed to get what I wanted without having to speak it directly. (If that isn't speaking snakes, I don't know what is....)
I think of these snakes as the small garden variety that almost slip out of your mouth. What about the huge pythons that slither and writhe as they come out?
The, "Can you believe he.....You'll never guess what she.....What a....!" that peppered my talk throughout high school and college and beyond - way beyond.
The kind of snakes that I still find sometimes spring forth from my lips when I least expect it.
And then, there I am again, stuck trying to shove a writhing, six-foot, poisonous snake back into my mouth. It usually doesn't work.
I guess the only thing to do is to kill those snakes. Slowly, over time, with practice. With kind thoughts, with kind words, with lots and lots of diamonds and pearls.