It started as a simple question, “Do you like salmon?” My friend Steve texted before my trip up to Ashland, Oregon. I’d be staying with Steve and his wife Kate, who were hosting a half-day Wild Writing workshop for their friends, and in honor of Steve’s 70th birthday.
“Do you like salmon?” Steve texted a few days before I arrived. He’d be making dinner that Saturday night, and I know he was trying to make it nice for me.
I froze, holding the phone in my hand, not sure how to answer. The simple answer was no, I don’t like salmon unless it’s completely disguised by sauces and doesn’t taste anything like salmon, but I didn’t think I could tell Steve that, though I tried.
“Um,” my text began, “I don’t really like salmon…” but that felt unkind like I wasn’t being gracious. Here I was, headed to Ashland to spend two nights with these generous students who would be giving me the actual bed they slept in, feeding me for a few days, and gathering their trusted friends to work with me for four hours on a weekend, even though they’d never met in person before.
Delete, delete, delete.
“You know, I’m more of a chicken girl…”
Delete, delete, delete.
“Dinner? Who needs dinner?”
Delete, delete, delete.
I imagined myself eating the salmon quickly so I couldn’t taste it. I’d camouflage it with bites of rice, taking a slug of wine so the fishy-ness would get washed out – so all those flavors would blend and I could sit back at Steve and Kate’s table smiling, appreciating, ever the grateful guest.
I could do this. I’d done it all of my life.
I mean to be an honest person, but I didn’t know how to tell Steve that I didn’t like salmon. I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted – which was probably anything but salmon. I only knew how to override what I might have wanted in favor of making it simple for Steve, saying yes to what he was offering, not putting him out or being one of those people who needed things.
Cue the lifetime theme song.
I’m fine. I’m good. No worries. Whatever you’re offering is great.
I stood in my kitchen staring at my phone, and a small sadness crept over me. Such simple words. “No thank you, I don’t like salmon.” Steve would have been happy to read exactly those lines because then he could make something I might like – which was his intent – to host and take care of me – not to stuff a terrible, pink, wiggly fish down my throat.
I had a class coming in a few minutes and needed to handle this.
“Sure,” I texted. “Salmon sounds great. I’ve heard it’s really good for you.” I put the phone down and greeted my class.
The next day I got a solid hour of therapy out of it. This little fish story. This little story about keeping people happy, not troubling them, and not just overriding what I needed, but not even knowing what I needed – that muscle so atrophied in a life of reading other people’s needs before mine.
I come by it honestly, of course – a complete survival instinct; keep the people happy and you will stay out of harm’s way.
It’s really worked for me. I’m an empath, I’m pretty good at knowing what people want and which is part of what makes me a solid teacher. But this other business, this fish story, it troubled me for all the reasons it should have – for those uncomfortable moments when someone wants something from me and I don’t say no as clearly as I could because I’m afraid of angering them.
It troubled Steve too, because the next day he texted, “The Jewish papa in me wants to know: Salmon or Chile Verde, (a delicious, slightly spicy chicken stew) for dinner tomorrow night? Both are easy!”
He had me at Jewish Papa.
“Chili verde!” I practically screamed into my text.
“I knew there was something about the salmon when you said you’d heard it was good for you,” he texted back.
“I got a whole session of therapy out of it,” I wrote.
“Only one session?” He texted back.
The weekend in Ashland was beautiful.
The trees were blazing with color – reds and oranges and bright yellows that we don’t get down here in the Bay Area. We hiked through the forest, we sat in a big circle with good people who bravely tried to tell the truth about their lives on the page – something I’m still learning how to do.
The chili verde was amazing, we all had seconds.
“It was probably easier to make than the salmon,” I joked with Steve at dinner.
“No,” he said, smiling. “The salmon would have been easier.”
We laughed, and I was grateful – not just on Thanksgiving – but every day – to be reminded of the places where I’m still growing, and to have that lesson learned again and again, and with such kind people.
May all our lessons be delivered with so much love.
Listen to Laurie read the piece here:
Oh so beautifully said…more importantly…beautifully felt. One thing I’m learning…if I want to tell the truth, I need to be able to hear the truth from others as well. I loved it when Steve said, salmon would have been easier.
I’m fairly certain I would have agreed with you that the chili verde was easier even if it wasn’t. Sigh. Still LOTS of work to do for me.
I am so with you, Laurie, when you write “Keep the people happy and you will stay out of harm’s way.” I have lived my life with a periscope of figuring out others’ needs before my own . . . and yet the journey to my own truth, realness, authenticity, while challenging, has been the most life-giving and deepening . . . Thank you for This LIttle Fish Story.
Thank you Laurie so beautifully felt, written, and heard.
I too would have agreed to salmon, then tried to practice how I would wash it down with a pleased expression.
I am 63 and still trying say my truth, and stop worrying that someone might not like me for it .
Loved your fish story😊❤️. I too still try to please everyone I can, still making a creative photographic wall calendar when i said I was done doing that three years ago! Yet somehow they get better every year and I’m still finding homes for them. Will I ever stop, people seem to like my new abstract inclusions. Thank you for sharing😊❤️
OMG Debbie, I have been making the same family calendars for years, and adding more abstract pics as my teen daughter increasingly opts out. Too funny!☺
Even through mastery, our work continues.
So insightful and so humorous how we are! Let’s try and have fun telling our truths…enjoy the magic. xo
This is how I know you are “my people,” I see myself in your writing. Love this story and you honest sharing. Smiles, Caren
Beautiful story, LW.
We (Californians) are culturally conditioned to accept raw, vegan & vegetarian choices but salmon. Farmed salmon, wild salmon, Alaskan salmon, Scandinavian cured salmon.
I think when someone asks us a specific question & we don’t reply with our truth, it’s more offensive.
It was great to read how you found a diplomatic way to reply and how sensitive Jewish Papa was to your choice of words.
P.S. Speaking of culture and salmon. In nature, salmon is silver color but modern people, clothing companies use “salmon” to describe the color of inside of the fish.
How perfectly human. Love this fish story…
“…but not even knowing what I needed…” This is me too. Time to go spin some more and put the tail on the donkey… whether it’s in the right place or not! ❤
So many times I have sat, writing and rewriting a message that seemed so simple in my mind. I love how this turned out. I could feel the relief!
A lesson worth “learning” over and over again: ask for what we really want vs. making it more pleasant/easy for others. I’ve struggled with this one, but am getting over it. It helps to be in relationship with someone who welcomes your truth and especially your big “t” Truths. Not that we always get it perfectly, but I know I’m not where I was a decade ago with this issue. That pleasing people habit is a deeply entrenched one!
Awww Laurie 💜 So well put! Thank you for sharing yourself with all of us. I can relate and I bet so many people can.
Yes, Yes, Yes… And agreed with another comment on the thread, that “Even through mastery, our work continues”. I’m a big Brene Brown fan, and one of her axioms is so wise and so simple (and so it is also easy to remember!) “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind”. And so we move with one foot in front of the other…Thank you for sharing.
Love everything about you L.
Dear Laurie…A survival technique we no longer need. Someone once told me to practice saying “No” as if I were offering them the gift of the moon. So I keep practicing;-)
A Jewish gal who doesn’t like lox? Or does lox not count as salmon? (Blog = delicious, as always. Can I have seconds?)
i love this and utterly relate to the people-pleasing component-not to mention I would have felt the same about the salmon!
Laurie, Your courage to share your truth gives me permission to just be human. Is that the reason your little story about a fish brings tears to my eyes?
“May all our lessons be delivered with so much love.” Amen!!
I like that you got a chance to switch from default mode to being at-choice. That you took it as a learning moment and chose to write about it from a place of compassion is our gain.
It was such a treat to spend that time with you. Aren’t we complicated? I suspect that’s one of the things you may love about writing. You captured the simple yet complex inner life and dilemma of being human and being sensitive.
OMG! This spoke to me, as well as, giving me a therapy lesson. I’m a so whatever the other person needs or wants, person, from watching a tv program/movie, to setting boundaries, so as not to offend, hurt or upset somebody. It was great that your friend cared enough to read between the lines and gave you want you needed, (choices are good), rather than suffering through a meal and making it hard not to be your authentic self, saying that you liked something, when really you didn’t.
Thank you for sharing your process with us!
Laurie… I can so relate to your story. Wonderful to have such an intuitive friend. I too am learning this same lesson over and over again. Thank you for your honesty and beautiful writing.
I loved it! I could feel your words, so honest and to the point! I wish you always make the choice you want and not what others want to hear.
Love, love, love your fish story! Both writing and content intimately inspiring. TY Laurie.💕
Oh my this line just made me cry “It troubled Steve too, because the next day he texted, “The Jewish papa in me wants to know: Salmon or Chile Verde, (a delicious, slightly spicy chicken stew) for dinner tomorrow night? Both are easy!”
And empathic man who could feel you behind your agreeability. Oh how I yearn for more of that.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful writing
A well told story, told with honesty, self-knowledge and love. Something for me to strive toward in my writing/
Yes….that crippling need to be “nice”…tactful, accepting, a really “good” person. I’m old now (84) and still learning how and when to express my truth. It ain’t easy. But spiritual growth never is.
Ah you were so close to my place!! Hope you’ll come visit someday. I promise not to make salmon!
loved this story, even though it gave me the willies wondering how many times I might have offered you salmon! It’s a pacific northwest “thing,” this beautiful and sometimes expensive fish that we all (or most of us?) love! Great lesson.