In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Old letters are like old photographs of yourself. I’m shocked; I can actually hear this child-me speaking through these letters to myself. “To me when I am 13.” “To me when I am 16.” “To me when I am grown and a married lady.”
Please God, and please grown-up me, don’t forget what it was like to be me right now. To be in the fourth grade. Please remember that children are not children. I think I was ten when I wrote that, and I remember the urgency I felt. I sensed that a lot of me existed somewhere in a time when I had not taken on this name and this address and these parents, and always would. The letters to an older self were indicative of my desire to reassure the “adult” world, which would one day include me, that children are NOT empty specimens of life, in their lack of experience. Their lack of experience is balanced by their purity, their perceptions unclouded by total socialization. Children are already full. They merely have to undergo the ritual of responsibility of self which results in an integration they can accept, regardless of age. I wonder if I’m alone in being one of those who waited such a long time to accept responsibility for self. I have been thinking clearly only a very brief time. But I can also see that I have been feeling clearly for a very long time.
I wonder why some classical albums remind me of a table full of food, all sweets and nothing salty? When I play his old records, all I have to do is close my eyes and I am a little person again, rubber bands around my knee socks, baggy cotton underwear, sleeping on the hearth after supper in front of a coal fire with a black labrador and D’s Blue Danube on the “hi-fi,” D. asleep in his chair, his mouth slightly ajar. The adult family members, I admired them so much. They seemed almost magical to me in their decisiveness, their likes and dislikes, the absoluteness of their joys, their sorrows. To be in D’s presence when he was sleeping was a privilege. A time to tiptoe close, peer at the large long face with a few straggly whiskers. Breath as soft as a baby’s moved within him and I moved closer to smell it, a fresh wood shaving smell, a crisp fall day smell. I came too close, his jaws snapped shut, his eyes flashed open, I leapt backwards. He was fully awake, all the time, baiting me. We were friends.
I don’t want to wear my personality like a ten gallon hat, so tangible you can almost fingerpaint on it. I don’t want to be controlled by IT, something I have created, but learn to focus on the creative process that created it, something that will help me become master of my energies. It is more me than the personality I wear is ME and that sounds insane to someone who is not thinking like I am, and I get so scared when I see the foolishness in trying to explain. This more real me is intelligence guided only by love. It is closer to the core of reality in the same way that something other than chance initiated the coagulations that produced the earth, the water, the sky, and all living things.
Rather than go over or through the crowd, I went under them, on my hands and knees, slapping at legs, pushing and shoving at bodies that had no meaning to me because I had no meaning to them. My pack kept catching on feet, clothing, legs, satchels, other people’s baggage. So filled with panic; not biting and fighting, but almost. When I hit the train steps I grabbed a pole inside and wrapped my fingers round and held on with more strength than I knew I had. I was on. The exultation was tremendous.
I didn’t care at all that I’d kept another person off the train. I had not been left behind. The threat of being left behind in a foreign city with no passport or money, of watching an “express” train pull slowly out of the station, Steve’s head, half his body thrust halfway out a window in the middle of a car, his eyes frantically searching to see if I’d gotten on; the threat died and I almost cried with relief. Most of the crowd was left behind. Travelling was the first time I was aware that I had that in me; the ability to be a survival-of-the-fittest cowboy.
The words, “I love you,” so often feel hollow, like an American flag draped across the coffin of a veteran; a symbol so distorted, so unlike the strange strength of the feelings I want to express. The waste of the words drags me down, and I am desperately hoping you see that the hollowness in my voice does not mean I do not love you, but that I am frustrated with my ability to communicate. It is so much easier to use the words “I love you” with people I rarely see, because the complexity of living together daily has not veiled the intensity of my true feelings. Please hear me when I am not speaking.
Is it alright to stand before the mirror and let out my negative feelings like an infected wound that needs release? I think so, as long as I balance it with an effort to practice harmlessness at the same time. Confining your own negativity to a spot where you can control it, simultaneously deciding to let it all out, is one hell of a balancing act. It is healthful to criticize sometimes, but take care your selection of mirrors: the reflection should only come back to you. I have learned with those I love that if I sit quietly long enough and listen to them when they need to let out their yuckies, and don’t feed it but be supportive of their ability to teach themselves, they come up with their own answers.
I instinctively do this with some people. A very few. It is as if I cannot see any negativity at all within them, only a roaring presence, cascading down a mountain, deafening me, pouring into this temporary pool of personality, one of millions of pools that hold the presence. Yet they identify with the earthen walls so often, rather than the presence. It is such an obvious joke, and I love them so much because I am at home with them, we are in the same pool. It’s a bond I do not fully understand. I can feel it, not see it.
Sometimes I get the feeling I’m in a bumpcar, and the bumps are neither positive or negative, but deliberate extremes (the bumps and the smoothies) that give an easy-to-understand, necessary, dimensional quality to the whole of life. The bumps are making me giggly. I can’t see the “bad” anymore, it is just another experience, chance to see. The me that hurts seems like a nothing me, an illusory me that was created simply because you’ve gotta wear SOMETHING to the debutante ball, to this world of feeling, emotion, the confusion of wholeness and separativeness. We’re left like tiny tykes to figure it out. The old Englishman I’ve made up in my head is tapping the side of his nose with one finger and whispering, “She’s decided she’s been a fool for taking down names of the good chaps and the bad. There are none on either side.” And he empties his pipe.
Understanding that I can’t always have “good” days, “good” visits, terrific communication with another person, has killed a part of me that was tired anyway. I think I’m beginning to understand that’s what T.D. meant when he said, “I can’t cry anymore; for the human race.” The balancing mechanism that registers my growth and the growth of the greater whole includes the supposed bad times, which really are not very bad, but opportunities to feel, see, to take a step backwards, often a necessary step, before hurtling forwards on sounder understanding. And for me in particular, a chance to not take everything so seriously. The Humphrey Bogart in me says, “Perk UP, sugar pie.”
A. wants to know, she is asking, but not with words, and I feel so sad that I cannot give her what she wants. In one furious outburst, a verbal torrent that lasted three hours and fogged the car windows and left us both confused about where she stopped and I started, I tried to give it to her but they were only words. And we loved each other and it had nothing to do with our lives, with our occasional chitchats, it had nothing to do with the curtsies “friends” trade. I went home exhausted but happy because she had helped me love a complete stranger for the first time with all the love I had reserved for family and intimates, and as soon as that happened, I knew who she was: we are part of the same one-ness.
My books are such friends when I am frustrated and want clarification. Ram Dass leapt off the shelf and sprawled on the kitchen floor and declared, “You begin to see that the way you serve another human being is by freeing him or her from the particular attachments he’s stuck in that turn him off to life. You realize that the only thing you have to do for other human beings is to keep yourself really straight, and then do whatever it is you do.”
I see so many who keep on picking their noses when they think nobody is looking. Why does that bother me so much? I expect too much, I expect instant results too often, from all these people toting “Let’s Go to Nirvana” guidebooks. My disgust wells up so often when I don’t pay any attention to my guidance. This disgust, this dissatisfaction, is from a lack of understanding. Expectations abort the very thing you desire. She told me, “I am merely a sower of seeds. They tell me always to return to my fields, and concern myself not for the harvest, but only for the sowing.”
So often I see a total stranger or an untotal stranger, and that unverbalized mechanism triggers in my mind, bubbling with recognition, and I feel as if I have just woken up and can’t remember what day it is or my name, I just know I know this person. But then haven’t I always been one to fall for the bogus dramas of the heart and mind that began in childhood with dreams of meeting the Prince in the Sleeping Beauty movie? I didn’t want a real life man but the cartoon character, the animated one that had a grace human beings don’t have.
I am glad I overheard this. Subtly cocky young psychic (self-proclaimed) and very beautiful woman (who makes no proclamations). She says little but I think she understands a great deal. “What a beautiful aura you have,” she says so softly, sensing that he is intimidated by her loveliness. He blushes, not with modesty but with an awareness that she sees much more than the beautiful aura. “It is not what I am, but what I know,” he says.
It is a different thing to be knower and know you do not limit the knowing, it goes beyond you, and to be a knower and cling to the you that you think “knows.” I have noticed that there are those who give spontaneously, unself-consciously. There are also those who have the same ability, but become distracted and brought down by the shadow of their own personalities, and a wavering results. In that instant of wavering, the gift melts. A state of listening grace evolves from instinctive setting aside of self.
Even if you live with someone for years, you don’t necessarily see them, unless you are such good friends anyway that you take time out to “visit” when you need or want to.
We visited today. “I am such a silly girl.” I felt so sad as I told him; I felt the truth of the statement too hard. “Silly girl, you are as silly as I am, as silly as we all are.” He is smiling, and I don’t like it when he is laughing at me (but maybe he isn’t laughing?). “I know that,” I say, “But I am so self-centered so much in a self-CONSCIOUS way, impotent, incapable of focusing attention on anyone else’s needs. It’s the juxtaposition of the outer and inner self, it is so HARSH.” But I notice my whining does not stop the eternal hum of the impersonal self, like an electric generator pouring current into my self-stylized clothes of the moment. My silliness is an over-identification with the appliance rather than the current.
When I feel that self-consciousness in me, I can almost see a shadow of self: a big green ogre with half her teeth missing, a hump on her back, a hairy udder with prune teats and little horned feet like Sally Goat’s, brushing her coarse hair as I vainly look into the rearview mirror, meeting my image: a thought-form I’ve created in magnifying my worst qualities as I worry about them, in a reverse ego sort of way. I am dumbfounded at this gargoyle cartoon character straight out of Looney Tunes; my fears try to convince me I have no more control over that self-image than the wind blowing my pajamas about on the clothesline outside.
It is becoming comical now. The green ogre is an ego’s fear of how it may appear to others. I grow stronger as I look at it. Be careful what your attention magnifies.
I am leaning forward in my chair, muscles taut, shoulders arched, face tense with an eagerness to please, to listen, to not miss my cue. I am S., wanting to give her love.
“Bye now!” and I give the car door a loving tap tap with the palm of my hand. I got that from T.
“This is quite true,” I say dryly. That is the C.B. in me, my high school English teacher who gave me a D on my Jesse Stuart term paper because my concluding sentence was a list of the animals he owned.
When laughter overtakes me and I rock and roll and have to sit down in the street or elevator and heave soundlessly over the world, that is the Kack in me. When we are together — that sibling sense of humor that two people can only get from growing up together, watching each other sit in the bathroom sink making motor noises and monster faces in the mirror — we are one person. We cloak it, to avoid shocking anyone with the tremendous splash that comes when our funny-man selves wink at each other behind still statements of formality designed for the third person in the room.
I lean back, legs crossed, arms folded in defensive silence. My eyes feel steely cold; my heart burns with hurt and indignation. I’ve been told my eyes are the blackest black at those times. There is a powerful refusal to listen to reason. I hear a squawking little voice, peeping to me from a valley within my mind: You are not love now, it says.
Where did I learn to make such a face? I saw it once, in the mirror, and I came away afraid for all the darkness I must have scattered throughout my world, terrible grenades of angry words, harsh feelings. I don’t know anybody I got this from, this anger.
I am everyone I know, including myself, a chancy and deliberate microcosm, totally unique. I am a reflection of everything, everyone, every thought I have exposed myself to. I AM beautiful S. when I am with her, and have to turn my head to hide my embarrassed tears. I am becoming her. That is part of what this love is: a removal of barriers and a blending of much more than personalities. I hold something within myself that is identical to what I see in her, and I throw wide all my doors when I see that, and the outpouring that results mixes me up with her as our waters meet and merge.
But I am still me, and she is still she, and Steve is still Steve. That just tickles me to death. I want to pump God’s hand and tell him, “My GOD, you’re one hell of a fellow,” and stumble off, dabbing at my eyes like a weepy old drunk in a natty suit.
Writing about my personality — that is what I am doing, isn’t it? Is it like killing an animal and dressing the meat and serving it with an exotic sauce or totally different seasonings from what the animal actually was? I don’t know that it matters but I can feel myself killing my outer personality, this sheath, I hack the perceptions it is off of me and they are no longer active forces within me, only in the sense that they are part of the summation of my totality are they active. I am perceiving forms of behavior that have reached maturity and are receding in their prominence in my life. I like dying. The death and the birth are one.
Elizabeth Rose Campbell