Up again at two in the morning, pulled from a warm bed to write. I can say that, I think, with honesty. I’m not sure what sound or movement in the air woke me; there is no sense of alarm, nothing to prevent me from turning over and sleeping again. There is no urge to scan the rooms making sure everything is OK. No troubling dreams that reveal ominous hidden workings of my mind.
Only the nagging feeling I need to say something keeps me from being comfortable and returning to sleep. This is all the more irritating because the ability to sleep whenever and wherever I choose has always been one of my greatest gifts.
Like the other night when I worried I had used the c-word (yeah, that one) in a poem. It wasn’t even my line – just a dirty limerick I learned when I was small. I mean, why offend people needlessly? Will I alienate my fictitious, unseen audience. Will you start to look at me like people did the time I talked about necrophilia? It was a metaphor … really … never mind. Isn’t the theoretical purpose of this exercise to be able to say anything? NO. It is only about saying honest things.
So here I sit at the kitchen table, staring at a blank computer screen, thinking things I don’t very much like. Honesty is much harder than I thought – all that time ago when I cursed myself by adopting it as a goal and by imagining I was good at it. The closer I come, the more glaringly I fail. I don’t actively lie – I’m one of those people who usually gets caught if I try. But something always holds me back; my mendacious mind always defends itself from full disclosure.
Sometimes it’s awareness of audience and plain fear. Writing or speaking or playing or singing or painting presume an audience. It’s part of the equation. As Tom Stoppard’s player tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “You don’t understand the humiliation of it… to be tricked out of the single assumption that makes our existence bearable. That somebody is watching. We are actors, we are the opposite of people.” It’s true of all performers, but it raises a question: what is it about people that makes them the opposite of performers? (Were I striving for precision, I’d probably say while we are performing we are doing something that is the opposite of what people do while living.)
When we relate to an audience we are like small children doing tricks: “Look at me. Pay attention to me.” And what we really want to know: “Am I alright.”
As much of an obstacle as awareness of an audience is (even imaginary audiences), the real problem is distinct, I think. Sometimes the actual truth rubs up against the things I need to believe about myself to sleep at night and wake up in the morning. Sometimes it violates what I need to see in other people. Sometimes I have trouble opposing the roles I play in the theater of my life.
Everyone does this. We act out myths. We live by books, movies, songs, poems – as if these were our lives. We force people to play their parts. We do these things over and over again until they are worn and familiar paths. Eventually their over use renders them cliched and stale. Bored, we look for new stories to imitate. Oh – we believe we feel these things. It’s method acting, we bury ourselves in our parts. But they’re just roles, nothing more.
To be clear, the enjoyment of reading and writing is finding that we are not alone – that others have felt what we feel. That others get us. That people are like we are; and that people are different than we are. That’s not quite what I’m talking about here. That – finding those moments of connection and recognition – is dependent on some actual genuine preexisting reality of our own. But we live most of lives the wrong way round. We imitate, we play a role, and interpret everyone around us according to their role. And if they should have the appalling bad manners to not comply with the role we set for them, we do our damnedest to force them into it. Most of our lives we are fictions. This is the problem – this is why honesty is so difficult. If I am a fiction, how can I be honest? If I’m playing a role, honest would be what my character thinks and feels and is – not what I am. (This is also why I loathe politics – everyone is forced into a really pathetic, prepackaged political perspective; pep rallies – their greatest goal is to get people to say, think, and feel in unison; therapy – “If we can find out what you’re afraid of, we can label it”; writing classes – real writers have to write; sales – you need good hard-ons, good hair, a good complexion, the right clothes, to be thin enough, or young enough, or rich enough to be like the (anti)people who matter; even religion gets in on the act – we can say all the write words, think the right thoughts, believe them without regard to what we believe; or we can get around that by being ‘spiritual’ – saying the right things, thinking the right thoughts, believing them without regard to what we believe.)
How wonderfully judgmental of me. I’m really not knocking those things – they don’t preclude the possibility of honesty. I’ve just found myself in all of those settings – buying into them, believing I genuinely felt what I felt, while all the while, some part of my soul was screaming. This is a role. It isn’t real. It’s happened in “relationships” … I’ve done it to others; and I’ve been pressed into the false roles others needed me to fill in their own dramas – no more real than mine. I remember it dealing with a particularly unpleasant hospice nurse when my father was dying – being pressed into the role of patient, and bullied by her sharing her own personal tragedy.
We are imitative by nature. It’s how we learn as babies. And we’re trained in it all our lives. How we finger paint, how we write, how we’re socialized, how we love, how we live, how we grieve, how we die. We’re always looking around ourselves – is this right? We even conform to the conventions of non-conformity. We’re all individuals … regular snowflakes, beautiful, delicate, unique. And we’re all the same, and we’re terrified of being any different – of going off the accepted, beaten paths of non-conformity. Everyone knows, different means wrong. Always. And we’re all living out personal myths. And like happens to Rilke’s Panther, only once in a very great while, does a light worm its way through the bars – usually only to die in our dead eyes. It is a simple question: why?
Honesty assumes reality, but living out roles isn’t reality. There’s the rub.
And by now I’ve grown repetitious and tired and slow at thinking.
I used to meditate. It quieted racing thoughts, allowed me to accept sadness as part of the way of things, and made me feel at one with the universe. I intuited it as a whole, heard its beating heart. Imagine my joy to discover that I … was … not. I recognized the feeling – the tripping feeling, the way things really are. I broadened empathy; I didn’t notice its fatal flaw.
I noticed something … most of what I called myself really was unreal. But there remained something small, naked, impotent – but real. It was quiet, and mostly hidden, and mostly supposed to be hidden and denied. This thing was distinct from everything else that was, is, or will be; it needed only courage. But the universe called that attachment and a childish, unspiritual fear of annihilation. The universe insisted I pay no attention to the little soul behind the curtain. Why would the universe want me to lie? What is, is, after all.
I don’t meditate now.