The longer I live the more I mistrust
theatricality, the false glamor cast
by performance, the more I know its poverty beside
the truths we are salvaging from
the splitting-open of our lives."
Adrienne Rich said that, not I, but I say that too, and more.
...trying to sightread
what our fingers can't keep up with, learn by heart
what we can't even read. And yet
it is this we were born to.
We are born to this, yes. We are born to ourselves, this uniqueness that defies expectation, that bursts out of a family fully-formed, who knows itself at four-almost-five. We are born to become invested with what our families gave us -- brains, love, our hair-color and eyes, birth order, poor or overcome with money, sidewalks or elegant drives or dirt, too much or not enough responsibility -- but also the human every-ness of us. We are born to yearn for one another. To seek friends, friendships, great and terrible loves.
When I was a child, I thought as a child but also I thought as I do now and it is stunning to look at my son, brown eyes, hair fine and rock-star wild like mine, jumping off everything without fear and adding numbers, four-almost-five. Monroe. Utterly unlike anyone and all of me.
And I look at him as I read out loud what I wrote at 16, this: "I remember the day now; it was late in the summer, and I was nearing first grade. [Surely! I meant kindergarten!] I pictured the years looming ahead of me. I only wished to be able to play happily, morning, noon and night, for the rest of my life. To be four forever would be true ecstasy... I would go to school in the fall, I would grow up, I would never be able to play completely obligation-free, for the rest of my life."
Did I know then (at 16 or at four-almost-five) what life would be like, now, that I would have all that but something more, a deep and abiding love for all that I carry responsibility for? Did I know then that I would have those same dreams I had then, lost homework, missed deadlines, tests overslept-for? No. I got to my tests on time, or near enough, all the way through business school; I did so well I skipped on the way home from finding out my grades (except when I did not, but that was for a great and terrible love, and does not count. I forgive myself).
I have lived through this. But more I have lived up to this; I have embraced this, I have done all the things I said I would in my never-given Valedictorian speech. Have I? (This is a valid question I must ask myself every time I read those stirring -- but unstirred -- closing lines.) Yes! I have risked things and I have looked into each day's responsibility and made peace with it, found my very home in it. Oh surely: this is not what I would have expected, at four, at six, at 15, at all the ages up to almost now. This is in some ways far below but in all the important ways far beyond my wildest dreams.
In the end I have not found my truth in the performance; like Rich, I found my truth in my truth, in the raw, the revealing, the splitting-open. Peel back my skin, rip out my throat -- I have said this, I mean it. See inside. This is where artifice withers. This is where the pulse beats and I love the rhythm more than I love the look of it, of me, of anything. Let go! The false glamor, any glamor. You will see the paint peeling along with my skin; you will see the dirt in my callouses, the growl of my imperfect angry striving self. I spill out. I spit up. I shout.
I no longer look to -- as I wrote in my journal then -- the approving words of the "harsh but fair" journalism teacher (whose fairness I long ago discarded as fiction). I look to other things. I look to you. And you, you have said enough.