In which I wrestle with the too large feelings of my returning 19 year old soul part. A crisis of identity ensues as I follow the trail of self revelations into the jungles of, what a writing colleague once called, Dangerous Writing, i.e. stuff you had no intention of revealing.
I first realized that my emotional terrain had undergone a makeover during our family TV night watching a documentary segment about the bombing of Hiroshima. Granted it did have Oliver Stone's liberal, muckraking spin on it, but none of this information was new to me. I had long come to the conclusion that Hiroshima should never have happened, but I had never felt this way about American imperialism before; had never taken it so personally. And now I just wanted to double over and cry. I felt my sensibilities shifting in alarmingly unstable ways. Where was this going? My normally dispassionate writer's voice was at risk.
Writing was how I discovered the truth of the world. But what truth would I find if I was awash in emotion? Being dispassionate, when describing whatever environmental or political catastrophe was at hand was the way I kept us all calm in the hopes of nurturing solutions. Being cool was also the mark of my Buddhist upbringing. It was in the Thai language teaching me to keep a "cool heart". Not to mention the self-deprecating wit that was required by my British heritage and my own casual affect to ensure nobody knew for certain what I really cared about.
In the States, the whole problem, as I saw it, was too much emotion, too much passionate, reactive, knee jerk energy going off half cocked. Being cool, I believed, was how we would get through whatever befell us. It was why meditation had become such a sought after skill for Americans.
Now, not only was my coolness breaking up, my writing goals were being left by the wayside; nutrition books from the library piling up. My returning 19 year old soul part had memories to impart that I had long ago put into deep storage. I had been on a winning streak, distilling scads of information people had actually found useful and now I just wanted to run through the personal jungle of autobiography. What good would that be to my readers?
In this dark night of the soul, late on a Saturday night, I posted my sentiments of doubt to my Facebook page. Immediately I had the support of a colleague and three others I didn't know were reading my work also hit the "like" button. I posed some questions. Old friends came on board to help discuss my dilemma. One, my first lover (such a gift to have this witness from my adolescence), assured me that my autobiographical writing and shamanic pieces were the richest and most interesting work I produced, for she cared not for my posts on composting toilets.
Taking Risks With Mere Humans
My 19 year old cared about one thing only—the love of women followed by kissing them. She had had an early start, having come out to herself at fourteen, long before most others realized it was a possibility. One might ask why so precocious. In part it was coming from a heritage that saw these choices not as choices, but as fate, karma from another life likely as a man.
Also a factor was finding a sympathetic heart, the aforementioned first lover. We spent four years of high school mutually shepherding each other through our many crushes and obsessions, modeling ourselves after the life of George Sand per a PBS biopic, for there were no contemporary models at the time, just these literary figures flanked on one side by Oscar Wilde and on the other by Virginia Wolf.
And in the shelter of our private girls' school, we were protected from the challenges and energy of the presence of boys. They were of so little importance in this school that aimed to make leaders of women. We could clearly see from the little contact we had with them (through the corresponding boys' school), that girls were by far, superior in intelligence.
And lastly, we were also both writers and fearless in our search for interesting material. She embodied the other gender via fiction and I stuck largely to the searing truth of autobiography. Thus left to create a world through literary works we were not really of our time. It being the '70s this was probably just as well. Only the flickers of an emerging gay liberation movement seeped into our consciousness and bolstered our exploration of a limited physicality marked by kisses. Adolescence was very intense; we could make love to air.
By the time this 19 year old arrived at College V, she had already loved or been in love with at least five different girls and kissed one. By the time she left, she had interested and kissed at least five more women, every one of them straight. At least at the time.
If you think about it, the skill set required to do this was quite remarkable. To intrigue, interest and offer one's peers the opportunity to try something they had never tried before, which was also taboo. And to do it without trampling on anybody's sensibilities. This was a skill filled with the nuances of listening for the slightest hint of interest. And in turn a nuanced use of language reflecting back that interest. A perspective offered of complete appreciation, not as one to be possessed, but as one to be adored and honored. Kissed in the most languid way; bristle free softness as our cheeks brushed together. The only out-lesbian at a party, I was the alternative, the path less chosen.
The College V women were intrigued by me; and seeing my 19 year old self, in my journey visions, I could see why. Butch, but fine boned. Tight jeans and long hair, not the flannel shirts and overalls favored by the lesbians of the day. An exotic biracial beauty that was, as yet, unclaimed by mainstream media so perhaps also forbidden. An English accent recently polished after a holiday in England.
Road Trip: Take Two
On my road trip down I-5, while puzzling over the motivations of my 10 year old soul part, I had also allowed my 19 year old to run with her feelings uncensored; the spacious landscape effortlessly holding it all. I had no intention of describing any of it, but in the meeting following in which my returning 10 year old had been summoned before my three power animals, Leopard had asked her:
"Was there anyone else involved my darling?"
"Yes the 19 year old. And she's in love with Lenore!" Arrggh. Busted. Yes it was true. I was a goner. Swept away by this crush.
Lenore was in good company. The last woman I was smitten with was Naomi Klein, author of Shock Doctrine
and No Logo
. I read all her books, saw her speak twice in one week, recapped both her talks and posted the reports to flickr with pictures I had taken of her at Stanford
. As a reward for my devotion she fully prepared me for the disappointment of an Obama presidency.
There was also Christiane Amanpour, the CNN international correspondent. I mean how could one not? That indefinable accent. The safari outfits. The staccato sense of urgency.
The year before it had been Marlee Matlin who spent a season playing not only a lesbian, but an artist, on The L Word. I wrote her fan letters every other week, took a semester of sign language and learned enough to recap the entire season of The L Word in sign language and send her a videotape of it. She sent me an autographed picture unsolicited which I accepted as one would a certificate of achievement.
But this crush on Lenore was not so neatly dispensed with. It was real in a way I hadn't experienced in nearly 30 years. The pure overwhelm of a 19 year old totally out of her depth.
"I'm so embarrassed," said the 10 year old who had a keen sense of social disaster.
"Now, my lovely," said Leopard soothingly, "we could hardly expect otherwise of a 19 year old for whom the love of women was the only thing she really believed in."
"That's true," the 10 year old observed, "and she wouldn't have come back if it weren't for Lenore." There had been tears Lenore had said about fetching this soul part and she had held her, comforted her. Yes it was probably an occupational hazard of soul retrievers, I thought, to have clients fall in love with you. So intimate was the psychic territory. So much emotion allowed once a soul part was returned. Physical contact offered. An entire conversation undertaken in the nuances of our hands sandwiched together. And as she held my gaze I could make love to the air between us; I didn't have to climb into her lap and kiss her though I did want to. The memory of it was enough to fill I-5 to the horizons.
"But we will provide some guidelines," said Leopard putting a gentle stop to this indulgence.
At this point the 19 year old appeared at the edge of the jungle behind the 10 year old. She said nothing in her defense. She just stood there cooly. I looked at the tilt of her head, her expression of self assurance and I could see that she didn't care one wit what she was dragging me through. And another thing I could see; she had no patience for stigma, for the political context of homophobia with which I had been taught to frame my sexuality. Times had changed I realized. We had to stop ghettoizing our love stories.
I was well acquainted with the pitfalls of crushes on teachers. A gilded cage feeding the ego for the adored; indentured servitude for me, with all the highs and lows of a psychotropic drug. All of it going on way too long. Neither of us able to be ourselves in the other's presence. There was only one safe way out and that was to burn through it—embrace the salt sting of rejection over and over again until we both were freed.
Caretaker Road Ends
"I'm going to have to write about having a crush on my shamanic counselor," I said to Catherine who was equally familiar with the passage of the crush (a dance teacher comes to mind). "You know, like I had on Naomi Klein and Marlee Matlin." Her expression flickered from potential concern, rapidly coming to rest at good humored understanding.
"You mean being with a Cyborg isn't going to do it for you," she said.
"Well, I was thinking of drawing some designs on your scar," I said entertaining the idea of art as transformative healing.
"You could draw on my head. Just start with this," she said pointing to the colored blot of concern at the crown of her head. I immediately saw the design potential of this offer.
Whew. It would be okay. I did not want secrets. Secrets, I knew, created undercurrents of destructive energy. And nothing blocks inspiration faster than secrets. I had kept such a secret once in another relationship; couldn't write a thing for a year; couldn't even tell a joke.
My role as caretaker was coming to an end. Catherine was officially released from further treatment and was to have her port removed. The port was the plastic device that had been surgically inserted under her skin, by her shoulder, for the administering of the chemo drugs. I drove her to the appointment at the Women's cancer center one last time.
On the way home she thanked me for all that I had done to take care of her. I was glad I was able to do it, glad to have the skills that made everything go as well as possible and that I had done it all with a devotion and kindness befitting the circumstances. I could be proud of that.
And because I wasn't the sort who engaged in the tragedy of the disease as others were apt to do, that helped too. It made it that much easier for Catherine to discuss her concerns with me about each new challenge. This too she appreciated.
All I had really had to do was walk the dogs every morning, feed us all, fetch things and make sure Catherine was okay. Rinse and repeat, all summer then all the rest of the year plus a month. It was a long haul and much of it I'd done in hyper vigilance mode, but there was no where else I wanted to be with so much happening. It gave my life purpose.
"I'll have to find a new purpose for my life," I joked.
And now it was nearly over, just in time for me to take this strange, unplanned journey into the interior of my psyche, a project that was beginning to occupy all my waking hours like a book waiting to be written.
No Idea Where This Is Going
I had wondered what to do about the history of College V. I could burn every picture from that time, I thought, but that would likely just keep the experience frozen in time. And I would forever wonder what happened to those people. Three had already found me on Facebook though they never mentioned our shared past.
I had already uploaded pictures of each of them, to prepare for the returning memories of my 19 year old self. I wasn't sure how these friends remembered those times. The pictures were good black and white prints shot in natural lighting with my father's old Leica. The photographs showed what I saw, their unique beauty and vulnerability. What wasn't to like? They were thrilled. How young we were. How fresh faced and edgy. Smoking even. We were "just kids" to quote Patti Smith's memoir, but we already had character.
When I uploaded 9 more pictures from my portfolio to Facebook, it attracted quite a reunion evoking even more memories for my returning 19 year old, but now I had a voice with which to defend myself and to deconstruct my experience. I had opportunity to say things that needed to be said. I gave out random comments of appreciation. "Dear P___, thank-you for sharing all those babes with me."
In the weeks of living through more feelings than would fit in the space normally allotted to feelings, I felt like I was going to lose it. Everything evoked about 5 times more feelings than I had ever had before. In the midst of these gripping feelings of desire and over blown emotions at the problems of the world, I came to entertain the notion of sending my 19 year old back to the void. I mean what good was she? I'd actually been happier before. I felt calmer for half a day or so, then regretted even thinking such a thought. She might even have gone already. I had to check.
In a new journey with my counsel of power animals on that same rock, Leopard summoned the 19 year old with her mind. When she came out of the jungle she looked like she had been in a knife fight. Clothes disheveled, scrapes, her cheek cut and bleeding. Did I do that? Leopard jumped off the rock, went to her, rubbed her head against her body and licked the wound clean.
Yes, the 19 year old said, the memories shared by College V friends had been a little intense, but she had appreciated being defended and had delighted in the comment about the babes. (Women made available by riding on the coattails of a man. Pleasure shared in the relative innocence of the '70s; before sex and death took over.)
I wanted to hear more about where she was going with this, but she wanted to admire Leopard's spots. Leopard obliged her by stretching out full length on the ground. She put her arms around Leopard's neck and buried herself in the lose fur and sobbed. That was for the unobtainable Lenore. Then she recovered and with her hand traced the outline of the spots on Leopard's belly. She was so languid and sensuous, so unhurried, I was required to take in this leisureliness. She looked at me, let me know I'd be sorry if I sent her away for she had a sensibility I couldn't even touch. She took risks, this one, and she didn't even care what the outcome might be.
Leopard beckoned to me to come closer. I stood up on the rock and the 19 year old came to me; I was just tall enough to be eye to eye with her. I stroked her cheek where the cut had been. My hand came away as if through water and I felt a sense of oneness and clarity.
Back in ordinary reality, I caught up with my 19 year-old self as she was calculating how much time it would take to become a shamanic practitioner. Which, I realized, would require a whole different marketing approach. "But I'm a really good organizer," I said, "why rob the world of such talent?" People were always going to need help throwing out stuff, along with processing all the emotional baggage stuff came with. This took an enormous amount of persuasive talent.
As if in answer to my query, I got an e-mail from a new organizer, a young, single mom. "I am a total admirer of your work" she said. She told me she was eager to help me promote the conference I was bringing to fruition. "Just tell me how high to jump." Ha. I so saw myself. I asked my new acolyte what body of work she was talking about. "All of it," she said, "you have such a unique style and manner. I love it. You immediately put me at ease. I'm sure your clients feel the same way."
Huh, I thought, putting people at ease was a good quality to have in my work. This revelation snapped me back to my senses, reducing my crush to a kind of dog like devotion that I could live with.
In the ensuing days as I grew more comfortable in my skin and as I spent time among friends I trusted, I realized that my ability to express myself had become much more efficient. I simply connected so much better with my feelings. I no longer had to strategize the impact of what I might say. I felt I was taking much more risks, but that part of me didn't care. I was a better fighter than I'd ever been, with the twin forces of 10 year-old fierceness and this new frankness. I could also speak from the heart in a way that I did not have to second guess. It was as if I'd just discovered the concept. Speaking from the heart was exactly the quality I would want a leader to have. There was no going back now.
Labels: autobiography, leadership, Shamanic, Shamanism, soul retrieval