I hang out with a group of women in their forties and fifties. A few of us in their sixties, and a few in their twenties. What do we have in common? You could mention loss, heartache, trauma, success, strength, chutzpah, charm, beauty, brains. You could say we are women who are awake. What holds us together is our willingness to see one another. To take the time, and to screw up the courage, to look one another in the eyes and see what’s there. And to drop the masks, for a little while, to let go of the strictures and be as we are.
Okay, not everyone can or will do this. There are probably only a few of us doing it. And even we are only trying to drop the masks, the space-suits that we wear around ourselves and call our personas, our identities. Isn’t it because we know that these identities are not who or what we really are that we spend so much time playing? trying on different roles, parading, posing, acting, exaggerating, being the fool? Isn’t this play-acting the origin of religion, of drama, of literature, of philosophy? Or is it the other way around?
Last night I arrived in a low-cut dress and it seemed that everyone was ooing and ahing and making a big deal out of my breasts. Okay so I like my breasts. Lucky that way. But then my friends, whom I adore, and who delight me, got to talking about women they knew who had had implants. The gauntlet had been thrown. What else could I do but say that mine were “real and they’re spectacular.” Ybethy got it instantly. She’s quick.
But I got more revenge. In a lucid campaign to prove that everyone’s breasts were beautiful, I started taking pictures. At first I didn’t tell them that I was doing this. I just aimed low. But after a while it struck me that the photos would be better if I could prepare the subjects of these photos in advance. So I asked the girls to pull or push or stick up their “girls.” At one point I even reached in and tugged them up…all in the name of art, of course.
I think that was the moment at which someone said, “You’re a lesbian, aren’t you?” I nodded, even though that term was not quite right. I’m not averse to being lesbian, I just don’t think this word, big or little l, is the right term. And no I’m not thinking tribade or some other alt. label. There isn’t an acceptable term for what I am, or for what most people are, because our sexuality is not only what we can conceive of ourselves to be. It is yet also something more, something in between the categories but really not exactly OF the categories. Something in excess of them, if also them.
So I said I was “somewhere on the continuum.”
“Bixexual,” she said.
No. Still not quite it.
“Something like that,” I said. “I’ve always been this way. I was born this way.”
And I wanted to tell the whole story. But I caught myself before spilling out the whole drama, which she wouldn’t have heard. I stopped.
How often do you meet someone who hears you? Who listens and focuses on you long enough to grasp what it is that you are going through or trying to say? And isn’t it a shock when you actually meet someone who stops and listens to what you have to say. Who makes an effort to understand you, even if it is hard to do, and who tells you, silently, “you matter.”
If you find a person who listens to you, who really takes the time to pause and pay attention to what you are saying, who makes you feel as though you matter in the world, treasure that person as a gift from the heavens. He or she is not a gift from the heavens, of course, but rather simply another human being in one place at one time. Mortal. Fragile. Fallible. But infinitely valuable, and good.
And if you know someone who is mortal, fragile, and fallible, but infinitely valuable and good, then by all means tell them how much you appreciate them by listening to them. Don’t interrupt, don’t judge, don’t advise. Don’t tell stories about yourself that their experience brings to mind. Don’t blurt out the first thing that comes to your mouth, but hold it, and pause, and say to yourself, “O, I am thinking x and wanting to say it.” And then go back to listening to the person you are listening to.
You must go at it with your whole heart, with a genuine yearning to understand, to hear, to learn about the other person. You must be patient with your impatience, and resist the urge to speak. You must let go of your needs for the time being, and become present, awake, and attentive, to the person you love. Because you love them. You need to hear them.
You want to hear them. But you haven’t yet had the patience to hear them, not really. They have even complained, “you don’t listen to me! You never listen to me!” Stinging words. But it is okay.
We are so guarded, so continually on the watch for attack that we take on the nervousness as a mode of being and lose the ability to pause and listen curiously and patiently. Nervousness is just a habit. If we can never completely unlearn it we can at least try to become aware of it as an habitual, emotional response to a thought, or an habitual, cognitive response to an emotion. It’s healthy to be skeptical about our thought patterns when we are under a great deal of stress.
But we also need to play. We need to get up and dance in a bar with our girlfriends, who miraculously can belt out all the words to all the songs on the jukebox. We need to laugh. It takes so much energy to pretend to be the people who we are not actually that we need to go on vacation a lot. That is to say, our brains need to take breaks. It’s so taxing to be continually processing and analyzing and enduring the incredible tedium with which we preserve our adopted personas. We should cut ourselves some slack, but we should also cut ourselves loose.
I think I just figured out what is really meant by the expression, “cutting loose.” It means cutting your marionette strings and being willing to flail about for a while, mimicking and soberly attempting to digest the various paradigms for understanding reality, but finally deciding to take another path, to a better destination.