…But again, there’s no sexy way to say, “I had narcissistic parents who fucked me up and I’ve just figured it all out so now I can have a healthy relationship” while also trying not to spill your martini (with a twist, preferably of orange instead of lemon, but definitely not an olive). This is the part of the letter, Marc, when I really wish you were actually writing me back. Sigh…
My pastor told me today that what he appreciates about me is that I’m honest. By which I think he means that I’m not afraid to speak my mind. When I was a kid and into my early adolescence, if I needed something from my Mom, I would write her a note, leave it on the fridge, and then endeavor to be fast asleep in bed before she came home. She terrified me on a good day, much less if there was any chance of a conflict (that is her saying no and dismissing whatever it was I wanted to do). The extent of my understanding of her then was that if she said “maybe” to a request that usually meant yes.
I suppose I was fairly vocal outside of the home—in the drama club, with my friends. But I heard so often at home that I was a follower (a title I earned I think because I often zoned out to escape the intense emotions I felt at home) that it never occurred to me that I was a leader, and that I was, in fact, demonstrating that every day by being the one to speak up about what I thought whatever community I was in should do in whatever situation.
As I’ve become more comfortable with myself, speaking my mind has become second nature. My struggle recently has been to stop saying, “But I don’t really care what happens” after spending 10 minutes talking about how exactly I think a situation should play out. (My very smart boss has taking to pointing out, “But obviously you do care.”) I’ve learned to speak out loud but I’m still working on the part where I know what I’m saying has value. Whether or not I influence the final decision, my voice matters.
There is a train of thought in poetry that all poetry is political and it’s taken me a long while to truly understand what that means. All poetry is political because claiming the right to have a voice is a political act. It’s political whether we’re talking about politics with a capital P in terms of state craft and such, or if we’re talking about the politics of being part of a community—at home, at work, in church, in a relationship. Having a voice is the first step toward action. And that’s what’s so dangerous about having parents who are not invested in helping a child find his/her voice. That kid—by which I mean me—grows up spending a great deal of time reacting and struggling to act. That kid also grows up not understanding that being the voice with the wrong answer is not the end of the world. It doesn’t negate her right to be heard. And she doesn’t have to stand on an absolute bed of certainty—by which I mean piles of research and what have you—to risk speaking and thinking out loud. Not being right is simply an opportunity to learn; it’s not a reason to abdicate one’s voice.
One last thing I’ll say is that I’m a fairly intuitive thinker. I’m not a facts and figures person in the sense that I retain individual facts and figures to support my positions. I tend to take them in, swish them around in my brain for a while, retain their essence, and then let them go on their merry way. So I have an informed opinion, I just can’t always easily tell you what brought me to form that certain opinion. I just know in my gut that I’ve taken in enough information to give a valid opinion. But as I wrote earlier, one of the outcomes of growing up with parents like mine—like ours—is we can feel like we’re always on shifting sand, which makes it difficult if you’re an intuitive thinker to own your voice. You’ve never been taught to have that internal validation and without facts to back you up, offering an opinion on anything always feels like jumping off a cliff and forgetting the damned parachute every single time.
Which is why it’s so important to have a community, no matter what an introverted misanthrope you prefer to be. (I mean myself, of course. But feel free to join my club if you’d like.) We need others to affirm our voices, our right to speak out loud for a good long while before we can finally begin to do that for ourselves. And even then, I for one, still need a refresher course more than every once in a while.
To be continued…
And also the truth can stare you in the face for four decades and it doesn’t matter. It’s not about whether or not the truth is easily apprehended—they were at fault not me—it’s about when you figure out how to stop listening to all the stories you’ve learned to tell yourself to explain the monster.
But when you’re a storyteller—as it’s plain you are—it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the stories you tell because they’re true and the stories you tell because you need them to be true. Is that something one ever learns to do with 100 percent accuracy? Even now as I write this confessional porn—Look at me and my beautiful wounds! Don’t I look great from the vantage point of my internal suffering?—I wonder what is honest, what is embellished. But that’s the legacy of growing up with parents like ours, isn’t it? It’s hard to be secure in what we feel, to know if our joy or our grief or our anger or our bewilderment is a true thing. We’ve been forced to be our own parents and, really, what kind of parent is a kid in single digits going to make? What kid doesn’t err on the side of make-believe?
I’ve been lately thinking about that lack of security—emotional, psychological—in terms of my arts career. I used to feel bad about the fact that I’ve—for the most part—as an adult always had a full-time job. Poetry, theater work, whatever else I wanted to do as an art practice has always been practiced in the cracks of the 9-5 day. I’ve thought for years, decades, that having a good-paying full-time job meant that somehow I lacked courage and drive to be an artist. But I’ve come to realize that when you’re a kid who grows up always trying to catch your balance on shifting sands, you crave something stable.
My natural state is chaos but I realize it’s all grounded in habit and ritual so I can keep some sort of balance. Even when I had a seven-month fellowship on the tip of Cape Cod during which I didn’t have to work a traditional job, I found rituals—walking up and down Commercial Street, singing with the church choir, making apple crisp. My somewhat traditional life hasn’t kept me from being a great artist, but instead I realize now it’s kept me alive long enough so I can keep working toward being a great artist. No, not a great artist, but an artist who reaches people whether it’s on a grand scale or not. It’s kept me alive so I can write about this shit and hopefully save someone else from wandering around in the desert as long as I have. I think that’s what you do, too, Marc.
Yes, I think it’s time I started calling you Marc…
To be continued…