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hedge maze mind

June 13, 2017

So lonely today. Feeling sorry for myself. Feeling ridiculous. Feeling human. Another little comeuppance I wasn’t quite ready for, so I have to cry my way through it to get to the place where I learn to surrender, and from there to the point where I’m able, however feebly, to change myself so that I don’t make this same old mistake yet again, if I can help it.

What happens to me from time to time: I’m talking with my husband, or more likely lately with another, equally male friend with whom I ‘skype’ for three hours every other night. And often these conversations start out great, and I’m a good listener, and I’m asking questions and sympathizing and paying attention even to bugbear sorrows I’ve heard about a thousand times before. And this can last maybe an hour, and I play my part just fine.

But then—what happens? I slip up. I get seduced, by some little detail of his, into disclosing a detail of my own. Or even worse in my friend’s case, I find myself compelled to make a joke or two, to lighten the tone, to note life’s absurdity. And either way, I end up derailing the conversation by leading it in what must seem random, stupid directions. I become suddenly “myself,” of all things. One thought reminds me of another and I can’t restrain my delight in the cornucopia of worlds that any image, any word may lead to. And to my infinite chagrin at such times, I can’t seem to censor myself, so that I begin to talk in almost exactly the same way I think, which is the way of a honeybee flitting from flower to flower to flower. And eventually my conversation-mate, as you might expect, not only can’t follow me, but finds my stream-of-consciousness rambling to be flippant, confusing, and that worst of worst things, boring.

Last night he called me out—my friend, not my husband, who by now has his own, more subtle ways of dealing with my mishegas.  (Henry listens for a while, then pretends to listen, then remarks that he’d ‘better get the show on the road,’ then leaves the room.) My friend tries so very hard to quell his own longtime habit of keeping his frustrations (with me or anyone) more or less completely to himself until, BOOM, he finally just explodes in rage. And I know this fact viscerally well, and it’s probably a major reason I chose him as my friend—not just because such manly explosions are so familiar to me (thanks, Dad! :)), but because the only way I know to conquer a useless habit (in this case my habit of fear) is to face it as often as possible, the way an agoraphobe has to force herself to leave her house every day. I have always tiptoed around such ticking-bomb men, tried to prevent such explosions, while at the same time I’ve tried to wean myself from feeling scared by them. Being afraid of angry men is a useless habit, so I’ve been learning (the hard way, as usual) to confront it, to enter the lion’s den anyway, armed with the by-now obvious fact that the lion is loud but toothless.

Nonetheless, I remain ripe for comeuppances like the one last night, when my friend reminded me, at length, of just how useless it is to be my purest self—which is also my most annoyingly self-involved self, if he and my husband are to be believed, as I think they might be. (It’s kind of interesting to note that I can’t remember ever being confronted by a woman with such exasperated vitriol, but maybe it’s just that my women friends were as forced as I was to learn patience at an early age.)

My friend is right about me—but maybe what he doesn’t quite know is that when it comes to self-involved blather, I’m just an an all-too-obvious exemplar of a rampant human vice: the longing to be understood. The longing to be heard even when speaking my own esoteric language. I was trying last night to connect with my friend on my own terms, as dully labyrinthine as they are. But the end result was disconnection, and pain on both sides.

You can’t imagine how hard it was last night to keep from saying, “Yeah, but you’re annoying too sometimes.” Or to trot out my timeworn Charles Lamb quote: “’Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and to have her nonsense respected.” But those sorts of responses, experience works overtime to teach me, are counterproductive. They rise merely from pride, from ego, from a stupid need to be “right” all the time. So I let him go on, didn’t argue, let the pain in, cried quietly (a skill I mastered years ago), then told him I was sorry to have been so rude. I even came up with a pretty obvious solution—that I won’t smoke pot with him anymore as we talk, because pot unfailingly plunges me into what my friend calls my “psychedelic” mind, which is, I can’t help but realize, a bountifully creative world where I must live alone.

I don’t mean to be passive-aggressive here. That’s the temptation—to damn my friend’s consciousness by pretending to damn my own. But that’s not what I’m doing–honest. My friend’s consciousness is just fine as it is, and, at bottom, it’s none of my business. I can only work on me: I need to be more graceful. I need to quell my clumsy longing to celebrate my manifold mind out loud. It’s a common little longing, of course—everyone yearns to be known. But it doesn’t work. Ever. I revisited, last night, a loneliness I’ve known all my life. It’s probably the loneliness everybody feels deep down—this nagging awareness not only that no one will ever know me, but that if somehow they did, they’d find me as tedious and incoherent as I assume, deep down, they know themselves to be. We all long for a witness, don’t we? A soulmate, maybe. Sometimes we think we’ve found one, but even a marriage of true minds must admit impediments. I feel myself lucky to be tolerated as patiently as I am by the people forced to know me even as well as they do.

And through all these egoistic ups and downs, I take my best comfort in the knowledge that I love my own company. I’m at my best in one of two modes: compassion for others, or contentment in my own solitude. If there’s a third way life can work, I don’t yet have the grace to find it. I’m as much the petty blowhard as everybody else seems to be. Foolishly I crave to be loved for my weaknesses instead of despite them. I long to be known. Oh, what the hell–I long to be delighted in.

But that never really happens to me in real life. (I wonder if it ever happens to anybody.) And this truth, in short, is what made me a writer. Because even just by typing these words, right now–these bluntly private, boldly anonymous, and only halfway readable explorations into what might really be going on with me–I find myself feeling quite a bit better.

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