There’s a basic tenet of parental behavior to which many ascribe: Whatever you don’t like, don’t understand, or frightens you about your child, you’ll try to ignore it, or threaten it, or eliminate it under the guise of childhood protection.
If you had known me as a child you would never describe me as: bashful, shy, inhibited, reserved, demure, or innocent. Especially innocent! I blame my lack of innocence on a creative incarceration complete with shackles, pillory, and thumbscrews (metaphorically speaking) as the adult-authority’s recommended protocol for youngsters that emigrate to the shores of their imaginations. My crime? Being entertained by my imagination’s liberty to dream of things or experiences which landed far beyond the limits of our lower-middle-class capabilities, and of which I insisted were possible despite our depressed economic status. Not that I asked for things that we couldn’t afford. I asked for things which required creativity or compromise or cunning. I only asked for things which were possible but perplexing; things which, if I were taller or older or motorized I could procure. But I was a short, plump, uncoordinated child that wrestled with an unbridled imagination and raw creativity which everyone described as teetering between adaptation (the positive, yet painful struggle of change: unyielding animosity between divorced parents, recent move to the south side) and abdication (an attempt to cope by disengaging himself from his misery by displacing reality with imagination). I had just begun implementing a plan which might conquer both my hells (before/after move). Using creativity and imagination I might be able to map my way free of their self-centered, ego-inflamed romantic ideals and out from under the shitty and selfish mess the adults-in-charge created, then forced down my gullet like corn down the throat of the holiday goose.
So authority figures convened to develop a strategy designed to lower the volume of my imagination and increase interest in my new-world order. By discouraging escape and encouraging capitulation they hypothesized that I would slowly build a positive (and comfortable) reality without careening into fantasy, imagination, or creativity. In other words, we’ve tested him and he ain’t no Einstein, scored dead-center 50th percentile, and, thank God, kind, dull, unambitious, and docile: he’s simply avoiding change by daydreaming. So the adults broke their huddle and walked to the line of scrimmage; a defense full of adulthood, authority, corporal punishment, and varying degrees of coercion designed to obliterate the supply bridge between me and my creativity and imagination. But I was on the offensive and understood that in a matter of seconds my pulverization would commence; I mustered some resistance, usually a subtle mockery of mumbled affirmations.
Their boundless resources, their freshly recruited therapists (secretly screened in the convent) hammered my resistance and during a nighttime raid caused a debilitating breach, a nightmare, which cast doubt on imaginations allegiance. Creativity wasn’t strong enough to deflect their incessant whittling away at my corners, sanding down my resolve in order to spit me out at eighth grade graduation: a shining example of what to do with a square peg when the world offers only round holes. The nuns, lay-people, and counselors believed that by distracting my distractions, by motivating and redirecting and sympathetic yet tyrannical concern and instruction, they could successfully extinguish what, at the time, was thought to be simple imagination. And I would take my place among my fellow eighth grade graduates poised for the adventure of public middle-school, then high school, and finally be added to the third-shift at some manufacturing or assembly plant as one more blue-collar-assembly-line-lifer with low expectations and very little hope.
Tragically, these nuns and educators were in pursuit of an example, a trophy, proof that plucking me from a sea of personal trauma and forcing me to face the reality to which I was born.
How nearsighted they were to think they eliminated my problem. It was much worse than that. They confirmed, even back then, that it was real and I wasn’t just imagining things.
5 thoughts on “Do I Look Like A Pigeon?”
Darlin’ you never struck me as a pigeon. Big Bird possibly. Sorry I’m not giving your words on authority figures the gravitas it deserves, but just now I’m remembering the big hugs you would give me after we’d finished our coffee (I had tea) at “Dick’s” and you’d jot ideas for plays on napkins. Call me Tagg T. Tagg, or Araminta or perhaps Bunny.
The line about not being shy or bashful really struck a chord with me. Because in the past couple of years I had a startling realization that I’m not just a little shy, I have social anxiety disorder. And in order to interact socially I would amp up my energy and go into “performance” mode in order to be quick-witted and entertaining in hopes people would enjoy my schtick and want to include me in their lives as a friend. And Sweet Thang’ I can recall you doing somewhat the same thing on occasion.
Strangely I could have learned this lesson some 30 years ago from a mutual friend (we both wanted him – DB, the horse with the light brown mane, Dr. Dysart). He and I were sitting in the student center doing our usual repartee when he said words I think I can recall verbatim even today…”you know people can tell you aren’t really listening to them when they look in your eyes and see your mind is off somewhere else”. I was flummoxed. I had no idea that when my mind scrambled for something clever to say in reply that not only was it the wrong thing to do (and my primary coping mechanism in social situations), but that someone was on to me.
It took almost the full 30 years to come to understand those words and to understand what I was putting myself through. After my Dad died in 2008 I expected to feel depressed, but when I was still struggling with it over a year later I looked around for something to help me cope. I found a local meditation group that meets once a week. We do a 20 min silent meditation, read a bit from the current book we’re studying on meditation or mindfulness and then chat about what lessons we took from it. That is when DB’s words finally struck home.
I’m not saying meditation can replace medication (in fact I’m presently relying on both to help with a bout of sleeplessness over stress with my job and other life challenges). But meditating twice a day for 10-15 mins (am & pm) helps to quiet my mind and keeps me from too often wandering back to the past or trying to map out my future. And best of all for me, it’s made me realize I don’t have to perform or strive to be super witty to be liked. I can relax with just being who I am…sometimes my bouncing ball brain will come up with a beaut and it is spoken before I know it, but the rest of the time when I’m shy and boring…that’s just fine too.
Whoops this was to be a comment not a dissertation. I’ve been a slow in getting into the wired world, in part because I knew my addiction tendency could move from chocolate to surfing the web (and it has a bit but I’m so glad I found your blog). It’s been a challenge to my meditation sessions at home for sure. I’d enjoy a more traditional chat with you one day….just to hear your hearty laugh. I am going to be in Chicago one night later this month with friends – Thursday, 9/27 at the Holiday Inn Chicago-Mart Plaza. Perhaps we can meet up for face-to-face and I can get one of your fabulous hugs. But if that doesn’t work out…I trust we can catch up with each other someday.
Just so you know, I luv your big open heart as much as always and ever will.
Well, so much for the witness protection program!?! I’d love to find out how you found my blog. I could easily meet you on the 27th. It sounds like a whole lotta life has happened to both of us. Let me know your schedule. Thanks for reaching out to me.
Love the alias. My schedule is not entirely my own since I’ll be traveling with my sister-in-law and her best friend and it was their idea to go to a taping of the NPR/PBS show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” I think we’ll be downtown by roughly 4PM to check into our room, then we’ve got to grab dinner and make it to the hall. I have no idea how long it lasts. But we’ll likely be in Chicago for a while the next morning because it only takes a few hours to get to where we need to be late on Friday – Peoria. I’d give you my personal contact info, but not in a public forum. You might be able to guess my gmail account if I told you I use my first name initial, my middle name initial (Lynn) and my last name. Either that or you suggest a better way to contact you baybeeee!
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Tried to email your office, would it be possible to call your office on Sunday? Then we can see if our schedules will match, and maybe you’d let me meet Jenni, she has such a sweet face. And I apologize if I revealed too much in my previous post that you felt your TMM was haunted by the long ago past.
I recently sent a link to your blog to another friend who I trust will enjoy your prose and your perspective. You do have an excellent way of turning a phrase but what is it about composing a reply to a professional writer that has me apprehensive of hitting post and turning this loose on you…. run on sentences, gross grammar and specious spelling not withstanding…here goes…
I invite blog visitors to contact me at: email@example.com where I’d be happy move our discussion forward. Thanks!
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