Saturday, February 25, 2012

Just In Time...

[Ooooh -- it's going to be close this time.  I have exactly 54 minutes in which to compose and publish my daily post.  Oooooh...]

There used to be a weekly TV show called 'Queen for a Day', back when all television broadcasts were in black and white, and owning more than one TV set would have been unthinkable.  The premise for 'Queen for a Day' was simple, if brutal: we the viewers at home, and a studio audience, would be introduced to five women, one by one.  Plain women, badly dressed, without any benefit of makeup or stylists.  And each of these women, in turn, would tell her heart-rending tale of misfortune: poverty, illness, unemployment, eviction, whatever.  One tale after another.  With commercial breaks, possibly for evaporated milk or something.  And when all the stories had been unfolded, the suave emcee, Bob Bailey, would turn to the live studio audience, and ask them, by their applause, to signal which of these sad women would be...

And as the clapping swelled and built, of spattered and dwindled, we would see a close-up of each face -- in black and white, remember, and not flattered by pancake and mascara -- as the Applause-o-Meter registered just how poignant and moving this particular story was.  Some women could tell, right away, that their hope for a new washing machine had just gone down the drain.  Some women looked dazed, perhaps at the realization that they had just exposed their personal lives to countless strangers, perhaps only in reaction to the spotlights.  But in the end, only one of these women would emerge as the beneficiary of the audience's sympathy.  And then Bob would tell us what this lucky Queen was going to take home with her.  A new iron!  A set of pots and pans!  (Expectations in the world of black and white were much lower than at present)  I think the losers got a board game.

This is on my mind, because of the nature of much of what I write.  My greatest desire -- aside from living to a hale and healthy 700 years old, without looking a day older than I do now -- is to be amusing.  I love it when people laugh at something I've said.  It's better than sunshine to me.

But much of my life, as you know, has been less than idyllic, and I have conflicts about what I reveal, and how I reveal it.   I don't, for instance, want to come across as a latter-day contestant on that dreary Woe-a-Thon, where the goal was to have had a more miserable life than anyone else.  A friend calls this 'orphan status' -- and given how many handicapped cards I see hanging from rear-view mirrors, I suspect that there are many who do find value in being badly off, or unhealthy.  I know too many people who introduce themselves with their ailments before they've told me their names.

I also feel a twinge of guilt, at doing that 'washing laundry in public' -- such a no-no.  The question of whether this laundry is going to be washed at all never seems to come up.  And there's shame mixed in there too -- if I had been a better... whatever... these things wouldn't have happened to me.  I could have had a normal life, and we would be talking about something else entirely.  Like, for instance, the orchids that bloom underground.  Did you know that?

But here, I fall back on the basic precepts of Buddhism, and on my literary lodestone, Viktor Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning'.  We all suffer.  I believe that every life has its measure of disappointment and damage -- to greater or lesser degrees, apparently, but still within the legitimate bounds of suffering.  That, of course, is the Buddha part.  (I'm pretty sure he never said he was divine, by the way, which I find interesting)  The Frankl part is the observation that each of us has an innate capacity for suffering -- sort of like perfect pitch, except for things that are sad or painful.  He also observed that suffering itself might be thought of as having something like a gaseous nature -- that, like oxygen in a room, suffering will expand to fill the space that is available to it.  Which explains why two people can experience the same event, and one can walk away relatively unscathed, while the other is left in tatters. 

Well, all of this may seem pitifully self-evident, but here's how I think it ties in with what I seem to be unfolding for you to read here.  I have had this one particular -- and rather peculiar -- life.  In uncovering the cruelties, both deliberate and inadvertent, with which I've wrestled, I'm not really trying to score higher than anyone else on the Applause-o-Meter.  (Although we really could use a new dishwasher)  These are the real things that happened, and for decades, I've tried to obscure these events, certainly in terms of the general public, but also in terms of my own self-awareness.  Which is one reason I have so many dreams from which I wake up, holding my breath, because in that dream, I've been crying harder than I ever thought possible.

So, in a way, I'm trying to save what's left of my life, by looking frankly at the underpinnings of who I am, and how I've become this person.  But there's also the hope, sometimes buoyed by kind comments from those who take the time to read what I write, that even the awful experiences I've had might be of some value to someone else.  The way, I suppose, that Viktor Frankl's unsparing, unsentimentalized account of his experiences -- far, far worse, of course, than anything I endured -- has given me a kind of retrospective strength, and a kind of encouragement to continue, patiently unpacking the huge sack of bad memories I've dragged behind me for most of my life -- hoping no one would notice it, but unable to abandon, because unpleasant and unfortunate as so much of my childhood was, it is still my own history, and is woven into my identity.

Let me at least be a bad example for you.  Okay?        


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