Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Such a long learning curve

This boat, this rusting vessel that is my life, was not delivered to me with instructions. I know what folly can result. I've seen ships run aground when there was no one to decipher the numbers. Charted depths are meaningless if they are not marked in a language or alphabet you recognize.

Through time, my politics lean further and further to the left while the usefulness of my brain skews ever more stubbornly to the right. The hemispheres still communicate but regardless of how earnestly part of me longs for order, if it ever happens it will not be the product of logic.

Last night I was reading portions of Lynda Barry's 100 Demons, a collection of some comics (as close a description as I can find) in which she presents some of her demons, based on an ancient Japanese text that offers instruction, and purpose, for creating brush paintings of an individual's demons, one hundred of them. Hers were identified as, among other things, Head Lice, Bad Boyfriends, Hippies. In the section that covers the end of summer, she writes about getting ready for the school year, about wanting THE pen that would guarantee her straight A's. My need would not have been a pen but THE pair of shoes, a tool suited for guiding my steps and choices through the mine fields, spring traps, cut-purses and goblins-in-disguise that awaited this unwary child.


My first hint of instruction came from hearing a pitch in a 12-step meeting. I remember the woman's luminous complexion, the thrift of her words, as she told of letting her life be guided by, "the next indicated thing." I was, at the time, in my early 40s and felt, maybe for the first time, something like hope. Going forward without a plan (now there's a four-letter word) had seemed like the default position, not a first choice.

Recognizing the next indicated thing, she forgot to mention, is a skill that grows stronger and more reliable with use. Learning to tell the difference between motivation that comes from fear, guilt, shame or lack and true heart-centered guidance is not for the impatient. Twenty-plus years later, I am still more talented amateur than trained professional. One has to listen actively to hear that often low-volume voice and trust that its sometimes unlikely suggestions are the real thing. Knowing the why of them is not my job.

I would like to take the one-hundred demon challenge. Ms. Barry says I will need traditional Japanese brush painting tools and, for this, I will follow the directions. One of my demons will be the map I was never given, another, perhaps, the English-Success dictionary that was left out of my student packet. Giving our demons names and form means they have to show up and make eye contact. No more slithering around in the shadows, causing us to wonder... The best part is that some of them have already be rassled to the ground. Those I can paint as extinct, declawed with tongues lolling. Two down, 98 to go.

Illustrations by Lynda Barry from "100 Demons."

22 comments:

RachelVB said...

Scary that we all most likely have 100 of such things in us. 100 and maybe more. I feel, in a way, I've been doing this, but not as simply: going down the list, letting my fears come out in the open and crossing them off (not crossing them off *poof* you are gone, crossing them off in acknowledgment so I can recognize them and maybe when they snarl at me again I can put a muzzle on 'em)
1. Bed Bugs
2. Being unwanted by those I love most.
2 down - 98 to go...
xoxo

Erin in Morro Bay said...

What a wonderful and impowering task to undertake. Keep us posted on your progress.
1. Worrying
2. Somehow, still believing that in order to be loved I must do, rather than just be.
2 down - 98 to go...

Antares Cryptos said...

Funny coincidence, I was just leafing through Barry's "What it is" in a book store. Please don't make me buy anything else...;)

Interesting exercise, wonder what mine would look like. Took me a while to figure out that I was supposed to write my own "life instruction manual". I mean, really, the impertinence.

Donna B said...

Just speeding by to say hi and give you a hug....

Angella Lister said...

Such a wise post. Much food for thought.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Neat!

JeannetteLS said...

We had an exercise that was similar, in third grade. I'm galloping toward sixty. Only it was three demons. We were to draw three pictures of emotions that we did not like or were afraid of. I did one of "violence," one of "denegration"--I wanted a word for putting someone down and my mom gave me a choice of three words and I had to look them up and choose--and I chose "Secrecy." No one thought to find out more about me. In fact, my third grade teacher merely told me that I was quite the little drama queen! And yet, I found that those pictures made me feel powerful for a while. I put them by my bed and looked at them before I went to sleep, made up a chant against each one. I know my demons are different now, and they are within me, not from without. MUCH harder to draw or paint! Or even NAME. Great entry. You've made me think and that is such a good thing to have ANYONE'S work make us do. Thank you so much.

susan t. landry said...

it's so good to read about a post inspired by lynda barry--she's great, with sort of a clandestine greatness.
there's plenty here to think about, but one thing to consider is that a slow learning curve is better than none at all...whic h a lot of folks settle for.
xo
i always get excited when i see a new post by you.

susan t. landry said...

sorry; a slow learning curve is different from a long learning curve--but the comment holds. a lot of folks don't have a long one either!

Robert the Skeptic said...

When I think back to my youth I don't recall a lot of "self-help" books or resources available to us as there is now. Norman Vincent Peale and Dr. Spock was about it. The rest of it we all fumbled through as best we could, all the while keeping up appearances under the scrutiny of relatives and friends.

Jayne said...

Marylinn- "One has to listen actively to hear that often low-volume voice and trust that its sometimes unlikely suggestions are the real thing." I so relate to this. All the more reason to brush out those demons - no matter the age, it's almost certain we haven't conquered all of them, and they are sure to interfere, skew, that low-pitched hum.
That first illustration really got to me. So very astute, as most demons come for the deep, dark of our childhood. Raising young, young adults, I'm keenly aware of this, yet I often find myself doing/saying things that I later realize (and regret) could very well end up as the demonic text running through their life story! Yikes, I've got demons to slay.

Marylinn Kelly said...

HELLO TO ALL - Your comments are so appreciated and one of my joys is responding. Right now, I have to keep to my commitment of 10 posts or more a month...we're burning daylight... and will respond very soon. Demons, or their agents, have been leaving me notes...choose me, choose me. Love, Marylinn

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rachel - Crossing them off, not so fast...but even identifying them, WHAT is the cause of my queasy stomach and trembling hands? There could be a huge market in demon muzzles. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - Ah, yes. The doing (and doing it right, doing it good enough) and not the being. That ugly little sucker is as hard to vanquish as a Washington D.C. cockroach. I will let you know how it goes. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares Cryptos - I have "What It Is," a worthwhile addition, just for the sheer delight of how her mind - and hand - work...and always on lined, yellow paper. All I can tell you, regardless of age, the life instruction manual is a work in progress (or process, progress implies...progress). =^..^=

Marylinn Kelly said...

Donna - Hi, thanks for buzzing by. I'll stop over and see you very soon. Hug returned. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Angella - Thank you...demons on the menu and I swear some of them are so disguised we mistake them for friends. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Laoch - Thank you. Lynda Barry has a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humor and her characters are intentionally wonky, spotty and askew...makes others of us feel more at home.

(Not to boast, but LA had the most beautiful weather delivered for opening day at Dodger Stadium...not sure why they needed a flyover by the Stealth Bomber but that's Los Angeles. Hope all goes well in Chicago.) =^..^=

Marylinn Kelly said...

Jeanette - How good to see you here. Things to think about seem to be one of my main components...maybe that is a demon in its own way, though I don't believe thinking receives the proper amount of credit in our society. What a mature assignment for third grade, and a mature response to have created words to banish the demon images. That they are us makes them no less powerful. I believe our lives are full of myth. Thank you for visiting, for commenting.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Susan - To me, the slow and long learning curves are exactly the same thing...by either name they ask a lot of us. And I agree, learning by any means, at any pace has it all over not learning. Thank you for actually saying you are excited by new posts. Part of me, as you know, is 12...what you said is so cool, as is Lynda Barry who tells so many of our stories so well. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - My family, which provided much in the way of cultural enrichment, was of the "spare the rod and spoil the child school," and also the "children should be seen and not heard" belief. I know in many homes that has not changed. I am cheered by the creative people who speak out, constructively, to remind us whatever demons we contain, we are not alone. Sometimes civilization advances. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Jayne - I can still, and when the demons are on the prowl, do, recall moments of impatience and parental failings in my son's growing up and make myself suffer. That's what the demons do. I believe truth is simple; truth, pretty much, is love. And anything that isn't love...here's that long, slow learning curve...being able to tell love from its counterfeit. At least we're all in this, and so much else, together. xo