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.