Friday, May 18, 2012

Old Dragons

Edward Gorey illustration.  He always gets it right.

No matter how much shaking, avoiding, ignoring, denying, explaining and ritual we do, our histories cling like rain-soaked summer clothes.  History assumes forms that bedevil us without cease. The eggs hatched just as we drew first breaths and their reptile-kin spawn have acted, always, as the rip currents that pull us into the deep water, just when all looked calm. That many of us haven't drowned is the miracle.  At my advanced age, I can think "I'm too old for this shit" as often as I want and it makes no difference.  Until I fill the basement with concrete and pile their 60-odd years' accumulation of foul-smelling stuff on the lawn, they will not leave.  I think of them as The Old Dragons.

Though by now they are as creaky and shrunken as I, they have going for them (a) numbers.  I am but one.  (b) the sharp elbow of bad manners which they use to intrude on tranquil moments.  (c) malice and dishonesty.  I think the writer of GAME OF THRONES patterned his endless parade of manipulators on some well-known-to-him Old Dragons.  (d) what they claim to be evidence of shortcomings and crimes that could not even be called misdemeanors, when viewed through their magnifying projectors, seem heinous and unforgivable.  (e) stubbornness which I have come to believe rises from their fear of eviction.  And I swear by the ancient gods, they will be gone.

During my clearest moments, I know each of us, each human, is, like me, a wooden-framed screen door with an inexpertly patched worn spot that always works loose and lets the flies in.  No matter how much professional help (and I mean good professional help) we've paid for, shown up for and cried through, any dangerous residue of self-doubt, even a drop, provides the needed false bravado that is the dragons' trademark.  They grow, in their wee reptilian minds and eventually in ours, strong, unbearably loud and, because they wear us down so, apparently right.

One of the great mysteries is they way in which we can be pursuing a favorite distancing activity, like sleeping when it is not bedtime, and know as sharply as if we'd put a fork in the socket that something is very wrong and this is not the life we want, nor were intended, to live.  And then emerges the next horrifying question: how do I fix it?  This is where I come up short, for I am edging forward with the greatest care, taking the tiniest steps, and mostly acting on the strength of certain beliefs:

     It is never too late.
     Nothing this big can be fixed in a day.  Nor should it be.  This, too, is a process.
     Feeling terrified and small is normal.
     The dragons have always lied.
     The people who traded your silver baby cup and savings bonds for the dragon eggs lied.  It wasn't personal, it was how they got by.
     We continue to know in increments of ascending clarity.
     I am still here and grateful about 99% of the time.

The old dragons speak the language of why, at some alarmingly advanced ages, we discover that we have been keeping ourselves from what we love most for years, decades.  We have allowed the lies to stand between what felt like dreams without hope and our truest hearts.  Too-fresh beliefs about being undeserving, insufficient, incapable may finally be toted away in mildew-stained carpet bags bearing the dragons' former address.  Even dispossessed, they will try not to go far, not out of hissing distance.  Eviction may not be enough.  I trust directions must still exist for ways to slay an old dragon.


Elisabeth said...

Dragons in the closet, dragons on your back, dragons in your head, and how to remove them. what a wonderful post as ever, Marylinn and that Gorey illustration so illuminating about us poor fragile humans.

Melissa Green said...

Those old dragons are tenacious, rapacious tricksters. They know how to play us, to make us crumble in a heap with their nasty, bast*ardly lies. And yes, it's always about our crimes (heinous and unforgiveable); our short-comings (great and permanent); our doomed futures (based on our frailties, our delusions, our laughably impossible dreams).

They have dangerous teeth and it's a fight to the death, they refuse to let go. It is funny to think, after avoiding them for all these years, that we can tell the old, now toothless, deaf, scrofulous, arthritic and legally blind creeps to be off. Gorey says it all.

Then the question becomes 'who are we now and what do we do with all these revelations about who we are? If we get rid of the Old Dragons, what then leaps into the vacuum? We want to be our authentic selves, but how in heck do we get there from here? xo

Erin in Morro Bay said...

"The people who traded your silver baby cup and savings bonds for the dragon eggs lied. It wasn't personal, it was how they got by." - Ouch - this one hit home, because with a chronically unemployed spouse during my daughters' childhoods there were things like this that I did do, because rent and food seemed higher on the agenda. I hope the dragons these actions hatched are not roaring through their adult lives. We all do the best we can with what we have at the time. 25 years later is definitely the time to slay a few of these monsters.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Elisabeth - Thank you. How happy I am to assume a brief partnership with E. Gorey. My puzzle, in part, is, as Melissa mentions, if all they ever told were lies, what do I do now? Identifying the authentic self and maintaining that knowledge, no matter small task. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - I wonder if we will be able to know, in the deepest way, that what appeared to be a chasm between us and our dreams never was? It feels as though we are as distant from what we long for as we ever were, but what if we are not, what if we are nearly there? Oh, the relief, the respite, the luxury of a long, weeping sit-down. Dragon smoke, I forget to mention, clouds everything. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - I believe absolutely that we do the best we can with what we have; dragons are inevitable. I don't believe there has ever been a dragon-free life. In all things there are degrees of integrity. Some of the barterers of my acquaintance were not as clear about what needed to be done to keep others safe. They had different priorities. The dragons always bring the big sticks and lounge about as we flog ourselves with them, or at least wonder and question our own character. There is no punishment that they do not deserve. Do you have some stairs to kick them down? I'll be cheering you on. xo

beth coyote said...

Thanks for this post and as Thich Nhat Hanh has said,
"In the present moment, we may even transform the past."

I believe it's true from here.


Marylinn Kelly said...

Beth - Thank you for that encouragement. It does seem at times as though every earlier thought was built on a faulty premise. I'm not sure HOW it happens, but I believe, as you, that it can. xo

Robert the Skeptic said...

The image of the silver baby cup ... I remember mine. I have no clue where it is? I wonder if it is packed away in one of those boxes in the garage which I never look into? I wonder if it will be found by my children after going through my stuff after I am dead?

What was the purpose of our parents (or some relative) purchasing a silver baby cup in our honor? Who would sit a kitchen table and drink their morning coffee daily from such a thing?

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - Did you also have the sterling baby spoon and fork? I remember the spoon had a shortened handle that curled under, I suppose for a better grasp. I've found baby cups at garage sales over the years, always engraved. Probably more a symbol than anything. Or not, since they pre-dated the plastic sippy kind.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Yes, I believe I did indeed have the little silver place setting. AND a silver napkin ring with my name engraved on it as well. No clue where that stuff is, at the moment.

Lisa H said...

One truth that I live with : the dragons come and go. They're never smart, good, kind or well intended. Really KNOWING that is the key. My best response:
" oh, it's just YOU again" *eye roll*
I think that you're the one who taught me this trick.