Inventing a Self

Sometimes I have so many conflicting thoughts simultaneously I find it completely overwhelming to develop an actual train of thought.  That’s what this subject is like.

So, train #1.  I was doing this grief thing yesterday, and I ended up thinking about the self I invented, the one I wanted, dreamed of, put all my heart into making.

It goes like this: When I was almost 12 years old, my parents moved to a new neighborhood.  I had been bullied badly at the first school, and ended up being bullied as badly or worse at the 2nd school.  But across the street lived another 12 year old girl, another tomboy, and she became my first real friend.  My first best friend.  We went to different schools and the minute I got off the bus she was at my house or I was at hers.  I had failed at inventing a popular self at my new school, so inventing a self was a dream saved for adulthood.  But my friend–her name was Judy–started demanding to know why I looked so sad when I got off the bus, why I hung my head.  “What’s the matter?” she asked over and over again.  “Nothing,” I’d say, afraid if she knew she wouldn’t like me either.

But, she wouldn’t let up.  Did I mention we had certain character traits in common?  “What’s the matter, come on, I know it’s something, what’s going on,” over and over and over and over.  Finally I told her.  She said, “Oh, we can fix that.”  Then she told me my clothes were totally uncool.  I knew this, because my mother picked all my clothes and wouldn’t let me own a pair of jeans.  My friend came with us shopping the next time my mother took me, and she confronted my mother in the store.  “Maybe she wouldn’t get mocked out so much if she had some cool clothes,” she said to my mother.  Who stood there, mouth agape, realizing, for the first time, I imagine, that she might have something to do with her daughter’s suffering.

I got the clothes.

Then my friend made me tell her what happened in school each day.  Who hung what sign on my back, who shot spitballs at me, who pulled on my skirt, who rolled their eyes.  And get this, she told me to make one friend.  Not to try to get popular, but to pay attention to who might not hate me, and be nice to them (without being needy).  I swear, if she ever ran for president, I’d stop my life and work for her.  She was twelve.

She taught me that I could invent my self again, even with people who already knew me.  She taught me that cruelty could end, that even when you feel the most powerless, there is something you can do, or something someone can do to help you.

I didn’t like being bullied.  But what I hated most was how I saw myself–as a victim, as powerless, as incapable of building and sustaining a daily life.

I was very lucky to meet this incredibly precocious 12 year old girl.

I built a self from what she taught me.  I wanted to be strong, independent, I wanted to be different in the best possible way, I didn’t want to conform, I wanted things on my own terms.  I put myself through college, I rode a motorcycle, I had lovers of both genders, I traveled the world, often alone, I hitchhiked across Spain and Portugal, I worked in Japan.  Inventing, from what I’d read as a girl, an unconventional woman strong enough to decide her own life.

And I wrote.

Doing the grief thing, yesterday, I realized that in my life I have loved nothing more than this invention, this creation, this very careful building of life experience, of adventure, creativity, strength.  And I have hated any job, any person, any experience that yanked me back to pre-twelve, when inventing a decent daily life seemed impossible, and only the future held possibility.

Grief makes the chaff fall away, and you look into the center of yourself, your life.  I am my own creation and I am also that bullied girl who doesn’t know the way out.  I am both.  I have loved nothing as much as getting to live what I wanted, what I could make, experience, be present for.  But feelings of powerlessness and doubt are inevitable, and the whole point of growing as a person is to let them come, to know yourself as a part of a humanity that fails, that fears, that falls down and does not know, all too often, how to get back up again.

I cannot so love what I have been able to make of myself that I forget what life has made of me.

And so ends train of thought #1.

#2:  Who cares about inventing a self in the first place?  My thoughts on this subject are entirely derived from my obsessive reading about Buddhism, not to mention the 10 day silent meditation retreat last June.  In Buddhism there is the concept of no self, that self itself is a construct.  So when I was getting all serious about how in love with me I am, and how no one better f*&^ with me and try to make me less, etc, the thought floats in that I really kind of don’t exist at all.

I don’t mean that literally.  It’s just that sometimes, the construct of personality falls away, and there’s just life, unadorned, at the center of me.  Until yesterday, I really kind of hated the Buddhist no self thing, and didn’t get it, but suddenly it came clear.  It doesn’t feel bad, when there’s just life.  It actually feels…neutral.  Perfect.

Like, if it’s true that when we die, personality dies with us, the constructs of our lives fall away, then what is left is just energy.  Life.  What religion calls soul.

I am truly in love with my own constructs and creations, because, well, I am a human being.  But they’re really just here to protect life from the dangers, challenges and hardships of experience.  You take them away, and there’s just a light.  Doing nothing but being a light.

It’s hard to come up with 60 million attachments, cravings, aversions and obsessions with that.  It just is.

No self.



Nothing we can do about it.  Nothing to invent.

It just is.

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