In my (day) dream…
I have made a clearing, pulling up the tangled brush of fears and heart-sores and doubt and I’m piling it all in the center. My hands are full of a terrible, thorny, strangling vine. I don’t want it to take root again and fill the clearing, so I toss it on the pile and set it all on fire. As the brush burns, I stand next to it, naming how these things have hurt me.
Speaking that truth feels better than watching them burn.
Other little girls come into my clearing. “Me too…It hurt me too,” they say. We show each other the sores in our hands from the vines and the brush. As we help each other pull out any thorns that still remain, we start to talk, and soon we are playing together in the clearing, showing each other the games we’ve learned and the things we can make.
I see eyes gleaming from the tangled brush at the edge of the clearing, and I creep closer to see who they belong to. Caught in the midst of the tangled vines–hiding in them or trapped in them, I can’t tell–is a little boy.
“Hello,” he says quietly.
“Do you want to join us?” I ask.
“Not right now. When you lit that fire I saw I was missing something, and I’m going to look for it.” After a moment he adds, “It would help me see better if you keep the fire going.”
* * *
It’s not so much a dream, as a metaphorical version of last week’s post and comments.
And truthfully, that clearing where people come to heal themselves, to reconnect to themselves and others through play is actually my “crazy big lottery win” dream. I want to build an actual place: a sanctuary, a retreat, a haven for the members of this wild and crazy-beautiful tribe to come and meet each other and play and heal together.
For this moment, though, here we are. Given that the post was our most commented upon to date, I think it’s safe to say that while I might have thought it was just me, it certainly isn’t.
Our experiences might look different, but the end result is pretty much the same.
* * *
I was at the Field Museum yesterday with my kids, and I saw this display:
From the plaque on top of the display: both come from cultures that believed high-status women did not need to work. But these shoes are a paradox: they caused such pain that women who wore them could barely walk, let alone work.
The experience looks different, but the end result is pretty much the same.
* * *
Dear Reader/tribe member/my stepmother Lynn asked last week, “Does it only seem that little girls are more likely to “shrink” to fit in?”
My answer is “yes, but.”
YES, I do think the message that they need to shrink to fit is aimed at little girls.
I think it comes in so many different ways that it becomes a thorny, strangling vine tightening around us. Brené Brown calls it a web of shame…which is also a very apt description. However you describe it, for girls it is often this all encompassing, conflicting thing that jabs us repeatedly no matter how we turn. We end up surrounded by messages that we are “too” something: intelligent, stupid, pretty, plain, short, tall, fat, thin, sexy, prudish, emotional, ambitious, bitchy, motherly, this color, that race…it goes on ad nauseum.
In some respects, it’s amazing that any parts of our true natures survive this confusing, painful muddle of expectations.
Once upon a time, shrinking and conforming to fit was how our ancestresses survived. Being cast out or shunned could easily be a death sentence for a woman and by extension, her children. Trying to adapt to the expectations of others is written in our very cells.
Which makes it that much harder for a little girl to realize there’s another way to respond.
BUT: I don’t think that means little boys get out of it free.
The comments you can see on the post are all from women. The comments from men went to my inbox, quiet mentions that this was similar to what they had experienced.
Similar, not the same.
My guess, based on what I’ve seen and the little bits I’ve heard from the men in my life, is that it’s a little more straight-forward and a lot more brutal for boys: you’d be ok if you were not emotional, sensitive, artistic, a wuss, a wimp, a baby. Stop that, and you’ll be a man!
The experience looks different, but the end result is pretty much the same: a child whose psyche is no longer entirely whole, either through chronic shrinking of every part or emotional amputation.
(I can only imagine what a child who doesn’t fit gender, cultural, or ability norms would experience.)
I’ve been thinking about this all week, and while I do feel a little better for knowing I’m not alone in this, at the same time knowing I’m SO not alone in this makes my heart hurt. I think of all of these children–those of us who are now adults too–being told that they are less than, that they are not acceptable unless they change, that who they are is wrong…and not only does my heart ache for all of them, but I am angry. A deep, righteous, protective anger that comes from my very core. I want to stand between them and the world, raising my hand to protect them. I want to say, NOT THE CHILDREN.
And ohmygod, I want to weep for the sheer waste of it all. The waste of possibility, the waste of energy! I know how much energy it has cost me to try and walk this line, how much energy I have turned in on myself trying in vain to protect the small hurt parts inside. I multiply that out by all of you and all of those who can’t speak up yet and all of those this is happening to right now…imagine what could happen if all that energy was unleashed on the world instead!
* * *
At that moment, my ego speaks up, wrapped up in Kraken tentacles: wow, that’s a really big thing there. What can you do about it?
But this time, I KNOW what to do, because Maggie Doyne already walked this path. I start where I am, with this one child in front of me–which in this case is me!–and I help her heal and learn to play again. I do what comes naturally to me, and I tell the people around me what I found that was helpful or cool or interesting, and I let it grow out from there.
Little ripples out from me…little ripples out from you…and soon enough those ripples grow larger.
So let me be specific: I don’t want to shrink anymore. What I do want to do is:
- Continue the internal work of finding where and when I shrink. You’ve got to notice before you can change something, right?
- Continue healing those parts of myself I’m trying to protect by shrinking.
- Dive in wholeheartedly into my personal play-work of writing and proudly own the large part of me that is a storyteller.
- Commit to openly sharing the part of me that is a teacher, who deeply believes that real learning comes from conversation and sharing of ideas. Start and participate in those conversations.
- Work seriously with Kel on the ideas and projects we have talked about. It’s time to make those e-books, books, and courses a reality.
- Move the retreat/haven/school of doing from “wild crazy dream” to our biggest goal. We’ve done some hazy vision dreaming on this, and now it’s time to put foundations under that. Even if we have no idea how to do it yet…we can start talking about it, so the people that can help show us the way know we want to do this!