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I sit in the driver’s seat, behind the windshield, parked at the drive in, watching a movie. I drove here myself and paid to get in. No bucket of popcorn sits on the seat beside me, just a roll of toilet paper eponymically doubling as Kleenex. Must be a drama. A beautiful woman with soulful eyes takes up the screen. She faces the audience and asks questions. When the questions are of interest or I know the answers, even I holler out responses, from behind my windshield at this movie. Curious entertainment—like interactive dinner theater with tempered anonymity.
“What do you have to contribute?” comes the next question. The woman had summarized the responses she’d received from the other audience participants and made an observation. “It strikes me that you look at work as a way to get to free time instead of looking at work as a way to contribute.” Apparently a segment of the audience is wrapped up in figuring out what it is going to do that is both financially sustainable and soulfully call-worthy in the longterm. This group probably gets that it will have to earn some tenure as a Starbucks barrista–or the equivalent thereof–before finding a way to integrate all levels in Maslow’s hierarchy.
“What do you have to contribute?” comes the question again. Wow, I am NOT going to participate in this question, I decide from behind my windshield and a new growing haze. Inside my ‘head’ I feel the equivalent of scores of hands pasting playbills all over the inside of the windshield as quickly as we can peel off duct-tape to affix them. My eyes grow foggy. My head tilts to the left and I start to drool. Just a little. From multiple layers of mental shunting deep, my higher bits try to remember the question… They come up with nothing. Who drove me here?
“I don’t understand your words,” I whisper with my eyes closed. Did someone slip me a rufie? I open the window just a sliver, so that the flow of oxygen to my brain will continue in the event that I lose consciousness.
“We therapists call this pay dirt,” my paid for friend (may she live forever!) says with a gentle smile. I look up at her tentatively with only one eye—still hiding behind the other one. Maybe she’ll forget I’m here if I don’t open both eyes? I am sitting in the chair I have been sitting in weekly. I don’t like it here right now. The room is muggy. My cheeks are damp. My chest constricts. I feel clammy. Did I pay for this stupid movie? And what was the question again?
“’Pay dirt’ as in ‘vein of gold’,” she offers peaceably. “I am throwing you this lifeline so that you do not abandon all hope. We are getting really close to some dynamic understanding here.”
“Um, I can write. I can make people laugh. I can make people think?” Sounded like that came from a little girl place, tentative. Must. Fight. Back. Torrential. Tears. What the hell is going on?!!! Breathe. Reinhabit my body. What is going on with my body? Well, what’s going on is that a simple question just sent me into shock. I feel like my core is empty. I have fear. What if there is nothing inside me? I see a circular storage area in my soul where an identity ought to be found and it appears to have not been installed. Not nihilistic as in there is no God and I have no purpose; more of a realization that God exists and purpose exists; I just don’t know if or how I fit in.
This makes me sad; it SCARES me. That must be why my cheeks are damp. I have signed up to be parts in other people’s plays, to meet expectations that other people find acceptable, to follow codes defined by others, even to find safety and order myself. To align with the family code that seeped into my bones when I wasn’t paying attention. I escaped overseas to look for ‘it’ there. All this to find a place to belong and be okay. But all that effort didn’t build the reflection of the Creator, my style. On the ground before me now I see a flag indicating that I claim this place, and LIGHT BULB: I don’t know what that means. This empty space is kind of daunting.
What if it isn’t empty? Maybe what I’m looking at is the characters of a foreign alphabet that would make effortless sense to me if I had grown up using vocabulary from and been educated in the symbology of that tongue. Maybe I just lack the skills to discern this site before me, this foreign soul of mine. How have I survived this long without nailing these very elemental pieces in me? Worth, purpose, identity, and belonging, most notably. Where is the box of tools that will help me spin these strings into gold? How will I learn to weave these spells?
Maybe my soul’s storage berth isn’t empty–but seeing the contents of my dreams and desires in base relief threatens my limbic survival regimen. Mr. Monkey Mind. The family code that states, “We will never have that kind of luck (resource, skill, dynamic creative outlet, rich sense of belonging and contributing),”–the subtext of which cannot help but be translated as “if you pull it off, you’re not one of us anymore.” Seriously, I’m 44, and ridiculous spoken and inarticulated family codes have that much power over me? I need some freaking vodka.
Today I have a little bit of envy for the folks that have the resources to do mid-life crisis the theatrical way: lipo, sports-cars, boy toys, featherlifts. But I’m smart enough to know that in the long run, my plan is more authentically sustainable even though I don’t have an inkling how it’s going to work out. Or to at least it comforts me to frame it thusly!
(Pulled the LIGHT BULB clip off youtube. It comes from the movie Despicable Me. More shameless pilfering of copyrighted material. Please don’t send me any money)