Once a woman in a congregation I served decided she was going to come live with me. She claimed that because I talked about myself in sermons, that was an invitation, so she was only accepting something I proposed. Even after I had left the ministry and returned to Montana, she clung to the idea. Of course it was fantasy and of course she knew that, way down deep. What she really wanted was not a lover but a mom: safety. I think after her own kids grew up, she figured it out. I don’t want a lover, a mom, or kids. I want to belong to myself.
How is that justified in a world that wants to know all about each other, revelation after revelation, none of them particularly useful? Some of them not even interesting. This is a double valence: knowing others vs being known. One of the reasons for keeping one’s distance is to prevent hurting other people, and the obvious converse is keeping people from hurting “me”. Sometimes people will come close because they believe you can protect yourself or they don’t believe they really have the power to hurt. And sometimes that’s because they have been very badly hurt in the past, as long ago as childhood. Both by authorities and by peers and even by, well, victims. Even children can do damage. Retaliate. Rat you out.
I’ve been watching Law & Order SVU a long time. I’m up to year 9 now in what is a 14 year sequence so far. (The series is still running.) I’ve just become aware that there is a Russian version, which is not quite available yet. The series has a life of its own, but I don’t read about the kind of conventions that, say, Star Trek has evoked. The best of the programs are intense and private -- not so much erotic as presenting puzzles. I mean, Olivia has gone to high-necked blouses at least some of the time, while Elliot now wears the occasional muscle shirt -- both have splendid bodies. Munch still has to keep up the side for geeks. Very often the plots slide up and down the range between “enfold me” and “I hate you,” discarding safety on both ends.
In the old tribal or village lives there were only a few hundred people to deal with, half of them children and most of the rest assigned formal roles. The opportunities for exploring each other as we do at college or military service or in big cities just didn’t exist. The opportunity to do online “social networking” didn’t exist. There’s a lot to worry about regarding “hooking up,” online stalking, and the invasion of privacy when so much is stored in cloud databases. There are too few matchmaking Yentas to interface.
We do have this category of people who are in the “helping professions,” often covertly something like cops, trying to force compliance with social expectations. Some are pretty good at setting their clients free and others can’t even manage their own lives. “Unhealed Healer Syndrome,” the attempt to help others in order to avoid one’s own difficulties, was brilliantly explored in the series called “In Treatment.” There are whole categories of people who are sent to “anger management workshops” and “sexual addict rehabilitation” though no one understands whether it works or will even release statistics about what succeeds -- whatever success is.
We know there are tight connections among poverty, sex, work, slavery, trafficking and public health but there are STILL no well-developed legal or political structures or assumptions that deal with them. Everything has shifted, bulged. So far we haven’t even got the social permission to make accurate numbers public, much less figure out what they mean or allocate the funds to deal with them. Anyway, all of us understandably worry that therapists and researchers will play “Lucy-and-the-Football” with us. Maybe you’re old enough to remember that notorious episode of “Soap” in which a friendly therapist coaxes a gay man to disclose his secret and then leaps to his feet in a crowded lunchroom to shout out his disgust and contempt for anyone so perverse. Self-appointed “enforcers” can be killers.
Blogging is right out in the open. Once in a long time someone will materialize from that world and so far, for me, the results have been happy. One couple who live close enough to visit once in a long while are very welcome and helpful. Another person has family connections in town. Of course, the whole reservation has ties to my life some way or other, even if only indirectly, and as more of them come online we make contact. People from long ago, like the AK acting students or even my eighth grade class, are out there.
A very few people stir up my old yearning for someone who really understands and accepts me and for whom I can return the favor. (Do not think you are one of them! You’re NOT!) But if they turned up on my doorstep, I would be terrified: afraid they were different than I had imagined, afraid they would find me not at all what they expected, and -- most of all -- terrified that I would have to make room for them in my ordinary life or have to give up my ordinary life in some way -- maybe moving. This is always reciprocal. And it is always shadowed by suspicion because even the people you know best, love most, can turn out to have unsuspected sides in different circumstances.
But if you don’t want to gamble, you can’t really play cards. You’re restricted to being a voyeur. What fun is that? If you’re a writer, fun doesn’t come into it. Writing is the ultimate fetish, the part that stands for the whole and finally replaces it, so that one would rather watch and write than waste time on what people call “having a life.”
As far as I know, no one is writing about me. When I entered the ministry there was the usual psych interview/report rigamarole and I read them -- sometimes because I was offered the chance and sometimes covertly. It’s not so much that they got facts wrong (they did) but that they had no insight. Surfaces are safe. Nothing is more unsafe than Sacred Ground.
I wrote about Bob Scriver as honestly as I could. (“Bronze Inside and Out,” available through Amazon, etc.) It was only after the book was published that the deepest secrets were told to me, and only to prove that I didn’t know everything. But who ever knows everything? Why do we need to? Writing about Bob was one way to stay connected and I have always cherished that connection. I won’t give it up.