You know that old barb about certain people being born with a silver spoon in their mouth? Pokey thinks she may have been born with an apology permanently imprinted on her tongue.
Not the empathy-based, “sorry I stepped on your toe” kind of apology but the fear-based, “sorry I have to tell you that you’re standing on MY toe” kind. In the psycho-skeletal world (that I just invented) the sorry bone is connected to the knee-jerk bone (assuming the blame) which is connected to the sigh bone (internalized regret), which bypasses our “missing” rib and jumps right into the heart of the matter: an inability to speak up for oneself, further complicated by blind spots where confidence, self-direction and spontaneity should reside.
Not to worry. The doctor is in.
When last we left Pokey she was “in residence,” the subject of her own case study, and after much mental hemming and hawing, she’d doodled her way into the center of something that she hoped would help her break out of the box she was in. The box was her new, confuddling mix of mother AND poet, or was she a mother-poet? It felt like there wasn’t enough room in the box to be both, to do a good enough job at both.
You could argue that it’s Pokey’s fault. (She’d probably agree, but we’re trying not to let her.) You could say that Pokey made the box herself out of the scrap pile of doubt and self-criticism she always seemed to have at hand.
Well, yeah. But even if Pokey stepped into the box, did she make it all by herself?
Remember that scene in The Lovely Bones where the girl goes with the neighbor/psycho down into his bunker even though she knows (in her bones) she should haul ass back home? She doesn’t listen to herself. That’s the box girls get into before they disappear. You’ve seen it on TV, too, magicians do it all the time: one minute a full-blooded female in fishnet tights, the next, empty space.
That’s the bone I left out of the skeleton. Acquiescence.
Pokey is obsessing about this now (and yes, always) because she has a daughter who just turned 13. Ah. According to the experts, this is the age when many/most girls begin to shift their priorities, when approval and acceptance become the most powerful influence on their behavior.
This is when we become pliable, when we make ourselves small.
But after much psychic gnashing of teeth, trying on of clothes and revision of hairstyles, my daughter has declared her independence from this stage. In fact, she wrote a blog post about it. She’s working to accept who she is, and actually, she’s WAY less hard on herself than Pokey was at her age. Then Pokey is now.
I love that she’s taking on the box, that she wants to let her crazy life force go rampant. I imagine her resistance as an overgrown vine, a dense, leafy bower shielding her from the harsh light of You Tube and Facebook and The Bachelor.
Will you accept this rose?
Pokey very much wants to believe that something about me and the people and situations her dad and I have taken pains to introduce her to, is responsible for her renegade behavior. But lately I’ve also begun to see how I pass along the traditions of female perfection to my daughter. I don’t mean to. Half the time I don’t even know I’m doing it. And when I do know I tell myself it’s because I’m trying to protect her.
I want her not to make mistakes.
This is a mistake.
Recently, a friend of mine described a “teaching” moment she had with her 10 year-old daughter. She brought her to a concert they were excited about, and the concert was good, but maybe not as good as they’d imagined. At one point, however, the headliner forgot the words to a song, and called up the woman who was the warm-up act to help her out and their accidental duet turned out to be the high point of the night.
Later, my friend asked her daughter what her favorite part of the concert was, and her daughter named that moment. What followed was a discussion about mistakes, and how great it can be to make them, and how opening yourself up to accidents can be the best thing you can do.
I’ve experienced the same phenomenon when I teach writing and in my own work: perfection has a shiny, impenetrable shell. It can be pretty, but it’s not usually that interesting. If it’s a cake, it probably doesn’t taste good.
You have to have faith in yourself to make mistakes. You have to have the right mix of thick skin and vulnerable.
Because not everyone will like you. You might disappoint someone important. You might say no. You might choose to do it your way. You might run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. You might decline to get into the box.
You might (accidentally, of course) step on someone’s toes.
Lest you think I forgot where this post was going, I remind you of my fledgling Pokey self, believing she was stuck, believing that what and how she was writing was unacceptable, unpublishable, unlikeable. Setting impossible standards for herself as a mother and an artist based on…what?
I don’t know who or what, exactly, the critic is inside me, but I suspect it goes way back to Pokey’s good girl upbringing, all that internalized messaging bouncing around in my adolescent body with the cornflakes and Fresca.
I do know that the more I talk to other women, the more work I read by other mothers, the more art I see and the more art I make, the less that voice matters.
The aimless doodling, the seemingly endless false starts and mistakes Pokey resented so much at the time of her so-called stuckness, have become this—my material, my art, this page I look forward to as I thrash my way through yet another week of family and work. Some of it I love. Some I do not. It is what it is: not always nice and certainly not perfect.
The work-in-progress that is Pokey. The mother she’s trying to be. The artist she is. No apologies.