I’ve written about this topic before, as long-time readers of my blog will know. This week’s True Community article deals with the myth of independence. Any basic look at human interaction makes it clear that we are interdependent, and that our fate and lot is determined not just by the actions of neighbors but by people who’ve long since died. Why does that offend us? Why are we so reluctant to think of ourselves as members of systems instead of islands.
This week’s installment of True Community tells the story of the moment when I faced my mortality. I was sixteen, and it happened while watching Dead Poets Society. The event inspired me to become a teacher (I already knew I wanted to be a writer).
I used to directly teach the concept of the examined life. But various pressures conspired to see me give up the topic. It also got too exhausting because students didn’t respond well to questions like “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?”
These days, I try to teach the lesson through the back door.
Liquid Inkers, I hope you’ll check out an author who, while not new to The Good Men Project, is certainly new to the Marriage Section. This article, My Vasectomy, My Life-Insurance, is a mediation that Ben Tanzer almost stumbles into after he and his wife begin asking tough questions about their future. We all eventually face our mortality, some of us later than others. Ben faces his when confronted with the possibility of carrying his family’s birth-control load.
I was very moved by some of the responses that I got to (trigger warning!) my republished version of Baptism Party. If you have not read that essay and have stumbled on this post at random, know that, as a memoir of my abusive childhood, the piece is very difficult to read and might remind traumatized readers, especially those who experienced life with an alcoholic, of their past.
For obvious reasons, many of the responses did not appear in the comment sections. They came directly to me from subscribers to the Good Men Project, readers who have been following me since the publication of Finding the Moon in Sugar and also former students. The majority were from people who suffered at the hands of a narcissist, or who grew up with pervasive intoxication either at home on in their community. What shocked me—it actually rattled me up—was how many readers quoted this part of the essay:
Children of narcissistic alcoholics will tell you they inhabit the homes of their childhood about as often as their dreams, as so many of their dreams, in daytime as in sleep, are the stubborn memories of childhood. At times when I must return physically to the house, I always enter twice, initially through a sequence of vivid memories and images. As they play out, I construct a fortress of introversion around myself. It does not matter if I am simply dropping off borrowed jars or coming into a full-blown party. Each time I enter, I brace for an assault, though I can never be sure what kind.
I had not really spoken to any “children of narcissistic alcoholics” prior to writing this. Sure, I had read books, attended some meetings, and I had spoken to a variety of therapists before writing the essay. I had also heard stories from people at work. But I can’t say that I wrote that paragraph believing I had gotten to the heart of something. Quite frankly, I thought I was taking calculated liberties.
If you are among those readers who took time to write and say, “That’s exactly how I feel,” know that I was deeply moved. What’s shocking is that so many of us feel something private and sinister while we exist inside that “fortress of introversion”, however we dress it up, but if we could lift our heads out for a moment, we’d find ourselves in a community we didn’t know we had. Realizing this helped me quiet the voice in my head, so similar to the one I write about, the one that criticizes me constantly, bellowing: “Why the hell are you writing this self-indulgent horseshit? No one cares. Grow up! Get over yourself!” (Doesn’t that remind you of anyone?) It’s so much easier to tell that voice, “Take a look at these letters I’ve received. Take a look at this group of people that has no idea what they share, and with how many!”
There are more of us than any of us know. We are invisible even to each other as we sit lonely in cafes or ride the bus to buy soap and toothpaste. Your responses have given me enormous energy. I’m encouraged to continue writing about these important issues of abuse, trauma, self-realization, social confusion and all the close toxic cousins. Thank you so much for all the well-wishes, the sympathy and your expressions of vulnerability. That is all I can say. I feel it is not enough.
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