Others treat you the way you treat yourself so…
1. Be yourself
2. Know yourself
3. Forgive yourself
4. Like yourself
5. Love yourself
This list of five sensible, impossible, necessary steps toward wholeness appeared today on the blog of a singer-songwriter I love, Nhojj. He performed at the book party for the collection of poems in which I had some work published last year, and although I did not get to attend the launch, I started following his blog. He’s a person of faith, African-American, gay, and inspirational. When he puts up a post that suggests stopping to listen to a song, I do it.
So this afternoon I’m contemplating his music and #1 on the list above.
That is very confusing advice to someone who grew up thinking the key to life was to be who someone else wanted me to be. Every move I made seemed to be the wrong one. I was too loud, too clumsy, too short, too smart, too lazy, too … Because I rarely received a compliment, I gathered that I did not deserve any. (Those who grew up in the era before self-esteem know what I mean.) I know it’s not unique, nor is it universal, that adopted children have an uncanny feeling they ought to be someone else, or maybe somewhere else, but that was part of my experience.
I came to think I ought to be a live doll, a representation of quiet girlishness.
I failed, largely.
This is my grandmother’s doll, Miss Emily. She named the doll after herself. Really, she was ahead of her time with this turn-of-the-last-century MyTwinn. Miss Emily Spong walked “Miss Emily” in a white wicker perambulator. She was passed down to a friend’s daughter and granddaughter and then returned to her original mistress, and from there to my excited hands. I changed her clothes and carried her dangerously up and down stairs and put her to bed in an antique six-month crib passed down from the other side of the family, covering her with an heirloom quilt.
When I was older, she sat elegantly on a built-in window seat under the fan-shaped window on the third floor of our historic home. Miss Emily represents history, lineage, gentility, life indoors, well-polished tables and well-cared for things of old.
There was another doll who had an influence on me, when I was younger, before I was allowed to touch Miss Emily. I loved the naked, woods-dwelling heroine of Dare Wright’s “Take Me Home.” She is unfortunately taken home to a proper house, by a proper little girl who dresses her in lovely clothes and does her hair.
The little naked doll, whose name is the appropriately androgynous Robin, has an eclectic community of her own making, various elders and mentors and peers and protectors who find her charming and delightful.
Happily, the wild woods animals who love her manage to kidnap her back.
It is completely true that I adored both dolls, but in nuanced ways. I reverenced Miss Emily, but I identified with Robin.
I felt more like Robin, but I wanted to be Miss Emily.
Except when I didn’t.
Now, there’s more to a woman than can be expressed with two dolls, I hope. But these two dolls are speaking to me today. And the truth is I can appreciate the elegance of a tea party and a beautiful old doll because they point to the courage and determination of the forward-thinking grandmother who used her standing in the community to get things done, who could love old things and buildings without letting her mind get stuck in the old ways they could represent. But there’s more of me in the doll who tried, at least a little, to please the human mama who tied a sash around a pretty dress, all the time yearning for more open places.
The trouble for me was the other reality was unknown. I didn’t have friends to come and rescue me using an upside down umbrella or a way to build a bridge between some life I thought of as “real” and the family where I struggled to be accepted.
And I wonder now if it might have been different if I’d just been myself instead of trying to read what I thought other people wanted me to be. If you do that long enough, you don’t remember much anymore.
(More to follow.)