When I was a child, I’d lie awake in bed nights reviewing the lies and half-truths, the misunderstandings of the day, promising myself that unless I could speak honestly, and in a way that could be clearly apprehended, I wouldn’t speak at all. The next morning, I’d try desperately hard not to speak unless it was both necessary and true, but I’d fail almost immediately. Even as a child, I was a talker. Still am. If to speak is to lie, I’m in serious trouble.
And often to speak is to lie. Though it seems to me primarily a question of position. Or, as L says: location, location, location. From what position am I speaking; from what positions do I speak? So much seems to be a question of position—not just how we speak, but how we hear and see. Annie Dillard tells of leaving pennies as surprises for passers-by, of drawing an arrow on the sidewalk accompanied by the words “surprise ahead.” Many people, as you may imagine, were not sufficiently surprised by the pennies. But, from the right position, a penny can be a delightful surprise.
I want to be surprised by pennies, but some days, moving as a woman through this world, I’m too busy looking over my shoulder. Or worse, some days I forget to do so, and am reminded by those who care about me, who value my safety, that I must do so. How can one be conscious, alive in the world, as a woman?
A friend of mine told me that he believes it is possible to live in and from a place of love all the time. I want so badly for that to be true. Annie Dillard, after describing the pennies, informs us that only the lover and the scholar can see certain small things—they’re the only ones looking for them. I guess that I want to believe I can look back over my shoulder, be on-the-lookout, and still have my eyes wide open.
When I think of what it means to be naked, fully available to the gaze of the world, I think of openness. On the best days, my heart is wide-open. I can, and will, take so much in. But I find it difficult to live like this all of the time. Perhaps some positions render such things more difficult to accomplish. I can be in love and be a daughter, a sister, a friend, a lover, a student. However, I cannot be in love and be only an object. It isn’t tenable.
As a child, I loved choose-your-own-ending books. As an adult, I begin to know why. Back then, when I didn’t like the directions things were going, I could change course. It was easy—the book had called for me to just that. But people don’t often call for you to change as you need to change. Not, at least, when they need you to be something specific for them. This is the danger of adult relationships. We can forget that the other person is a full person, with her own needs, desires, dreams. We can forget to see her as a subject of the world.
There is no choose-your-own-ending in adult relationships. But there is, however sad it might sometimes be, surprise. Sometimes, when you’re recognized, you’re even offered a penny for your thoughts.