By Maria Padhila
I was halfway through a ‘real’ poly column all about ‘primaries’ and ‘secondaries’ in poly relationships, and how that whole concept is changing and going through a lot of major and heated discussion among poly people today, but something happened that was so encouraging I had to tell you all about it.
I know it takes a lot of effort to stay aware. It’s hard to keep yourself tuned in to what’s going on below the surface, to the full meaning of events, to the world where astrology and magick are logic and circumstance.
Even if you don’t choose to practice astrology or magick, simply living as a thoughtful person can be a tough struggle in the face of, at best, minor distractions and at worst deliberate attempts at misdirection and obfuscation. But if you don’t do it, I believe relationships tank and a lot of the enjoyment and juice goes out of life. Exercising awareness is like exercising any other muscle; it takes an effort, but it ends up energizing you; you stop doing it and you get more tired, not more refreshed.
Despite all I know to the contrary, I’d stopped doing it. Just about shut down. For about two months, it’s been nothing but overwork and very little sleep, too many family and friend dynamics seesawing and whipsawing me (as these do to so many around the holidays). I would think about writing and think, why bother? Everyone else is saying it first and better, and it’s not like it’s doing any good.
There were flashes. My weekend evenings I’m usually home with my daughter; Isaac is usually working and Chris often comes over and shares whatever kiddie dinner and kiddie movie or nature show my girl would like to see. My daughter, Tobi, and I would be doing the same thing if we were alone; I’d probably just make her something she likes and have some yogurt or a salad myself. One afternoon I was talking on the phone with Isaac before one of these evenings, and he asked if Chris was coming over for dinner. Yes, I said.
“What are you making for him?” he wanted to know. I braced myself to hear some jealousy, some resentment — he gets the home cooking while I have to work.
“Chicken tenders,” I said.
“You should make him something better than that!” Isaac said.
“Well, they’re organic,” I laughed. I realize the bracing myself was just old habit, something that comes from the place of what you’re doing is wrong, and everyone will hate you for it. But Isaac thought Chris deserved a good meal. He recognizes that Chris is good to me and appreciates him for that. It’s such an extraordinary kind of confidence and generosity, and it’s one that I almost missed seeing.
But when you give up on self-awareness, you miss the small miracles. Instead, you see the worst of the shadows that used to dog you and would like to again, so much, given the slightest opening.
But what was discouraging me so heavily? What was it that was making me not want to see?
At first, I assumed I was giving up on living with awareness and creativity because I wasn’t taking physical care of myself. This makes sense: you look for a physical cause, first. I was trying to drag myself to exercise and eat well, knowing I needed to take better care of myself, because when I neglect these things, life gets bad not just for me but for the ones who depend on me. But it wasn’t having the usual effect.
I just gave up trying. Something always seemed to get in the way. I’d try to go to a yoga class, and I’d get a work call that would not only demand I drop everything, but would make it apparent that my trying to fit in a yoga class (after work hours) was the kind of thing that was making things worse.
Because it was getting worse. (I’m going to change a few details about the following so as not to reveal confidences; I hope that you can go with me on this.) Despite working on a rewarding project for several months, a media project about science, history, and the bioethics of genetics and fertility, a project all the end users were praising highly and beyond pleased with, I was spending every moment feeling I was near getting fired.
Not just feeling or sensing, either; I was being beamed at best impatience and at worst almost contempt by the direct supervisor on the project. She had sucked out any joy I had in putting together this complex mix, any sense of accomplishment; worse, I’ve been worried about not only staying employed, but concerned about my reputation. Everything that could have gone wrong did; it ended up far more expensive than it should have been, but the end users just didn’t care. The end users had skewed reality one way; this person had skewed it in the other direction.
I had the strongest, strangest feeling that I had been thrown a curse, a jinx, had been crossed. I wondered if I should just break things off with everyone and go it alone. What good was it doing anyone, this polyamory thing? Maybe I was just fooling myself, thinking this was my true nature. What good does love do? It just complicates everything, and it doesn’t pay the rent. What, finally, was the point?
I’ve always been pretty perceptive about people, but since I’ve crossed the threshold of 50 and my Chiron return (Pisces), it’s as if people are walking around with neon signs over their heads about what motivates them, what they love, what they fear, what they don’t tell the world. (Here’s what President Obama’s sign says, by the way: “You know that scene at the end of Boogie Nights? Yeah, it’s about like that.”) Now, I couldn’t read anyone’s signs — or even see my own.
People who don’t see their own shadows have something to gain by discouraging you from seeing yours. This lets everyone keep pretending that shadows don’t exist, that things are just bad all over — so the shadows can keep on doing the dirty work for us, while we whistle and look in the other direction.
I woke up the morning before Imbolc, the cross-quarter holiday, after three hours of sleep, in pain and so nauseous I wasn’t sure I could sit up. This was becoming a normal morning routine. How much more of this kind of thing could I take? Tobi volunteered to get her own breakfast and was being very independent, which made me feel worse. I never want my behavior or condition to make her feel solicitous; she’s the child and is entitled to being cared for. I pulled it together and put on some running pants and a fleece and big sunglasses and walked her to school.
When I got back into the house, I pulled my boots off but left all the other warm layers on, wrapped a street-vendor-fake pashmina around my head and another around my feet, set the timer on my phone for 30 minutes and curled up on the couch in a fetal position, shivering and trying to nap before I had to get on the computer and the phone and make it all work again.
Bits of songs were skipping around in my head, and I couldn’t turn down the volume on these earworms. Driving Tobi home from her dance class night before, I’d heard the DJ on the local station playing a tribute to the Andrews Sisters. “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me…” they sang. Tobi had found this very funny: “The apple tree is all mine,” she declared. “Nobody else. Now the pear tree, you can sit there with anyone you want, but not the apple tree.”
I’d found it funny myself how she’d encapsulated the ‘poly rules’ dilemma without knowing a thing about it — maybe. But now the Andrews Sisters were screeching in my head like demented chipmunks. Would I ever get warm? Could I get just a little sleep?
When I woke up, the sun was streaming in the window and tiny rainbows were streaking like comets over the walls and ceiling. Chris had given us a solar rainbow-maker prism, and it was spinning at top speed. The rainbow lights were sage-smudging the room with color; lying and watching the fragments chasing each other, I felt restored.
I got on the computer and the phone and made it all work. Again. Again, the end users told me how they appreciated what I was doing. And again, the Supervisor of Shadows asked for another report, another long meeting about what had gone wrong a month before, and this time capped it with a comment about how “no one was ever going to look at this thing, anyway.”
Ow. Cold. Where was this coming from? I put the question out to the gods, whom I’d pretty much figured weren’t talking to me anymore. I had been checking in on the astrology every so often, and had skimmed all the talk on Planet Waves about Nessus, old sexual injury, sexual injustice and damage. But this had nothing to do with sex — there wasn’t even a current of desire between me and this supervisor, not a flicker (and that’s rare for me). Was it suppressed? No, couldn’t feel it a bit. All the stars were saying sex, sex, sex — but this had nothing to do with that!
I was driving toward the Memorial Bridge, winding around the base of the Lincoln Memorial and listening to the same local station as the night before. The DJ was playing blues, and described how she’d just gotten a call from a woman who was a psychologist, who said we needed to remember that the blues used to be therapy for poor folks, that it was our way of feeling it and acknowledging it and moving on. I loved the sound of that. The DJ put on Trombone Shorty, and the wind over the river pushed at my car, and I asked the sky again: what does what’s happening to me at work have to do with sex? I’m not even writing about polyamory or sex right now! This thing I’m working on has nothing to do with sex! It’s about babies! And fertility! And –
So I’ve been trying to act like babies aren’t about sex. No wonder I can’t think straight. That kind of mind-fuck-kung-fu would cross anyone up.
And I suddenly remembered that the supervisor had been raised by her grandparents because her teenage mother had left them all.
And every time she had seen me for the past six months, I was telling her stories about parents and babies. About people desperate to have babies.
Well, there you go.
I remembered the way this supervisor, in meetings, could without a word get me to suppress my empathy, my humor, any ways in which I might be spontaneous and reach out to co-workers or subjects we interviewed. In temporarily working with this person, I found she even policed what I ate at occasional business lunches, telling me not to have anything with strong flavors or smells, because it would bother the people we’d be meeting with later. I remembered a Henry Miller quote from The World of Sex and made a note to look it up when I got out from behind the wheel:
In that first year or two, in Paris, I was literally annihilated. There was nothing left of the writer I had hoped to be, only the writer I had to be. (In finding my way I found my voice.) The Tropic of Cancer is a blood-soaked testament revealing the ravages of my struggle in the womb of death. The strong odor of sex which it purveys is really the aroma of birth; it is disagreeable or repulsive only to those who fail to recognize its significance. (emphasis mine.)
Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heroes. Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.
I’m still worried about losing my job and my reputation. But I’m not in anger and denial, not in shadowland anymore. I’ve regained compassion and acceptance through, as predicted here, a mental understanding of what’s happening. What seemed a sudden ability to see was really predicated by listening to and reading the struggles of people here to make sense of what they’re learning and awakening to; reading their own encouraging — in the sense of giving courage to — refusal to be discouraged. And I thank you for that.