In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

A Sense of Things–who we are

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Rehashing things now at our same old table in the corner of this cafe for our monthly meet-up, same old insecurities, I asked why she always doubted herself.

“I may seem composed to an outsider, but I am not always competent. A client once described me as ‘not a genius but brilliant enough to get the the job done.’ I have always pegged myself in the above average intelligence, education and common sense category, but not overly. I have natural intelligence, a fair amount of luck, and a decent sized bit of emotional intelligence I inherited from my mother. The rest I supplement with stubbornness and tenacity–maybe a little intuition.”

I reminded her of her ‘wall of shameful boast,’ as she calls it: diplomas from Stanford and Berkeley, a Masters and a Doctorate. Not exactly slumming it in the competency department.

“But I am no natural when it comes to education. I’m not a quick-smart learner. I study and process long. Not sure how much is self-fulfilling prophecy or truth. I am simply a product of genes and messages from my cultural experiences, like anyone. My articulate, self-taught literary reader and critic mother and gambling good-with-numbers-and-rages father formed the most of me. I have my mother’s stubbornness and my father’s reckless anger that threatens everyone’s safety on the road.” 

I reminded her of the time we drove to Vegas, and I opened the door to the van going 90 plus miles an hour screaming to be let out, figuring my odds were about the same getting there in one piece at the same rate, one by ambulance and a hospital stay and the other by several days’ walk. We laugh, me with a twinge of intestinal grating.

“I have anger in me–sometimes deeply uncontrollable anger that threatens to drive me into the ground. Most days, I have balanced peace and calm, but speed bumps send me to the sky quickly. Perhaps I am fermenting into the real me, the older mellow me. Somehow the downslide feels a whole lot like the upswing–the breaking down as hard and incremental as the building up. It is a painful process, seemingly out of my control most days. The waves of resolve ebb and flow, taking a layer of the sand with each receding tide bringing more of the world into me than goes back out, sometimes with surrender, sometimes with struggle. And so it has been for a span.”

My thoughts silently nodded to her last dozen or so words floating in my brain’s air and swimming over my tongue. How do we separate the outside and inside worlds, delineating their boundaries, enough to know?

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