Wild Things or Tiger Tamer No More

Several years ago, I went to the zoo. The zoo used to be a guilty pleasure for me. I knew that it was terrible and that the animals were locked in too-small cages and were sad and depressed but I liked to see them. Now zoos just make me really, really sad because I realize how incredibly selfish it is and I cannot pretend anymore but there was this one time that I remember vividly.

I was at the Como zoo in early spring in Minneapolis. The weather wad barely warm yet and all of the animals were either still hibernating or not moving around too much. Except for the tigers. There were two of them, a couple, I think. I watched them for quite some time. They were playing with an old basketball, walking along a fallen tree and generally behaving like big overgrown house cats, rolling on their backs in the brown grass and tumbling with one another.

I was mesmerized. There was a little place to sit and press your nose up against the glass and watch them from above. Their habitat was on a lower level but there were all sorts of trees and places for them to jump us and move around. All of a sudden, without warning, one of the tigers started walking toward me. She climbed up the cement blocks and ended up on my level, where she placed her nose against the glass, opposite my own nose, which was pressed up against the glass too.

I could hardly stand it. There was a shiver of terror that skittered up my spine as I realized how close that I was to this mystical creature. I took in her colors, the shabbiness of the dirty fur near her stomach a sharp contrast the the bright orange on her back. Her whiskers that twitched, her pink nose. I could almost feel her breath. We stared into each other’s eyes.

What took my breath away (I hadn’t realized that I was holding my breath until she walked away) was the color of her eyes and how she looked at me. I felt so special, looking into those deep green eyes. I knew that she was singling me out and that she knew that I was someone who “knew.”

I would later tell that story as if I had met a celebrity.  So proud that this animal had chosen to spend a minute looking into my eyes. She gave me some of her power that afternoon and now, as I look back on a poem that I wrote years ago during a bad breakup, it seems particularly relevant as I recall the time that I literally stared a tiger in the eye.

Tiger Tamer

you just squeezed the juice right outta me

woke up that tiger who’s been pacing in her pit
i have been feeding her sparsely for years
barely keeping her alive.
The taste of some big game was all it took
she’s hungry now-
strength back
snorting, pacing, panting.
her eyes gleam and she smiles
can’t tell if she’ll hurt me cause
after all
she’s wild
stretched up against the walls, i can almost feel her claws against my toes
taste her hot breath on my face
you know its not the back of my neck any longer
and that’s progress
which I’ll take in any form
after all of these years of trying to be a tiger tamer
i think its just best to let her out and see what happens
a worthy opponent

My Pain is My Power or Radical Honesty

The idea that there is a vast storehouse of power and energy and experience that we can access from the painful experiences in our lives is not an new idea. Look at any artist, writer, singer, etc. and ask about their inspiration for some of their best work. A lot of it comes out of intense pain. No-that is not exactly what i am talking about. Rather, the idea that our personal capacity to heal others comes from this acknowledgement of the pain and of sitting down with it and being honest about our experience with it, there in lines or capacity to heal ourselves and other. The idea that someone who is so severely wounded and broken could draw power from those wounds to heal herself and others in the revolutionary idea.

My biggest source of pain has been fear of telling the truth. Fear that I could not handle it, that others could not handle it, fear that everyone would find out how fucked up I am, and that no one would love me if they really knew me. Somewhere along the way I decided that the best decision for me was to keep my head down and not cause too much attention. As a child, i learned to lie to protect people from the horrible weight of the truth. I ended up getting myself so caught up in a web of deceit that I could never begin to remember who I had lied to about what. When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I remember reading an essay that my late uncle had written about finding the love of his life in his 50’s and he talked how he proposed the idea of practicing radical honesty with his love. What that meant to  me was telling the truth at all times no mater what. WHAT THE FUCK!!!! That went against just about all of my training and experience and seemed like a foolhardy idea that would only get one into a world of trouble.

At the time, I didn’t necessarily buy this idea. I thought it was nuts. But the concept stuck with me and I have come to realize that it is the only way. I am still convincing myself that this is the best way. Love everyone and always tell the truth. To someone who had relied on lies to get her by, there is something so incredibly overwhelming about this idea. This innate belief that if I even tried to do something like that, I would spontaneously combust or something. Partly because i had no idea how to even start and partly because it seemed so fake coming from someone who had told so many lies in the course of her very short life. That phrase, radical honesty, stuck with me although I would not attempt to practice it for years but more about that later.

At the time that I was learning that there even was such a thing as radical honesty, I was deep in it up to my eyeballs in lies. I had so many secrets and so many identities! Hiding my eating disorders, my kleptomania, my self-harm and budding drug and alcohol addictions, coping with unrealized sexual abuse and balancing being a caregiver to my sister and younger brother and sister, being held to an extremely high academic standard all the while holding the precarious emotional balance in my family was too much for anyone, so I blew it all up when I turned 17. More about that later.  I was the ultimate chameleon and prided myself on being able to hang out with anyone and to adapt to any situation. I was a chronic people pleaser and would bend over backward (especially for men) and put everyone’s desires above my own. One one hand, I felt trapped inside a Dali-esque painting in my mind.  Juggling various identities and story lines  was exhausting and was doing my best to keep them all straight, to keep the worlds from intersecting but it it was taking all of my strength. Later I would discover drugs and alcohol, giving fuel to my fire and allowing me to keep this illusion going for years to come. Denial, substance misuse, and losing myself in relationships would be what got me through my teens and 20’s.

My 30’s got off to a pretty crazy start. Everything was blowing up in my face and I was starting to realize that I would have to make a change bit not really sure what to do. It was around this time that I latched onto the idea of motherhood and became obsessed with the idea. Sure that this would be what would save me. I would get it together for another person, a baby. I would give up all of my destructive habits and everything would somehow be ok. That was not my path and despite my efforts, it did not come to pass.

Until just before my 34th birthday when part of my body literally exploded. I was pregnant but in the wrong place-my Fallopian tube. It was either the pregnancy or my life and I was rushed into the hospital for emergency surgery. Months later, I am not coming to terms with the idea that I could never have carried that baby because it is not mine to birth. It never was. I need to let go and allow my true self to be born and to unleash the torrent of creative energy that has lain buried for years. That is my baby and the thing that I have been most terrified of. Unless I embrace radical honesty, I might just end up dying with my song still inside of me. This is my biggest fear and as scared as I am to hit publish on this first post, I am more scared of what might happen if I don’t do it. So here goes nothing…