(Written in September 1993)
I talked about the feeling I got from Verna, I once described it in a journal entry calling her a cannibal, that there was something I had that she wanted, that she would just suck it out of me if she could, that I could feel pressure from her to teach her how to write like me. Something about Verna reminded me of Granny, how she would tell me how “wonderful” I was, and how confusing it was for me because I felt that she wanted me to do something for her, but I didn’t know what it was, and also that she didn’t see me clearly, so her “wonderful” couldn’t apply to me. (I see now that I experienced “you’re wonderful” as a manipulative expectation, but I didn’t have that concept to understand it and ended up feeling inadequate.)
Exploring this stuff with my therapist, I saw the enormous baffled pain of being a child that is wiser than the adults around her, you see better ways to do things, or at least that theirs is disfunctional, so you can’t rest on their authority, but when you try to help, they invalidate your viewpoint so you learn not to trust your own perceptions either. And that deep wish to help (the natural response of an adult to a child she sees is floundering) is turned into a feeling of failure and hopelessness, because although you have the greater wisdom, you are only a small child and haven’t skills or concepts to articulate what you see, and they have big bodies and big voices and all the authority of being “grownup” and they are threatened by what little you do manage to say and of course have to make you wrong.
[I see now, it’s not so much that the child is “wise”, that I was “wise”, it was just that I saw the truths which my parents were spending their lives denying. Oct93]
I saw that part of what kept sucking me in to “try to fix it” for Verna was my inability to validate my own perception that she is deep in denial. She is so charming, so plausible, she has even said she admires my writing and would like to write like that. So I get sucked into trying to teach her how, I start doing my “song-and-dance” about honesty at which point, of course, I cease to be honest. (Later it became clear that what I had to do was embody honesty and keep my mouth shut.) Verna will never be able to write like me until she shifts her life orientation from “putting a good face on it” to a willingness to see the truth. There’s nothing I can do about that. [And of course, what I would really want for her is not that she would “write like me” but that she would write like herself.]
Verna was the mother of a friend. She came to my writing group.
What’s interesting about this journal entry is my effort to “figure it out” and also the comments I make from the future. Part of my process with my journal was to reread it occasionally and make comments from my present viewpoint. I always wrote on the righthand pages, leaving the lefthand ones as space for comments. This developed into a dialogue between older and younger selves. In this passage, the comments added when I was typing up a month later are in square brackets and italicized.