This is a writing I did in a workshop with Deena Metzger, in February of 1996. I love the assignment to “think of all the ways someone has tried to fix you, told you who you are or who you should be.” I found it great fun to write, and very illuminating to read now.
Proteus (Son of Ocean & River Goddess) is “son of water.” Image of river, constantly flowing and changing, evaporating and being replenished. Proteus was an oracular god — you had to catch him to get an answer. He can change his shape — to hold him you must keep changing how you hold on.
“There are only two questions we can ask of an oracle: Who am I? and Where am I going?” Proteus gives the answer at the moment — if it stays the same, it’s no longer true. “We are Proteus. We want to get out of those hands that grip us, that fix us.” Imagine you are Proteus, and think of all the ways someone has tried to fix you, told you who you are or who you should be. How did you slip out? What is the elaborate and fluid camouflage to hold on to your identity/ to keep our valid? authentic? self
Mother told me I was selfish. I withdrew, became invisible, refused to engage. She tried to get me to fight her and I wouldn’t do it. They gave me a deb party, I became a Bohemian, wore black, wrote poems in the attic. At first I thrived on developing my intellect — how I escaped the stultifying boredom of my parents conventional social lives. By the middle of college I was finding the study of science too confining, I got into theater, took art classes. Went to Europe in a burst of escape: I will not be confined by Midwestern bourgeois background. Oldest sister, baby sitter: I chose not to have children. Men tried to use me for sex: I retreated into celibacy. Fellowship at Stanford, career track: I dropped out, tried drugs. But the “hippie” culture couldn’t hold me either, I refused to get lost in drugs. Searched for meaning and found it in saving the environment. Lest I get caught giving my life to some cause, I engineered a breakdown. This forced me back to the East Coast. Depression took me to the bottom, and I discovered spiritual practice. The “quiet, tidy, polite” Zen model became too confining, feminist consciousness exploded me out of there. Refusing to be fixed by the idea of intellectual, I began to work with my dreams. Feminism and the left-hand side of the psyche became new territory for exploration. I refused to be trapped by more sociological and political forms of feminism — went right past them. House in Brunswick, life as a single woman: met Dana & decided to go with him. Dana has never tried to fix me, has always pointed out ways I try to trap myself: i.e. “artist.” I eluded “writer” by giving up the idea of publishing. I eluded artist by never getting too good at anything, by practicing the expression of the moment instead of working toward a goal.
This was followed by a shorter version:
But the career track couldn’t hold me, I dropped out and became a hippie. But the drug culture couldn’t hold me, I became an environmental activist. But political activism couldn’t hold me, I became psychotic and depressed. But depression couldn’t hold me, I became a Zen monk. But Zen discipline couldn’t hold me, I became an angry feminist.
At the time they were happening, I saw these things as “defeats” rather than a choice to get out of something that wasn’t working and try something else. When Dana and I got divorced because he had found someone else, I was able to set up Neskaya as a non-profit, so I could create an endowment fund. I was happy teaching Observational Astronomy. I was very happy creating Sacred Circle Dance programs for Neskaya. But because I couldn’t manage on my own, I moved to Kendal. Then COVID happened. It was a good thing I was at Kendal, it would have been a disaster to be alone in my house. But since COVID, the social distancing has kept me triggered by my early trauma. So I am anxious and uncomfortable most of the time.
And now, where am I going? Who am I? I have no idea. And there’s nowhere else to go.