Esalen sparkled--the air, the sun, the people. Everyone looked beautiful to me, all one hundred and forty of the participants. It was a good weekend. I taught well, worked hard, laughed a lot (Theresa Williams got locked in the bathroom of our gorgeous room, and Sy Safransky, mild-mannered intellectual, kicked the door down--to everyone's delight--except, perhaps, for the maintenance people at Esalen.)
It was more people than we'd ever had, but the organization of events was tight as a drum, and there was one extra teacher, which made everything run more smoothly. This year the new teacher was Frances Lefkowitz, a feisty, street-smart writer who had a beautiful essay called Saturn is the Largest Planet on Earth in this month's SUN.
It's a high to be recongized for my work as a writer--after all, most of the time I spend just sitting in front of my computer, or getting parking tickets, or just generally feeling like a dork, so to get to meet readers face to face a few times a year is great. I was enjoying it, and allowing myself to feel, not that I've arrived, since I don't know where the destination is supposed to be--but just to feel, "Hey, I'm here." I wanted to be here, I wanted to get published, I wanted to be heard, I worked my butt off, and what do you know, something happened. I am sitting at the big kids' table. I am part of the cultural conversation of our time. Yippee!
Flash on the heels of this thought I heard my mother's voice from 40 years ago, saying "Alison just wants everyone to bow down in front of her open mouth." I heard those words inside my head and immediately felt shame, and fear--fear that I would become that publically insecure asshole who just loves to hear the sound of her own voice yapping away. Fear of being wrong, fear of being bad, and of being found out, and scorned and shamed for it--those are my worst terrors. I don't worry so much about malaria or parasites or plane crashes--alright, I worry a little about those things, but what really scares me is shame. Which is why, I guess, I try to out myself so regularly on this blog.
So, yes, my ego likes candy. And yes, I get a little sugar-high from all the people telling me they love my poetry, or that I'm a good teacher or whatever. I came home and confessed that to one of my roommates, a wise woman who has logged serious time in a twelve-step program, and she reminded me that the antidote to the sugar high (and its inevitable, subsequent crash) is service. Remembering that the point of the whole thing--duh!--is to serve the people who come to the retreat, and in a larger sense, the readership of The Sun, and in a larger sense, the world. My ego might get stroked in the process, but that is not actually the point of anything, just a side effect. (Got that, Grasshopper?)
There's a great value for us teachers in doing these retreats year after year, because we get to measure and see ourselves evolve. A little grayer, thinner one year, fatter the next, more serene or more troubled, in the flush of a new love, or painfully ending an old one, or just jogging along in a long-term partnership. More flexible, less ego-driven, hopefully; more experienced, certainly.
A new book, a new project, successes and disappointments, new beginnings and ongoing sagas. It's heartening to see life accrue, and the only way to see that is to stick to something. For better or for worse, I've stuck to writing, to The Sun, publishing there for fifteen years. And it piles up. I don't know how many poems and stories I've had in there, but it's over fifty, I know that--more than I ever would have expected. A good harvest.
When I got home, it was to the news that my wonderful lesbian-couple roommates found a great one-bedroom for themselves and their menagerie, which opens up a space for C to move in! Gulp. We are both excited and nervous, realizing what this means--a man with five pianos and a few marriages under his belt does not move in with a woman lightly. This means committment, the committment we have both been ready for from the beginning. Our relationship has been marked by directness, straightforwardness, and a lack of ambivalence--both of us were willing to say, "I want this," from the outset, thankfully. And we do. Which is not to say that there's not some trepidation.
I haven't lived with a partner since Alan. Hell, I haven't had a real partner since Alan, and we broke up in 1994. I am a whole new person now--or am I? Old fears resurface, the same basic underlying fear as always, fear of being unacceptable. I know there's nothing for it but to feel the fear and keep breathing and clear out a space in the garage where C can store his stuff, and make room in my psyche for this new transition, and that it's a time to be very gentle and very honest with myself and with him and that's what I'm trying for. And although there is too much to do and never enough time, we are using the time we do have as well as we can, and we are happy.