Planet Waves | Genexhibitionist by Maya Dexter


Full House
or How I Learned the Art of Interdependence

Genexhibitionist | by Maya Dexter

Collage by Maya, too.

WELL, the transformation man came through my neighborhood recently, driving real slow and blaring hurdy-gurdy Tibetan chants on the megaphone. The child in me tugged at my sleeve and said, "come on mom, just this once, can I have some, pleeeeeeeeeeease?"
.......And my inner child looked at me so sweetly that I could not help but say yes. But you know children, never in a hurry for anything, and my little indulgence left behind drips that I'll be scrubbing out of the psychic carpet for years to come.
.......Hmm...this is coming out cryptic. Let me explain: see, back in June I got sick of my job and I quit. I agreed to work at my best friend's new company (in New Jersey) and talked my husband into quitting his lucrative (and miserable) job to go back to school full time (again in New Jersey) and packed up my household and kid to move guessed it, New Jersey. My husband will join us in mid-August. My daughter and I are living with my friend and her family. Now, I'm a self-admitted transformation junkie, but this is possibly the most drastic thing I've ever done.
.......So much has happened in the last two months that I don't even really know where to start. I'd love to tell you the whole story, but it's an epic of novel proportions and I don't know that Eric has the server space to house such a yarn. So I'll skip the details and get to the present and what this all means. But first, let me add an astrological side note that will make most of you nod your heads and go, "ahhhh."
.......Last winter, I felt like I had lost every inch of progress I'd made over the last two years. My marriage and my job made me feel like a duck in an oil slick, and I wasn't sure I was capable of ever flying again. Worst of all, I was beginning to wonder if I wasn't doomed to normalcy. The most guilty party in this agony was the building tension of Saturn preparing to cross my ascendant. As most of us are painfully aware, anticipation is often much more agonizing (or more interesting) than reality, and this case was no exception. The closer the planet of my antithesis came to breaching the border of my free and bizarre Gemini ascendant, the more my life grew to look like a grizzly trainwreck. Fortunately, the future always walks up to greet us, and with contact came a tremendous sigh of relief.
.......For the first time in my life, I craved...order. Go ahead and laugh, ye Capricorns of the world, but in my world order is something you give the takeout guy on the phone, not something you apply to life. Life is to be lived by the seat of one's pants, lest some incredible experience be overlooked while one is preoccupied with perfectly aligning the sacred geometry of order. But still, there I was, wishing my home was neat, absorbing information, making plans and lists and (gasp!) ASKING for what I wanted. Certainly this was the first sign of the apocalypse.
.......This is the long story part. Fast forward to present.
.......I no longer live in Missouri. The Mississippi River, the great spit-part of our nation, no longer tugs at my soul from its polluted prison of levees and locks. I no longer drive past Monsanto's pristine campus with its propaganda sign sneering "Food, Health, Hope" through shining teeth of destruction. My father is not a short drive away, nor is the place of my birth or the ancient Cahokia mounds or any of the other natural sites that had grown sacred and familiar within me. My friends' lives continue on and I fade into their background. I am of New Jersey now. Where you can't even buy my favorite beer.
.......New Jersey is not bad, it is actually very beautiful and reminds me in many ways of home, except that it is a foreign facsimile through which I could not find my way in the dark. I now have an ocean within my reach, and I will admit that nothing makes you feel your place in the sacred order of things quite so profoundly as watching the full moon rise over the ocean. But everyone is a stranger, and the strangers here aren't quite so accommodating as the ones back home. I suddenly have a Southern accent. Everyone is in a hurry and they protect their little yuppie compounds of things fiercely and will bark at you if you impede their rush home to polish their stuff or attempt to invade their privacy with friendliness or concern. I have never been the outsider before.
.......But there is something that happens when you are removed from the context of the world you are familiar with. Those stubborn parts of the ego that have been so cleverly camouflaged by the wallpaper of chronic familiarity suddenly stand out in glaring contrast to the new and foreign background, and for the first time I saw these ugly flaws and I cringed. Is this really what I look like? But this is not who I am, or who I want to be! And so this move has been a glorious opportunity to sort through my closet of ego attachments and cast off those things that no longer fit me, or are hopelessly out of style.
.......For example, I never knew how shy I was. I covered it so well with gregariousness, with morphing into something like them in order to make them comfortable and get my own bearings. The best way to keep people at arms length until you can know them enough to trust them is to keep them entertained with themselves. That feels awkward now. I am tired of bending to fit the context of everyone else's will. I have my own will to attend to, thank you.
.......But the most incredible changes around me are those involving my living situation. Here I am, in the middle of upper-middle-class white suburbia, living communally with another family. Now I understand why my parents' experiment with collective living was almost destined to fall apart: this shit is hard. And they were broke and hungry; I got nothing to complain about and it's still hard.
.......The first hurdle was guilt. I moved in on another family: their home, their life, their space, their stuff already filling it. I had to find a way to make it mine without it ceasing to be theirs. Every time I turned around I felt underfoot, like I was infringing on their territory. I did a lot of housework those first couple weeks in a weak attempt at apologizing for my presence. I did my best to be extra nice to my friend's husband and give him as much space as he needed to adjust to our presence. Every time my daughter issued a whimper I was worried that they regretted our moving in with them, even for a short time. I was abruptly and compassionately asked to get over this. Guilt still creeps into the doubting corners of my old-Catholic mind from time to time anyway.
.......Just when I finally began to make myself at home, another issue came out of nowhere and blindsided me: parenting. Sharing full parental responsibilities with other adults is the hardest thing, bar none, that I have ever had to negotiate in my life. An individual's definition of parenting is as unique as their fingerprint. While we may share and foster many social and ethical ideals, we each create a unique structure of affection and boundaries primarily based on what we, as children, did or didn't receive from the adults around us. This, combined with observations about our children from the moment of their first kick in utero, is the foundation upon which our entire parenting philosophy rests. The rest is trial and error. Trying to pick up from nowhere and attempt to provide appropriate boundaries and affection for a child you barely know is like trying to swim up Niagara Falls. Watching other adults attempt the same and trip over your child's delicate sense of self in the process is nothing less than excruciating.
.......Again, every time my daughter issued so much as a whimper I leapt from wherever I was to take care of the situation, even when I was sleeping. Every time I left her alone with them I was awash with guilt for both parties. Surely they saw this as an imposition, and surely my daughter would be permanently scarred by the experience.
.......As we all know from watching the kid in the bookstore scream his head off while his mother ignores it, we are all better parents than anyone else could possibly be (this is especially true of those of us without children - I know, I used to be one. I wish I were still that good). Watching your best friend make parenting choices you wouldn't make for a kid who is as different from yours as a carpet is from an orange is a lesson in humility if ever there was one. I will admit that I was certain I knew better than she how to get her kids to behave, and I know I caught the disapproving eye more than once myself.
.......But eventually I realized that we are all going through the same struggles, and that at the bottom of this was a genuine desire on everyone's part to be helpful. The best way to do that is to lay down ego and learn from and depend on each other.
.......Her kids still don't take me seriously, and my daughter complains that she wants to live with just our family again. But I also see that she can't wait for the kids' dad to come home and she loves all the fun things we get to do now that there are enough adults to go have fun and still get the housework done. Every once in awhile I get a kiss from the kids or I make them laugh and it makes the struggle worthwhile. I have a whole new respect for how difficult it is to become a stepparent. For the first month they were all really obnoxious, but they have adjusted now and are easing back into their normal selves, except that they have each given each other a piece of their personalities and each child will spend the rest of their lives as a part of each other. It's amazing to watch children learn so much from each other. I can only hope that someday adults will acquire that trait somehow.
.......Living communally is so profound on so many levels that it's almost too hard to communicate. If marriage is a mirror, communal living is a whole house of mirrors. When so many people are interdependent, there is no way to hide who you are if you want it to work. There is no room for manipulation or playing sides if you want any chance at harmony. Every conflict and roadblock is another opportunity to look and see where your own roadblocks lie and to ask for help in figuring out how to clear them. It's an amazing gift, but it is not for the faint of heart. It is so easy to fantasize about living with a household full of cool, likeminded people that you can hang with all the time and never have to be alone, but the reality of managing food, privacy, sharing resources, and tolerating bad days requires nothing short of constant mindfulness.
.......Wait, I may have to rethink part of the previous paragraph. Pardon me while I indulge myself in a bit of fanciful supposition....
.......Maybe the problem is that we don't live this way anymore. Once upon a time, we all lived in small villages or in extended households out in the middle of nowhere. We relied on each other for everything, interdependence wasn't a cute little white light buzzword, it was a matter of survival. We all had a crucial role to play and we supported each other in fulfilling those roles. I won't pretend that this worked perfectly - there were plenty of folks stuffed into roles they didn't want - but still, we relied on each other and there were few secrets because the community was too small and too poor to afford any.
.......As we grew wealthier and moved into cities and accumulated more stuff, we got covetous and began guarding our privacy to ward off jealousy and fear. Increased wealth and mobility offered us plenty of luxuries, but at the sacrifice of a close community. Now, we are free to be whatever we want, with whomever we want, wherever we want. And we don't even know our neighbors' names anymore. CEO's have no idea whether we have families, but they make decisions on a daily basis that affect them. What I'm saying is, it's a heck of a lot easier to screw up someone's life when you don't know the first thing about them. When you know someone intimately, when you have rocked their children while they cry, there is no option but compassion.
.......So maybe this is what the world needs a dose of. Yes, I know, this is shameless idealism. I'm fantasizing - indulge me. But if we had no secrets and depended on each other to make our lives better on a simple level instead of an economic one, then perhaps this world wouldn't be so screwed up. Maybe someday...for now I'd be happy if we could just make all the G8 leaders and their families live communally with an equal number of hippies and their respective families for one year on a limited budget and see what sort of global changes took place at the end. If only...
.......Some days I feel so close to a solution for this mess, and other days I feel like we couldn't be farther away. I am trying to relinquish control over those things I am tempted to pass judgment on. The best I can do is look for the solution to the world's problems in my daily life, and try to remember that if I can't find it within, I'll never find it without, and just keep on looking.++

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