The Teacher in Him

As I review the recordings of the conversations between Daniel and myself, I note that he felt compelled to be the teacher. That he came into our first session with sheets of photocopied paper to explain, according to his spiritual teacher, how a woman can only love as mother, demonstrated this. In every following session, I had a sense that he wanted to be the teacher. How well can a teacher shift into the role of being the student? How open then was Daniel to learning from me as a woman? Did this immediately set up a way of relating that wasn’t conducive to an open dialogue where both participants felt seen and heard?

Having stated the above, both of us must have felt safe in sharing. In the first session, we quickly moved from being hypothetical to discussing our childhoods and early relationships with the opposite sex. I found my ground and although he often seemed to dominate the conversation, I said what I wanted to say. And, our time together became very interactive and conversational.

My initial question, before Daniel stated his premise, was to discuss the Peter Pan Syndrome, the Puer Aeternus male and how the modern woman responds to him. When I look at our government, for instance, I can find so many examples of out-of-control egos governing the world. I have noticed that often, the women who are married to these men appear to support the immature male–often by their silence.

We did touch on this topic. Daniel admitted to not stepping into his adult male persona until he was in his sixties. Before that, he didn’t have a conscience about being verbally and psychologically abusive to women…and men. If he perceived that someone was intellectually inferior to him, he immediately judged them as less than him.

Both Daniel and I had highly abusive childhoods. We had male and female models that were stunted in their growth. Anger was the man’s go-to when he was triggered. Submission was the woman’s response to a man, especially when he exhibited anger. This was true in both of our families of origin. Daniel grew up not respecting his mother. He considered her cowardly for not standing up to his father. “A doormat,” he said.

I could match him for that as my father was highly abusive and got away with the unthinkable. My mother had no power in the relationship…it seemed to be this way right from the start of their marriage. We can say it was the times…the fifties’…when woman was to play that subservient role in relation to her husband. However, it’s been a theme throughout known history…that woman is secondary, less than. A theme that was exacerbated when man instigated religions that elevated men and virtually erased women from the pantheon of newly reigning gods.

Men could get away with all sorts of things within the constructs of family. It was structured within Christianity that a woman “be subject to him.” That is what I learned so well from my mother. I went off into the world, modeling my mother, subjugating myself to a man who didn’t see or appreciate me. A man who blamed me because all he wanted to do was be a boy. He did a man’s job, a firefighter, and then he wanted to play, play, play and drink, drink, drink. He would have occasional sentimental bouts where he’d try to do something thoughtful. These rare instances of sentiment couldn’t counteract his ongoing behaviors and violations, his disrespect towards me.

Daniel went off into the world at an early age, full of arrogance and rage and without a conscience, as he said. Although he felt shame around and anger towards his mother, he intuitively felt that women would be his teachers. He sought out women like himself–attractive, whip-smart intellectuals, able to hold that attraction or otherwise, dismissible. Whereas, I sought approval from a man. Was I pretty enough? Was I bright enough? Was I sexy enough to hold a man’s fidelity and his love? I always felt, that I had to try harder and do more to “win him.” I thought I had to earn his love and affection. It wasn’t alright to be me exactly as I was.

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What is a woman’s role in regards to the immature males in her life, grown men who refuse to grow up and take responsibility? That was one of my questions to Daniel…and now to you.

Rilke

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Tribute to Rilke
© by Christine O’Brien

The rose’s petals teach us how to see
through a multitude of eyelids, says he.
Beneath the lids, “oh pure contradiction,
joy of being.”  Jubilation.

“There are no lakes until eternity,”
as we stumble forward into infinity.
“To fall from the mastered emotion” is the way
though we seek rest through the weary day.

His tribute to Holderlin, poet of light,
movement “like the moon…and underneath bright…”
Rilke invades soul countries to retrieve
pure essence of truth, no time to deceive.

The questing seeker that he was, tense with
desire to know the self and crack the myth
which imprisons so many, the unwary
in such depths plummeted, a poet’s quarry.

Extracting from despair as well as from glory
not to be “shut out” from the star’s story.
For we are part of something grander
though we live small lives of misplaced wonder.

Employing the dross of a childhood curtailed
grew a man of soul, the sensitive prevailed.
Opening, then, my own heart to deep sight;
his poetry traverses both depth and height.

“Even here, though, something can bloom”
Lifts the weary from unwarranted gloom
“almost cheerfully with a lightness”
his poetry a beacon towards brightness.

Writing Prompt:
This poem, a tribute to Rainer Maria Rilke, is conversational with some of Rilke’s poetry.
Find a poem that you love and engage in conversation with it, incorporating a line or two into your own poem.  Allow the poet’s lines to lead you into the poem’s
theme and then follow your own train of thought.

Note:  In the poem above, Rilke’s lines are italicized and in purple.

Leading Questions

When I paint, when I write or when I get stuck, I ask a leading question. Where do I go from here?  What would my protagonist do or say in this circumstance? Where does this poem want to go?  Or what color wants to come onto the canvas? Which line or mark can move this piece forward?  What if…I do this or try that? Then what? For it isn’t always flow, but sometimes a stumbling step, then another tripping step and then a fumbling move forward. Even a dreaded mistake can take you to the next level. It’s all part of it…this grand, unpredictable creative process.

As a beginning painter, my desire was often greater than my ability.  What did I do with that?  I continued the questioning.  And sometimes, I took a brush and black paint in frustration and swirled lines across my painting in process. Frequently, to my surprise, something new emerged from which I could move forward.

Basically, you become CONVERSATIONAL with whatever you’re doing–writing or painting. 

Life itself is really about “I wonder what is next?”  Because as much as we think we’re in familiar territory, we don’t know what the next moment might bring.  It is about fully trusting the unfolding creative process.

It also helps to see what you are doing as practice. You cannot know what you don’t know.  Through questioning, you remain open to discovery.  The faces that I drew and painted two years ago laid the platform for the faces that I draw and paint today.  I had to begin somewhere and to be patient with my development as an artist.  I spent time with faces. Today, I actually enjoy the challenge of drawing a three-quarter turned face.  I steeped myself in images of three-quarter turned faces–eyes, noses and lips in that profile position.  I memorized them, traced them, tore them from magazines, drew them, made tons of wonky faces.  And I learned from my mistakes.  I often asked, “What happens if I do this?”  These very words imply trial and error…and successes too.  And, I’m not there yet!inner2 (1)

WRITING PROMPT:
Revisit a work in progress that has been stalled (writing, painting, drawing) and begin a conversation with it.  Ask leading questions and respect the response(s) that you get. Allow the uncertainty and take the faltering steps as you move your work along. Allot yourself a sufficient amount of  time with this and see how leading questions work for you.