Dec. 18, 2002
As intrigued as I am by the idea of absorbing wisdom without having to buy any more self-help books, I’m rather afraid that if I meet some inner android who claims to know more than I do, she will turn out to be an evil step-mother type, looking like Cruella De Vil and giving me advice like I should wear nice underwear in case I get hit by a bus.
Psychotherapists—from Dr. Phil on down—also tell us that even healthy people have voices living inside, which may do damage if allowed to prattle on, unchecked. There is the inner critic, for instance, who is constantly taunting us and never letting us get away with anything. Even our good deeds can get a thorough hosing by the inner critic if he or she is inclined to be scrupulous.
It’s bad enough for an overweight person like myself to feel that there is a thin person inside struggling to get out (or as Edina Monsoon’s mother dryly observed, “Just the one, dear?”). But to know there is also a crone waiting to be birthed, a sage puffing up to pontificate, and a possibly pipe-smoking critic hoping to spread vitriol far and wide—a girl starts sympathizing deeply with Greta Garbo who just wanted to be alone.
If all these personae are known to be living inside me, recently I started to wonder who else might be lurking in the shadows of my psyche. Feeling pretty sure that I was sound enough of mind to face the truth, I decided to hold a town hall meeting of my inner selves. I closed my eyes, and imagined.
The Brothers Grimm meet the U.N.
It was my visualization, so I got to choose the setting. I was going for a five-star Riviera hotel banquet scene, with soft white table cloths, champagne-filled goblets, delectable catering and waiters who had stepped straight off the pages of the Chippendales calendar. However, I couldn’t seem to conjure all that up. In practice the scene looked like a Colonial meeting hall—very plain, with wooden floors and folding chairs. Oh, well, I thought. At least there’s room enough here for all the characters to assemble.
And indeed there was, but only because the room kept expanding to accommodate newcomers, as though it had ingested one of Alice in Wonderland’s magic mushrooms. Peeking out from behind a curtain, I watched them come in. I saw Echoes of my Childhood. Shades of my Past. Intimations of Things to Come. I counted a number of brightly dressed extroverts, and some bossy ladies in sensible shoes and a strong sense of self-assurance. There were thoughtful characters who sat down and observed, as I did, with an air of quiet amusement. A Harlequin swung across the ceiling on a trapeze, singing, and somewhere at the back, a baby hiccupped.
When a few hundred good, bad and generally confused characters had arrived, I started the proceedings by banging my shoe on the podium. I had to do something to get their attention above the din. Everyone was talking at once, it seemed, and not all in the pleasantest of tones. It was a family reunion, after all. You’ve got to expect a little chaos, and some pushing and shoving for the most prominent place.
When the cacophony had subsided to a dull roar, I addressed the group.
“Hello, and welcome,” I began, trying not to show my unease at the large number of totally unrecognized faces.
“Sez you,” came a jeer from the back, and there was a general tittering. The Inner Jackass had made its appearance. I plunged ahead.
“I have gathered you here today to get to know you, and find out if any of you have needs that are perhaps unmet, or contributions you can make to my growth as a person.” I had started to sweat, and I prayed it wasn’t visible from the audience. I knew from experience this was an unpredictable crowd.
Olga, my Inner Gypsy and a familiar adversary, did an ostentatious twirl in the aisle and smacked her tambourine, rattling it until all eyes were fixed upon her. With her sultry looks and black tumultuous hair she was a fetching sight. Effective attention-getting devices, I thought in a detached manner.
“Ve vant to travel!” she cried in a throaty Hungarian voice. “Ve vant to step into our colorful gypsy cart and roam around ze world, playing sensuous music by day and dancing around ze fire by night!” The crowd was swept away with this image. They stamped their feet and hooted their approval. I was as enchanted as the rest.
“OK! More travel,” I said, scribbling a note. “Anyone else? Who’s next?”
A long, lean fellow in a tight velvet suit with yards of lace dangling from his cuffs rose to his feet and waved his pince-nez in the air in little circles. “Sink me,” he exclaimed in a thoroughly affected British accent, “a trip to Paris would be most welcome. And along the way we could wear disguises and defeat the forces of evil. If you could—ahem!—put that on your little list.” And he twiddled his index finger in the direction of my notepad.
My inner Scarlet Pimpernel had spoken, and that was two check-marks for a trip abroad. Hey, we’re getting somewhere, I thought. Maybe this explains some of the longings I have felt to get up and go somewhere. Maybe this explains my exquisite manners and the last frilly blouse I purchased, too. But just as I was relaxing and thinking the exercise was making sense, a large, boorish woman with talons for hands marched up on stage and shoved me aside. She sank her claws into the podium and leaned threateningly towards the audience, which collectively shrank back to the precise degree she was leaning forward. Then this Inner Harpy began a harangue that would have shredded the ego of Super Girl. Suddenly I knew who was making my plants wither during the dark hours of the night, and leaving rings around the bathtub.
Fortunately the crowd was united in their disapproval of the Harpy, and she was quickly escorted off the stage and out of our consciousness by a gaggle of kindly but determined nuns.
The demon exorcised, the rest of us were able to relax and have fun.
A few more characters who felt neglected spoke up and expressed their needs, all of which I noted for future action. I looked around for the Thin Woman who’s supposed to live inside me, but I honestly didn’t see her. Of course she might be so emaciated she’d be invisible behind a gypsy mandolin. I also looked in hope for the elegant, high-fashion Me I was sure must be dying to take control of my wardrobe. But if she was there, she must have fallen off her spike heels and run to the bathroom for a repair. Again, I was disappointed.
As the session drew to a close, a genteel elderly woman in rimless glasses, leaning slightly on a knobby cane, delivered some surprisingly insightful and inspirational comments, and with this closure, the scene faded quietly away.
Back in consciousness, I wondered about the meaning of all this. Am I, like Benjamin Franklin’s biographer said of him, a “harmonious human multitude”? Am I ruler of a ‘queendom’ of subjects having varying talents and qualities? I suspect it is it all just a metaphor for the glorious and messy thing we call human life.
Meeting so many personae in my dream gave me one insight that had been eluding me for the last decade or more. Having many intelligences and talents coiled within makes me feel like a person who is pregnant with possibilities. And like all pregnant ladies, I’m not just eating for one. When you’re feeding as many egos as I am, you’re bound to put on little weight.