Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I have met the crone within, and she is us

By Cynthia Edwards
Dec. 18, 2002

If you read self-help books, as I do, you’ll know that many of the New Age authors recommend exercises of the imagination where you turn inward to meet and gain wisdom from an inner sage. This persona is sometimes called the higher self, a spiritual guide, or, more suspiciously, for women, the Crone Within.

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.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The New South Africa

An editorial on the first general election held in the new South Africa. Published on the Viewpoints editorial page of the Dallas Morning News.

By Cynthia Edwards - April 26, 1994

As today, for the first time, the polls open freely and universally in South Africa, my mind and heart are torn from my home and family in America. They fly to friends in that beautiful country of my youth and coming of age.

Tears stand in my eyes as I watch on the news an old black grandmother in a township being given voter education. A woman like sweet Angelina, who must now be so old, but who once washed and cooked and cleaned in our house with cheerful vigor. Angelina sent her children away from the dirty and violent township to receive a traditional upbringing with their grandmother in the distant homeland. She only saw those children one month out of the year, in accordance with the law that said she had no right to exist permanently in the white people's South Africa. When she came home to see them they called, "We remember you! You're Angelina." And she made this sacrifice of her family for the high-minded and noble cause of scrubbing my toilet every day.

You, Angelina, lived in servitude in our house, yet you reigned over us in purity of spirit and perfect resignation.

Thinking of the townships recalls Edith, who served in our household before Angelina. I often drove Edith home to the sandy and treeless township of Guguletu on her half-day off, to save her wasted hours on trains and buses lumbering in that general direction. In our suburban kitchen, Edith listened to my girlish secrets while she prepared gourmet meals for us. In her township kitchen, without advantage of electricity or plumbing, she prepared hot tea for me, boiled over an outdoor fire and lightened with sweetened condensed milk from a can, which needs no refrigeration. Edith kept all my secrets in her heart, even when we attended a blacks-only concert at the Seven Arts Theatre, me trying (and failing) to look non-white, to show my solidarity without actually courting arrest.

I remember, with unrelieved shame even after twenty years, the ultimate disenfranchised: a dozen or more black convict laborers who came one day to turn the soil and weed in our garden, with its flaming bird of paradise flowers and other exotic displays. And while the men worked under God's hot sun a white guard stood over them, pointing a machine gun at them to make sure none escaped -- at least, not alive. I watched with horror and prayed no one would put a foot wrong, lest his blood should water our soil, staining our household with the odium of oppression forever.

Today I remember my polyglot coterie of University friends, some of whom settled in South Africa, and some of whom left. Mike, Liz, Lucky, Fran├žois; South African, Flemish, Mauritian, and a chaotic group of French-speaking Greeks from the Congo. I remember my first and best boyfriend, and his mother, who was a mother to me, too. I remember Tony and Rajah, good-natured Indian friends. I remember toothless Uncle Adam, our gardener, and Mattie, of mixed race, abused by men and society, yet never failing to get our ironing done on Thursdays. I remember Afrikaner farmers who opened their homes to me, a total stranger passing by, with a measure of familial warmth never equaled in Anglo homes.

I remember my first date with a black South African, a cast member of Ipi 'N Tombia -- ah, but that was in London, safely out of reach of the South African Police.

I remember a white lecturer at the University of Cape Town, who used South African Economics class to dismember the apartheid system, proving that policies like forced migrant labour were economically indefensible.

Today, as the sun rises above the majesty of Table Mountain and the riches of the Witwatersrand and dances brightly and without prejudice on both the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans, my old friends will leave their Cape Dutch mansions, their high-security ranch houses, their cottages, huts, and lean-tos and head for the polls. My prayers go with you all. You are middle-aged, you are old, and some of you are ghosts looking on. But today, you deserve to enjoy the youthful feeling of rebirth, as you vote the new South Africa into life.

Sala kakuhle, old friends ... go well.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

How to Welcome the New Year

Many people like to make resolutions for the new year, and that's fine. But there are some practical matters that can be attended to before this year is over, which will tidy up loose ends and help you start the exciting new year with a clean slate. Here are some things to take care of by Dec. 31: 

  • De-clutter and donate. Clear out superfluous clothing, linens, toys, and household goods and drop them off at Goodwill, a homeless shelter, or other charity. There could be a tax deduction in it if you itemize. 
  • Make room for fresh, healthful foods. Clean out the pantry, fridge and freezer. Don't let expired food carry over into a new year. Shop anew for a healthier you!
  • Out with the old. Check medications, both OTC and prescription, and dispose of anything that's past its expiry date. Throw away old makeup, creams, and lotions - you ladies know what I'm talking about.
  • Know where your money went. Run end-of-year reports in your accounting system (Quicken,, etc.). Take note of how you spent your money (by category and by payee), and see if you can find opportunities for savings next year. If you don't use personal financial software, consider starting to in January. You can also check your online accounts; some banks and credit cards offer budget views that provide a general summary of expenditure types.
  • Be as debt-free as possible. Pay off all outstanding debts you can afford to. If you have multiple credit card balances, consolidate them onto the lowest-rate card you can find, and make paying down the total a priority in the new year.
  • Check up on your tithe. Figure out how much of your income you have shared with those less fortunate than you, and consider making one more donation to the non-profit organizations that best address the issues that touch your heart.
  • Clean and tidy your living space and vehicles.  

Now you are ready to welcome the New Year and put your best foot forward on January 1.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Old timey photos

I found treasures today in a small suitcase stored among boxes upon boxes of old photos my dad had stored. In this suitcase were wonderful pics of my parents going back to their baby years, early pics of my brother and me as infants and toddlers, AND underneath these, photo journals my grandmother had made when she was a girl!

As an example, she recorded a vacation she had taken with her three sisters to a farm -- little photos glued onto black pages with writing in white ink telling the story. These books are off the Richter scale of charming. In another book I found photos of a pre-WWI Cavalry officer pasted in next to his calling card; an unnamed woman in a lovely long dress and straw hat looking over a 5-bar farm gate and smiling broadly; young women in voluminous bathing dresses splashing in a lake ... I simply must find a way to digitize these books and share them. So much work ahead!

American School Detachment, Univ. of Manchester, England. My granddad (Tuttle) must be in this photo. My other granddad (Winger) went to the Sorbonne after WWI.

My dad, Max A. Tuttle, Jr. aged 18 - heading off to war.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A good tip for detectives

How can you tell if a suspect is lying?
  • When people are remembering events, their eyes move to the left.
  • When they are inventing a story, their eyes move to the right.
Good to know, eh?

Would you trust this woman's testimony?