“Timmy did excellent work this year. It was a pleasure to teach him. He is very sensitive, and we’ve been working to overcome this, as school will be a happier experience if we solve this problem.”
Vera Hartwig, from my kindergarten report card.
I want to return to my first question from last week: what the hell is that blood-rising, heart-pounding feeling inside of me all about? And why am I so strongly compelled to rant and rage? But before I do, I want to notice three things:
First, that post earned far more likes, more comments, and more shares than any other post I’ve made since returning to a weekly blog, to the point where I joked to Sally “Maybe I need to become a ranting Doomer again!” For somebody who’s wondering what helps, what makes sense to do, what’s relevant, this is an interesting data point. One that I shall ponder for a while.
Second, that post’s popularity seems clearly connected to the fact that it did contain a rant, and I note that more than one person expressed concern over the notion that I might stop ranting, or expressed encouragement for me to do even more ranting.
Third, that post’s popularity also seems clearly connected to the fact that that Dodge Ram Commercial stirred up many people, given the number of parodies, alternatives, and articles I saw about it. It has become a meme. I think my take on this commercial is different from these other takes, but that feels like a topic for later. For now, I’ll just link them below for safekeeping.
Back to my question.
First answer: my feelings of ranting and raging were born and raised in my family of origin. They are the direct result of being, as far as I can tell, very different from those around me, and of having my different needs and skills and desires not only not seen, nurtured, accepted and cherished, but actively suppressed. The deep grief, incredulity, disappointment, and anger that rose from my family experience still lingers inside of me, ready to cast it’s shadow across my life when I fail to shine the light of my present being.
I used to joke, when asked about What a Way to Go, that my primary motivation for making the film was to make my family wrong. Thing is, that wasn’t really a joke. Or not totally. I think I was born onto this planet with the knack for, or simply the willingness to, in Daniel Quinn’s words, “take off the obscuring lenses of Mother Culture” and see what is really there. And I think that a very young version of me could see and feel things about my family, and my world, that others were unable, unwilling, or unready to see and feel.
But this is mostly conjecture, as that sensitive, sensitized, reality-seeing little tow-headed boy would have quickly learned, would have been forced to learn, that there was no real market for what he had to offer. Not in his family. Not in his school. Not amongst his friends. It was a tough and sharp edged world, a place of hard work and control and denial, a place of too bad and tough shit and go out and blow the stink off and it’ll grow hair on your chest. Sensitivity to the underlying realities of the world around me would not cut it here. And as there was seemingly nothing to be done about the way things were in any event, nobody wanted to hear about it. What there was to do was to try to forget who I was and why I came here, find a way to fit in and go along and pretend to be happy.
This I did.
Until I could do it no longer.
My conjecture is grounded primarily in my adult experience of the past fifteen years or so, as I broke from my marriage and my family of origin and made the attempt to say what I saw and speak the truths that I’d kept so long hidden in my heart. Having been raised in the same conflict-avoidant, psychologically unsophisticated family system I was trying to speak into, my attempts were, to say the very least and especially at first, imperfect. Conflict arose and feelings were hurt and misunderstandings settled in between us and we have not yet been able to find, or create, the deep dialogue that might bring us back into forgiveness and connection. It has gotten to the point where, (save for one brother who, having himself been the family’s outlier at times, seems able and willing to see me for who I am) I have little to no interaction with most of my family, including my own children.
This, as you might imagine, has and continues to be a source of great pain and grief.
My adult experience with my family, and my ongoing work with Sally, has allowed me to reconnect with my best, most essential self, the self who slid down the gravity well and donned a flesh-suit with both a vision and a purpose. And, having reconnected with that beautiful tow-headed being, and armed now with the wisdom derived from my more recent experiences, I have been able to feel my way into and through the processes and predicaments that caused that young soul to don the hard, crusted armor of reactivity and belief and assumption he strapped on as a salve to his deep wounds and a shield to further hurts.
It’s that same armor that I’ve spent my years with Sally learning to take back off. Parts of it. Some of the time.
So the feelings that arose within me as I first watched that Dodge Truck commercial – that ranting of can’t you see? and that’s totally wrong! and you do not understand! – those feelings are deeply rooted in the heart and soul of a sensitive young child struggling to be seen and understood, striving to be allowed to simply be himself. They are, in the final analysis, feelings of powerlessness, as I certainly felt powerless in the face of my mother’s anger, my father’s denial, my family’s system of rules and assumptions, and the surrounding culture’s overarching paradigm. I have great facility now in noticing and understanding the source of those feelings, but they remain inside me, deep ruts in my neural pathways, strong pillars in my ego structure, the sharp-fanged alpha males of my monkey mind, and they still arise to shadow my life.
I can say now, I think, that my family experience has colored my entire relationship to the world. It has shaped every relationship I have ever had with other human beings. And it has flavored the whole of my journey through the material I call Doom™.
And I find that this is hugely important. Because if I’m meeting our present predicament using tools invented by a powerless and despairing child, then I may not be using the tools now available to the clear, conscious, and powerful adult I now am. My fear is that ranting and raging simply creates the very separation that underlies our present predicament. If that’s the case, then I’m ready to stop.
I won’t go any further today. It’s enough to make plain the connections and leave it at that. I can feel that there is more to say. At some point, I will say it.
Until then, I touch the ground again…