Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Jane Eyre Is No Orphan

Jane Eyre is an orphan. Both her parents are dead; this's the exact definition of an orphan. Although Jane survives innumerable traumas and horrific treatment, she grows up to be authentic, passionate, and, perhaps most impressively, kind. One might take this to mean that one can "overcome" childhood abuse. Taking it a step further, one could look at an impressive adult who had a hard childhood and conclude that a bad childhood cannot "ruin" anyone, that even abused children  have no "excuse" for having problems that continue throughout their lives. Sometimes, popular culture seems to believe that people who have survived a difficult childhood should not only be offered no special sympathy, but should be held to an even higher standard than the rest of us. Forgive all the insufferable quotes (they're kind of like air quotes, but in print form), but I can't let any of those words stand on their own.

Yes, one could conclude the fictional account of Jane Eyre's life is a manifesto advocating a bootstrap mentality. This would be convenient. If a person can pull herself up by the bootstraps if only she's strong and moral enough, we're relieved of our collective responsibility. Unfortunately, we can't be, and we aren't. Aside from  the fact that Jane Eyre, like pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, is fiction, Charlotte Bronte makes one thing clear. Jane is never, for one minute, alone in the world. Jane grows up to be a fine young woman in spite of all she suffers, and because all the abuse, indifference, neglect and unavoidable traumas are offset by kindness and compassion. Not enough kindness and compassion - no child should endure what Jane does. But she's not a street urchin. She doesn't live in a workhouse. She receives compassion and humanity. This child is not the product of indifference.

Jane is born to parents who love her. After they die, she's sent to live with her Uncle Reed and his wife. When the book opens, all we see is that Jane is is a vulnerable child, alone in a hostile world. Uncle Reed is dead. Resentful Mrs. Reed allows and encourages her children to be physically and emotionally abusive to Jane. Even some of the servants, apparently put off by Jane's inability to maintain a sunny disposition while suffering such harsh treatment, are cruel to her.

After being injured, sick, and harshly (and unjustly) punished, Jane awakens to Bessie, a sympathetic maid, and a kind doctor. Bessie cares a great deal about Jane. We know this because, as an adult, Jane encounters her, and Bessie is not only excited to see her, but invested in Jane's success. This happens repeatedly. There are times, early in the book, when it's implied Jane has no one, that the small kindnesses occasionally afforded to her are anomalies. They are not. Bronte goes back and explains we had it wrong. Jane isn't merely the recipient of random acts of impersonal kindness. Although she does occasionally meet nice people in passing, there's always someone to be good to her because they care about her, specifically.

For example, it seems safe to conclude Mrs. Reed, a nasty piece of work, would have mistreated Jane regardless. But the book doesn't let it rest there. Upon Mrs. Reed's death, we learn her anger at Jane was due in part to how much Mr. Reed adored her, even seeming to prioritize her above his own three children. Even as an orphaned infant, there was at least one person to whom Jane was a bundle of joy, not a burden.

After shouldering the blame for a physical altercation with a cousin twice her age and size, Jane is sent to a nightmarish Victorian boarding school. The conditions are appalling. The children are abused and starved. Disease is rampant. On top of all this, soon after Jane arrives, she is singled out for special persecution by Mr. Brocklehurst, who runs the school. He makes good on his promise to Mrs. Reed to "warn" everyone in the school that Jane is a liar and a scoundrel. Jane is humiliated, and convinced this will doom her to the life of a pariah.

Jane's newfound friend Helen comforts her, explaining that Mr. Brocklehurst is loathed by students and teachers alike. She tells Jane that if anything, Mr. Brocklehurst's cruelty will only help her social standing. But Helen, wise beyond her years though she may be, is just a kid. Her attempts to soothe Jane are admirable, but insufficient. Adult help is needed.

Helen takes an unconvinced Jane to visit Miss Temple, the superintendent. Miss Temple listens to Jane's side of the story. Perhaps sensing a casual show of support won't do enough to counter the damage done to Jane's psyche, she is initially sympathetic, but noncommittal. She goes to the effort of writing away for a formal confirmation of Jane's good character, and, when she receives it, offers Jane a formal public pardon.

The school is still terrible. But when the people who oversee Mr. Brocklehurst visit, they are horrified. Brocklehurst is fired, and conditions improve exponentially. Jane never returns "home" to Mrs. Reed's house, but instead spends the rest of her childhood at school. When she leaves at 18, she has become widely respected and valued. She closer to a cherished family member than a popular student. Like Bessie, they're invested in her living a good life. It's clear her absence will have an impact on the community. Jane will be missed.

As an adult, Jane is honest, intelligent, cultured, and the very model of integrity. Why? It's a combination of nature and nurture. Without the nurture part, nature didn't stand a chance. She draws, speaks French and plays the piano well because she's intelligent and talented. But she can do these things at all only because she was taught how. She keeps her job because she's pleasant and works hard, but she got it in the first place because she had help finding and securing it. Most importantly, though she may be an instinctively compassionate person, she extends compassion because she had it extended to her.

Children need adults to love, encourage and support them. After that, people respond to adversity in an infinite variety of ways for an infinite variety of reasons. There is no question that some people seem to emerge from misfortune with more strength, honesty and competence than others. But if a child doesn't have someone - preferably multiple someones - to extend a hand and keep it extended, she will not thrive.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Beatles Therapy

Like any responsible therapist, I undergo roughly a year of therapy every three or four years. I've tested out a lot of psychotherapists, some great, some less so. A few months ago, I decided it was time to start again.

This time, though, I had a hard time settling on one. I found something wrong with all of them. Late. Early. Stripper shoes, and what the hell kind of question is that? I would never ask a client something so stupid. Eye makeup that does nothing for her eye shape. Was I being reasonable, or was this what Sigmund Freud might call resistance? I didn't know. I just knew I couldn't see any of these therapists again.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I found the right person. I knew I'd been right to reject the others.

I didn't expect instant results, but I was a bit taken aback when, at the end of our third session, my new therapist - the good one! - asked me what she should do for me.

"You tell me! You're the therapist!" I thought, but was afraid to say so. Afraid because I wondered if she thought I was such a total mess she had no clue where to go. I'd thought the theme of this particular session had been quite clear, and was surprised she didn't seem to think so.

But maybe she knew exactly what she was doing, because out of nowhere, something that passed for an answer came pouring out of my mouth, almost as if I was speaking in tongues.

"You know who my favorite Beatle is?" I didn't wait for her to answer. "Ringo. He's the only one who knew how to relax and enjoy the ride."

I'm a long time admirer of Ringo Starr. Born Richard Starkey in Liverpool, England on July 7, 1940, Ringo rose from his humble beginnings to become the drummer for a popular rock band.

I'll let him tell you his true story himself.

In the U.S.A. when we played Shea
We were number one and it was fun
When I look back, it sure was cool
For those four boys from Liverpool

Everything I love about Ringo is summed up in these four lines, the second one in particular. We were number one and it was fun. It's that simple. 

Ringo is laid back, happy-go-lucky. As one of the most popular people in the world, it would, in his opinion, be unspeakably silly to worry about whether or not he's the most popular Beatle. He's a wonderful dancer, but even if he weren't, he would still dance. He doesn't care if you think he's wise. It's not important to him to prove he's an artiste. In fact, he has nothing to prove at all. He doesn't care what you think of his nose. He doesn't care what he thinks of his nose. Stomach problems prevent him from enjoying Indian food, which is a shame. But fuck it, he'll just have some bangers and mash.* Whatever.

The Johns and Pauls of the world may feel persecuted, but such a thing would never cross Ringo's mind. He's grateful, but he never uses the world "gratitude." 

Paul once advised Michael Jackson that the buying music rights was the way to get rich. Michael Jackson took Paul's advice to heart, and outbid him on the rights to his own songs. Paul, who has more money than he, his children, and their children will ever know what to do with, was nevertheless deeply resentful. On principle. 

I'm not knocking Paul. I'd feel exactly the same way, because I'm Paul and I know it. It never occurred to me I could be anything else. Paul. GOD. I was consigned to a lifetime of being Paul.

That's not what I wanted. I wanted to be Ringo. Ringo is filthy, stinking rich, and doesn't bother with lawsuits that "aren't about the money." He knows that of course it's about the money, and since it's about the money, why bother? He's set. 

Ringo is so enlightened, he knows enlightenment is a waste of time. Life has tuned out better than he ever dreamed. He doesn't feel entitled, nor does he feel unworthy. He takes it as it comes. Each new day is a pleasant surprise.

Is he 100% satisfied with his life choices? No. There are times when he thinks he should have been a humanitarian instead of a pop star. 

Yes, he's only human.  Occasionally, he feels wistful. Sometimes, he even gets a bit peeved, and he isn't afraid to defend himself. 

Do you think Ringo gave Larry King another thought once the interview was over?  Did he fret about how disrespectful Larry had been, and, conversely, worry he'd overreacted and viewers might think he was a bitch? Nope. Out of sight, out of mind. He hasn't forgotten. When someone brings it up, he chuckles, , then promptly forgets about it again. When he sees Larry King, he doesn't feel awkward. He gives Larry a pleasant hello and then moves along, because he and Larry don't have much in common, and Ringo doesn't see any point in engaging in tedious small talk. 

I might have him all wrong, but I guarantee Ringo is not the least bit worried about it. 

I never dared to dream I could be Ringo instead of Paul, but in a single moment of clarity, I realized that was my therapeutic goal. I want to be Ringo. 

I've never been one for affirmations, but I may tape the word Ringo up in a few odd places, just for inspiration. Later, I'll forget to take them down, because while Ringo doesn't waste time on affirmations, he feels no disdain for them, either. He is totally indifferent.

The rest of my 30s, and possibly beyond, will be spent trying to become a person who could, theoretically, write a memoir entitled "Becoming Ringo," but who feels no need to do any such thing. I'll do whatever I have to do. I'll climb any mountain, cross any ocean. When I'm done, I'll shrug and say, "Yeah, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I swam the English Channel. It was fun." 

* Correction. Ringo adheres to a very strict diet. There are no bangers and mash involved. On Sunday, his cheat day, he allows himself a single cup of coffee and a potato.