Monday, October 17, 2016

Unblurred Lines

When I was about 7 years old, an older boy was visiting neighbors on our street.  In summer the girls wore what our Mom called 'sunsuits' which served well in the heat-- wet or dry.  We played in dirt, on rocks, under sprinklers, in tree houses.  Anyway, this boy cornered me and asked me my first really inappropriate question.  I shrugged him off-- gave him some vague reply… but I remember running back with a version of shame-- aware that some boundary had been crossed.  I can still see myself in that blue and white striped cotton, sensing myself the way he might have seen me.

In those years we didn't tell our parents too many things.  Sisters and brothers might accuse us of tattling, and intruding on adults had its own consequence.  So we toughed it out, waited until lights-out or a sleepover where we could safely exchange confessions in the dark.  Sometimes these were met with an ominous silence which made us feel a little more alone, a little more wary.  So many things were my own fault anyway; it was hard to distinguish where I began and shame ended.  I brought these things on myself, they would say.   I won the role of Dorothy in our school play and the next day someone stole my crayon box; even good things could warrant payback.

It never fails to astonish me that nearly every single one of my women friends has a story to share about boundary violations.  Some of these--especially for the obviously beautiful among them-- are sequential, ongoing, relentless.  Some of them are hideous and damaging, especially where relatives are concerned.  In our contemporary world, these things are hung on lines in the sunlight.  Perpetrators are punished, reprimanded, blacklisted.  But this was not the case in my teenage years.  The confession itself anywhere outside of your best friend or a religious audience was a can of worms, and the telling didn't always absolve us of the twisted shame that accompanied the experience.  We were scarred, most of us-- even by verbal trespassing.  Our fragile intimacies were injured and wrecked by bad memories and complicated self-esteem wounds.  Even punk rock girls-- maybe especially these-- had endured battles in their past, became stage champions to express and protect their vulnerabilities.  We self-punished and cut, grappling with control issues and permissions.  My bonds with old and new girlfriends are often welded with shared emotions and pains; nothing is more solidifying than the company of fellow warriors who came through our respective relationship battlefields with wisdom and understanding.

So many of us grew up not understanding boundaries, although we can all sense when these have been violated.  Ironically, people like Donald Trump who talk about building walls, are the very ones who are clueless and disrespectful of personal traffic.  Germaphobes and neurotics spend endless compulsive hours making sure their little world is 'safe' and so often have little regard for others.  People with complicated sets of personal rules and rituals are commonly the ones who impose on everyone else, who have no capacity for empathy or sympathy, no time for compassion.  The world is a marketplace of things and people to assist them, to admire them.  We are all guilty of failing to consider our neighbor, to protect the fragile, to care for the needy.  Most humans are wired to spend 95% of their energy on themselves or their immediate extended family members.  It's difficult to cope with the problems of the world on a daily basis.  We all have trust issues, questions… fences.  This is necessary.

But when we fall in love-- well, all bets are off.  All gates open, all boundaries disappear.  We will cross oceans for that person, empty our pockets for them, tell them anything they need to hear, become completely vulnerable.  In my parents' day, couples stayed together.  My Mom slept with one man for her entire life-- no prior intimacies-- just a few dates-- then the commitment.  In our culture, we open boundaries to many people.  Women let one another into our hearts; we meet on  buses and trains and exchange our deepest secrets and experiences.  It is a kind of love-- sometimes it lasts minutes, or for a transatlantic crossing.  I sat with a widowed Japanese woman on my recent flight to Sweden.  By the end of the journey, she had confided so many of her fears and concerns and passions; she wept-- it was a kind of catharsis.  I was privileged to listen, and we shared a version of love even though I will surely never see her again. We let ourselves 'out'.  And then, we draw a new boundary which includes that person.  We adopt and protect her as our own.  When these intimates violate boundaries, we bleed.

As a writer I often abuse my own boundaries; I confess and say things because I am alone here.. with a keyboard or a pad and pen, and I feel safe and private.  My words venture into territory I will never see, and that feels okay.  Sometimes people respond and let themselves feel things they would not have expressed.  That is good.  But I also work as a musician.  There is an amount of intimacy and personal space we share as members of a band.  We joke about this-- the things that pass between bass and drums, the images we get from a guitar solo-- the way we 'know' our own unique vocabulary when we have played together for hundreds and thousands of hours-- a language we speak to one another-- like sex, in a way.

On one gig, we have guests come to 'sit in'.  Some of these are wonderful people who understand they are being welcomed into a kind of privileged geometry and they respect  this and find the spaces where they offer their own thoughts and ideas and weave an amazing original tapestry of music.  The audience senses this-- when there is magic and chemistry and respect.  But there are a few 'outsiders' -- the ones who never quite comprehend the core 'family' of music.  They barge in, demand--turn up, overlay and exhibit.  A good audience feels this, too.  The problem is-- these people do not recognize themselves-- have no clue how they are perceived because they are not perceptive themselves.  They become regular intruders; we hold our breaths, we tolerate and play, feeling the seconds pass until they leave the stage and we can hopefully resume.  There's an awkwardly inappropriate parallel here between the clumsy dangerous narcissism of a Donald Trump who ironically points his finger and uses the accusation of 'rapist' and the less dangerous but equally blind egotism of musicians who perform for themselves, who use other people's platforms for a selfish personal message, who fail to perceive any boundaries but their own.

The delicate concept of boundaries-- geographical, physical, emotional and virtual-- has not just engaged but obsessed me recently.  Being a musician as opposed to the head of a corporation teaches us a few lessons in humility and sportsmanship; we don't get hired if we can't see these things.  We have to listen.  As a woman, and a mother--a friend to many and a former wife  I have learned to sense boundaries; of course my instincts can offend others-- my opinions can annoy people, and sometimes my basslines (baselines?) don't always jive perfectly.    I hope and pray I don't offend anyone when I speak although occasionally this is necessary; we must be truthful above all… and I try not to violate someone else's boundaries when I 'sit in' which is rare.  Like all of us, I've been hurt and offended endlessly but refuse to drag this around or wear the badge and I will still open my heart in a second when there is someone  at the edge who deserves and values this.  Not to mention the musical door, for those who listen.

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