I lived part-time in a Buddhist Monastery for nearly two years and one thing I learned was that control is an illusion. Ironic since the Renzi tradition was all about form and structure, you went to Doksan (To talk to the Roshi) and performed such a long list of bows and postures I had them written on the inside of my arm. And yet, it was about you and the pillow and your uncontrollable thoughts. For the first month of intensive meditation I had porn, pretty hard core stuff, scrolling through my brain. I was told it was common. I could control my body in meditation but my mind could go wherever it wanted.
Control is an illusion. I learned that from having a baby, being married three times, and teaching teenagers. In the middle of a brilliant lecture, a kid raises his or her hand and says: "Can I go to the bathroom? Did you get a hair cut? How much does it cost to take the train to Chicago?" One day a gang boy (Latin Kings) raised his hand and said, "You look just like that chick in THE MATRIX" while I was explaining the concept of a dangling modifier. Very flattering. Irrelevant and inaccurate but flattering.
Last week I posted a shot of myself with one of the cats on Face book. It was a Photo booth picture taken first thing in the morning, hair unbrushed, no makeup. The cat looked pretty ragged, also. Someone actually commented about how tired I looked and that both of us seemed hungover. Since I've been sober 25 years plus, that was an interesting perspective and as far as I know Fatty doesn't drink anything but water. Before digital cameras and photo shopping, controlling one's image was much less possible. The school picture of you with your eyes closed, your mouth open, the unflattering shot of you in an awful bathing suit, these images remained unless you did as my eldest sister did, cut yourself out of family photographs.
My middle sister was beautiful. When I stood next to her in front of a camera I always felt like the plain one. But somehow, I didn't much care. When I started acting, I had head shots taken that were very flattering and my first book jacket was very nice. My sister, the anti photography one, remarked that if I walked around with a klieg light shining on my cheekbones, I would always look that good. But my face is a face that has lived and it's the face I want.
This got me thinking about control and maybe what we can and can't control and whether in fact we can control anything. Take aging. I do yoga, I exercise, I eat reasonably well, I use various anti-aging stuff on my face and definitely sunblock but that's it. I'm 53. Sometimes I look much younger, artfully applied makeup, happiness, lots of rest, these things reduce the years. Sometimes, the early-morning cat shot time, I look close to my age. Back in the day, i expected lots of male attention. If I walked into a room and heads didn't turn, I was crushed. But that's not true anymore. I can't control how people perceive me and I don't care. I try not to look terrible. As a young woman I could walk around in a state of dishevelment and it worked fine. I looked sexy and casual. Now I look homeless and deranged.
I have a sixteen year old son and parents in their mid-eighties. My son rides a bike at night without a light, my father just fell and broke his neck. My son won't accept the bike light I gave him, my parents won't go into assisted living. I have no control. I can't make my husband stop eating Popeye's deep fried chicken, I can't make people follow my infinite wisdom because they prefer their own counsel. All around me there are Bartelby's murmuring, "I prefer not to." and that is as is should be. If I was in charge, everyone would do yoga and eat tons of root vegetables and read constantly but they'd also watch horrendous reality television and sneak chocolate and feel superior to people who don't enjoy 2 hour spin classes.
And then there are the cats. One loves me so much he stands on my chest at 3am staring into my eyes making a weird guttural noise and kneading my flesh. However, when I come home from work and try to snuggle with him, he slowly pulls his body out of my arms, refuses to make eye contact, walks away, butt in the air.
And then there is my husband. He stopped smoking but then he started again and lied to me. "Are you smoking?" "No." And my sister who talks to me as if I was a slightly stupid suburban nitwit who doesn't get the big picture. Her big picture. When I let go, when I accept my powerlessness, all falls into place, the place it would end up anyway, and I am serene and hopefully look remarkably young.