I had my therapy session this morning. I was talking about the solo bagua lesson Choolie gave to me last week. The conversation went something like this.
Me: When I started Taiji two-and-a-half years ago, it was because I wanted to be able to defend myself. Now, my decision to learn Bagua is so…
(Squirms a little. Drops gaze. Falters. Deep breath. Starts again).
Me: I decided to learn Bagua so I could kill someone if need be.
T (Nods. Writes): Uh huh.
Me: Kill or be killed. That’s hard for me to say.
T: You want power. And–
Me (Interrupting quickly): No! that’s not it!
T (Looks surprised): It’s not?
Oh fuck no! She said the really forbidden word. I can’t believe she said it, and in connection with ME. I started panicking because it was a word I never thought about, let alone associated with me.
What was the word, you asked, that got me in such a dither? What could the word possibly be that would make me tremble so? The answer below the fold.
Power. Me? Want power? Oh HELL no. No no no no no. Power is evil; power corrupts; power is the worst thing anyone could ever have.
Back to the convo.
Me: Power is a bad thing. No, I don’t want power. No, that’s not what it’s about at all.
T (Perplexed): Minna, you said you wanted to be able to kill someone. How is that not power?
Me: It just isn’t! It’s….
(Stops. Thinks. Sighs. Gets it).
Me: Power is bad. I can’t want power.
T (Still perplexed): You’re OK with wanting to kill someone, but wanting power is bad?
Me: Yes. Killing someone just is. If someone tries to kill me, I want to be able to kill that person in return. It’s not good or bad. Power, now that’s bad.
That was a revelation to me. It really wasn’t something I’d thought of before. Earlier in the session, we’d been riffing on the good girl/bad girl dichotomy, Christian fundamentalism, hedonism and desire, and my dream that my therapist was actually Sheryl Crow. Yes, I’m going to weave together all these threads in this entry, don’t think I’m not going to do it.
OK. We started with me telling my therapist about a dream I had of her. I dreamed that I was in a session when she told me she had a confession to make. I said, OK. She then told me she was Sheryl Crow. I was gobsmacked. However, once I adjusted to the news (with a picture of Sheryl Crow in my dream for comparison), I accepted it. I was befuddled as how she could be both my therapist and Sheryl Crow. She told me I couldn’t tell anyone. I said I wouldn’t, but I thought I’d just tell Kiki. But no. I couldn’t do that because if more than one person knows a secret–it’s no longer a secret.
My therapist and I chuckled, and then she asked me what I thought of the dream. I told her that it seemed like it was telling me that it was OK to be two seemingly disparate people at once. Then, we were off and running.
I talked about my Halloween costume (foul-mouthed fifties housewife) and how I have really gotten into finding the pieces to my costume. I spent hours looking for the perfect dress (found it) and accoutrements (found ’em), and accessories (found ’em, except my nemesis, shoes). I looked up fifties slang, and I have to practice, daddy-o. I also bought makeup (haven’t done a full face since college) and decided to do my hair in a beehive. I was in How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying while I was in high school (a musical set in the fifties), so I had to do the whole shebang back then. I beehived my hair, but it was only shoulder-length then. I still went through a can of hairspray a performance. I also wore falsies back then (eyelashes! I never needed the other kind), and I bought a pair for this party.
So, to recap, I bought a bright red sundress with elaborate flowers (heyviv, an online store specializing in vintage clothing. The link is to my dress). It’s actually a dress I would wear again. I bought a pearl set (necklace, earrings, bracelet) and a pair of white kid gloves from the same vendor. Then, I hopped over to eBay to find a purse (two for cheap!), an apron (sheer pink with a pocket that has hearts on it), a cigarette holder and a cigarette case, and a martini glass. I have cat-eye shaped glasses, though not rimmed, so I’ll probably wear those. I thought about buying a platinum pageboy wig, but I decided to beehive my hair instead. I bought cheapo makeup and false eyelashes. I just need the damn shoes. And, if I get stilettos, I will be the foul-mouthed fifties housewife with a broken ankle by the end of the night.
As I was relating this to my therapist, I was getting excited again. I told my therapist that a friend had mentioned she hadn’t been to a Halloween party since high school. I replied, “I haven’t been to a Halloween party…ever.” That shocked me. I don’t know why, but it did. I have never been to a Halloween party. How could that be? There are many things considered normal American activities that I have never done in my life.
In addition, when I was thinking about my costume, I immediately rejected Morticia and Elvira and that whole genre. That was too easy, I felt. I emailed with Kel saying I was thinking about being emo kid or Lady Deathstrike or something like that. My niece wants me to be Bellatrix LeStrange from Harry Potter. Kel asked if i wanted her honest opinion. I said of course. She said that anything emo or dark or Asian was too stereotypical. And, damn it, she was right. So we started tossing out ideas like cheerleader, and we I stumbled upon fifties housewife. I added the foul-mouthed bit later on, and there will be little twists to my character (like stripper heels, maybe).
OK. Set that aside for a minute. Remember it, though, because it will play into the entry later on. Let’s move on to my last entry which was about desire. I have grappled with the idea that I have so much desire. I am lusty, and I still have residual guilt because of it. Now, about a month ago, one of the Taiwanese church aunties (friend of my parents) commented on my blog. I said hey and didn’t think much about it. Well, on the desire entry, she commented by leaving a bunch of Bible verses. What’s that? You didn’t see it? No, because I erased her comment. I was offended, frankly, and I was filled with shame upon seeing it. It was how I was raised, after all. Believe in the Bible no matter what and all will be well.
By the way, my therapist and I discussed the meaning of the word fundamentalist. I normally think of the batshitcrazy rightwingers out there today, but she said it was anybody who believed, “This is the truth. Believe it or go to hell”, whether hell is literal or metaphorical. Therefore, it can be found in religion, politics, or any other belief. So, yes, by that definition, I was raised in a fundamentalist religion. In a way, fundamentalism is easy. There is Right (not much) and there is Wrong (a whole hell of a lot) with nothing in between. My therapist said something that infuriated me years ago, but she was right. She said that while I had rejected Christianity, I still held to the basic tenets. In other words, I still operated under fundamentalist thinking, even though it was no longer based in religion.
When I was twenty-two and fresh out of college, I was a broken person. I was weak and fragile and ready to die. At that time, I needed rigid rules to follow because I couldn’t function otherwise. My rules were fucked up, yes, but they allowed me to live. Barely. Many of the rules were bastardizations of the old Christian rules, too. For example, sex. I was taught by the church that sex was dirty and sinful and evil…until I married. Then, it was beautiful, sacred, and holy. I moved from that to, sex is beautiful–but only in a committed relationship. From that I did a one-eighty to sex is cheap. Sex is nothing other than physical gratification. I have done several reevaluations of my attitude towards sex until I reached my current one which is something close to this: Sex (consensual) is natural. Sex is healthy. Sex can be a beautiful, sacred, intimate coupling that deepens the feelings of the people involved. Sex can also be a joyful, pleasure-filled way to satisfy sexual needs in a healthy way. Sex can be raw, passionate, and animal-like in nature. Sex can be all these things in one session.
Now, in the last entry, I talked about the good girl/bad girl dichotomy. For me, this is rooted in Christian theology and heavily supported by a patriarchal society. As I said, I felt immediate shame as I read the Bible verses posted on my blog by the Taiwanese auntie. I was immediately exposed as a bad girl (and, I was a tad worried she would tell my parents about my blog, but fuck it. It’s been here for years. They could have read it any time they chose). Then, I was offended that she had the gall to post Bible verses on my blog as if that was the be-all, end-all. I think she’s trying to lure me back to Jesus, but that certainly isn’t the way to do it.
And, it tapped into my frustrations with Christianity. It’s so simple. If you do X, Y, Z, then you’re good and going to heaven. If you do A, B, or C, then you’re bad and going to hell. Every decision is value-laden, and it’s spelled out (for fundamentalists) what is Good and what is Bad. I as a person don’t have to think it out and choose for myself. Or, I can simply do the opposite in rebellion and be Bad.
For the past umpteen years, I have painstakingly created a persona that was set in stone. I do not wear pink. I do not get dressed up and do girly things like wear makeup. I do not look into the mirror. I do not enjoy picking out clothing. This is a Bad thing. I take five minutes to get ready and I’m out.
In tandem, I do not date. I do not want to be in a relationship. I do not like having someone around me all the time. I do not want a a long-term commitment. All of this is Bad.
Now, back to power. I was immediately discomfited by my therapist using that word. Power was another Bad thing, and it certainly wasn’t what I wanted, was it?
Well, yeah. It is. Choolie made a similar observation a few weeks ago when I said I never again wanted to be in a position in which a man could break me. She said I didn’t want to be helpless. She was right. My therapist and I talked about the Latin roots of potent (powerful), and of course, the opposite is impotent (helpless). When I think back on my life, it makes perfect sense that I am uncomfortable with the idea of power. I mean, he who had power in my life (my father) used it in very terrible ways.
In my session, we talked about how being a fundamentalist with rigid rules means thinking that things happen to you. It’s a reactive mindset, rather than a proactive one. I have often talked about feeling like I don’t matter, but most of my past persona was crafted in order to reinforce that notion. I don’t contact someone unless that person contacts me first. I don’t ask for anything because that would be presumptuous. It’s also a way of avoiding reaction, yes, but in the end, it’s a way of avoiding responsibility. It’s a way of not having to make decisions.
By the way, feeling guilty about a decision (which is something I do with ease) is yet another way to avoid making another decision. If it crushes me to decide whether to friend someone on FB or not (to use a modern example), then I better not risk trying to make a more serious decision!
Anyway, my whole life up until the last few years was about making as few decisions as possible. Setting up mindless rules was one way of going down that path.
Then, two-and-a-half years ago, I walked into Choolie’s Taiji studio, and things started changing. I started changing. I wasn’t as willing to sit back and let things happen. I started acting instead of reacting. And, I found out that I could do things I wouldn’t have considered within my character even three years ago, and I’m fine with it.
For example. I am flying out to Kel’s tomorrow (eek! It rushed up on me). I will get to see Soccer Boy play futbol tomorrow night. We’re going to take a dinner thingie so we can eat. There will be fleece blankets. There will be thermoses of hot beverages. There will be lawn chairs. And, there will be me, a Soccer Aunt for one night, loving it. Irish Dancer has a feis (dance competition) on Saturday. It’s one reason I decided to fly out this weekend. I’ve always wanted to see her dance, and now I get to see her compete! In addition, I was informed that Punk Girl could do wonders with makeup, so I am enlisting her help for my fifties look. If you had told me three years ago that I would be entering another family for a weekend, doing family activities, and thoroughly enjoying myself, I would have said you were crazy. “That’s not me!” I would have said, probably indignantly. And yet, I will be doing it. And loving it. And loving them.
In addition, if you had told me I would be having such a blast preparing for a Halloween party, with an item of pink, no less, I would have laughed at you again. My idea of a good time on Halloween (though it is my favorite holiday, for obvious reasons) is to turn off the lights and pretend not to be home. And yet, I am putting together an outfit that is pretty much not me (except, as my therapist pointed out, I added the foul-mouthed part to adapt it to my own persona a bit), and I’m loving it.
Part of the reason is because I’m more secure now in who I am than I was twenty years ago. Back then, anything that threatened my carefully-constructed persona felt like it could actually kill me. Now, I’m a bit more able to let it in and soak it up.
Which brings us to Bagua. And, yes, power once again. I love Taiji, but it had to grow on me. I started Taiji because I wanted to be able to defend myself competently. I loved Bagua from the start, and my therapist is right–it has to do with power. Taiji is not about attacking–Bagua is. The techniques I am most interested in learning are the ones that are especially nasty. I want…power. It’s hard for me to type it, but it’s true. I want power.
My therapist talked about a book called Power and Innocence by Rollo May. I just ordered it, so I’ll let you know how it is after I read it. Anyway, as my therapist told me, innocence is a form of being powerless. Take religion. I was fed the Bible and told to believe. Any questions I had were answered with, “God works in mysterious ways” or “God is too complex to understand”. My response then (as it is now) was, “If God is too complex to understand, why the fuck should I try?” But without the swears. I did not swear as a child or a teen.
My therapist said, “Knowledge is a form of power.” Again, something simple, but something I hadn’t really thought of before. It’s true. The more I question what I take to simply be true, the more power I have. And, this is the hardest part for me, the more power I have, the more I act instead of react, and the more of an impact my actions have on others as well as myself. What I choose to do affects other people.
This was brought home to me by my recent interactions with my family. When I was in Taiwan, I reacted to everything. I allowed them to dictate what I would or wouldn’t do. I felt helpless, hopeless, and impotent. When my mother and father visited, I was able to act more, thus forcing them to change how THEY reacted to me. I had such an impact on my father, we had the scene at the airport. My mom has only called me once since my father was here. Email has been limited, too. This is HUGE.
With power comes responsibility. One thing about my past persona is that I didn’t have to really think about each decision I was making and what would happen if I did X, Y, or Z. Again, that’s one of the comforts of being a fundie–you don’t have to do your own thinking. You don’t have to grapple with moral issues or ethical issues because they are all laid out for you by someone else. Now that I have shed my own rigid set of rules, I have to consciously make decisions instead of just doing what I think is Right (as opposed to right).
It’s not easy. It’s being mindful. It’s making power-filled decisions. It’s being comfortable with letting go of what I thought I knew to be true about me. But, as my therapist pointed out before I left, my life is so much richer and fuller now than it has ever been.