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THE CORE ISSUE

from Chris Wayan's 1992/6/25 journal


My therapist Alan says these huge dreams I've been telling him, where I become all kinds of people and creatures, he says... "I think they're a distraction from the core issue." So now he wants to avoid dreams, work in the here and now. Talking about "the therapeutic relationship." I know I'm not going to give up my dreams. I'd give him up first. They got me away from my batterer, they've led me into every step toward health I've taken in the last decade. I started therapy because I needed help to act on what my dreams were telling me now: time to become sexually active, despite my fears of being abused again, fears so intense I get sick when I even touch anyone I'm attracted to. Fire alarms instead of a warm glow... My dreams have been hinting that the illness has little to do with sex. It's something beneath all that...

Alan doesn't seem to take the dreams' own agenda seriously.

So I ask for a dream about the core issue, why I've been sick for so many years... under it all. Whether the therapist believes in my dreams or not.

And I get an answer. Two answers, long parallel rails, each confirming the other... a gray steel railroad to the truth.

Dream 1: MADAME PSYCHE, or, THE GRAY HEART

A: THE VAN

Down in SoMa, I walk with my friend Roxana, talking about poverty and purity. We've both been wrestling with a nasty ambivalence about wealth and success.

"I'm sick of being poor," she says, "but I still HATE rich people. Oblivious bastards..." Her fierce Ukrainian face with that arched upper jaw and short sharp chin clashes with her shy skittery steps and thin dancer's body. "I don't want to become one of them. That horrible spoiled smile. I see it on the bus to work every day, over and over." I'm afraid of rich people--to me they're the high school kids who spat on me for being different. But I'm ready to get out of this slum. I'd rather be smugged than mugged.

My VW bus is packed--I'm ready to move. But among the boxes... faces? Who the hell are all these people in my car? They fill every seat--sit on each other's laps--stiff, entangled, apologetic. Being nice. Are they strangers? I feel like I should know them. Older than me--friends of my parents? They jam the van. Roxana pries open the back cargo hatch, crawls in, and curls up in the cargo space. I pass in scotch tape and staples and envelopes--I'll need them to send manuscripts. Then I climb all way through the van, over the elders, to the driver's seat. I squeeze onto it, prepare to go. Just before I turn the key, there's a loud noise and flickering lights. My father walks up, holding an arc welder. I worry he's screwed up the car again. He half-repairs things... I turn the car on anyway... I want out NOW. But why can't I order all these strangers out of my car? I don't feel like I have the right. And the van is so loaded with these parental hangers-on, it won't move. I get out and run. I have to leave this slum! On foot if need be.

B: CHOCK FULL O' JESUSES

Stylized foggy sunset, Golden Gate Bridge, docks.
Evening. Turquoise light. Cool damp fog-warning wind. I'm still in the rough district, but walking north toward the docks and the richer touristy side. Turn a corner and see a ship in harbor... a giant barge really. At first glance it looks fine, even elegant, very simple sweeping lines. But the ship's riding so low, especially at the stern; the rail there actually dips below the waterline for several yards. Man, it's as overloaded as my van was! Amazed it hasn't sunk. But unlike the van, its load is lightening: a line of people are walking off it.

But they don't use the gangplank. They walk on the oily funhouse mirror of the Bay, reflections wobbling beneath them, like dark candles in a wavering draft. Walking on water! They're all very tall, with strange proportions. Big heads, chubby, like scaled-up kids or short people.

Maybe they're just like that... But such variety of builds and looks, male and female, all nearly two meters tall, yet with the same wrongness... At last it comes into focus. What's wrong here is my sense of how far out the ship is, how far away they are, hence how tall--10, 15% off would suddenly bring them all into normal range. I've been seeing them as further off and bigger than they are! That's all it is. I may have have missed the boat, but these people aren't giants. And... are they Jesuses walking on water? Or... stepping from piece to piece of floating garbage? And what am I to them, a chunk of that garbage? Their stepping stone to success? I turn away. Oh, I find these North Beach people impressive, but they're not gods; my answer is somewhere else.

C: QUARTER TIME IN THE DEPRESSION

I walk on along the waterfront. How to move out of the slum for good? Well... I could give up on making it in the arts or as a writer. I could get a part-time job. Would only take half time. Quarter time! Ten hours a week in an office that needs a literate noncomputerphobe could get me $300-400 a month, and plus the $600/mo I get, it'd be enough to live on, I live cheap. I'd even save a bit. On the other hand, that's as much time as I spend in dance and art classes--which is already as much time as I can stand to be with other people. Draining. It'd be one more thing draining what energy I have to draw and write. Marketing, even a phone call or two, takes all my strength, ruins me for the rest of the day. A job would mean putting myself back in the pattern that drained me for years at Stanford, a path which hurts me even to step across now. Sucking blood from my soles.

Yet... I don't think I spend even 10 hours a week painting and writing! I fuss cuz I can't go out and market my creative work, that gets me sick, but just how much creative work do I do? I'm not so sure I've ever disciplined myself to treat creativity professionally--never committed enough time to know whether I could make it. Scared to. What could I do, given a steady commitment of ten hours a week? I think I'm about to find out. Because I'll do it.

D: THE GRAY HEART

I'm an underground artist and writer in San Francisco, still, but times have changed. It's the 1940s. 1930s? Unclear when exactly, but decades back. Ships, foghorns, slouch hats. And no tourists.

out with my girlfriend, Madame Psyche
I'm living with a woman who's an artist too. A vulnerable round kid's face, black bangs: a white-Chinese mix. Her mom set her up as a fake fortuneteller--her sister helped run the seances. "Madame Psyche", she was called. Dorothy Bryant wrote a book about her. She's so much fun, so warm, though she can get pretty wild. And we know lots of writers, actors, artists. Really, it's not a bad life, being poor with Madame Psyche.

We're walking together through the warehousy part of SoMa, on our way to a friend's New Year party. The district was busy and prosperous once. Marble columns on the old buildings. Bright yellow, green, indigo tiles on the storefronts, in pseudo-Moorish and Spanish designs, fanciful if not very earthquake-proof. Empty shells now, mostly. Now little black kids climb and play on oversized Deco statues of heroic Aryan workers.

We reach the door of our friends' live-in warehouse.

My viewpoint starts to swing back and forth between being her and being him.

I'm her now; at the door, I pause and blurt "it's New Year's Eve, let's celebrate NOW, honey. We haven't done it in public in a long time..." Our eyes meet and my soul zips across that bridge like a motorcycle. And now I'm in him. Night. Couple in long coats making love in a doorway as passers-by look startled.

Feel startled a little by her proposal--this is pretty public even for her--but I say "Okay..." With our long Bogart coats, it should be safe. We can't seem to get started for a long time--though I get hard right away, the way we're hiding from others makes it hard to turn her skirt around so the side slit faces front and I can find her pussy. Funny--four hands fumbling at my cock trying to fit it in... Finally, CONTACT! Gasp as I slide into her, a hot shock after the cold outdoor air. We fuck in half-shadow, against a marble column, enveloping each other in great coat-wings. For a long time, there on our friends' doorstep. Other guests arrive, slip round us, snickering "There they go again." "She's at it again, huh?" She has a reputation.

She starts chatting with the guests--even as she rides me--between great gasps--blithely explaining the derivation of the word "vagina"--or inventing it as she goes along. "Originally it meant a long spindle-shaped bundle of straw..." she says brightly, in a mock English schoolteacher accent. She has a reputation to uphold.

And now... I'm her again.

You see, underneath my wild behavior, there's a sort of gray despair, a depression. All my life. I smear screaming lipstick on my life, because the color of my heart is gray.

I can be active--it doesn't prevent that. But no matter how talented I am, no matter how cutting-edge, no matter what taboos I shatter, the gray heart is still there under it all. Beating out waves of gray light. Like a lighthouse of moonlight, draining away the colors in the sun.

The beam sweeps... and now I'm him again.

Sensing the grayness that haunts her, not knowing what to do about it, wanting to help... willing to try anything. Even an exhibitionism that's really not my style.

And in the end, she's gonna leave me. Because I can't solve her problem. Which isn't oppression or craziness or nymphomania or whatever they're saying behind her back this week. I can sense the gray heart inside it all--but I can't change it. A man asks the girl with a gray heart 'Gray core? What gray core?'

And now I'm no one. A soul. I witness it all, troubled, helpless. I'm especially disturbed because when she leaves him--even though he loves her, and she's smart enough to recognize it, she leaves him--she leaves at a bad time. She's pregnant when she leaves him. And of the two of them, she seems less fit to raise a kid. But she does... alone... forever fighting depression with wild bursts of bravery, but never naming the grayness or healing it.

I can't help. I'm just a soul. Watching.

And her daughter grows up and now she's in her twenties. She's the real heroine of this story! All that was just her background. She's the main character, because she lives NOW. How will she cope with this heritage of great gifts and depression? Is she doomed to have a gray heart like her mother? Is it hereditary? If so, will her father's genes dilute the gray heart? Will her different upbringing enable her to confront it, solve the riddle?

One thing's sure: it isn't just an artist's blues. And it isn't a gender issue. Oh, those are there. But underneath...

2: GENDER'S NOT IT

And again I find myself in a strange body--with a whole life attached.

I'm a man, a businessman. Big, white, nothing like my day-body: solid, strong, no environmental illness. I make decisions without stress, always have. No allergies either; I wear a brown wool suit. I take for granted that everyone can--push away the uneasy sense that this life would kill my usual body--from the cage of clocks and responsibilities and rivals right down to the formaldehyde and ketones I breathe, the sugar and stimulants I drink, the proteins I wear. I'm a businessman. Deals are my strong suit, not intuitions.

I have a particularly big deal cooking right now. One major rival for the contract...

The phone rings as I reach my office. I pick it up, eager to hear we got it.

"Hi," says the voice of my rival. "Back out of the deal, or I'll kill you. This is no joke. If you don't withdraw your proposal--today--I'll have you killed."

Death threats! Is he serious? I can't afford to back off. Unfortunately, neither can he. I mean, our careers are on the line!

To threaten me openly makes no sense. I could tell anyone. If I die, he's damned himself. Either anonymous threats or action I could understand. But this? The severed head of my unicorn love, a la Godfather...

One hour later, he makes sense. The phone beeps. "Just so you know I mean it... we killed the unicorn." Hits me like a line-drive in the solar plexus. The phone falls from my hand, cracks on the marble desktop. I grope for it. Pick it up at last. He's there, breathing, listening. I'm gasping for breath, I can't say a word. He finally says "Legally, you know, your pet's an animal, so even if you pinned it on me..." Click.

They're not animals. People. He's murdered my... teacher, lover, double. My spirit. He has no idea what he's done. As a warning! He should have killed me. He killed...

I'm so dizzy I can't stand. I can't maintain this businessman's body any more. Too much mass. I blur and shrink, regress to a more comfortable and familiar shape.

Now I'm a teenage girl.

The lost businessman's brown wool baggy suit is tangled around me. I'm in his office, with a view of downtown San Francisco out the glass wall. Feel like a wild animal trapped in this tower, in this suit. Scared. What makes me think I'm safer in this shape? He killed the unicorn--he won't kill girls too? I'm just adding to my problems. What if someone walks in?

I stumble over and lock the door. Pull the allergenic wool tent off me and try to figure out what to do. Wear his shirt as a minidress? Try it, but it's too short, my butt shows. And his boxer shorts and pants just fall off--way too big, hopeless. I hunt around the office in just the shirt. Find a strip of decorative African cloth about a foot wide covering some kind of shelf or countertop. Dump the papers and books on the rug and shake out the strip and wrap it round my hips. I look at my reflection in the window. I realize I'm still kind of in shock, playing dress-up when he killed the unicorn and I'm next if he recognizes me. He could be out there now looking up at my office--and seeing me at the window! I mustn't let him know what I look like now.

Despite the danger, I feel better, rooted in my body, liking myself again. I never quite did, as a businessman. "Maybe" I think "I can use sex somehow?" Nah. I'm just as vulnerable as I was--more so in a way, because people won't take me as seriously as a teenage girl, not like when I was a big old businessman. Feeling comforted doesn't mean I'm safer. The sex change won't help, because gender's not it.

He killed the unicorn.

And then I wake and write it all, shaken, grieving. Feel the grief, the long slow waves of gray. They've always been there. The gray heart. Mourning the loss of...

Me lying on my unicorn lover's back, teasing him with my toes.

Eight months and three rewrites pass before I see the parallel. The core issue.

In Dorothy Bryant's book "Madame Psyche", her sister wrecked her life by lying to her and about her. Her worst lie ever was that Psyche's only child had died. Psyche never knew, never met her lost daughter, believed her dead.

A lie! Is my core issue grief over a LIE? If Psyche's daughter is alive, could my unicorn be? My dream lover self soul body. My... pet. Can a crooked businessman really kill a unicorn? They aren't horses and this isn't "The Godfather." Is it so easy?

Like killing dreams. No. Not so easy.

So I know what to do now. Quit hiding my gray heart by acting outrageous. Save my energy for hunting unicorns. And lies!

And don't be so naive. Honestly! Believing therapists and phone calls.

White unicorn facing us, saying 'I'm still here, buddy!'
LISTS AND LINKS: therapy - I'm Just Not Myself Today - cross-gender dreams - money - walking on water - riddles - sex dreams - exhibitionism - hot girls - shapeshifting - business dreams - threats - grief - unicorns - mutilation - lies - seasonal and New Year's dreams - pure digital art - picture-stories

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