PETER PAN SYNDROME
Dreamed 1995/1/10 by Chris Wayan
I'm reading the original "Peter Pan," by J.M. Barrie. Way stranger than Disney! Barrie observes both adulthood and childhood from outside, with an adult's intelligence but not at all an adult sensibility. He's presexual--love is shown as either mothering or friendship or a mixture. Wendy's parents are really just large, experienced children, both playmates and caretakers for each other, and this model is quite funny--and revealing. Barrie is perfectly able to recognize sex from the outside, but not feel it. This wasn't Victorian prudery. Due to a glandular problem, Barrie remained essentially presexual, the size of a ten-year-old, with the emotional interests of a boy--fights, forts, Indians, pirates (Neverland!). Yet he had an adult understanding of adult responsibilities. A disturbing state! Barrie himself was a Peter Pan--one with the experience and brains to see all he was locked out of.
It's the reverse of what's called "Peter Pan syndrome"--men who choose to avoid responsibility, men who stay boys inside. Barrie's mind matured, he took responsibility, he saw, but his body stayed behind. He had all the pain of adulthood--but adult pleasure? He hovered outside the window, looking in. The longing he feels for both lost adulthood and lost childhood is palpable all through the book.
I know the feeling, though I'm trapped in a slightly different stage: early sexuality, longing and crushes, but unready to act--or unsafe. I flee commitment like a Peter Pan, but my condition's also physical, though from a different cause--environmental illness. That offers some hope. I'll always have to be careful traveling, meeting strangers, doing business, and handling conflict, but it isn't physically impossible for me to reduce the stress of these things to a tolerable level, and travel, work, find a lover... it's just difficult.
But J.M. Barrie's life sentence had no possibility of parole.
I bike across town, to therapy with Shelley. Rain in Pacific Heights as I near her office. I dash in...
Shelley wants to talk about feelings. "I think you avoid emotion." Of course I do! When my EI is active, a couple of hours of stress can sicken me for days. I trust Shelley more than any other therapist I've had, but I physically can't afford to open up like her other clients. I can't relive the traumas of my childhood yet--it's not safe. They're literally unbearable--not emotionally, but physically. I'm still too weak.
But then, I recall very little of my childhood anyway. Even faces of my best friends, names of teachers, events in school--lost. Or I never did pay attention, even at the time: I clearly and vividly remember feeling even then like I was dormant, latent, waiting. Like this wasn't real life, just acting a role until I could find the environment I was meant for. Even when I see photos from my past I don't recognize people--not even myself. Yet dreams, books, songs, and places I went--encyclopedic, detailed. I recall dreams from when I was three. But friends? Not much.
What if that's because, as friends go, they weren't much?
At home, that evening, I read "Black Maria": a social satire by Diana Wynne Jones. The ultimate Horrid Aunt, using dullness and martyrdom and concealed barbs to enslave others through guilt. Primal!
Just before bed, I start doing art. Promise myself I'll only work an hour, not stay up all night as I used to. Can I control my addiction now?
I run about 15 minutes over, but I do stop. Feel relieved. I really didn't think I could do it! Looks like I HAVE changed. Binge-artist no more.
I'm swimming in Lake Shasta with a woman I know. A local guy calls from shore "Don't DRINK that water! Too many people swim in it, and it's stagnant." No it's not, there's a notable current; we float downstream right out of the lake, into a canal running north right through the ancient walled city of Dunsmuir, and out the watergate. It clicks shut behind us. Locked out! We're naked. No clothes, let alone keys. How'll we get back to our car? Ahead the river starts to drop into an isolated desert canyon, bending northeast. My friend calls "we better climb out here." She's right. No food, map, raft, clothes, or way back out. We have to get out of the current!
See a hiker, a twentyish blonde in overalls, to our right, up the slope, heading upstream. So there is a trail back! Wade out and head for it, naked and barefoot over sharp grass stubble, through a sagging barbwire fence. Hope there's a way over or through the city wall.
Yes. A door. We're still barefoot and dripping, but we have swimsuits now, and no one stares. After all, everyone swims here, it's the city transit system--a web of fountains and pools and canals full of people floating along at about 5 knots. Slow, but a relaxing way to travel.
My friend is disoriented. She keeps wanting me to point out how to get back to our car. I see a gap in a wall leading to the street where we're parked, and turn to tell her, but it's too late: she's wandered off toward the palace to the east. I'm curious enough to follow, but feel uneasy: again, we float through a gate, but it locks behind us.
We meet Peter Pan.
He's 40 years old now, and not at all the way Robin Williams portrayed him in his movie biography. A goth prince... dark-haired, ragged, homeless, lean and hungry, with deep haunted eyes. He never learned to fit in among mortals. Can't sleep in their sealed houses, can't work at their jobs. The Lost Boys and Indians came back too and twenty years have passed; they're all adult, from their twenties to forty years old. Scraggly street types mostly. Some of the girls are very sexy, and despite my training to fear men, especially ragged crazy young men, they too have Peter's inner glow: the old magic, dormant. They came back to be human, to be loved, but found they couldn't fit in--they're fey for life. Trapped in the dimension that girl in overalls lacked.
At dusk, my friend and I wander swim with them, and face the truth: we belong with them. It's not just a syndrome or illness. Our nature is different.
We have to stop living on the fringes of this alien culture that doesn't respect us.
We have to go home to Never-never land.
But knuckle down, grow up, fit in?
Ain't gonna happen.
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