New at boarding school, I was nine years old in a convent for the first time, in England for the first time, away from home – first time – the English I heard around me from the other girls was sometimes almost like a foreign language that I struggled to keep up with.
I am walking outside on the school grounds in a crowd of girls – we are being shepherded from one place to another – and I hear a girl somewhere behind me say, "stale buns for tea."
Immediately, I say to the girl next to me that the buns we had at tea that day had been stale.
I have noticed that other girls complain sometimes. It seems sophisticated to me to complain out loud. It doesn't come naturally to me.
It doesn't take long to learn that "stale buns for tea" is an English-girls-boarding-school idiom, meaning: "old news." It has nothing to do with food and has to be delivered dripping with scorn.
This morning I said something to Fred about how the only thing I have wanted all my life was to be a writer. He said something like, "Well, you've always wanted to be yourself, and it takes the form of being a writer."
I had just said something about how all the things I did for my parents and sisters – the character I played for them to keep them happy – the cheerful spinster – none of it made any contribution to my writing.
I am almost not playing that role anymore at all and I have much more of my own life.
I imagined my mother telling my sisters that I haven't been good lately. "Bim's being bad," I imagined her saying to them over the phone. She would say it sort of as a joke, but the message would be there.
And I imagined my two sisters in California getting angry that even though they have let me off the hook for so much, I am taking more.
I listened to my mother's voice mail yesterday. She had left it two or three days ago, but I waited awhile to listen to it. I haven't done that before.
My mother sounded a tiny bit crazy, a little bit desperate, wanting me to be in touch but not saying so. She almost sounded like a lonely little child.
I sent her a card this morning. I didn't say too much in it.
I read Alice Miller as if I am drinking water.
I sat on a couch in a café this afternoon, reading Alice Miller who is a psychotherapist who writes about the importance of the child, how parents – even those with the best intentions – wound and traumatize the child. I read this stuff, wanting very mch to re-enter my own childhood which I used to think was very available to me and now I begin to realize how most of it is walled off.
I feel a little silly reading Alice Miller in this café where on one side of me a young Korean man plays noisy video games on his cell phone, and on the other a guy talks into a phone, saying things like, "Well, what does he DO that he has so much money?"
I also read a few pages of A Sentimental Education. I had looked forward to a few hours of reading and writing, but somehow I am not sinking in deep.
I look up Alice Miller on one of the computers the café offers. I don't know what I am looking for. She has a section on how to find a good therapist. "Ask questions," she advocates.
And I think how, over the phone, when I made an appointment with a therapist for the first time a few weeks ago he asked me, "Do you have any questions?" "No," I had said. "My friend's recommendation is good enough."
But it wasn't and after three sessions I stopped seeing that guy. But how impossible it was for me in that first conversation to ask him any questions.
I saw bits of Monster In A Box, a Spalding Grey monologue, the other night on TV. At one point he's describing himself meeting a new shrink and I got this impression that Spalding didn't enter the new shrink's office like a shy child, but as himself, a full-grown man to be reckoned with. If this thing with the new shrink was going to work the shrink would have to make an impression just like anyone else Spalding came across. I liked that. When it comes to shrinks, so far, I've been fairly good at being vulnerable. Not so good at having any confidence in my own impressions.