Packing Up

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.
— Walt Whitman

In this country we encourage “creativity” among the mediocre,
but real bursting creativity appalls us.
We put it down as undisciplined,
as somehow “too much.”
Art doesn’t come in measured quantities:
it’s got to be too much or it’s not enough.
—  Pauline Kael

You can have it all, goes one old aphorism, but you just can’t have it all at once.

For me to exist in the wider world, I have to figure out what part of me to pack up.   Too much is too confusing, especially in a world where nuance has been mostly shrunken to Twitter levels, 140 characters being the limit of  understanding in one bite.

This is the obligation of packaging, neatly parcelling your message — neatly parcelling yourself — into packets that are both attractive and consumable in easy gulps.   Pack up the “too much information” to leave a package that fits comfortably into a nice normative consciousness.

Not personally having a normative consciousness — theologian, low latent inhibition, queer, all that — the only way I can even try to understand what the normative will get is through analysis and struggle.

ShamanGal called me in a tizzy this week because a girlfriend had told her on the phone that she thinks too much and that she should just cut it out and she would be happier.

“Callan!” she said to me on the phone, “why do I over think everything?  I mean, it’s just something that I shouldn’t do, should I?  It gets in my way, right?  If I keep overhinking everything, won’t my life always be a mess?  Help me!”

I suggested that maybe, overthinking is just how her brain works, like the “Hamlet Syndrome: Overthinkers Who Underachieve” book describes.

“But it’s not a good choice!  And when she said it, I knew it!   I feel so ashamed, like she just told me that I’m too fat!  How can I fix this, how can I control it, how can I think about it in ways that help me take charge of it by fitting it into nice boxes?   How can I rationalize my overthinking?   Help me!”

I laughed.   “Don’t think of it like being fat, something you might be able to control.  Think of it like being tall.   Your life would be easier if you were 5′ 3″ like your mother right?”

“Maybe,” she averred.

“So what are you going to do to,  shrink five inches in height?”

She got the point.   Your blessing is also your curse.   No one would say she looks like a model if she was shorter, even if it would make it easier to get less scrutiny in the world.

Her friend suggested that ShamanGal’s overthinking is just something she could pack up, could put aside.    It isn’t, any more than she can put her history and stories as a transperson aside to make herself more easily understandable as a woman.

“A woman was talking to me about her teenage daughter,” ShamanGal told me, “who was practising woman power by being one of the mean girls at school.   She said ‘You remember what it was like in high school’ but of course, I didn’t.

“That’s part of a painful gap in my experience, a lost girlhood.   I didn’t bother telling her that, though; it would have outed me and just lost the thread of what she was saying, but I felt that loss in my heart as she assumed my normativity.”

ShamanGal put away her queerness in that moment in order to be nicely packed up and make the conversation smooth.

Packing up is sometimes impossible for me — my brain is what it is, for example — and other times feels like loss as I swallow my own journey to become less challenging, easier to digest.

More than that, I am bound to get the whole packing up thing wrong sometimes, playing it too safe in packaging because of my assumptions about what will be hard for others to take, or taking too many risks and pushing too many boundaries  because of my assumptions about what others are able to take.

I sit in a house filled with stuff that needs to be processed, either thrown out, packed up, or polished for display.   I sit here very alone, without other eyes to help me see my world.

I understand the need to pack up parts of myself to be more effective in the world, but I also feel keenly Pauline Kael’s truth: “Art doesn’t come in measured quantities: it’s got to be too much or it’s not enough.”  After decades of experience, I feel the “too much” put down in my heart.

I also get the failures lurking in packing up, the playing it too safe, the being too bold, the  analysis paralysis that lies between those errors.

Do I contradict myself?  Very well, I contradict myself.   I am large, I contain multitudes.

And to be more effective in the wider world, some of those multitudes I have to pack up.

Hard and painful, that.