Last evening, I stood behind a lecturn, a microphone clutched in my right hand, and I read one of my stories to an audience of writers.
These days I work hard to discourage my ego from leading me by my substantial nose. That mode of travel has landed me in a great deal of trouble, particularly during the past five years. Sin can feel like fun when a person is young to the party. Once your gut begins to tie itself into permanent knots, and your brain slows to a coward’s crawl, however, you leave the party, either on your own two feet or on your back. That kind of fatal flirtation with the unassailable limits of the human body will one day slam you down to the ground and then dig you deeper into the loamy home of wet worms and tangled roots. Unless . . . unless you first raise a white flag, retreat, regroup and reform.
So nowadays, humbled and humiliated by the price I continue to pay for my foolish sins, I am hesitant to allow my ego to fulfill its craven need to grab the spotlight.
But last evening, my shy doppelganger, you must admit that I, EgoVT, grabbed the knobs and flipped the switches that first overloaded and then overrode your not-so-timid soul’s impulse control panel. I stood behind you at that lecturn, disguised as a dark shadow that blended well with your funereal outfit.
And we noticed the sweet cherub who sat front and center giggling, her cheeks blushing till they resembled a ripe peach. We knew her reason for chuckling, didn’t we, AVT? After all, we had dressed ourselves head-to-toe in black, complete with a dark cap that passed for a beret. I chose that silly outfit for us, the self-absorbed poet’s trite uniform that in turn entertained the cherub and turned her into a hot peach.
Now don’t look at me that way. For Pete’s sake and for mine, AVT, do not sulk. We of the EGO master race find displays of self-pity and feigned embarrassment to be examples of crass and tawdry behavior.
No need to pretend otherwise. You required me to perform my duty last night. So proud you were. So convinced that your tiny tale was a masterpiece bound to impress even the most sensitive artist present. Yep, once again you allowed your sinister side, your EgoVT to exude enough heat to expand and swell your mind.
My most harmful assumption as a young man was to believe that I was, and always would be, in total control of my life. I thought I could dance with wild grace forever, from dawn till dusk, and then again from dusk till dawn. Back then my legs were muscular and strong. I thought they always would be.
One of my favorite memories, though today it’s tinged with the doleful color of reality and regret, takes me back to any number of similar summer nights in Venice, California. Early mornings, really. Two in the AM, after the bars and dance clubs had locked their doors.
The year was 1979. I’d just moved from Philadelphia, PA. One-way plane ticket to the land of cantaloupe sunsets and bottlebrush plants. Seven hundred dollars tucked into my suitcase, between my knee-high sweat socks and my Fruit-of-The-Loom jockeys.
A free man, AVT. A happy man. Better to say more than happy. Joyful. Ecstatic. Ready for pleasure, and still young enough to expect the same to arrive in short time and in plentiful amounts. Such heady expectations can sometimes act as magnets, drawing wishes close, then closer, then close enough to touch and smell. That’s what happened to me. No, that’s what happened for me, because I wanted and needed it to happen.
I was house sitting for a woman who told me that she planned to roam around Europe for a couple of months. I stared through her living room’s wide window each evening. I watched the sun begin to set. The setting sun became my signal to open the house’s front door and begin the five-mile walk to the beachside dance halls. I let the failing yellow, then glowing orange light lead me westward, toward the ocean that to me looked like a lake and smelled like decomposing plants.
Yes, AVT, I can take it from here. You entered one dance hall after another, where you abandoned your mind and body to the music. You held several pretty women, by their hands and around their backs. The combined aroma of soapy perspiration and faint perfume awakened your hunger for sex. The joy you earlier mentioned shaped your mouth into a wide smile that joined the sparkle inside your eyes and created a dance step all its own.
Am I being fair to you? I think so. Fair in terms of sensitivity, yes, yet not completely honest. Because, I, your shadow, ask you these important questions: Was it you or I who danced with and loved all those pretty women? Whose arms spread like wings? Whose clever feet slid with grace between a perfumed partner’s legs? Whose arms wrapped themselves around moist and tender backs? Did AVT fall in love with each of those women, or did I, EgoVT, seek to impress them and use them to fill empty spaces inside your heart? Were you and I any different last evening than we were back in the summer of 1979? Last question, AVT: Who read that story last night? What was he, or I, expecting to attract? Another dance partner to control?
EgoVT, I confess this much. I knew you stood behind me while I read. You’re always there pretending to be a shadow. And yes, I allowed you to choose my “man in black” outfit, topped off with a cap that passed for a beret. I thought the costume was fun to wear. I further confess that I need you sometimes.
But . . . you, my prideful doppelganger, did not write the story I read last evening. I, not you, loved dancing with those young women way back when. I enjoyed the way they felt and smelled. I danced with those women, and they danced with me. We did not control each other, and you did not control me. You were there, and you served a purpose. Pride in one’s abilities is a good quality, so long as pride does not lead the dance.
My smiles, the ones I wore on the 1979 dance floors, did indeed reflect pure joy. The same brand of joy I felt after I, not you, finished writing and rewriting my story. The same flavor of joy I, not you, tasted as I read my story to my fellow writers.
You, EgoVT, are a part of me. I’m glad that you’re there — behind me — always ready to follow my lead and enjoy the accomplishments of the part of me that labors.
Other people who write might tell a different story regarding the role their egos play.