I was struck by a comment of Garry Kasparov during a chess Masterclass I’ve been watching. When he analyzed a game he lost, he said, he was enraged when he saw he’d made a blunder—not at his opponent but at himself. This resonated strongly with me.
My bouts of anger are almost entirely at myself. I can think of a few people for whom I’ve had long-term resentment (either because they’ve hurt someone important to me or because they’ve cost me money), but very few. Much like my mother, who once said, “It takes a long time to get on my shit list, but once you’re there, it’s damned hard to get off.”
But my shit list is very short, and most of it is me. At one time I attributed this to a fundamental cowardice: I hate confrontations. But I’ve come to see it otherwise. I think it stems from a huge sense of self-esteem: I expect much more from myself.
It’s simple to find the source of this: a mother’s love for her only child. But resulting, oddly, in an almost pathological sense of responsibility—seeing her struggle after being abandoned by my dad (which was indirectly my fault, I guess, for being born). But I hold myself to a higher standard than I expect from the rest of the human race, not that I do much better. I guess it’s only-child privilege.
How to let go of that? Frankly, I don’t know if I want to. It’s a snuggly teddy-bear I kinda take pride in, and I guess it’s not only me that clings to flaws like a second or third nose—weird, but it’s me. But that teddy-bear gets a bit smelly from the snuggle.
At age 19, I married a challenging girl, who became a challenging woman. Gifted, wounded, a beautiful floral minefield. For her, knowing me was probably, to quote a line in our play, “like mind-reading a coconut.” Or maybe a coconut rolling wildly down the freeway. How did we make it together through sixty years and counting?
I’d propose a weird word: “worship.” That’s usually heard as “I love you, you’re a god/goddess, you’re perfect, I light a candle or kill a pig for you, I dote on your merest fart!” Not my meaning. I’d say it much simpler: it’s simply the act of giving close attention to something outside yourself.
There are times when conflict seems inevitable: is it my doll or yours? As if the doll’s very life depended on the answer. But during the Cold War, I often said that if the Soviets could really hear what our criticisms were, and if we could hear theirs, and we all could manage to address them, there’d be no Cold War. That hasn’t worked on the world scene, but it’s worked pretty well in our marriage.
We both have old buried landmines. We have differences in aesthetics and temperaments. We have different modes and speeds of reaction. We have different blind spots. We likely even have different views of our similarities. What we share is a willingness to listen.
In recent years, we’ve formalized it into the Heartshare, an admittedly New Age term we picked up from an intentional family. Either of us can ask it, and it’s infrequent. It simply involves sitting down, on the couch in the living room or upstairs by the fireplace, speaking a concern or a hurt or an anger, listening and being heard. There’s no dialogue. One person talks, and when he/she’s finished, the other can respond. Both listen. That’s the challenge. Both listen and take away what’s heard. It’s incredibly hard to be that simple.
But I think that’s an aspect of “worship.” You have the respect of the other to hear and to hear in return. We don’t get that from gods, who rarely speak back, though I answer only for my own experience. But if we don’t get it from at least one fellow human, we won’t get it from gods.
We don’t often use that ritual, but it’s always there. It’s worked into our days. And would that I could speak to myself and listen. I do it in writing, I think, but that’s in masks, in costumes, in other personae. It only works when you’re naked.