Without diversions like movies, plays, music, I have been afraid that our equanimity might run out around showing an honest interest in the other’s mental preoccupations. One day I showed up at the theater to find her saving a place in the member’s line, and my mind was still mulling over Pema Chodron’s talks on hopelessness as the first step toward liberation and Corky had listened to chapter four of a Dave Egger’s audio book and was eager to regale me. Unfortunately, her enthusiasm had not been contagious. I was brain deep in nonbeing and eager to become unconditionally friendly with the pieces of myself I didn’t much like.
Additionally, I haven’t been able to do companionable very well grappling with notions of self and not self. It is a lose-lose proposition. For example, the day we sat in a darkened row in the Castro a few minutes before the screening of “But I’m a Cheerleader,” I recognized a disconnect in the making. Arriving before Corky, I chose a seat and an adjoining seat in a row behind friendly women. It had been fun working out which of them was taller from the waist dow n and would not block our views. I enjoyed the camaraderie and also took note that none of the women had what I term irresponsible hair, the kind that kinks or curls in all directions, blocking visual access to anything but the hair. I was satisfied with those seats. When Corky arrived, she asked me if I wanted her to move over a few seats. Perplexed by the question and a mite irritated, I told her I didn’t want anything but for her to sit down. I explained that I had not haphazardly picked this particular seat or row. Thought had gone into this choice.
In all fairness, Corky’s willingness to move was grounded in memories of many events we had attended at which I had grumbled about being seated behind the tallest person in the world. In her current wish to prevent such unpleasantness, she referenced previous experiences at the same time I was shaping this one. My current self was satisfied with the seating arrangement; whereas kindness had led her to default to a memory of my earlier disappointments and to act on it.
This moment of irritation was followed quickly by another tussle between self and not self, between the self I thought I was being at that time and the self she imagined she was sitting next to. Not the same selves. Her question of when I had seen this movie the first time was met with my noncommittal reply, a response full of fuzziness and dismay at not knowing the decade, let alone the year, I had first seen the film. Corky heard me criticizing her for asking a nonspecific question about “when.” I was surprised to hear that I was being argumentative and competitive when neither attribute applied at that moment. Her experience and mine just didn’t match up. Maybe that’s the way it is to be human, minute-by-minute.
Of course, not every shared experience is a struggle. Many of our side-by-side times are peaceful and hand-holding, comfortable and comforting. I am on my way to accepting that conversations about nonbeing may not be endlessly interesting. Nor would I dare suggest that she find the value of hopelessness or the conundrum of self and not self more worthwhile than any book by Dave Eggers. With a little distance, I can see the humor in pitting my interpretation of reality against Corky’s. That’s all they are anyway: interpretations.