Ruth wanted to know more about my “bird on glass” feeling earlier this month, and I have continued to ponder it. It’s that “outside looking in” feeling of alienation or distance, at times a longing to belong.
Oddly, I felt it on a day of being inside looking out. Only the metaphorical (but based on literal) bird was looking in, and not really. The bird was seeing the reflection of the sky, not wanting to come in or to belong to any human group. Just mistaken and confused.
Of course, Plato’s cave is pertinent here. If we are inside one way of looking at things (the cave) and learn that all we are seeing is a reflection flickering on the cave wall, we’d have to realize and turn around to be able to walk out through the mouth of the cave into the true world.
Likewise, if the bird could just turn around, she would see more sky, more trees, and her true home. Yes?
Why do we get confused and bang our heads on the wall, or our wings on the glass? Yes, it can lead to death! The bird’s death, the heart’s death, the death of the soul perhaps. Or the dulling of the mind, the numbing of our existence.
My dad turns 80 in a couple days, and I was just telling him how he has comforted me during my moments of alienation, reminding me that my true community includes the dead, and people in the future, people not now living but who have written things down or painted things. Yes, the writers and artists are no doubt my true community. (And his.) Especially the writers, but I am married to an artist, and I drew before I wrote, so I feel an affinity there, for sure.
In the recent tributes to Adrienne Rich, I encountered this quotation: “You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it.” I do. It does. Reading and writing are my natural activities, my (good!) habits of being.
But it’s true that we are living in a time of quick info, often gained through quick visuals, sound bites, quick, too-quick, and often dubious “facts,” some of which (in the political arena) are outright lies. Very little paying attention and sustained attentiveness going on and rigorous attachment to what is real or true here. So that probably intensifies my “bird on glass” feeling. Though I am part of a natural world, I am not part of this “new” world. And it is hard and shiny.
Mostly, though, I simply feel the slight distance of the artist, the person standing on the edge and looking, listening, paying attention. I’m not eavesdropping on purpose or to use anything I hear in a harmful way. I just understand that I am not in the “in” group at hand or of much interest to them. I am what I am, and it’s hard to explain to people who are not really interested.
“What are you up to these days?”
“I have a rich inner life.”
See what I mean? (It’s OK to laugh. I do.) But I see the irony here, too. In my answer, alas, they are on the outside looking in, and not able to see what I am up to because it is part of the inner life. (Although I do make it outer in my writing.)
Then again, as I said, they are seldom really interested. Not in my inner life, anyway. I hope they are interested in their own!
I love this piece on vulnerability in Maureen’s blog today. Partly because I imagine many people feel vulnerable and have rich inner lives, and that if we could connect, share, respect and protect each other, truly pay attention to each other, many feelings of alienation would fade….
And I have to say, I do feel I belong to a community here, of people who read, write, and care about each other. Thanks. And thanks again, to artist Pamela Callahan, for her birds.