Isaiah Zeavin-Moss: Toward introspection

Monday, October 9, 2017 - 10:59am

As the kid of psychoanalysts, I’m often asked whether my parents analyzed me while I was growing up. And I don’t really know the answer to that question. I used to immediately, assuredly say, “No, of course not,” thinking that there was no way my parents saw me as they saw their patients. I was their youngest kid, their baby, not some confused, sad, lost person who paid for their service twice a week.

But as I’ve grown up I’ve recognized that, like any profession that our parents take on, it leaks into the rest of their lives. How could it not? Not surprisingly, this primarily took form in how my parents helped me deal with my own problems. They would have me simply talk about what was going on as a way of expressing myself, even when things seemed unfathomably, incomprehensibly confusing or sad — I was terrible at math, I was chubby and I was part of a friend group that bullied other kids. These, in addition to general adolescent dramas, were some of the things I’d be struggling with.

In other words, the idea was to share my mind with the rest of my family, to let them know what I was thinking. If I couldn’t do that, if things seemed too grave or too murky, I was taught that nothing really could be done to help my cause.

And now, thinking back on my childhood and the ways in which it has leaked into my own psyche today, I see, among all the beautiful and enriching experiences my childhood afforded me, that I struggle. I struggle to maintain privacy, to maintain a distance between myself and the surrounding world, potentially because of the emphasis that was placed on sharing my mind at home.

When I write things (plays, stories, columns, essays), I immediately feel the need to share what I’ve written. If I think the thing is good, somehow that doesn’t carry enough weight. I need the affirmation of other people. Often, this stunts my writing entirely, since before the thing I’ve written has any chance to breathe, before I can form any specific, intimate relationship with it, it is in somebody else’s hands, it has the marks of their critiques on it. I have endless writing projects waiting for me in my Google Drive, projects I know I’ll never return to, because the connection has been snapped by my insistent sharing.

This idea of having a thought and immediately needing to share it — out of a sense that containing it within me will not feed the thought its sufficient affirmation, that I am unable to affirm my own thoughts separate from my friends and family — extends not just to the things I write, but to the private fantasies I have.

I often imagine what could be better about any given situation. I imagine whose presence I would love to have, where else I would love to be. I imagine how swell it would feel to have some skill or trait that I don’t actually have. I focus on the absences, and so I pull away.

But I often share these fantasies with my friends. And I often do this without actually letting others know that this is a fantasy; instead, I’ve lied. And this has led to the end of dear friendships, to people I love feeling confused, manipulated and, ultimately, to me feeling profoundly terrible about myself. Why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut? Why couldn’t I just appreciate the beauty of whatever I had in front of me?

I lie to share my fantasy. I lie because my fantasy doesn’t count if it’s just in me. It needs to spread, take root in the minds of others, too.

And over the past several months, in an effort to gain more of a sense of personal privacy, I have begun to keep a journal. I write in it every couple of days. My entries wander, they fantasize, they contradict. All of this is OK, because it’s in a space that only I have access to. My journal represents me figuring out aspects of myself before anybody else has to.

In my journal, there are words and ideas that come out of me when I am in a meditative state, when I’m not consciously working to think or to formulate thoughts, but instead simply commenting on what I am seeing as I saunter through my mind. Like a toddler standing with a clipboard and a piece of paper in a fancy museum who is told, “don’t worry about the technical jargon, just draw what you see.”

And then, since I’ve been abroad this semester, I have been meditating for 10 minutes per day. Pausing for a second, momentarily getting out from beneath the cutthroat hustle-and-bustle of my rattled conscience. Taking a private moment for myself, to focus on my breath, my body. To establish distance between me and everything else. Some distance is certainly necessary. 

This lesson lies at the foundation of what it means for me, as an individual, to be growing up and becoming more independent. Understanding the potential beauty in a thought that no one else sees. Realizing those thoughts do not need affirmation from anybody else in order to be full, to have real meaning.

Isaiah Zeavin-Moss can be reached at izeavinm@umich.edu.