Because neurotic is the new black....

Ann Nichols

Ann Nichols
East Lansing, Michigan,
December 31
I write, I read, I clean up after people and I worry about things. I have a chronic insufficiency of ironic detachment. My birthday isn't really December 31; it's March 22 but it won't let me change it.


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MARCH 23, 2011 10:56AM

There Is No "There," Here

Rate: 37 Flag



It has occurred to me that, in the paraphrased words of Gertrude Stein “there is no there here.” I am a mirror, something that exists only for the purpose of reflecting an image for anyone looking in from the outside. I am a chameleon; I can be anything that is needed, desired or imagined, blending seamlessly into the foliage of someone else’s world. Look closely, and you can actually see me disappear into the underbrush of Another’s hungry imaginings. I am the bright red of an amusing Facebook friend, the soft pink of a sympathetic ear, the ironic black of an aging hipster with a Ramones T-shirt and a battered copy of “On The Road.” When you look away, move on, I am once again dun-colored and invisible.


You like what you see. You think you like “me,” know “me,” have a connection with something deep and warm and substantial. The part you’re missing is the fact that there isn’t anything there, not really. I have overcome my sense of invisibility and insignificance by learning to reflect, to project, to satisfy and fulfill. I do not know, any more, what I like, what I need, or what I want. I make choices, hundreds every day, based on my existence as a projection, a thing that you can see and to which you respond, but which you could easily penetrate with your index finger. Wave your hand in disapproval, criticism, or even apathy and the minute fragments scatter and take with them the image of a whole woman.


One more metaphor, if you’ll indulge me. I am the snake-charmer’s snake, slithering sensuously and gratifyingly out of a brightly colored basket because of your approbation, your applause, and your approval. Without the clapping hands and smiling faces I am the most repellant of reptiles lying in wait in the dark, scaly and cold to the touch. I do not, in my repose, love anybody, least of all myself. I am nothing but a parlor trick, coiled in wait until the moments when I rise, lithe and shining, to make you gasp, and clap, and toss coins.


There are times when I come alive and feel the growth of real soul and sinew and passion. I am caught off guard by the pliant and demanding hand of a baby reaching for a lock of my hair, her huge brown eyes locking on mine and seeing something real; there is then an “oh” of pleasure that shakes me. I am brought to warm, trembling life by conversations with 80-year-old women who see something good in me, something dependable, practical, helpful and loving. They are past looking for a reflection of themselves, and they see something in me that is not exciting, not funny, not pretty, just good. I feel, maybe, like something solid when my husband holds me and reassures me that there is something warm and valuable in his arms. Even then, I am only sure I’m here at all because someone else sees me.


I want to be real. I long to have some sense that there is a “me,” that I exist for some reason other than reflecting, pleasing, and collecting the coins of approbation and reassurance that I am, in fact, worth something as I am. I want to be loved with dirty hair, no eyeliner, a day late, a dollar short, unable to help, not funny, not very interesting. I want to stop wanting to be loved. If I am going to gaze at my navel, it should, after all, be a three dimensional dimple in the soft pale flesh of a living, breathing, woman.


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One angsty middle aged woman to another: Yes, the chameleon invisibility gets to me too sometimes...
Again a beauty with words and images - astounding writing. I have felt this way - even know I will feel this way again, but there is no way that I could express so eloquently those feelings as you have with this post.
One of the few benefits of aging, at least to me, is the realization that people can still be loved for their imperfections and peculiarities, that the people I love most are often surly, selfish, unfunny and a little bit dim at times. After all, I'm like that too.
we all do.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.
~shamelessly stolen from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
incredibly, astonishingly well-written. beautiful words, impeccable phrasing. gush gush gush. one of your all-time best.

oh, and what ann l. said right above me. plus "I want to stop wanting to be loved." i've been staring at that sentence for a minute. reflections in a mirror, indeed, annie.
Yes. One of your best.~r
For someone who is not really there or even real but for the projections of others, you have an unusually high level of consciousness. What’s more, to be able to articulate your mirror existence in such beautiful prose suggests that you are indeed very much your own person. It may be that you enjoy observing life through the lens of others; either way, you have a unique perspective and I'm glad you shared it.

"When you look away, ...I am once again dun-colored and invisible... I want to stop wanting to be loved. If I am going to gaze at my navel, it should, after all, be a three dimensional dimple in the soft pale flesh of a living, breathing, woman."

Gaaahhhh! what prose.
This is so esoteric to me, Annie, as I - all false modesty aside, and pushing 70 to boot - am so full of myself that when I get the mirror at just the right angle I can see a three-dimensional navel dimple in the...well, no need to steal the rest of your metaphor. It is to weep, really. Thank the gods for sweet babies and sweeter elders. Would that the stretch between keep us appreciative of them.
Pure poetry in prose and deep thoughts about what is real make this an excellent post. Thank you. I am reading The Life of a Cell by Lewis Thomas and it takes me out of myself and to a place where microbes rule. We are all so much more than what we seem on the surface.
of course we'll indulge you you're an astonishingly fine writer r.
really good writing on OS today. Thank you for this.
I feel like I know exactly what you mean. I feel like this was written for, by me. Which in some ways just supports your thesis.

This thing you describe isn't quite the same as feeling like a fraud, a different phenomenon that sometimes happens to me.

Sometimes I get angry (on the inside) that people get what they want out of me but as soon as I make a little teeny move to get what I want, I shrink back in fear of the disapproval I sense is forthcoming. I don't know if that is them or me. I don't know whose fault that is.
God I feel your angst. Some days there is no method to the mayhem, no purpose, then other days it all begins to make sense...
This could be the battle cry of the middle-aged woman. Too familiar, too close to the bone. Flawlessly written.
Boring? Never boring, my dear. Never you.
Rated. Although you made me think about what I don't want to think about. **sigh**
I'm very understanding of what you're saying....but let me tell you, the essence of what you are, what you project is a lot more than the camouflage that you perceive is your projection.

what we create quite innocently is our better selves, a living word of our truest purest nature, who we wish we were sometimes all the time for a particular reason.

for me it's lovely. I enjoy it so much. I like all of our living poetry, walking art, colorful avatars and resonant voices.

Have you read "Going to Pieces without Falling Apart"? It's by Mark Epstein. The "you" that 80 year old women love because they have "real sight" is there but the minute you start trying to look for her, she evaporates. Epstein, an Ameican psychologist with a buddhist perspective discusses how here in the West, we're trying put all the pieces of ourselves together, whereas Buddhist would argue that is futile because "the glass is already broken." And this blog is very pretty.
Why would you want to stop wanting to be loved? That desire is the shared human experience.

I trust you'll be trademarking "Blog-O-Therapy." Ann's Amuse-Bouche and Blog-O-Therapy Emporium.
At least you're able to use your angst in a productive manner. Your writing is a reflection of yourself. When you're neither here nor there, you are not invisible. You're busy reflecting.
Ditto on Toritto's comment. I can still surprise my kids with stories and comments, they are young whippersnappers and they they know, but, until I die, I am the real enigma. I like it that way, you know, sense of mystery, incompleteness, depth, etc. Oh, I don't do much makeup either. My husband is indifferent to it. I like to accent my eyes when I do out, because I still like to think that it matters when I smile, just how pretty a picture my face paints for those who care to still look.....ooolahla!
Cease practice based
On intellectual understanding,
Pursuing words and
Following after speech.
Learn the backward
Step that turns
Your light inward
To illuminate within.
Body and mind of themselves
Will drop away
And your original face will be manifest.
— Dogen
Love "blog-o-therapy". And I wish I didn't know what you were talking about...
Profound insight here. I wonder if what you say if true of us all.
I have found your latest pieces very good, tight and pitch perfect. I have always admired your writing but your most recent pieces I am most touched by, I also prefer the less is more style here.
You have felt the Love you describe. It is not from any person. It is from the center of your Self. It needs no Other because ultimately there is no Other. Your ability to Love Others comes from this place. I use the Capital Letters to distinguish between the pleasure from a one-on-one relationship that is dependent on actions of self and other, and the Absolute Love that simply Is.
Gorgeous. I think so many of us can find ourselves in your words here - and not because I think you wrote them to please us. Your honesty is captivating and vital. I wish I had some advice or inspiration to give you. Instead, I think 1_Irritated_Mother puts it best with the passage she chose.
This is it. This is completely how it is. I am envious of women who seem concrete, have a thoroughly realized "there". I always think that I'm the only one who feels this way but I guess I'm not. r
This is it. This is completely how it is. I am envious of women who seem concrete, have a thoroughly realized "there". I always think that I'm the only one who feels this way but I guess I'm not. r
Well, you know, this really is brilliant, and sad, and magnificent, and worrisome, and eloquent.

Perhaps your wanting to be loved is what makes you alive--just like the rest of us.
I SOOOO get this...(& I love the snake charmer's snake metaphor -- perfect!) Excellent not-even-remotely-boring blog-o-therapy. Again -- I so get this.
This is a beautiful post. It made me think of what how I would describe myself.
"If I am going to gaze at my navel, it should, after all, be a three dimensional dimple in the soft pale flesh of a living, breathing, woman."
You reflect what others expect to see of you.

Question is, when you look in the mirror at you, what do YOU expect to see? You can choose what you see, and when you do so, you add substance to your being.
What you think you are is the important piece. Choise is the important thing.
I think, therefore I am.
You think, therefore you are what you choose to think.

You can do this. You are rebooting yourself.
Define yourself as you see fit, and build on it.
This isn't just for women. I know the feeling, in fact I wrote a song about it -- it's called I'm Not Here.
You have beautifully pierced the inner person of many, male and female.
Of course there is a there there. Hey, nicely done, you there, yeah you, Annie.