Nowhere Woman: Self-Expression in the 21st Century

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the late 1960’s, my bourgeois family was killing me. While I lounged on the couch and read Charlotte Bronte, J. D. Salinger, and D. H. Lawrence, they sat in the finished basement watching Mission Impossible and The Big Valley. While I learned to read Tarot cards, they played cards. And there were the usual arguments about clothes: I hid my army jacket with the embroidered peace sign in the garage, because my mother thought it too tacky to wear to school.

I was critical of the educational system. I begged Mom to send me to Summerhill, a progressive school in England, but it was not going to happen when there were perfectly good public schools in town. At school I passed the days writing a journal and scribbling quotes from poetry and rock song lyrics. One day a music teacher busted me for not paying attention, and read aloud what I’d written about the meaninglessness of school. I was a hero for a day–a popular boy told me he admired my writing–but I was still humiliated. Once home I slammed into my room, cried a little, and picked up one of my comfort books, probably I Capture the Castle or Joan North’s The Whirling Shapes. And I looked for inspiration from a poster with a quote from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata: “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

There was a lot of noise and haste to filter out in those days. Poetry and rock songs helped. There was Emily Dickinson: “I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” There was Charlotte Bronte: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Perhaps Edna St. Vincent Millay was my favorite:

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!

Rock music was the glue that held my generation together. I adored the Beatles and was devastated when they broke up. I remember how excited I was the first time I heard “Hey Jude.” I would half-listen to the radio for hours just to hear that song. My favorite Beatles album, Rubber Soul, was frequently on the turntable. I loved “Nowhere Man,” though I was never, never, never, never going to be a “Nowhere Woman.”

Doesn’t have a point of view
Knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don’t know what you’re missing
Nowhere man, The world is at your command
Ah, la, la, la, la

I have begun to feel rather like Nowhere Woman, though. It has been a monotonous year of wearing masks, and I admit I don’t recognize my friends and acquaintances in their masks. I also seem unconsciously to have depended on lip-reading in conversation. Now I hear, “MUMBLE MUMBLE MUMBLE MUMBLE.” And that’s what they hear from me, too.

As for self-expression, we can’t see each other’s faces. This is a small complaint, but it’s time to get out the Emily Dickinson and the Beatles.

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