Still Waters

A story

A man marries a woman and they settle down.

They buy a house, decorate and furnish it. Eventually they have a child together.

All seems relatively well, until the man’s behaviour begins to change. Perhaps he begins to drink more, or drinks with less control. He gets drunk and stays out, gets into trouble. He becomes more distant from his wife, and child. Maybe he has an affair. Perhaps he does other troublesome, disruptive things.

And for his actions he faces recriminations.

“Why are you doing this?” he is asked. And perhaps he cannot come up with an answer, and he feels bad; but he does not know if he feels bad because he did those things, or because he cannot say why he did them.

And so our hero becomes a villain; his name muddied, his image tarnished.

And he sees the pain that he is causing, and he feels the judgements that are cast upon him. And, whilst he may not show it, somewhere within him he is hurt. He does not like being the one to bring about all this pain, and he does not like the weight of shame that has been hung around his neck. And so he makes efforts to change his ways, to do less of these things that have caused pain. He pares himself down, becomes “good”.

People begin to notice a change in him.

In becoming good he seems to have lost something. He seems dulled, muted. Neutered. At certain points of the day he can be caught staring into the distance, empty-eyed. And people wonder, “What is wrong with him?” “What happened to him?”

Some people, those with eyes to see, sense a deep rumbling within him; and they know that something is very wrong.

A story about a story

We started with a fantasy, one that was presumably shared by both parties; a fantasy of “everything is alright.” An image of a still lake, of balance and harmony. But for some reason this fantasy lost its truth for our hero, and he began to desire new images, and different stories.

His abandoning of the initial fantasy – the shared fantasy – caused pain; not only to his beloved, but to those in the community who were also invested in it. They could not understand his new stories, the sense of them; and, unfortunately for him, neither could he.

All he “knew” was that they were in some way necessary. To keep his own private lake still he seemed to have to cast stones upon communal waters. But he knew that these stones were not thrown out of malice, just to see the splashes and disruption that they would cause. There was an unconscious logic in his actions, a balance was being preserved.

Unfortunately for our hero his lack of insight into his own behaviour – his lack of language, of concepts; his inability to explain himself, to make himself known – meant that it became illegitimate. Lacking an advocate, it was forced underground, into the depths, where it could no longer disrupt the fantasy of “everything is alright”.

In forcing his devils underground he was able to once again to become “good”, the communal lake restored to stillness. But he did not realise that the devils do not disappear; they came to him with an important message, and it is their duty to make sure they are heard. Forced into the darkness, they still sing and dance, only he can no longer see them, or hear their song.

Perhaps our hero even begins to think of himself as “bad”; after all, he can see the consequences of his behaviour, and he is not blind to its effects. And so he is forced into a corner, given an ultimatum; to deny his devils, and to force them underground, or to remain the “villain,” and to live with the label of “bad.”

But perhaps an understanding of his actions – of their sense – would make the choice irrelevant.

Because he could not defend himself, he was forced into an act of self-amputation; an act that – seen from a certain angle – is perhaps the most horrific of this whole tale.


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Things that can't be said or thought within a relationship/marriage.

The marriage becomes a normalising structure, marking out a safe area within which we can live. Each keeps tabs on the other to make sure that they aren't straying too far from safe ground.

But the structure cannot stop us dreaming; it cannot halt the flow of fantasy. We see what happens when fantasy enters the marriage, when messy, foreign madness is brought into the home, muddying the carpet and disrespecting the rules.

The question is: will fantasy be allowed in here? Will we open our door to it, or will we turn our back on it; deny it, or vilify it? Does fantasy have a place within our safe structure? Perhaps we made it too safe, too secure. Or perhaps we were wrong to build it in the first place.

"We should be grateful that we've managed to survive our dreams [...] The important thing is, we're awake now."

And so, we're back to normal. We're both back on safe ground, and let's put an end to our dreaming. It was too messy, too painful.

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Frozen in time

The marriage begins with an image - the wedding photo - and asks the couple to remain faithful to this image. It asks them to keep smiling, to maintain harmony.

But perhaps the marriage needs to be able to allow other images within its borders; images of tears, and bared-teeth; of dreams, mistakes, regrets.

In asking its participants to stick to a single image it does not allow them to be fully human, condemning them to the immovability of rigor-mortis. Its foundational image is two-dimensional; pathology free, all smiles and great expectations. But if we decide that pathology is an important aspect of flourishing - an aspect of a balance - then it must be let in.

In this case, the mark of the strong marriage is its ability to adapt to changing waters, to allow the roiling seas as well as the calm lake.

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Related posts:-
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe
Live the Straight and Narrow
Cut to Fit
Wild Things
Individual v Environment
A Healthy Environment
Small Part, Large System
Restrictive Systems 
It's in my DNA
Alone Together
Communal benefits
Lost Tribe
Projecting a Shadow
Digging Deeper 
Status Quo 
Open Wound
Frozen in time 
Hold it Still

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