Not THOSE shades of grey. Sorry! My shades of grey have ever so many more than 50. Closer to 500. Maybe 1,000. Maybe unlimited. Who knows? It depends only upon how open my brain, my creativity, and my soul can be.
So much of my life has been limited by zero-sum games. Being stuck in black and white. Good and bad. High and low. Win or lose. You get the idea. Have you been there? It’s surely worthy of a circle of hell, don’t you think?
Growing up, black and white was the norm. Maybe it was a sign of the times. I was born in the 1950s – a time of absolutes. Post-WWII, blossoming Cold War. (Why is it we’re always in, or in the penumbra of, war? Vietnam, War on Drugs, Gulf War I, Gulf War II, War on Terror, War on War…) You were good or bad – a wife and mother, or a whore. A good kid, or a thug. In my personal case, an angel or despicable. No nuance. No shades of grey.
As I grew up, I measured myself as I had been taught. Clearly, I was bad. Trouble. A brat. Despicable. Stupid. There was no holding two things at once. There was good – not me. There was bad – me. Except…sometimes I was good. Sometimes, I made it into the ranks of the not-evil. Those moments were fleeting. Deeply confusing. They messed with my head. In my world, there were no shades. Not of grey. Certainly not of color.
Did you ever read The Phantom Tollbooth? It was, and remains, one of my top five books. My favorite part, I think, was when Milo found himself in The Doldrums, a place without color or laughter. My world certainly had little color – I specialized in black and white photography in my young adult life. I can’t say I was without laughter, except in the worst of my depressions. But color was definitely a rarity.
I guess it’s not surprising that I have always felt pulled toward Russian literature. My favorite book is Oblomov, by Ivan Goncharov. Do you know it? It’s brilliantly written. The protagonist takes the first 60 pages of the book to get out of bed. This was a character with whom I could identify.
It has taken me almost my entire life to find any grey at all. To understand that it was even a possibility, much less something to aspire to. Angel or devil? I had always been the devil – the trouble-maker, the kid who always got into fights, the one sent to the office, the only one in my family who fought my father when he was in his drunken rages. The devil.
Finally, it stopped working for me, and I began working on my sanity instead. Once I began to feel the flashbacks in my gut, to rage against the injustice of being molested, I could no longer accept being the devil. Angel just seemed like the other side of the coin to me. So not who I was. If I decided to continue living, it was going to have to be as a whole person. Not one side or the other. I would need to lead my life in three dimensions. No Flat Audrey for me.
My journey of healing became all about finding the grey. Getting rid of the blacks and whites that had uncolored my world. Taking a coloring book and a new box of Crayola crayons – the big one, with 64 colors – and coloring outside the lines. Understanding that life, unlike baseball, had places where my winning didn’t require someone else losing.
These days, I try to leave the zero-sum games to the sports world. To fiction. To my past. Which, by definition, has passed. Without taking me prisoner.
Tomorrow (depending on whether I’ve really healed from this bug that’s been bugging me for almost a week) is all about “Choice Choices.” Be there or be square. Your choice.