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The Artful Beast

I think too much about goodness. Like any child I was taught that being good was ideal, “good” was what you should aspire too, “good” was the ultimate compliment. I remember when my parents told me I was good: when I was silent and invisible, even when I was suffering, even when I was dying of cancer as a 15-year-old, even when I was sad or worried but remained wordless and out of the way, while I kept my hair brushed, my clothes clean, my complexion perfect.


So deep in my being, I know I am done with good. Goodness and niceness is a surfeit of sugar: ultimately it rots you, and while it may go down easily, it also kills you. I was forced to be polite to the point of my own annihilation.


Having been taught by my parents that who I was, what I thought and felt and said, was a horror and a shock and totally unacceptable, I now daily test the boundaries. Even if I don’t value goodness, I have nevertheless internalized the shame of not being good. It’s not as if I go about breaking the law or sowing public discord, but even my small gestures toward freedom and expression seem transgressive.


I listen to Gregory Porter’s extraordinary song, “Be Good (Lion’s Song)” and consider myself both the lion in the cage and the dancer circling the cage, teasing and tempting. When I can’t stand thoughts of myself, I wish to be Porter’s baritone voice, smooth and spiritual, warm and transcendent. But as I reckon with life in my own body, I would like to be part lion/part dancer. Fierce and wild and graceful and moving. An artful beast.



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