The J in your face

Try something different – surrender. – Rumi

Lionne à la queue de cheval (19 March 2020)

Throw a dog a stick, the Buddhists say, and he will chase it. Over and over. Throw a lion a stick, and he will turn around to see who threw it. The lion faces the source of his thoughts and his problems; he seeks to understand them, to cease chasing after them in perpetuity.

Lionne à la queue de cheval faces away from us. If she represents the artist, then this artist does not embody the spirit of a lion. She lacks the courage and the strength it would take to turn and face the thoughts and the problems spinning in her head like many sticks in a windstorm. But this lioness does not represent me. Those enviably high cheekbones and that thick ponytail can only belong to one person: the J in her face.

Imagine the following.

It’s President’s Day, 2020. You’ve just had brunch at Pastai on Ninth Avenue with a friend you call The Preacher and are walking down Eighth Avenue to catch the C train at 14th street when you see a triangular sign propped up on the sidewalk with these words written on it: Psychic readings, 10$. You happen to have a ten-dollar bill in your wallet, and you’re in no rush to get home so you head up the stairs and knock on the door. Inside, a woman lounges on a couch scrolling through her phone. To your question, “Is it really just ten bucks?” she says only, “For face reading.” So you sit down and hand over your ten dollars to have your face read. It goes something like this:

“I see a J in your face. Someone you loved.”

“Well,” you say, “my ex-husband’s name is Jerry.”

“There is something not finished, there is still connection.”

“No,” you respond, “there’s been a divorce. With papers and everything.”

“You still have feelings to deal with,” she tells you.

No shit, you think, but before you can say anything else, the psychic adds gravely: “There is conflict surrounding this J.”

“No, it was an amicable divorce,” you say, “No conflict.”

“Let me do full reading. Only 75 dollars. I can help you.”

“No, I’m good,” you say, standing up to walk away from this trap you have allowed yourself to fall into. “I don’t need any help.”

“Everything happens for a reason,” she says in a voice that has become inexplicably and frighteningly shrill all of a sudden. “You came up here for a reason! I can help you! Full reading only 75 dollars!”

Back out on the street, where you can still hear her screeching about how things happen for a reason and how only 75 dollars separates you from understanding all of it, a few questions cross your mind. Didn’t you just spend the morning analyzing a couple passages from the novella Mondo as part of a paper you’ll be presenting at a conference in April, and didn’t those passages develop the theme of rebirth and new beginnings? Over brunch, didn’t you tell The Preacher that if Jerry were to reach out to talk about reconciliation, that you would be open to envisioning a new union? Granted, you have zero idea why you said those words since you’re not missing Jerry anymore or even thinking about him much for that matter, but you did say them, and The Preacher had encouraged you to reach out to Jerry. In the moment, you had poo-pooed the suggestion. But didn’t the psychic just tell you that there is still a connection between you and Jerry, and that you still have feelings to deal with? Haven’t you recently learned from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way to set aside your skepticism and pay attention to what the serendipitous coincidences that arise in your life might be trying to tell you? These can’t all be random coincidences! All these things align to mean one thing: you must reach out to Jerry! He’s probably regretting his decision! He’s surely hoping you’ll make the first gesture!

Water stain for Lionne à la queue de cheval

Here is the problem with the human mind: it is limited in scope, it harbors delusions, it runs around in circles. Sometimes, it can even be downright dumb as bricks. So fine, go ahead; go home and write Jerry the letter you will start formulating in your head on the subway ride to Dekalb Avenue and finish on your walk home on Adelphi Street through Fort Greene Park. But then please do with it what your mother always said you should do with this kind of letter: rip it up and throw it away. Or better yet, crumple it up and burn it to ashes in the kitchen sink. Enough already with Jerry! He is not the J in your face!

In a month or so, art will reveal to you the real J in your face: the lion with the enviably high cheek bones and the thick ponytail. Someone you loved. Someone with whom something is not finished, with whom you still have a connection. Your sister. The one you haven’t talked to in twenty years. It’s time to throw her a stick. She will turn to face you; that is what lions do. And when she does, for the love of Pete don’t do that thing where you revisit harsh words and hurt feelings from the past as if they even matter anymore. And don’t you dare do that other thing where you suggest a simple turning of the page and moving on to some impossible hunky dory future time, either. Try something new, try something different: surrender to the moment. In the moment, and only in the moment, will you be able to resolve once and for all the conflict that surrounds you and the J in your face. Throw the stick. Throw it.

Thank you to Kristin M. Stanton for her article on lion meaning and symbolism: https://www.uniguide.com/lion-meaning-symbolism-spirit-animal-guide

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