Powered by WebRing®.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Biologists consider privacy to be a psychological necessity for humans. As much as we need other people, they say, we also need time away. Privacy is essential for peace of mind, establishing a sense of control, and maintaining personal identity. I cannot say I understand all this, but, clearly, it is my experience that I want privacy, even in small ways, and feel the need for it at times when it is impossible to have.

Often, I will go out of my way to avoid people, especially in the morning. Once in a while, I will meet someone who is not homeless in the ladies' room. This morning, it was an elderly woman who was bicycling with a friend and needed to make a stop. She was confused at first by the shower room and then figured out that the toilets were through the next doorway. She spoke as she went, rather loudly, the way old women do when they are nervous and have led sheltered, married lives. She was congenial, but I was busy, the way she probably was earlier that same morning at home in her pajamas. Few of us are disposed to conversation while we are doing our toilette.

I have learned to forgive myself for what I would otherwise consider rude behavior, and I do regret that I cannot, at all times, hold up my end. I said nothing at all to the elderly lady. I just went on doing what I had to do. She did not know it, but she was on my private time.

"Putting on your face" is the term my Great Aunt Posie would have used, and the phrase was pure poetry to me for all it implied. It carries several meanings --- the application of make-up, the psychological preparation for the day ahead, an awareness of one's role or image, and a consideration of how one intends to present oneself, the persona or mask. There is also a sense of privacy inherent in the term, as one may remain unrevealed behind the mask. What a curious phrase it is and, like the fan, an artifact of a bygone era for women.

But maybe not.

The use of make-up is enjoyable to me. It is one of the ways I care for myself, but it is still a mask; and that mask is intended to cover (and this is not easy to admit) the signs of age. I want certain spots and wrinkles to remain unseen, hidden to all but a few people whose preserve it is to know my soul. Make-up gives me a modicum of privacy. Make-up may be even more important now that I am homeless. There is a certain anonymity with it, too, since I appear to be of that class of women with which I most identify. And they are not homeless.

Oddly, I am anonymous when I eat out, shop, see a movie, and go to work. Anonymity is its own strange kind of privacy in that I am among other people, doing things not so differently from the next person. It is a way of hiding without having to hide. It is often relaxing, in fact.

Curiously, and it amuses me, I see the crabby old man when I am eating out. He frequents the same little neighborhood cafe. I see him walking. I see him passing by in his car, and the last time I waved, he waved back, which made me believe he might some day be inclined to a decent conversation. After all, he is an insider.

But in the mornings, the most difficult time of day, when there is no place to be anonymous, my astounded soul must take the most gradual descend into the waking body, having been spirited from a sleep in which my dreaming is far, far away from the earthly realm. If there is a time when one must wrest control and lay hold of one's identity, it is certainly then as we begin, again, the strange navigation of everyday reality.

There is a moment, too, when I am about to leave work, that I wonder where I am going. It is as though work were a coherent dream in a peaceful sleep and I am about to enter another waking state. I am disoriented for a few seconds as I grapple with my homelessness and make peace with it all over again. Once back at the truck, having made a myriad of small decisions on my way there, since there is very little that is automatic or routine about homelessness, I am again willing to make the adventure.

No comments:

Post a Comment