I woke up this morning saying, Ego was I, ere I saw Elba. "Ego" is probably as true as "able" although it ruins the palindrome. And I love Ego the character on Ratatouille. He is arrogant and full of himself but I don't think his problem is ego. His point of view about food is that there is a right way and a wrong way to cook--but the actual cooking, the rightness and the wrongness, isn't about him. He comes around to liking Remi the rat's food not because he was wrong but because he was right, even though he cast aspersions upon the slogan "anyone can cook." Good food is good food. Ego didn't change his entire perspective, he just focused it a little harder, honed in.
I've been thinking a lot about ego lately. You have to think about it when a book comes out and you want it to do well and you only have your email and your Facebook to try to help it do well. You do things like check the stats on Amazon and Google yourself far too often. You remember back your image on the cover of a magazine and you loved the emails coming in asking you to visit and give talks and submit writing and then in the summer, no one is really emailing and not much is going on and there is this vast gorilla at your kitchen table looking at you like, well, this is boring. What should we do now for fun? Let's get us some attention!
At some point, the gorilla starts making so much noise, beating on his chest, that you realize what he is. He is ego and you is he.
I was watching The Buddha on PBS. Jane Hirschfield and W.S. Merwin were interviewees. They each had the most beautiful skin. I wanted that skin but to get that skin, they kept telling me on the program, I would have to give up wanting the skin. I would have to give up skin itself. I would have to give up the I. And maybe the you.
Converted by PBS, I have been thinking. I get into little snits--sometimes with other people, mostly in my mind. But these snits are not pleasant.
Here are some examples: person in gigantic SUV leaves car idling in parking lot. I mutter under my breath about the planet being just slightly bigger than their car. Maybe they could leave that idling. But the truth is, they don't hear me. I'm just muttering. They might get a bad vibe off me but I haven't done anything except make myself feel better and more self-righteous. The complaint is all ego, no "activism." Really, I'm just being a jerk.
Another example: Erik and I got into a snit when he said about the Tupperware, "It's impossible to find a lid in here. man, someone has to go through this." and I got all mad because I go through it all the time, it's the most organized Tupperware drawer in the land! How could he say such a thing? And it is a fine Tupperware drawer but what am I really mad about? My ego. My drawer. My organization. All this my and I.
Another example: Not wanting my kids to get any bigger. This is perfect. I want to enjoy every minute. Slow down and come cuddle. It's true. I am wistful. But it's all ego. My kids want to get bigger. Time itself is a bad enemy. You wil never win.
Another: My sisters. Why do they get to take pictures of each other on bicycles without me? Ego. They are happy on their bikes, together in Twin Falls.
Another little back and forth with Erik: "This is the highest water year since 1919," I argue. "So far," he says. "That's what I meant," I said. "But that's what I said," he said. And the he saids, she saids go on forever. Who cares? I dig in deep with my ego-shovel and don't come back out.
Another: I said something nice about one friend's kids in front of another. I spend a night agonizing that I didn't say nice things about those other friend's kids too. Oh my God, Nicole. Who cares? She's your friend. No one is keeping score about the things you say in the afternoon and tossing and turning over the in the middle of the night except you. They have their own brains. Why should they trouble themselves with yours.
Another: The runner behind me who passes me. The author with the NY Times spread. My friend on NPR. Ego ego ego.
I don't imagine I'm going to make it fully Buddhist here but I do think that self-confidence is the other side of ego and that if you have a lot of the former, you don't need to have so much of the latter. Ego is like a big bubble that proceeds you as you go into to the world. It protects you from the truth that really, not much in the world is about you. But it also keeps a lot of the world away from you because you get into snits about Tupperware and no one wants to hear about your Tupperware drawer.
No one cares about your Tupperware drawer. That can be a lonely place where no one cares about your Tupperware but that doesn't mean they don't care about you. Your place in the Tupperware Hall of Fame might be permanently on hold, but the fact that there are people in your house, talking to you, is a better end of the deal.
I thought when first thinking of writing this post that I would argue that you need a bit of ego to write. Some hubris that someone who is not in the room does care about what you have to say. But I am going to go re-read Jane Hirschfield's Nine Gates to see how does one still imagine audience (like the Tupperware, an imagined audience is the person who is putting you in the Hall of Fame--probably your mother) without starting with ego. (Who will read this? Who?) One of the hardest things I learned about writing was caring how it works on a reader. Will report back when I figure this out).
As I work through this and try to reorient my thinking about the ego, as I try to grasp that Erik did not leave his towel on the bed because he has no respect for my towels but because he has no respect for towels (the my has nothing to do with it), I will have to cut myself some slack so not getting so worked up about trying to get rid of ego that I think I have it all figured out and then get a new ego about how good I got at getting rid of ego.
P.S. Zoe just asked, why are you so good at typing. Trying not to get all full of ego about my mad typing skills. Moving past ego is a process. A journey. It probably never ends.