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MIDDLES
Ms. Magazine, Date
by Paula Hendricks

I know middles. I am the middle child, the second and youngest daughter, and I am in the middle of my life. I don't like being in the middle. I much prefer beginnings and endings. They are more dramatic, more obvious, more exciting. But without middles there is no substance, no depth, no roots. And endings without middles are harrowing, devastating.

I thought I was in a relationship once. I thought it had a beginning. It did, but I invested too much in the beginning and then it ended. Went nowhere. I was apalled at how much pain I felt and how much I invested too early.

It all snapped clear to me one weekend. I was at an artist's support group workshop. I was distrustful at first, my normal mode of behavior. But after a while I surrendered to the spirit of the time and tried to take full advantage of the discussions and time alone. At the end of the two days I didn't want to go home. I was liking it there. It was sad and melancholy to pull away. It had been lazy and intense. I had connected with some interesting people. But I noticed that I was actually having a less hard time leaving than another woman who had kept her distance the whole time. She had resisted every overture to participate. It was obvious she was scared of even this kind of commitment. She was in tears at the thought of leaving our group. It struck home to me, I knew where she was, I'd been there many many times myself. She was forced to end something that she had hardly begun. For her, it certainly had no middle.

I grew up in an atmosphere of achieving goals and always needing to be done already. My mother's questions were: "Is your homework done yet? Are the dishes done yet? Are you ready to go? How are your grades?" Goals are the death of middles. I'll graduate at the top of my class. I'll go to college. I'll get married, get pregnant, give birth. I'll die. Not much thinking about process, let alone enjoyment -- not much attention to "just being" in high school, being with friends. I had to have a purpose at every step -- as the head of the Rally Committee I even had duties during high school football games. I was in charge of school spirit and half-time activities. Not much opportunity for real depth and substance. Forget enjoyment, sheer pleasure.

In history and old legends the middle was the most desirable place to be. It was the center of the universe, the source of all life. China called itself the Middle Kingdom, and had a philosophy based on the Middle Way. Scandinavia called itself Middle Earth and the Romans named their sea the Mediterranean (Middle of the Land). Aristotle discussed middles at length and, of course, for centuries, we humans thought Earth was the center of the Universe.

If we work on a scale of 1 to 10, with birth being 1 and death being 10, life (e.g. the middle) is 2-9, the bulk of the time. 2-9 is where most of our investment should be. 2-9 is where and when roots go down, where connections are deepened, substantiated. 2-9 is the entree, the meat and potatoes. It's the time textures are formed, layers are applied. It is a time of relaxation, of slowness.

Edges cut. The borders, the rims, the edges are where actions and forces interact endlessly. Where change occurs dramatically. Where it's exciting. Geographically, it's the coasts or borders that protect the middle from alien forces and cultures. Where things are shocking, where assimilation and filtering occur. Middles are like psychotherapy where change occurs in baby steps. Where the infinitesimal movements will ultimately shift continents, but often seem slow, almost invisible. It is the land of the subtle. Where non-verbal communication can be trusted, because it's known, it's already been tested.

In the East they advocate "being in the moment". For me it's a sense of stopping time, the rushing, the very western -- hurry, hurry, hurry; Alice in Wonderland -- I'm late, I'm late, I'm late. Being in the moment is the only way to hear myself. To test my own rhythms. To know what's true, for me. It's the only way I can connect with another person. I used to be so scared and so concentrated on the end result that I never enjoyed the moment. I would go out with a man and be thinking about -- Oh my god, what if he does this, what will it mean? Will he try to sleep with me? Oh dear, could I live with him? What about marriage? Not all of these questions were conscious, but they were there. Is this all I'll ever be offerred? Is there someone better? Here? Over there? My eyes would wander around the room. Is there anyone here I know? What will they think? Will he abandon me? When? I was lucky if I heard two words he said. Granted, I probably chose men who were equally fearful and equally ill-equipped to be open and honest and deal with our fears confidently. So, I was good with the rush at the beginning and I anticipated all the betrayals and abandonment in advance, invested myself in my fearful fantasies to the point of coming to the end. He never had a chance. It ended, before the middle was reached. And of course, they became self-fulfilling prophesies. I was left.

But there are middles I still remain suspect of. Average, conformity, dullness, boredom, flatness. I do like edges. I like transformations and dynamic change. I deeply believe it's the stuff of life, my life anyway. But I realize I want textures and roots and depth, too. A bit of a dilemma, huh? I believe I can have both. I can shift my awareness, make dynamic beginnings and endings of my middles, see nuances and subtle shifts as births and deaths but hang on to my own still center. My own middle. It's a hard task. Middles don't stay in shape the way the extremities do. Arms and legs are used and stay muscled much easier than middles. Middles stretch, expand with food and babies, get ignored, lose shape with age. And middles are surrounded, not alone. Hard to find solitude in "amongst", between extremes.

I can and want to be my own middle -- I want to be me in the middle of my life and make another middle with another person. I don't necessarily want to live in the middle of society -- middle class, Middle West, middle of the road, Middle America. But I want to enjoy my own personal middles, journeys, processes, be in the middle of my own things, choices. I want a textured life -- more like the Middle East with its strange smells of incense, tastes of curry, saffron colors, textures, sounds of temples and voices raising the call to prayer -- than the Middle West with my sense of its plain vastness and sameness. I want an equilibrium between my middle-ness and the edges I want to balance on. And now of course I could get really lost in middles of edges and edges of middles -- middles made up of beginnings and endings and the middles of beginnings.

And of course, for me, as a woman, sex and birth take place, are attached to my middle -- my vagina, uterus, umbilicus. My very center. Myths about creation deal with the navel of the universe, the womb of creation. So, I'll go very small, me, with my center and my own middle as desirable places of depth and investment -- and very large, cosmic centers and middle of the universe... and try to live on the edges in between, in what we usually call the "real world". Live on other people's edges and in my own middle.



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