Ego

ANNE KELLEY lives in Evanston, Illinois, and is a frequent contributor to these pages, where she first made an appearance in October, 1958..

I wish that a slightly cheerier attitude could be taken toward the psyche in general (and mine in particular) in the public prints. Pressures from within are nothing compared with the pressures from without — daily, Sunday, weekly, monthly, slick, and pulp. They are the ones that really rock the old ambivalence, for the media are gray with apprehension.

“Are you secretly jealous of your sister-in-law?" one of the world’s truly great newspapers asked me at breakfast the day before yesterday.

This is the sort of thing I mean.

I had awakened with the disposition of a buttercup; I was filled with that sense of pure exultation that can come only from inhaling and exhaling in a careless kind of way, and I hadn’t thought of my sister-in-law in weeks.

However, after the question was put to me. I spent the morning rooting around in my buried hostilities. Sure enough, by noon I had for her the death wish, and I had also uncovered a few more animosities, regressions, repressions, and obsessions which I carefully preserved in babyshoe bronze. It seemed the least I could do.

During the afternoon I overhauled those dear keepsakes, the oral and anal periods, binding them in silver cord and checking the childhood traumas for signs of wear. By nightfall I had a quick answer for one of the world’s more mediocre newspapers when it asked me straight out, “Are you causing your spouse to ulcerate?”

Naturally. And how humiliating to know that, instead of heartache, all I’m giving him is heartburn and gastric upset.

Not that it matters much, I guess. You see, I found out from one of the ladies’ magazines last month that he isn’t the mate for me, anyway. We are wrong for each other. Our backgrounds are grossly dissimilar — he says “ketchup” and I say “catsup” — and, as for a community of interests, we seldom even walk around the block together. Not only that, but we haven’t grown closer. Anybody can tell us apart at a single glance.

What makes it worse is that we have haphazardly had six children without even being ready for parenthood. What a botch !

What am I ready for? Well, it’s taken me months of serious application to true-false, yes-no, and multiple-choice emotional questionnaires to work my way up through solid food, training pants, finger paints, and the advanced reading group.

And lately I’ve been so happy because my real emotional age now qualifies me for membership in the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. But last week, in a Sunday supplement, I discovered a new bitter truth: I can’t decide which of the two organizations to join! I am locked in indecision between the cookie sale and the camporee.

The actual fact is that I don’t even know who I am. Each morning I try desperately to identify with that face in the bathroom mirror, but something in me rebels. Can’t I accept reality — and crow’s-feet?

Little pieces of my total personality chip off like dried eggshell as I read on.

Do I cower before salesladies and agents of the F.B.I.? Do I sometimes have headaches that can’t be explained by a fall down the basement stairs? Are my mental blocks stacked in chronological order? Am I well-adjusted; are those defense mechanisms tightened, with lubrication every thousand smiles?

It is time now to catalogue my character flaws and aberrations (for which the Dewey decimal system is wholly inadequate), to polish sublimations, count compensations, and reorder if supply is growing low. Have I let myself go? Do I need a new slip cover for the sophistry?

And what about the children? Ready or not, what kind of parent am I (according to what day it is and whether or not it is raining): permissive, submissive, power-mad, bewitched, bothered, or bewildered? And why don’t I have the kind of psyche they want to borrow to take to school for Show and Tell during mental health week?

Someday — if, in the meantime, I don’t disorient by Occident — it’s going to be different. Someday, somewhere, I’m going to pick up some printed matter that somehow manages to give me the benefit of the doubt.

“How can you, a regular Senior Citizen by emotional standards, belie your maturity with such a youthful appearance?” I’m going to read. “Was it luck or simply good sense that led your mate to choose you? And what kind of parent are you: relaxed, resourceful, dependable, lovable, infallible, and altogether indispensable? Have your neighbors ever mentioned that yours is a soul glowing full-color, kewpie-doll pink?”

That will be the day when I no longer have to wax and wane a quivering ego. I’ll just bathe luxuriously in warm, bubbling selfesteem, and I’ll trust my id to go down to the corner newsstand all by idself.