catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 21 :: 2008.11.21 — 2008.12.05


The mouse that roared

Encountering the feminine

Some new thing quivered into being on the stage of Prospect Heights Middle School in the spring of 1976.  I was in the sixth grade and floundering.  Childhood was passing and adolescence loomed.  Girls were suddenly a mystery.  Then something entirely unexpected broke into my world in the form of a play that introduced me to the transcendent possibilities of art and love.  I never recovered.

The Mouse that Roared is a Cold War comedy featuring a quixotic romantic and a skeptical princess whom he eventually wins over.  I was Tully Bascomb, the naïve general who disappoints his cynical superiors by winning a war against the United States that they wanted to lose.  The princess was Krista. 

Krista.  The first redhead to captivate me with fire (assuming we don’t count June Lockhart in Lost in Space, which I don’t…usually).  It’s hard for me to remember what Krista was really like because she was and remains the princess she played on the stage.  She was tall and freckled and smart.  She wore her hair long and had braces.  She carried herself with a dancer’s poise-a little stiff, but with presence.  She owned her role as much as I owned mine and so it was easy for both of us to believe that what was happening between Tully and the princess was inevitably what would happen between us. 

Apart from my lines, though, I didn’t know what to do with a girlfriend.  It was great to have one and I liked the idea that someone else was as fascinated with me as I was with her, but fascination is about as much as a sixth-grade boy can muster for a relationship.  My emotional palette was limited, though I had high aspirations to experience the full range.  My body was a confusing place that could not yet conceive of what sex would be, despite some inchoate longings. 

Most of all, I didn’t know how to talk to girls and so I listened a lot.  I just liked being in their presence.  When I realized that our areas of mutual interest were small, I stopped trying to be fluent in their strange tongue and began to let their conversations flow over me.  I was learning to be cross-cultural.  I was developing the skills that would make me a good counselor.  I was also turning my native idealism into a rich, interior world that rarely made its way to the surface and always rendered the world around me a disappointing place.  Something within me was always awaiting the call of a fair princess-some ultimately inaccessible, strong woman who would call forth the best in me to complete some mythic quest. 

Jungian thought calls this strong woman within the anima, the feminine image that nurtures and animates life.  Until a man can recognize that feminine power within himself he will project it onto the women around him, trying desperately to see in the flesh the companion who will be the inspiration and support that he needs to be whole.  Robert Johnson, in his book on masculine psychology titled He, warns, however, “Human woman is a miracle in her own right, a beauty which will be obscured if we try to put the laws of inner woman upon her.”

So I come to middle age now grateful for the women in my life who have called forth in me the creative spark that is the best indicator I have of my true self.  They still speak to those deep longings in me.  They still represent the divine feminine power in their strength.  But I have more capacity now to celebrate real human women since I have recognized that fair maiden as one who calls within me.  I still quiver at the mystery of this interplay between masculine and feminine that makes us fully human, but I feel a little closer to home.

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