In Chapter One of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, there’s a passage about how the children’s mother, Mrs. Darling, spends some period of time each night tidying the minds of her children, sprucing and straightening and setting things in order.
“It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds nad put things straight for the next morning,” the passage reads. “If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this...you would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.”
I came across this bit of the story while reading aloud to my niece one afternoon over lunch. Because I found it terrifying — and feared she would, too — I skipped over it entirely.
The other day, in the car on the way home from a weekend trip to Martha’s Vineyard, a song came on the radio. I want to look inside your head, was the refrain.
“That sounds horrible,” I said. I remembered being afraid as a child that others could read my mind, or could know what I was thinking just by looking at me. Even when I was old enough to discover this wasn’t possible, I still clung to thoughts I felt were embarrassing or outrageous or weird. I didn’t want anyone to know they existed so I kept them close and didn’t share.
These days, for a number of reasons, I’ve gotten used to being more open about experiences, thoughts, worries, revelations. (I’ve gotten a considerable amount of practice doing that here.) Part of this is because I’ve let go of feeling self-conscious about many of the things that used to bother me, but it’s also because the more I’ve shared, the more I’ve realized I’m not alone.
I feel the same way, many of you have kindly commented. I’m glad I’m not the only one.
Yesterday, as I spoke to Emily on the phone about her contribution to Non-Career Advice, we discussed the joys and the trepidation of allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a public forum.
It’s good to face those fears, we decided. It keeps you connected. It’s nice, also, to keep some things close.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked my niece one day, long before the days of reading Peter Pan.
She didn’t answer.
“What’s on your mind?” I said.
“You already asked me that,” she replied, without looking up from her toys. “Now let’s be silent.”
I found this so funny I had to take a moment to write it down. Then I walked across the room and sat down next to her.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s.”