Maturity: neither naked nor clothed

Maturity: Neither Naked nor Clothed

Jun 18th 2012

By: Marcy Litle


Because I didn’t have much access to either intuition or art for so many years they feel like extraordinary gifts. They give my life a depth that sometimes seems too good to be true. For many years I tried to dismiss my longing for whatever was missing as childish fantasy, something that I would outgrow. I thought that becoming mature was like putting on a set of new clothes and that my problem was that I had no talent for finding the right outfits. I often played this out in a literal way as I worried over what to wear during visits to my very proper in-laws in Pennsylvania, visits that always included a ladies luncheon.  Or with my boss when I worked at the first-year dean’s office at Duke, my boss who insisted that we should dress every day ready for a face-off with the corporate executive parent who might walk through the door at any moment. It did happen, but rarely, and generally with warning. It’s well embedded in the culture, this notion that you’ll be fine as long as you wear the right outfit. I confess to enjoying an occasional evening with Say Yes to the Dress.  And like anyone with access to advertisements I grew up bombarded with images about how to dress.  My most sustained early exposure came through my mother’s women’s magazines, Ladies Home Journal and McCalls. And also through the clothes worn by Laura Petrie and later by working girl Mary Richards, and other women on TV, even Della Street in her sensible suits.

After a lifetime of such messages, subtle and overt, I’ve been tempted to go whole hog in the opposite direction, to say that the real key to maturity lies not in clothes, not in learning how to fit in anywhere, anytime, but in a willingness to strip naked. One of my earliest realizations about how much extra garbage I had picked up over the years, how much excess clothing I had taken on during all those years of trying to fit in, was that letting go of what didn’t belong to me felt like peeling off the layers of an onion. Wouldn’t it be that when I finally finished and arrived at the center I would have nothing in my hand but nakedness? But I have come to believe that mature presence isn’t built upon naked self-disclosure. Rather the nothing at the center of the onion seems to be constituted of awareness and receptivity. In the moments when I find myself in that center I am on the edge of wordlessness, without language or concept.  At the center an aware response just happens. This is what my intuition tells me. This is where art can take me.  Neither naked nor clothed.