I want to talk about the ego and about sex, but separately. They are entwined, yes. Inextricably so. But at the moment I’m not up for wading into that morass.
All by itself, though, the ego is very interesting territory to explore. Once someone said of me that I had no ego, and my ego was very proud to have heard this. At the time it seemed like a compliment, but I have come to see that we cannot be without this layer to our personality. It keeps us on the lookout for lions and tigers that might want to have us as dinner. It propels us forward into our lives when perhaps we would wish to lay down in the forest, grow moss, and die. And, it enables us to think more highly of our capabilities than maybe we ought, which at times is not such a bad thing in this dog-eat-dog world.
Recently, this ego of mine decided it should take a Spanish course that would challenge it supremely, so we signed up for a relatively advanced course at the college where I teach (I can take one free class a year)—in spite of the fact that I haven’t practiced the language in earnest for quite some time. I also decided to take it for a grade so that I would be sure to do the work, since this ego I have happens to respond exceptionally well to the pressure of going after an “A.” And, what’s more, it wants nothing less than an “A.”
But it is not just the grade that has been motivating me to do my very best. The professor is a colleague, and we are in the same department, so I would feel quite ashamed of myself (that ego again) if I did poorly on any assignment or exam, came to class without my homework, gave an incorrect answer (often he calls on me), or said something idiotic in front of a roomful of twenysomethings.
On this last point, though, no one but the instructor, and another student about my age who on the first day made a beeline for me when she saw how young everyone else was, and the young man who sits next to me knows I am also a teacher at the college. It would not be the least bit graceful or appropriate of me to let the other students know this. And, ego aside, I’m in the class to learn, so in that regard the playing field is level, and I neither deserve nor want any special treatment.
As for the sex part—well, it does fit in here: You see, we often begin class by having a conversation with the person sitting next to us, and we are given questions to ask each other that generally correspond to what we are learning in our textbooks. So, last week my neighbor (an awfully nice guy who still lives with his family) and I were waxing eloquent in Spanish about our exercise and health habits, and we came upon a question having to do with whether we smoked and, if we smoked, at what age we started.
After I told him that I began smoking when I was ten (it was more like nine), and after clearing up for him that he hadn’t misunderstood my Spanish, I said that I had been a “delincuente juvenil.” We laughed at this, and he told me I had come a long way (at least I no longer smoke). But later in the car, I reflected on my use of the word “delinquent” and thought about what I had really meant by it.
When I was young I certainly was not rebel-without-a-cause delinquent, though I confess to having broken a few windows, deflated a few tires, written on a few clean walls, and guzzled more than a few beers all before exiting my adolescence. Rather, what I was labelling as “delinquent” was more west-side-story, young-girl-hot-for-George-Chakiris delinquent. In fact I was smitten by this Romeo and Juliet-esque musical, and my seeing it right when I did happened to correspond with my sexual awakening. A perfect storm, it seems, since I believe it was then that my lifelong attraction to very bad boys, which probably began in early childhood, was given wings. Yet, it was not just sexual heat I felt in response to what I saw on the screen: It was more that, through the film, I was able to find in myself a deep passion for being fully alive, which existed nowhere else around me, and I must have thought this would save me. I still do.