A Definition and an Example:
First things first. What exactly do I mean by the term Wild Thing? I do not mean some sort of slavering monster bent on total annihilation of you, me, or anyone else. I am speaking specifically of those things, within each of us, that get shut away because they do not meet whatever standards of the Socialization Process, each of us finds ourselves under, at any given moment in our existence. I am not speaking of the Psycho Within. That doesn’t fit under my umbrella of expertise by anyone’s definition. I am however, speaking directly to those pieces and parts of our individual psyche that can, and often do, get lost during our formative years, as well as all other years we remain alive and breathing.
As an example, perhaps a young boy, while still in grade school, finds he has an affinity for poetry. He likes it, and even begins to write it. He is proud of what he has accomplished and brings it home to share with his family. His mother pats him on the back and tells him what a wonderful thing he has done. At the supper table, barely able to restrain his eagerness, he tells his father of his accomplishment. And Dad goes very still and silent. Dad doesn’t explain his stillness or his silence. Instead, he takes a deep breath, and says carefully, “That’s nice, but I hope you realize that poets usually have an extremely difficult time making any kind of living, and the ones who get recognized at all, don’t get that until they are dead and gone. It makes for a very hard and painful life, actually.”
This is met by even more silence as the child tries to assimilate what his father is trying to actually tell him. Then Uncle Harry pipes in (he’s just there for an overnight visit), and says with a grin and a chuckle, “You also have to know that any man who writes poetry is probably gay, and that’s something you don’t ever want to be.” Now the room erupts into a flurry of action and noise as Mom gets up and says she’ll get dessert, Harry’s wife gets up to help clear the table, removing the boy’s only half consumed plate but patting him softly on the shoulder as she does so, as though he has broken a bone and needs specific comforting. His older sister looks at Uncle Harry, and being a rather outspoken teenager, says, “That was really nasty,” and his younger brother turns to Dad and asks, “What’s gay?”
In the midst of this chaos, the boy wonders what he did to bring it all about. All he wanted, after all, was to share his accomplishment and perhaps, receive some approval in the process. What he sees is a great deal of discomfort, even anger, and a flurry of activity, none of which tells him anything except that maybe he has done something wrong. He doesn’t exactly know what that might be, but it obviously has something to do with the poem he wrote and was so proud of just a moment ago. It isn’t hard to imagine the same young boy, a few weeks later, when his teacher asks him happily if he’s written any more poems, answering her question with, “Oh, I don’t do that anymore. It was just something silly, anyway.”
As the boy grows into adulthood, and even middle age, he may, periodically feel the urge rise up to express something in poetic form. However, having forgotten that disastrous dinner from years ago, he simply tells himself, that the urge is a silly one, and everyone knows he is a plumber and plumbers don’t write poetry because they just don’t do that sort of thing, not and make money to keep a family in a home with all the things they need.
That periodic urge is the Wild Thing of which I speak. It can be that one to write a poem, draw or paint a picture, dance, sing, travel to a place one has never been and immerse oneself in a totally foreign culture. It may be an urge to learn more about any given subject, or a need to explore woodworking, carving, cooking, or dream language and what dreams really mean. It can be anything. But it is something we ignore, suppress, hold at bay, dismiss, or even make fun of. We consider it a whimsy, foolishness, even forbidden. We might even define it personally as the Psycho Within.
It is the urge to create and express. We all have it, each and everyone one of us. It’s built in and is not easily silenced, if ever. It is that restlessness we encounter at times which we can’t quite put a finger on, (like an inner itch), and that distant howl we might hear coming from inside of ourselves (and possibly define as the Psycho Within). It is that nipping at the heels of which I have already spoken. It is self, calling to self. And what is it saying? Maybe we can ignore it because it sounds so much like an echo, a bit distorted and coming from a long way off. As it might well be, depending on ones age at the time of sending and the other time of receiving it. But, whatever it sounds like, however we interpret it, it does speak.
And because it has been kept in captivity, or beyond our present reach, thus hidden, but still beneath the blanket of the Socialization Process, I refer to it as the Wild Thing. If we care enough about ourselves and our future, we must begin to listen to those urges, that seemingly senseless howling, feel that nipping at the heels, stretch an ear to interpret that distant echo. To not do so, is to alter our own outcome to one that is far less than it could be. But how does one do that, you might ask? The answer here, on this blog, is always the same. Learn to listen to that voice inside of you. Take the time to hear it, then interpret what it is saying to you, about you.
I didn’t give the boy in my example a name. It could easily have been Walt Whitman, Carl Sandberg, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Alan Ginsberg, Theodore Roethke, William Safford, Robert Bly, or any of a hundred more. I didn’t give his father a name either. Nor, do I want anyone to think that his advice was untruth, it wasn’t. But, if you doubt the validity of what I have said, go read anything that any one of these gentlemen have written, maybe starting with Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. He got that title from somewhere, didn’t he? I can guarantee, it didn’t come from me.