Someone told me the other day about Jackson Browne describing himself as a recovering people pleaser. This set off a complicated array of responses all at once in my brain.
Does this happen to you? Someone tells you something, or you hear something, or someone asks you something, and there is no singular response in your brain. There is a constellation of responses in your brain. There isn't merely "Oh, I'm a people pleaser too." because that's just one of the stars in the constellation. It's true, but it doesn't exactly make sense on its own. It's part of a group. It belongs next to "How can a person play music for others and not be a people pleaser?" which belongs next to "Isn't there something at the core that's helpful and good and essential about people pleasing before it spins off into being self-abnegating and destructive?" and that stands next to "Where am I now on that continuum?" and that stands next to "I understand."
And like any constellation it can be hard to make sense of it. Its order is unique, complicated, and difficult to analogize. Yes, I guess the Big Dipper is a dipper (a dipper! Do we even talk about dippers to begin with? "If you'd like a cup of soup hand me over the dipper. No, no, not the little dipper, the Big Dipper", and the Big Dipper is just part of a constellation), but Libra, Cassiopeia, Lyra, they all have their stories and come with conceptions of what their cluster of stars is supposed to represent, but what was it Kurt Vonnegut said? "No damn cat, no damn cradle." Cassiopeia is a sprawled and ungainly "W", Libra is a terribly drawn house, Lyra some sort of necktie, and all of those only if you work at it. In the end if you want to learn those constellations you have to learn them on their own terms. No picture defines them. They have no sense but their own.
And these are merely the constellations, finite, with only a set number visible in our skies. In life half the questions we hear, all our feelings, most of what we really think, is its own constellation. And these are infinite in number, all new like snowflakes and demanding learning and expression on their own terms.
We are not visionaries, the world is mad, and so often, perhaps nearly always, we are forced, or defeated, to relent, to pick perhaps the brightest or clearest or easiest to see and explain star, and let that stand for our constellation, our answer, clear, expedient, explainable, and readily understood.
Perhaps that is people pleasing.
And then sometimes all those tiny, harmless quarter truths are too much for us. We are beset by hollowness and disconnection. The right person asks how we are and we dare to try to tell them. We look at the sky and into our souls. We write songs, poems, letters and dreams. We tell someone who we love what is deep in our hearts. We try to say the constellation. We find some way to say the whole thing.
Recovering people pleasers. But the world demands just the single star, and the quarter truths rise again to our knees, our waists, and we once more are overwhelmed. We reach for something bigger and then we go back to pretending. We fight and give in.
And then the morning light comes streaming in, and we get up and do it again.