Me and Princess Kate

2 Apr 2011

The other day, the mate started telling me something he clearly thought was really funny: apparently a friend of ours had mentioned over poker that his wife had said to him, presumably in a dreamy voice, “Do you think the future Princess Kate thinks about becoming Queen?”

I didn’t laugh. Instead, I admitted to the mate I had been wondering the exact same thing.

Of course, neither of us two women was really wondering whether Kate daydreams about becoming queen. Nah. We were ourselves daydreaming about suddenly becoming royalty. I said this to the mate.

“But you don’t like sapphires,” he protested.

“Actually, I do,” I confessed. “And diamonds, increasingly.”

Nevertheless, I explained to him, I’m not in it for the jewels. And, although I spend unreasonable amounts of time perusing articles that explore which designer Kate might choose for her wedding dress, I’m also not in it for the outfits.

When I think about becoming royalty, this is what I find myself thinking about:

If I were queen, any social justice cause I took up would immediately get national if not international attention. I would not have to work my address book very hard at all to help people out. (And imagine who would be in my address book! “Bill, do you think you could ask Hilary to look into this business of routine neonatal male circumcision? Yes, dear, we’ll consider your penis later.”)

I would not have to shop my op-eds, which means I would not have to shop my op-eds hoping for rejections because at least rejections mean an editor read it and might put a good reporter on the issue. If the Queen sent in an op-ed, especially if she were a good writer like me, her stuff would just get published. (OK, people would think Queen Me’s essays were ghost written, but I could provide pre-royalty proof of my talents!)

If, as queen, I wanted justice for vulnerable people, all I would have to do is to tell the royal secretary that I want the Office of Human Research Protections to take seriously a concern some clinicians have about patients being in studies without being told they’re in studies, and boom! The OHRP (or whatever the British version is called) would have to pay attention.

When my muse--who is now named Pixie but would probably have to be named something snootier like Charlotte--when my muse showed up at an inconvenient time (say, when I’m scheduled to give a major lecture), I could simply bow out of the engagement to be with the muse. Imagine the awesome excuses my secretary could provide, while I hide out and joyously pound out the prose Pixie is pressing up against my eyes:

“Her Majesty needs to attend the funeral of the King of Borneo.”

Or, “Her Majesty is ever so terribly sorry, but she’s been called to deal with an urgent matter of state too delicate for me to explain in full.”

Or, “Her Majesty has to figure out which designer should be allowed to make the dress that will be worn with her new sapphire earrings, and as the editor of Vogue is running late this morning, Her Majesty is also delayed and won’t be able to make it. But we’ll be sure to send along some rubies and crumpets to cheer you all up in the face of this disappointment.”

And you know what else? If I were queen, somebody would clean my car without my even having to ask. And I’d be driving something slicker than a 1995 Saturn. (Maybe a Subaru with heated seats!)

Everyone would know I can’t eat dairy (I’m allergic) or gluten (just intolerant), and I wouldn’t have to feel so apologetic about it when invited for dinner. People are just happy to have the Queen over. And they would be absolutely sure not to accidentally use margarine with whey in it, because nothing would be more humiliating than realizing you gave the Queen a migraine and made her miss the King of Borneo’s funeral.

Somebody would repaint my sunroom over and over again until I got the shade of green just right, and that someone wouldn’t complain like some people do after you’ve made him paint four shades of green and you’re still not satisfied and you want him to paint it again with a slightly different shade, this time somewhere between “conservatory” and “avocado.”

Somebody would make me do yoga every day. At least the sun salutation.

And if, as their Queen, I ordered them to do it, those guards with the big fuzzy hats and the chin straps in the wrong places would lock me in the Tower of London until I finished my damned book. Which means my damned book would be done! (Or the Tower would at least end up the right shade of green.)

And yet. The more I have thought about becoming Queen, the more I have realized that I have not really been imagining a completely different life by virtue of turning into royalty. On the contrary, I have been imagining minor tweaks that would just make my existing life a little bit easier.

So that got me thinking deeper, because hell, I’m going to be queen!, and so I don’t want to waste this opportunity.

So, if I really could change something in my existence, what would it be?

I remember I was walking home from downtown a few weeks ago, heading home from getting some toothpaste at the drug store, when I considered this question: If I could really change something in my existence, what would it be? And, in the middle of the student neighborhood near us, I suddenly burst into tears, because I realized that, like the Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” if I could have anything I wanted, I would ask for courage. And bursting into tears is the only logical reaction to realizing you are courage-naked.

Sucking it up....

But really. Lately I have so many people calling me brave that I feel very cowardly indeed. Just the other day, a friend said to me over breakfast, “You are so brave to keep doing these things, to keep pursuing justice,” and I said, with a frown, “I don’t keep doing it. I don’t.”

Of course the truth is I do keep doing it, and yet the fear lately has gotten bigger and bigger, the sense of wanting to chuck it all, very great indeed. So great it feels like I’m spending all of my time trying not to do it. (What is the “it” there?)

(The song stuck in my head: “Should I be thinking about myself at a time like this? I’m not sure. I’m never happy but at least I get some peace in this war. But I could use more.”)

No one who has ever been a person like me in a position like the one I lately find myself in has come to the conclusion the Lion did: I had it in me all along! On the contrary, you come to realize you don’t have it in you. That you never have had it in you. You were very, very mistaken. All you had in you is enough belief in other people to keep faking it for their sake.

For so many years (seventeen, now?) the mate has said to me, “Caution is the better part of valor.” My guess is that he says this because I have always been bad at caution. And I used to think he meant that caution is necessary to valor: indeed, that valor is built of caution.

But lately, when he says it, seemingly these days not out of admonition but out of pity for me, I think he means something different. I think maybe he means that valor causes caution: that living as if you have the courage of Joan of Arc ultimately leaves you with a sense of how small and unsure you are. How useless you are.

Months ago, when he came home in the middle of the day from work, at my very rare request, because I wasn’t sure I could not hurt myself from the sudden sense of having done just too much, I collapsed into his arms weeping, and said, “I should not have done this, and I should not have done that. I am stupid and foolish and wrong.”

He listened. And waited. And at the end of it, he said, “I am not worried about you. I would be worried if you were otherwise at this point. That you are still unsure is a sign that you are still thinking about the evidence. You are still thinking about what is true, and how wrong you might be.”

And then he walked me, slowly, through why I had taken on what I had, and why the evidence suggested I was right, and why the effects had been good, though not at all comfortable. Or maybe I walked him through it, so I could hear it.

And as I think back on that, I think this: what would Kate’s sapphires really buy me?

(Besides heated seats, I mean.)

I don’t mean that I’m already rich. I mean that I’d still be poor.