Sunday, May 20, 2018

the catastrophe of success

introduction to the glass menagerie by tennessee williams

This winter marked the third anniversary of the Chicago opening of “The Glass Menagerie,” an event that terminated one part of my life and began another about as different in all external circumstances as could well be imagined. I was snatched out of virtual oblivion and thrust into sudden prominence, and from the precarious tenancy of furnished rooms about the country I was removed to a suite in a first-class Manhattan hotel. My experience was not unique. Success has often come that abruptly into the lives of Americans. The Cinderella story is our favorite national myth, the cornerstone of the film industry if not of the Democracy itself. I have seen it enacted on the screen so often that I was now inclined to yawn at it, not with disbelief but with an attitude of Who Cares! Anyone with such beautiful teeth and hair as the screen protagonist of such a story was bound to have a good time one way or another, and you could bet your bottom dollar and all the tea in China that one would be caught dead or alive at any meeting involving a social conscience.

No, my experience was not exceptional, but neither was it quite ordinary, and if you are willing to accept the somewhat eclectic proposition that I had not been writing with such an experience in mind and many people are not willing to believe that a playwright is interested in anything but popular success—there may be some point in comparing the two estates.

The sort of life that I had had previous to this popular success was one that required endurance, a life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before, but it was a good life because it was the sort of life for which the human organism is created.

I was not aware of how much vital energy had gone into this struggle until the struggle was removed. I was out on a level plateau with my arms still thrashing and my lungs still grabbing at air that no longer resisted. This was security at last.

I sat down and looked about me and was suddenly very depressed. I thought to myself, this is just a period of adjustment. Tomorrow morning, I will wake up in this first-class hotel suite above the discreet hum of an East Side boulevard and I will appreciate its elegance and luxuriate in its comforts and know that I have arrived at our American plan of Olympus. Tomorrow morning when I look at the green satin sofa I will fall in love with it. It is only temporarily that the green satin looks like slime on stagnant water.

But in the morning the inoffensive little sofa looked more revolting than the night before and I was already getting too fat for the $125 suit which a fashionable acquaintance had selected for me. In the suite things began to break accidentally. An arm came off the sofa. Cigarette burns appeared on the polished surface of the furniture. Windows were left open and a rain storm flooded the suite But the maid always put it straight and the patience of the management was inexhaustible. Late parties could not offend them seriously. Nothing short of demolition bomb seemed to bother my neighbors.

I lived on room service. But in this, too, there was a disenchantment. Some time between the moment when I ordered dinner over the phone and when it was rolled into my living room like a corpse on a rubber-wheeled table, I lost all interest in it. Once I ordered a sirloin steak and a chocolate sundae, but everything was so cunningly disguised on the table that I mistook the chocolate sauce for gravy and poured it over the sirloin steak.

Of course all this was the more trivial aspect of a spiritual dislocation that began to manifest itself in far more disturbing ways. I soon found myself becoming indifferent to people. A well cynicism rose in me. Conversations all sounded as if they had been recorded years ago and were being played back on a turntable. Sincerity and kindliness seemed to have gone out of my friends’ voices. I suspected them of hypocrisy. I stopped calling them, stopped seeing them. I was impatient of what I took to be inane flattery.

I got so sick of hearing people say, “I loved your play!” that I could not say thank you any more. I choked on the words and turned rudely away from the usually sincere person. I no longer felt any pride in the play itself but began to dislike it, probably because I felt too lifeless inside ever to create another. I was walking around dead in my shoes and I knew it but there were no friends I knew or trusted sufficiently, at that time, to take them aside and tell them what was the matter.

This curious condition persisted about three months, till late spring, when I decided to have another eye operation mainly because of the excuses it gave me to withdraw from the world behind a gauze mask. It was my fourth eye operation, and perhaps I should explain that I had been afflicted for about five years with a cataract on my left eye which required a series of needling operations and finally an operation on the muscle of the eye. (The eye is still in my head. So much for that.)

Well, the gauze mask served a purpose. While I was resting in the hospital the friends whom I had neglected or affronted in one way or another began to call on me and now that I was in pain and darkness, unpleasant mutation which I had suspected earlier in the season had now disappeared and they sounded now as they had used to sound in the lamented days of my obscurity. Once more they were sincere and kindly voices with the ring of truth in them and that quality of understanding for which I had originally sought them out.

As far as my physical vision was concerned, this last operation was only relatively successful (although it left me with an apparently clear black pupil in the right position, or nearly so) but in another, figurative way, it had served a much deeper purpose.

When the gauze mask was removed I found myself in a readjusted world. I checked out of the handsome suite at the first-class hotel, packed my papers and a few incidental belongings and left for Mexico, an elemental country where you can quickly forget the false dignities and conceits imposed by success, a country where vagrants innocent as children curl up to sleep on the pavements and human voices, especially when their language is not familiar to the ear, are soft as birds. My public self, that artifice of mirrors, did not exist here and so my natural being was resumed.


Then, as a final act of restoration, I settled for a while at Chapala to work on a play called “The Poker Night,” which later became “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction, for the actual world is less intense than the world of his invention and consequently his life, without recourse to violent disorder, does not seem very substantial. The right condition for him is that in which his work is not only convenient but unavoidable.

For me a convenient place to work is a remote place among strangers where there is good swimming. But life should require a certain minimal effort. You should not have too many people waiting on you, you should have to do most things for yourself. Hotel service is embarrassing. Maids, waiters, bellhops, porters and so forth are the most embarrassing people in the world for they continually remind you of inequities which we accept as the proper thing. The sight of an ancient woman, gasping and wheezing as she drags a heavy pail of water down a hotel corridor to mop up the mess of some drunken overprivileged guest, is one that sickens and weighs upon the heart and withers it with shame for this world in which it is not only tolerated but regarded as proof positive that the wheels of Democracy are functioning as they should without interference from above or below. Nobody should have to clean up anybody else’s mess in this world. It is terribly bad for both parties, but probably worse for the one receiving the service.

I have been corrupted as much as anyone else by the vast number of menial services which our society has grown to expect and depend on. We should do for ourselves or let the machines do for us, the glorious technology that is supposed to be the new light of the world. We are like a man who has bought up a great amount of equipment for a camping trip, who has the canoe and the tent and the fishing lines and the axe and the guns, the mackinaw and the blankets, but who now, when all the preparations and the provisions are piled expertly together, is suddenly too timid to set out on the journey but remains where he was yesterday and the day before and the day before that, looking suspiciously through white lace curtains at the clear sky he distrusts. Our great technology is a God-given chance for adventure and for progress which we are afraid to attempt. Our ideas and our ideals remain exactly what they were and where they were three centuries ago. No. I beg your pardon. It is no longer safe for man to even declare them!

This is a long excursion from a small theme into a large one which I did not intend to make, so let me go back to what I was saying before.

This is an oversimplification. One does not escape that easily from the seduction of an effete way of life. You cannot arbitrarily say to yourself, I will not continue my life as it was before this thing, Success, happened to me. But once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle you are equipped with the basic means of salvation. Once you know this is true, that the heart of man, his body and his brain, are forged in a white-hot furnace for the purpose of conflict (the struggle of creation) and that with the conflict removed, the man is a sword cutting daisies, that not privation but luxury is the wolf at the door and that the fangs of this wolf are all the little vanities and conceits and laxities that Success is heir to—-why, then with this knowledge you are at least in a position of knowing where danger lies.

You know, then, that the public Somebody you are when you “have a name” is a fiction created with mirrors and that the only somebody worth being is the solitary and unseen you that existed from your first breath and which is the sum of your actions and so is constantly in a state of becoming under your own violation— and knowing these things, you can even survive the catastrophe of Success!

It is never altogether too late, unless you embrace the Bitch Goddess, as William James called her, with both arms and find in her smothering caresses exactly what the homesick little boy in you always wanted, absolute protection and utter effortlessness. Security is a kind of death, I think, and it can come to you in a storm of royalty checks beside a kidney-shaped pool in Beverly Hills or anywhere at all that is removed from the conditions that made you an artist, if that’s what you are or were intended to be. Ask, anyone who has experienced the kind of success I am talking about— What good is it? Perhaps to get an honest answer you will have to give him a shot of truth serum but the word he will finally groan is unprintable in genteel publications.

Then what is good? The obsessive interest in human affairs, plus a certain amount of compassion and moral conviction, that first made the experience of living something that must be translated into pigment or music or bodily movement or poetry or prose or anything that’s dynamic and expressive—that’s what’s good for you if you’re at all serious in your aims. William Saroyan wrote a great play on this theme, that purity of heart is the one success worth having. “In the time of your life—live!” That time is short and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

book nerding

quotes from my life with bob by pamela paul

"this is every reader's catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven't read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing. there is no way to finish, and perhaps that shouldn't be the goal. the novelist umberto eco famously kept what the writer nassim taleb called an 'anti-library,' a vast collection of books he had not read, believing that one's personal trove should contain as much of what you don't know as possible."

"i wanted to crawl into the stacks and absorb the musty smell of decades-old paper. i riffled my fingers through the wooden card-catalog drawers like they were flip books, trying to decode them. i could be the first girl to master the dewey decimal system. i might one day know where every book stood. all i needed was some authority or at least some kind of officially sanctioned status. a few years after we'd moved to town, i mustered the courage to ask for a job.

'i'm sorry, there are no jobs available for children,' the librarian told me. i was ten.

'you wouldn't have to pay me,' i insisted, my eyes gleaming with what surely came across as an unhealthy fervor.

'that's okay, but thank you.'

the rejection was terrible. what was it that put the children's librarian off my candidacy? was it the you-don't-have-to-pay-me part? did she question my intentions? did she not see that i was a book person, different from other, more casual library visitors, that i cared? that i would never leave a book facedown with its spine splayed open like other kids my age. i couldn't help but feel they were taking me down a notch. 'this library isn't yours, you know,' is how i heard it."

"'when we have emotions of fear and pity toward the hero of a tragedy, we explore aspects of our own vulnerability in a safe and pleasing setting,' nussbaum observed. this not only allows us to access our own emotions it also enables us to cultivate empathy for others."

Sunday, May 6, 2018

attaching versus joining

excerpt from codependence and the power of detachment by karen casey:

it might be said that roberta was a natural at detaching. or it might be said that her fear of intimacy, sown in her family of origin, taught her to isolate herself and to be self-focused -- and that's not the same as making a healthy choice to detach. although roberta was a good role model for many of us at al-anon, she also didn't allow herself to be vulnerable or to need others. to me, this invulnerability can be as much a flaw as a strength.

reciprocity in relationships strengthens them. generally, this reciprocity occurs through the normal sharing of one's fears and failings and dreams. if you aren't in the habit of revealing your inner self to anyone else, it's hard to build a relationship that is intimate and sustaining. superficial friendships are easy to make, but we need to have at least one person who knows all of us.

so how can we have healthy reciprocity and vulnerability in a relationship without being unhealthily attached and codependent? the key is to distinguish between 'attaching to' and 'joining with' others.

for simplicity, we can think of attachment as the opposite of detachment. in other words, attaching ourselves is akin to clinging to another person and letting that person decide what we should be thinking or saying or doing. living this way is a death sentence for our soul. it removes our choices for doing the next right thing. we do not want to cling or be attached in this way.

however, we do want to join with other people. the difference is that when we join with others, we still allow them to have their own opinions, have their own set of values, and make whatever choices are right for them -- all without feeling that we need to concur. even more important, we allow them their choices without feeling that we need to disagree. we can mutually allow one another the freedom to be whom or what we need to be with absolutely no judgment. as a result, we do not feel controlled by people we choose to join with, nor do we feel the need to control them.

Monday, April 30, 2018

criticality

quotes from seven days in the art world by sarah thornton

"despite its self-regard, and much like a society of devout followers, the art world relies on consensus as heavily as it depends on individual analysis or critical thinking. although the art world reveres the unconventional, it is rife with conformity. artists make work that 'looks like art' and behave in ways that enhance stereotypes. curators pander to the expectations of their peers and their museum boards. collectors run in herds to buy work by a handful of fashionable painters. critics stick their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing so as to 'get it right.' originality is not always rewarded, but some people take real risks and innovate, which gives a raison d'etre to the rest."
"i took the opportunity to probe the jargon i'd heard on campus. criticality was at the top of my list. 'it shouldn't be confused with being harsh or hostile, because you can be unthinkingly negative,' said a young photographer slumped on the couch. 'it's a deep inquiry so as to expose a dialectic,' explained an mfa student keen on doing a phd. 'if you're on autopilot, you're not critical.' said a performance artist, with a nod from her boyfriend. during our conversation, an african-american man of about sixty emerged from one of the offices. he turned out to be the conceptual artist charles gaines. the students flagged him over to pose the question on my behalf. 'criticality is a strategy for the production of knowledge,' he said plainly. 'our view is that art should interrogate the social and cultural ideas of its time. other places might want a work to produce pleasure or feelings.' of course! conceptualism arose in the 1960s in part as a reaction to abstract expressionism. criticality is the code word for a model of art-making that foregrounds research and analysis rather than instincts and intuition."
"burden distrusts institutions, because they lack accountability and hide behind bureaucratic ways of thinking."

Sunday, April 22, 2018

migration

by cathy tagnak rexford from effigies

i am a cedar mask, devouring my own tongue,
i close the space between my teeth with permafrost.
from this i will heave forth the brooks range,
leech my ears into the shape of whale flukes,
mount my face to the white wall
of a gallery.

outside, a cab driver with a cigarette drooping
from his lip, swerves as you stand
in the middle of the street, your left foot
on the painted white line, your right
on the edge of a melting polar icecap
as a thousand black and white kissing scenes
project on the skin of a deceased bowhead.

together, we pain the grooves of our mouths
with radio static and black shale.
     we opened our eyes this morning,
     the air was blue.
we carved bare-breasted women into
coastal bluffs of the chukchi sea,
they are beaten every autumn as
wind passes its hand over the waves.
we run into the city, into concrete nightmares;
we fault ourselves into the glass hallway where we stand.

Friday, April 6, 2018

logotherapy

quotes from man's search for meaning by viktor frankl

"success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it."

"there is something which seems to me to be even an even more erroneous and dangerous assumption [than pan-sexualism], namely, that which i call 'pan-determinism.' by that i mean the view of man which disregards his capacity to take a stand toward any conditions whatsoever. man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. in other words, man is ultimately self-determining."

"fifty years ago, i published a study devoted to a specific type of depression i had diagnosed in cases of young patients suffering from what i called 'unemployment neurosis.' and i could show that this neurosis really originated in a twofold erroneous identification: being jobless was equated with being useless, and being useless was equated with having a meaningless life. consequently, whenever i succeeded in persuading the patients to volunteer in youth organizations, adult education, public libraries and the like -- in other words, as soon as they could fill their abundant free time with some sort of unpaid but meaningful activity -- their depression disappeared although their economic situation had not changed and their hunger was the same."

"as logotherapy teaches, there are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. the first is by creating a work or by doing a deed. the second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love. edith weisskopf-joelson observed in this context that the logotherapeutic 'notion that experiencing an be as valuable as achieving is therapeuitc because it compensates for our one-sided emphasis on the external world of achievement at the expense of the internal world of experience.'

most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. he may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph. again it was edith weisskopf-joelson who. . . once expressed the hope that logotherapy 'may help counteract certain unhealthy trends in the present-day culture of the united states, where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading' so that 'he is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of being unhappy.'"

"just as life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are the most miserable, so too does the value of each and every person stay with him or her, and it does so because it is based on the values that he or she has realized in the past, and is not contingent on the usefulness that he or she may or may not retain in the present.

more specifically, this usefully is usually defined in terms of functioning for the benefit of society. but today's society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. it virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in doing so blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness. if one is not cognizant of this difference and hold that an individual's value stems only from his present usefulness, then, believe me, one owes it only to personal inconsistency not to plead for euthanasia along the lines of hitler's program, that is to say, 'mercy' killing of all those who have lost their social usefulness, be it because of old age, incurable illness, mental deterioration, or whatever handicap they suffer.

confounding the dignity of man with mere usefulness arises from a conceptual confusion that in turn may be traced back to the contemporary nihilism transmitted on many an academic campus and many an analytical couch. even in the setting of training analyses such an indoctrination may take place. nihilism does not contend that there is nothing, but it states that everything is meaningless. and george a. sargent was right when he promulgated the concept of 'learned meaninglessness.' he himself remembered a therapist who said, 'george, you must realize that the world is a joke. there is no justice, everything is random. only when you realize this will you understand how silly it is to take yourself seriously. there is no grand purpose in the universe. it just is. there's no particular meaning in what decision you make today about how to act.'

one must not generalize such a criticism. in principle, training is indispensable, but if so, therapists should see their task in immunizing the trainee against nihilism rather than inoculating him with the cynicism that is a defense mechanism against their own nihilism."

Friday, March 16, 2018

codependency & detachment

quotes from codependence and the power of detachment by karen casey

"i also began to understand that my need for control - control over what another person was thinking about me. it was a constant need in nearly every relationship in my life, as much as i did not want to admit it. as diligently as i tried, i continued to scan the expressions of others, particularly the expressions of my boss and my significant other, for my 'control fix'. getting the fix one needs in order to continue living from one minute to the next, whether from a drug or from the praise of a person, is a debilitating way to live. i wouldn't say that the addiction of codependency is more harmful than addiction to alcohol or other mood-altering chemicals, but i can't say that it is less harmful either."

"she was aware that for many years, men had been projects for her. when she couldn't change the man, she would change herself to make the two of them appear more compatible as a couple. that habit rings true for many of us in al-anon. it's one of the classic symptoms of our disease. no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, we will try to change it or us to provide the outcome we think we deserve."

"but to simply detach, to draw a boundary around herself and believe that 'what they do is not a reflection on me,' wasn't possible for her right away. another challenge was that she had been raised to think it was her job to take care of others, children as well as husbands. letting them take care of themselves was against her grain. caretaking was a key part of her identity. if she were to let them take care of themselves, what would she do with her time? she was afraid she would feel irrelevant to her family."

"rose also said it was important for her to distinguish between being negatively passive and making a conscious choice to disengage from a situation that had snagged her emotions. it was and is her inclination to acquiesce, she said. however, she learned the difference between quietly detaching from a situation versus shutting down her feelings. we, too, can learn to be disengaged without being passive."

"rose learned not to do for others what they need to do for themselves. even though her husband did not stay sober, his disease was his to shoulder. she did not cause it, nor could she cure it. not doing for others what they need to do for themselves sounds so simple. no doubt many of us think, 'well, i don't do that.' but if we are honest and examine our behavior, we may discover that in myriad ways we are picking up the slack or the mess, around our homes or elsewhere, rather than letting the perpetrator take responsibility. . . the unfortunate fact is that every time we take one someone else's responsibility, we are keeping them stuck, and in the process making a hostage of both of us. it is not easy to let the addict mature, but we must. we are harming them every time we step in and bring order to the chaos they created."

"one of the main difficulties anna had was dealing with her feelings of superiority, which made her judgmental toward others. because she was far less emotional than howie, she saw his frequent tears as a sign of weakness, thus inferiority. being vulnerable was simply not an option for anna. . . she learned how her habit of judging others kept her attached to the behavior of everyone around her."

"barbara is through with being a victim. in our interview, she said she had almost relished that role for years because it had allowed her to refuse responsibility for every detail of her own life. now she defines detachment as 'not claiming to be a victim.' she has learned that detachment with love means choosing to separate herself from the situations over which she has no control. she says it also means being free of the need to make an emotional response, or any response at all, to a troubling person or a situation. she is able, now, to sense herself moving into her adult observer role. she has become adept at objectifying the details of her life."

"like harry, many of us in al-anon joined this journey because of our addiction to controlling the many people, places, and situations in our lives."

"when janet talks about letting go with love, she put it in unique terms. she says, 'to let go with love means allowing the other person their dignity.' she believes that everyone must find his or her own way, and if at first they fail, so be it."

"when she went to her first meeting, the terminology she heard people using - caretaker, codependent, sicker than the alcoholic - made her uncomfortable. she felt that her own life was moving along successfully, and she didn't want to change it."

"he had grown too accustomed to letting her decide everything for both of them, and she could see he needed to be responsible for himself. . . interestingly, her focus on people other than herself has continued to be one of sara's issues. because defining themselves according to their interactions with other people is second nature to codependents, leaving her marriage doesn't mean sara has escaped codependency. leaving any relationship doesn't automatically lead to detachment. one can be just as attached emotionally after getting out of a primary relationship as when still in it. physical proximity to or distance from the significant other has little to do with how entrapped one feels by the behaviors of another person."

"the very first thing an old-timer will say is that we are here for ourselves - period. . . like sara, most men and women who come to al-anon have been constantly managing, or trying to manage, the lives of others. what we eventually come to understand is that our obsession with the actions of everyone else allows little time to peacefully plan our own actions. our lives are unmanageable, not because we don't know how to manage them, but because we have so little time to pay attention to [them]."

"she never really felt connected to others, so doing favors for them allowed her to feel that she was necessary to their lives."

"taking care of someone else's needs so that our needs are met or so that we feel secure of indispensable is never the right thing to do. this behavior keeps us stuck. it cements our unhealthy attachment to another. it imprisons us, and our growth is deadlocked. giving it lovingly and willingly and freely is great; giving our attention as a way to control the actions of anyone else is never loving."

"familiar patterns are hard to walk away from, even when they are very painful. relapse is a reality for codependents just as surely as it is for alcoholics. some may think relapse is not as dangerous for the codependent as for the alcoholic, since codependents will generally not be driving drunk or fighting violently with another person. but emotionally, a codependent's relapse is every bit as devastating. it instantly revives those old feelings of insecurity and unworthiness."

"step one also asks us to recognize the unmanageability of our lives. for most codependents this is a bitter pill to swallow. didn't we do our own work and still manage to cover for the alcoholic? how about all of the situations that we handled entirely alone, day in and day out? taking on extra work wasn't unusual for many of us. we wanted to be noticed for our efforts. we needed as much approval from others as we could garner. it's not easy to understand how our lives could be considered unmanageable when we had as many balls in the air as most of us were juggling. this part of step one was very hard for me to admit to. i had a full-time teaching job at a university, was a straight-A graduate student, and had a busy social life. unmanageable? my life? what had not occurred to me was that parts of my life were unmanageable. my emotions, for example, ran my life. i did not take charge of them. when anyone anywhere interacted with me, i let the tenor of that experience decide how i would feel and thus perceive myself."

"one of the most common themes that runs through the head of the codependent is, 'i have done so much to keep this relationship alive and working! how dare you not do your part!' . . . caretakers, as a matter of course, put others first. putting herself at the top of her own caretaking list took an effort on beth's part."

"one of beth's techniques for staying detached is a visualization. when beth feels a drama about to unfold, she sees herself standing off to the side, away from the fishhook that is being tossed in her direction. rather than getting snagged by it, she steps back. she uses this visualization with her kids and with others who want to suck her in emotionally. with it, she can look on her kids or others with love and walk away, unhooked. and she feels no guilt. that's the real reward.

'clean relationships' is the term beth used to describe those interactions that are most common to her now. she knows that detaching doesn't equal a lack of love. it equals, in fact, greater love. letting someone else be whoever they need to be, whether that's the person we hope they'll be or not, is what's right. we think we should be in charge of another's journey only because we fear that their journey might take them away from us. but if it does, so be it."

"the best part of this acceptance is that she no longer takes their choices personally. she learned from experience that you cannot detach when you are feeling responsible for someone else's behavior or taking their behavior personally. either way you are a hostage. . . carolyn says one of her greatest joys is that she can 'let things rest.' in other words, she doesn't have to resolve every situation or conflict immediately anymore."

"what she had discovered, though, in her pursuit of getting away, was that alcohol allowed her to close off her mind to what family members were doing and saying. she could 'get away' rather than be always under their thumb. while drinking she was able to exist relatively unmoved by the emotional turmoil that was caused by their overinvolvement in each others' lives. we might not call this method healthy detachment, but for shelley it was effective, nonetheless. . . shelley says that for her, detachment first begins with that connected sense of attachment. only then can she see the need she also has for separateness."

Thursday, March 15, 2018

loosening our attachment

quotes from taking the leap by pema chodron

"not acting out, or refraining, is very interesting. it's also called renunciation in the buddhist teachings. the tibetan word for renunciation is shenluk, and it means turning shenpa upside down, shaking it up completely. it means getting unhooked. renunciation isn't about renouncing food, or sex, or your lifestyle. we're not referring to giving up the things themselves. we're talking about loosening our attachment, the shenpa we have to these things.

in general, buddhism encourages us never to reject what is problematic but rather to become very familiar with it. and so it is here: we are urged to acknowledge our shenpa, see it clearly, experience it fully -- without acting out or repressing.

if we are willing to acknowledge our shenpa and to experience it without sidetracks, then our natural intelligence begins to guide us. we begin to foresee the whole chain reaction and where it will lead. there's some wisdom that becomes accessible to us - wisdom based on compassion for oneself and others that has nothing to do with ego's fears. it's the part of us that knows we can connect and live from our basic goodness, our basic intelligence, openness, and warmth. over time, this knowledge becomes a stronger force than the shenpa, and we naturally interrupt the chain reaction before it even starts. we naturally become able to prevent an epidemic of aggression before it even begins."

"how individuals like you and i relate to being hooked, these days, has global implications. in theat neutral moment, that often highly charged moment, when we can go either way, do we consciously strengthen old fear-based habits, or do we stay on the dot, fully experiencing the agitated, restless energy and letting it naturally unwind and flow on? there will be no lack of opportunities and no lack of material to work with.

looking closely at this process, as i have for some years, it's easy to see that it takes courage to simply relax with our own dynamic energy, just as it is, without splitting off and trying to escape."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

in-betweenness

quotes from we gon' be alright by jeff chang

"gloria anzaldua, george helm, and jessica hagedorn all realized that in-betweenness can create the stuff of epics. it is the mental geography through which we make the crossings that define us. it can also be a place of refuge. in hawai'i, pu'uhonua were sites of mercy, where a warrior on the wrong side of the battle might find safety, where fugitives might find absolution. there, in between the space of the gods and the space of humans, they might rehabilitate and redeem themselves through moral, spiritual, and physical work. but these places were never meant to be places of permanent separation or disengagement. you did not go into a pu'uhonua to leave the world but to someday return to it. unearned sanctuary is not a home."

"james baldwin's most revolutionary and misunderstood idea, notes the intellectual robin d.g. kelley, was that love is agency. 'for him it meant to love ourselves as black people; it meant making love the motivation for making revolution; it meant envisioning a society where everyone is embraced, where there is no oppression, where every life is valued - even those who may once have been our oppressors,' kelley wrote. this did not mean that blacks should capitulate before whiteness and systematic racism, but exactly the opposite. he wrote, 'to love all is to fight relentlessly to end exploitation and oppression everywhere, even on behalf of those who think they hate us.'"

"what does it mean that we are better able to see pain than love? that rage and conflict in art are perceived as deeply felt, while reconciliation and joy are dismissed as mere sentiment?"

"'grace implies freeing the bondage of the human spirit and suggests the breadth, scope, and depth of our humanity in the face of violence - acts that may be found in our everyday lives or reflected in public moments of collective grief,' [carrie mae] weems has written. 'grace is meant to activate us, to propel us, to challenge us to see what we might prefer to remain unseen, and to act where we have been complacent and unable to move.'"

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

any war you want

from syria burning by charles glass

"syria's war is anything its fighters want it to be. it is a class war of the suburban proletariat against a state army financed by the bourgeoisie. it is a sectarian war in which the sunni arab majority is fighting to displace an alawi ruling class. it is a holy war of sunni muslims against all manifestations of shiism, especially the alawite variety. the social understandings on which aleppo prided itself are unraveling. muslim fundamentalists have targeted christian churches and shiite mosques. arabs have fought kurds. iraqi shiites and sunnis have crossed the border to fight each other in syria."

Friday, February 2, 2018

a window

from because she never asked by enrique vila-matas

"when i described how the relationship between sophie and me had taken on the structure of a love story (the jealousy of one person not knowing what the other was thinking, which is really what lover's jealousy has always been about: not knowing what the other is thinking; read proust to understand it better), sergi preferred not to wax transcendent and instead mentioned a french song called 'les histoires d'amour', sung by the rita mitsouko duo."

"he said: 'i used to paint, but nobody seemed to care about what i did. so i got fed up one day and asked myself why i painted, and more importantly, why did it matter to me if anyone cared? so, guess what i did. i retired. and then i went on painting, as if nothing had happened, but only in my imagination. take this window, for example. to me it's a still life. there's a dead crow in it. i don't think you can see it. there are days when nothing exists outside the world of my imagination. i give you my word as a retired artist.'"

Friday, January 19, 2018

sulker's fantasy

excerpt from kiss and tell by alain de botton:

biographies are traditionally written without hesitation in crossing lines of age, class, profession and gender. an urban aristocrat captures the life of a rural pauper, a fifty-year-old follows the experience of youthful rimbaud, a timorous academic allies himself to lawrence of arabia. an enviable faith lies behind these enterprises, the idea that men and women remain essentially comprehensible to each other despite a ripple of surface difference.

dr. johnson thought so: 'we are all prompted by the same motives, all deceived by the same fallacies, all animated by hope, obstructed by danger, entangled by desire and seduced by pleasure.' people belonged to the same disparate but unitary family, suggested johnson, and could therefore understand one another on the basis of their passport to the human community. i could understand your motive, because i would find much the same if i looked under my pillow. i could understand a fragment of your experience by finding the same experience within myself. i would know how love had made you suffer, because i had also endured evenings by a phone which had not rung. i would recognize your envy, because i too had known the pain engendered by my insufficiencies.

but there were darker implications to this pillow model of understanding. what if little lay beneath the pillow? adam smith had unwittingly articulated the dilemma in his theory of moral sentiments. 'as we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. by the imagination we place ourselves in his situation and conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments.'

despite the virtue of suffering with others, the sombre consequence of the pillow theory lies in the need for a sufficient stock of experience genuinely to imagine the experience of others - depressing because our stock can never adequately answer the emotions we encounter beyond ourselves.

what if i had never been on a rack before? what would i then feel for my brother condemned to this fate of unimaginable agony? would i imagine the last time i had been on a crowded underground train and then extend the experience a hundredfold, perhaps mixing it with the recollection of a painful tooth extraction or lanced boil? in other words, how can we understand experiences of which we have no experience?

we may suppose that no experience is so unique as to be incomparable. there are always adjacent experiences to which we can appeal to inform us of the original, we proceed with metaphors when our images run dry. i had never eaten shark, but when isabel informed me that it tasted half like cod and half like tuna, both of which i had bought on occasion, the mystery of the fish receded. when we say that a book has transported us to a foreign land we have never travelled to, we are paradoxically also saying that it has succeeded in reminding us of places that we knew, but had never yet combined.

but there are situations in which we may be granted neither cod nor tuna. others may resist suggesting the nature of their experience out of an assumption that we should know what these are without requiring to have them spelt out. the sulker's fantasy is to be understood without needing to speak, metaphorize or explain, because words embody a defeat of a prior and more intimate level of communication. it is when intuition breaks down that we have to clear our throat, and our voice risks reminding us of our loneliness. we research only what we have not felt.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

tabula rasa

quotes from the coming community by giorgio agamben

"only a power that is capable of both power and impotence, then, is the supreme power. . .in de anima aristotle articulates this theory in absolute terms with respect to the supreme theme of metaphysics. if thought were in fact only the potentiality to think this or that intelligibly, he argues, it would always already have passed through to the act and it would remain necessarily inferior to its own object. but thought, in its essence, is pure potentiality; in other words, it is also the potentiality to not think, and as such, as possible or material intellect, aristotle compares it to a writing tablet on which nothing is written. (this is the celebrated image that the latin translators render with the expression tabula rasa, even if, as the ancient commentators noted, one should speak rather of a rasum tabulae, that is, of the layer of wax covering the tablet that the stylus engraves.)

thanks to this potentiality to not-think, thought can turn back to itself (to its pure potentiality) and be, at its apex, the thought of thought. what it thinks here, however, is not an object, a being-in-act, but that layer of wax, that rasum tabulae that is nothing but its own passivity, its own pure potentiality (to not-think): in the potentiality that thinks itself, action and passion coincide and the writing tablet writes by itself or, rather, writes its own passivity."

////////

"there is in effect something that humans are and have to be, but this something is not an essence nor properly a thing: it is the simple fact of one's own existence as possibility or potentiality. but precisely because of this things become complicated; precisely because of this ethics becomes effective.

since the being most proper to humankind is being one's own possibility or potentiality, then and only for this reason . . . humans have and feel a debt. humans, in their potentiality to be and not-be, are, in other words, always already in debt; they always already have a bad conscience without having to commit any blameworthy act. . .

this is why ethics has no room for repentance; this is why the only ethical experience (which, as such, cannot be a task or a subjective decision) is the experience of being (one's own) potentiality, of being (one's own) possibility -- exposing, that is, in every form one's own amorphousness and in every act one's own inactuality."

///////

"the process of technologization, instead of materially investing the body, was aimed at the construction of a separate sphere that had practically no point of contact with it: what was technologized was not the body, but its image. thus the glorious body of advertising has become the mask behind which the fragile, slight human body continues its precarious existence."

Friday, December 15, 2017

unspectacular

quotes from brave new world by aldous huxley

"one of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies."

"actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. and, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. and being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. happiness is never grand."

Sunday, December 3, 2017

awkardly

excerpt from jack, or the submission, play by eugene ionesco

[they put their arms around each other very awkwardly, jack kisses the noses of roberta II, one after the other, while father jack, mother jack, jacqueline, the grandparents, father robert, and mother robert enter without saying a word, one after the other, waddling along, in a sort of ridiculous dance, embarassing, in a vague circle, around jack and roberta II who remain at stage center, awkwardly enlaced. father robert silently and slowly strikes his hands together. mother robert, her arms clasped behind her neck, makes pirouettes, smiling stupidly. mother jack, with an expressionless face, shakes her shoulders in a grotesque fashion. father jack pulls up his pants and walks on his heels. jacqueline nods her head, then they continue to dance, squatting down, while jack and roberta II squat down too, and remain motionless. the grandparents turn around, idiotically, looking at each other, and smiling; then they squat down in their turn. all this must produce in the audience a feeling of embarrassment, awkwardness, and shame. the darkness increases. on stage, the actors utter vague miaows while turning around, bizarre moans, croakings. the darkness increases. we can still see the jacks and roberts crawling on the stage. we hear their animal noises, then we don't see them any more. we hear only their moans, their sighs, then all fades away, all is extinguished. again, a gray light comes on. all the characters have disappeared, except roberta, who is lying down, or rather squatting down, buried beneath her gown. we see only her pale face, with its three noses quivering, and her nine fingers moving like snakes.]

Friday, December 1, 2017

monkeys

from the short story "a great man's house" by samrat upadhyay, from the book arresting god in kathmandu

"during one session, about two months after the wedding, while i was serving tea to the guests, nani memsaheb interrupted my master while he was speaking. my master had been talking about the nature of the mind, how it moves from one place to another like a monkey, and how in order to reach a higher level, one has to control that monkey. put it on a leash, my master had said, so that it cannot run around. then the mind will become one with the brahman.

'but when once we have the monkey on a leash,' she said, smiling faintly, 'then we too are tethered to the leash, aren't we?'

my master smiled, affectionately, understandingly, as one smiles at a child. 'yes, we are. the trick is to be tethered to that leash while also controlling it.'

'but how is that possible?' she asked. 'it seems to me that the trick is not to have the monkey on a leash at all. let the monkey do whatever it wants. why become attached to it?'"

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

on being good men

by amaud jamaul johnson from red sparrow

because you were a good man,
and we had spent so much
of our adolescence thinking about
being good men, about being better
than our fathers, about proving
the world wrong, that black men
could love, that we could be true
to our wives, strong for our children

because so much had come to pass
how the narcotic night called us
how the streets beneath us ached
from sorrow and we survived

when you said you understood
what made men leave, how you stood
in the doorway, your wife and kids
asleep, your keys like a knife
at your wrist, how you heard your
name echo in the chorus of darkness
and were not afraid

because you were a good man
and i had spent so much of my life
trying to be a good man too
i could see your truth, like all
the truths who turned their backs
on us, the men who jumped
freight trains, the men who drove
for milk and never looked back

how we run from ourselves
from the chaos of our hearts
from our inability to witness
our failures in those we love

Monday, November 13, 2017

a note on the body

by danez smith (from don't call us dead)

your body still your body
your arms still wing
your mouth still a gun

           you tragic, misfiring bird

you have all you need to be a hero
don't save the world, save yourself

you worship too much & you worship too much

when prayer doesn't work:          dance, fly, fire

this is your hardest scene
when you think the whole sad thing might end

but you live           oh, you live

everyday you wake you raise the dead

            everything you do is a miracle

Sunday, November 12, 2017

neruda

from the postman (il postino) by antonio skarmeta

"'listen to this poem: 'here on the island, the sea, so much sea. it spills over from time to time. it says yes, then no, then no. it says yes, in blue, in foam, in a gallop. it says no, then no. it cannot be still. my name is sea, it repeats, striking a stone but not convincing it. then with the seven green tongues, of seven green tigers, of seven green seas, it caresses it, kisses it, wets it, and pounds on its chest, repeating its own name.'

he paused with an air of satisfaction. 'what do you think?'

'it's weird.'

'weird? you certainly are a severe critic.'

'no, sir. the poem wasn't weird. what was weird was the way i felt when you recited it.'

'my dear mario, please try to express yourself more clearly. i simply cannot spend the whole morning in your delightful company.'

'how can i explain it to you? when you recited that poem, the words went from over there to over here.'

'like the sea, then!'

'yeah, they moved like the sea.'

'that's the rhythm.'

'and i felt weird because with all that movement, i got dizzy.'

'you got dizzy?'

'of course. i was like a boat tossing upon your words.'

the poet's eyelids rose slowly.

'like a boat tossing upon my words.'

'uh-huh.'

'you know what you just did, mario?'

'no, what?'

'you invented a metaphor.'

'but it doesn't even count, 'cause it just came out by accident.'

'all images are accidents, my son.'"

Saturday, November 11, 2017

this side of joyce, who knew

from "the dead" by james joyce (in dubliners)

"moments of their secret life together burst like stars upon his memory. a heliotrope envelope was lying beside his breakfast-cup and he was caressing it with his hand. birds were twittering in the ivy and the sunny web of the curtain was shimmering along the floor: he could not eat for happiness. they were standing on the crowded platform and he was placing a ticket inside the warm palm of her glove. he was standing with her in the cold, looking in through a grated window at a man making bottles in a roaring furnace. it was very cold. her face, fragrant in the cold air, was quite close to his; and suddenly he called out to the man at the furnace:

'is the fire hot, sir?'

but the man could not hear with the noise of the furnace. it was just as well. he might have answered rudely.

a wave of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart and went coursing in warm flood along his arteries. like the tender fire of stars moments of their life together, that no one knew of or would ever know of, broke upon and illumined his memory. he longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy. for the years, he felt, had not quenched his soul or hers. their children, his writing, her household cares had not quenched all their souls' tender fire. in one letter that he had written to her then he had said: 'why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?'

like distant music these words that he had written years before were borne towards him from the past. he longed to be alone with her."