i can spell words, i swear
Thinking back to my Faulkner midterm, I definitely wrote “existentialist altitude” instead of “existentialist attitude.”
Looking forward to seeing the feedback on that…
This isn’t really a rant. But that’s okay :)
We have this notion of love as a passive, amorphous pink cloud that unwitting humans trip and face-plant into, completely by mistake. That’s not love. It’s romance. And it has a very short shelf life, unless it develops into something deeper. Romance makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. It makes you feel like nothing can touch you. But that’s the thing: it’s all about you. The person you’re with doesn’t matter… that part is interchangeable. In a romance, all that matters is how the other person makes you feel about yourself - how many ways he can arouse you, what color lingerie she’s wearing. And as long as we base relationships on excitement, mystery, and the narcissistic desire to feel good, they cannot last.
This is not to say that love excludes romance. But, unfortunately, romance often does exclude love, because love is difficult. Sometimes, it is painful. And just like everything else, it takes practice. Romance - the material aspect of love - is easy and pleasurable, and therefore a lot of people get sucked into it without bothering to get to know the person they are with.
Love, on the other hand, is about dismantling the mystery. It’s about moving from reacting to responding. It’s about sharing vulnerabilities, raising each other up without expecting material reward or compensation, trusting your partner not to take advantage of your moments of weakness, and trusting yourself enough to let him/her see you in those moments of weakness.
Love is not a quest to find your “other half.” It’s the mutual recognition that you, as a whole person, are ready to explore the depths of another whole person. It takes time, courage, patience, and compassion. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out (resulting in crushing pain and sadness), but when it does work, it’s completely worth the huge effort that goes into it.
“When love beckons to you follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth…
But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
And think not you can direct the course of love,
If it finds you worthy, it directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.”
- Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
I willingly release all fears, concerns and worries about giving and receiving love.
Do not despise your inner world. That is the first and most general piece of advice I would offer— Our society is very outward-looking, very taken up with the latest new object, the latest piece of gossip, the latest opportunity for self-assertion and status. But we all begin our lives as helpless babies, dependent on others for comfort, food, and survival itself. And even though we develop a degree of mastery and independence, we always remain alarmingly weak and incomplete, dependent on others and on an uncertain world for whatever we are able to achieve. As we grow, we all develop a wide range of emotions responding to this predicament: fear that bad things will happen and that we will be powerless to ward them off; love for those who help and support us; grief when a loved one is lost; hope for good things in the future; anger when someone else damages something we care about. Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them. Perhaps males, in our society, are especially likely to be ashamed of being incomplete and dependent, because a dominant image of masculinity tells them that they should be self-sufficient and dominant. So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences. The current psychological literature on the life of boys in America indicates that a large proportion of boys are quite unable to talk about how they feel and how others feel — because they have learned to be ashamed of feelings and needs, and to push them underground. But that means that they don’t know how to deal with their own emotions, or to communicate them to others. When they are frightened, they don’t know how to say it, or even to become fully aware of it. Often they turn their own fear into aggression. Often, too, this lack of a rich inner life catapults them into depression in later life. We are all going to encounter illness, loss, and aging, and we’re not well prepared for these inevitable events by a culture that directs us to think of externals only, and to measure ourselves in terms of our possessions of externals.
What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings. Storytelling plays a big role in the process of development. As we tell stories about the lives of others, we learn how to imagine what another creature might feel in response to various events. At the same time, we identify with the other creature and learn something about ourselves. As we grow older, we encounter more and more complex stories — in literature, film, visual art, music — that give us a richer and more subtle grasp of human emotions and of our own inner world. So my second piece of advice, closely related to the first, is: Read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
“We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes -
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.”
- from We Wear the Mask by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Serve your art, not yourself.
Yesterday, I was waiting for the train and heard this brief exchange between a mother and her seven(ish)-year-old daughter:
Mom (a little panicked): Where’s your little brother?
Daughter: Oh, Eli? He is somewhere, lost in his brain.
I was floored by the daughter’s almost transcendent response to the raw urgency of her mother’s question, and also by her interpretation of the question. The girl was thinking about where her brother was, as opposed to where he was. There’s a difference. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and I was amazed at how instinctively and easily a seven-year-old girl picked up on what thousands of philosophers have spent their entire lives trying to explain.
Sometimes I forget how innately insightful, sensitive, and poetic children are.
(By the way, the little boy wasn’t actually missing, just out of sight behind a pillar.)
There are socially constructed differences in ideology and expected behavior between men and women. This is a reality, and no matter how demeaning it is to both genders, it exists. And part of the reason it exists is because of colloquialisms that creep into our speech. Turns of phrase like “yeah, but he’s a guy” and “boys will be boys” may seem like harmless little verbal shrugs, said offhand as explanations for what we women perceive as bizarre or insensitive male behavior, but they are actually a way of passively accepting what our patriarchal society has taught us to believe about male/female interactions. These sayings do not explain anyone’s behavior or clarify anyone’s intentions - they do something far more terrifying and sinister: they explain away those intentions and excuse that behavior.
I’ve been in a few situations lately where the above expressions and others like them have been used by women to comfort other women who have somehow been belittled or demeaned by men, whether it’s via a bum-tap or being used for sex or some other form of physical and/or emotional abuse.
After hearing them repeatedly and occasionally even using them myself, the phrases started to grate on my ears. Eventually, I began to actually think about what I was saying and hearing, questioning meanings and implications. And I did not like what the words revealed.
As an example, let’s take apart the statement “boys will be boys.”
Can be used to explain away a 6-year-old boy breaking the window with a baseball.
Can also be used to explain away a drunk 23-year-old man groping the woman next to him.
One of these behaviors is relatively harmless. The other is borderline predatory. Using the same sentence to refer to both scenarios implies that both are on the level of a childishly innocent game. The groping scenario is decidedly not childishly innocent. Therefore, this particular choice of words is not appropriate to describe that situation and others like it.
2. Word Choice
We often use the word “boy” to mean “man.” This is just as insulting and demeaning as using the word “girl” to describe a woman. By assigning the noun “boy” to an adult male, we undermine his maturity, his intelligence, his independence, and his responsibility for his actions. The diminutive word is both an insult to him and (probably unconsciously) gives him an excuse for not acting his age, aka not taking responsibility for his actions, which we all know is not excusable at all.
Take a look at the tense: future progressive. This expression both affirms the current state of affairs and assumes that boys/men will behave identically in the future. There is neither choice nor change implied in the sentence - only passive acceptance of the present and an expectation that things will continue as they are.
…I could keep going. But I will spare you the English major-ness.
The bottom line: as men, women, humans, we must watch what we say… and how we say it. The words we use are important - they form the bridges between us, and they can also burn those bridges. They can be the difference between destruction and construction, passive acquiescence and active engagement.
This is the excellent foppery of the world: that when we are sick in fortune - often the surfeits of our own behavior - we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whore-master man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star!
The most common form of despair is not being who you are.