Tuesday, May 23, 2017
I think it is obvious that we are now living in a vastly different world than what many of us now in adulthood grew up in. The rules do not apply anymore, in any setting. It is frightening.
I have been thinking a lot about pain lately, and how people deal with it—how I deal with it. I carry a lot of emotional pain. It is with me all the time. It affects every aspect of my life. If I thought I was terribly different than most people, I would say that I had a burden that others don’t. But I actually think that most people, even those who have experienced lesser or different traumas, carry around a good deal of pain.
One of my biggest desires—if not my biggest—has been for someone to understand my pain. I think I felt that if this were to happen, somehow my pain would become more bearable to me. What I have recently realized is that I don’t even understand my pain. Things I would do in reaction to my pain would leave me dumbfounded. Whenever my pain crept up on me, I would do anything to get away from it. I was too scared of it to ever really get a chance to feel it and understand it.
Sometimes my pain appears as a sense of hopelessness. A few months ago, for the first time ever, I allowed myself to sit relatively undistracted with this feeling of hopelessness, which has been with me since I was a kid. It’s hard to explain how it felt. Normally when a bad feeling comes up, the natural impulse is just to kill it off. Feed the ego, distract the mind, talk about it, sweat it out, drink it away—anything that would prevent one from actually feeling the bad feeling. And hopelessness is the worst of bad feelings. It’s a really hard thing to confront. But I found that on this day, as I felt this feeling, it just kind of stayed there, not budging, for a few hours. I felt like it was swallowing me halfway, and I was stuck somewhere. I would never get out—and I would also never have the relief of truly being swallowed whole. I felt it, and felt it, and felt it. I thought that was what my life would be like forever. Then, I took a sip of peppermint tea. I hadn’t sweetened it, but it tasted very, very sweet on my tongue for some reason. The taste and sensation of correct warmth in my mouth unexpectedly pulled me out of my feeling of hopelessness (which I had actively chosen to sit with and feel–I wasn’t thoughtlessly torturing myself). It was relatively empowering to discover that something as simple as the taste of peppermint (which has always been one of my top five favorite flavors ever since I was little, to the point that I named a kitten Peppermint) could give me enough of a feeling of hope to break my spell of hopelessness.
I think of pain as the kind of mother of all bad emotions. When I feel hopeless, uncomfortable, frustrated, upset, scared—these are all emotions derived from pain. Last night, I was thinking about a situation that causes me to feel very upset and uncomfortable. I asked myself, what are you really afraid of or upset by in this situation? I thought of the word PAIN. So I consciously decided to feel pain. Then, I felt this sensation as though I were being suffocated or drowned. I could feel pain physically on top of me, like a huge, dark red gelatinous mass. Almost like a giant organ. I felt a node coming off it, like a shapeless hand, and it seemed to want to cover my mouth and suffocate me. I was like, “well no wonder I choose not to think about or feel my pain—it is going to kill me.” Then I felt it kind of change—almost as though it realized it was scaring me and wanted to stop. It then began to feel almost like the energy of a wriggling puppy wanting attention. It stopped being scary and started to feel like it only wanted to be touched and seen.
I realize this sounds a bit crazy. Or a little unconventional. I will tell you that as an ultra-sensitive person who finds a lot of value in conceptual thought, the visuals and sensations I am describing were more about me somewhat deliberately conceptualizing the physical experience of pain for myself, so I could find some understanding and meaning for it. Fear for me almost always feels like choking or suffocating, so it makes sense that feeling pain would bring that up. And it also makes sense, given how much I’ve avoided my pain and made an enemy of it, that actually experiencing it and attempting to understand it would give me a feeling of relief akin to a puppy begging for attention, then finally being petted.
Everyone in the world has pain. We are taught that it is not OK to be in pain. We are not given any concrete methods to deal with pain, other than distraction, self-medication or prescriptions (which are obvious band-aids and not cures). Since we don’t know what to do with it, we wind up doing (at best) stupid things and (at worst) monumentally destructive things with pain. I have inflicted pain on myself and other people for this reason, and it is the thing I am most ashamed of doing. People in pain often join together, find a target to punish, and attempt to relieve their pain by inflicting pain on someone else. We like to think that bad things happen in the world because bad people get together and make them happen. But it is more the truth that people in pain identify with each other, get together (physically or by virtue of shared ideology), and then try to relieve their pain (often caused by fear) by inflicting it on someone else. This will never work as a means to get rid of one’s own pain, or as a means of getting others to understand one’s own pain. But that fact doesn’t seem to be slowing the pace of these actions.
I don’t think we can ever really understand each other’s unique, individual pain. I don’t think we are even really meant to do that. I think we are meant to try to understand our own pain, and through this, we might be able to understand that everyone has pain. Through this shared understanding, we could then potentially treat people with more kindness, tolerance and clemency. Everyone has a feeling that is so terrifying to feel, they’d do anything not to feel it. I can attest that it’s actually quite interesting to let yourself feel it, and see what happens next.
Monday, May 22, 2017
Sunday, May 21, 2017
When I consider what I dislike about my personality, I usually think of qualities that could be perceived as victim-like weakness. That is what comes most easily to mind. I’ve historically had difficulty speaking publically, and have often suffered from panic attacks while doing so. My shyness has always been something I’ve been ashamed of. Only in the past couple years—after becoming a teacher and needing to work out a way to address my students effectively—have I been able to come to terms with my shyness and difficulty performing in front of an audience. Now I can cycle through a full panic attack while speaking to my students, with full understanding and acceptance of everything that is happening. It’s interesting that when you accept a panic attack and don’t fight it, it usually dissipates fairly quickly.
But this kind of thing puts me in the role of the victim. Shy people are victims, not aggressors. We “suffer” from shyness and panic attacks—all beyond our control. In our culture, if you are a victim, you are not a bad person. You are a person to be pitied. Shy people deserve our compassion. They are too meek and mild to hurt anyone.
But there is a thing I dislike about myself way more than my shyness or my performance anxiety, and it is a thing that does not garner me any pity at all. I have an extremely unattractive mean streak. It is not covert or indirect aggression, which many people engage in. I will not gossip about others and feel extreme antipathy when I am in a group of people who are attacking someone who is not there to defend themselves. I have no tolerance for backbiting, online trolling, workplace competition—any aggressive activity that is not directly confrontational. I find this kind of aggression to be extremely hurtful, and also spineless. I find too much moral superiority in my denouncement of these activities, given that my mean streak is arguably just as bad, in a different way.
My mean streak is very much about attacking the person directly, either with private, face-to-face verbal assaults or with mean things written in private letters (emails). The trajectory is that a person I have some varying degree of interpersonal connection with hurts me (sometimes in a direct way; usually in an indirect way), and I directly attack them by insulting them somewhat-to-very mercilessly. In the worst examples of this, I look for the point that I know or assume is their weak spot, and aim my insult to wound them in that spot. I never use inappropriate or foul language. I am cool, not hotheaded. Simply put, when I am hurt, I viciously attack the character of the person I am upset with.
So it is a little less easy to find self-acceptance for this quality, which is in no way victim-like. Hurting people is wrong. Wanting to hurt people is wrong. Looking for ways to hurt people is wrong. I have wrongly aggrandized myself by engaging in the belief that my way of hurting people was honorable because it is so direct.
There is no honor in hurting people. Even though I will say that I feel like I have always hurt people on the heels of being hurt—that is not an excuse. Life is complicated and not everyone behaves in the ways we wish they would at all times. Sometimes people hurt us accidentally, or simply because they have different needs or beliefs. My kneejerk reaction to hit back twice as hard as I feel I’ve been hit has its roots in childhood, and it is one of the areas of my life that I have very rarely questioned. Feeling truly hurt is so hard for me to deal with. Sitting with the pain of rejection or disappointment—or even just misunderstanding—is torture for me. This, on the positive side, is due in part by the fact that I do live a very authentic life. I truly care for the people I care for, and it is hard for me not to be passionate about the things I invite into my life. I keep things very high-key in my life—there isn’t a lot of mediocrity or comme ci, comme ça. So whether positive or negative, the emotion is equally as intense in either direction.
If I could find some acceptance for this quality, it would be that my over-the-top direct verbal aggression when hurt is commensurate with the passion I have for the people in my life and the relationships I foster.
However, it is this aggression that is also the leading cause of relationships (I use this word as a catchall for friends, family, loved ones, etc.) falling to pieces in my life. I do not “suffer” from being a verbally abusive person. In my darker moments I just am one. And yet this quality causes me more actual suffering than being shy ever did, since it is so destructive to my relationships. So, obviously, I realize that I need to find a way to deal with the emotion of being hurt without looking to inflict an equal or greater amount of pain onto the other person. It is hard. I am very emotional. I am often not very rational when I have been hurt. My need or desire to hurt others is about a deep need for an outside understanding of my own pain. Sometimes this overshadows my deeper need to preserve and nurture the love I have for the people in my life.
The most interesting thing about this, for me, is how easy it is for me to be the one that gets hurt, and how hard it is for me to accept the fact that I hurt others. I think we are all like this to some degree or another. We all want to be good people. But it’s equally important (and probably more important) to look at, and accept, the ways in which we are bad people.
Monday, May 15, 2017
I just got around to this and it's really strong. If you did not grow up bourgeois (I grew up working class), it is really hard to watch NYC turn into an annoying, overbred, toothless golden retriever. "Throw the stick, I'll catch it. Pet me. Call me a good dog. Brush my long golden fur. I don't bite." The art world is one of my favorite communities in New York City, and it always will be. But it needs to look at the way it rolls over on its back in the face of bourgeois convention. It needs to question whether a mass audience is really appropriate for true conceptual thought and innovative discourse. The avant garde has never been for the masses: it is the intuitive force of the zeitgeist that creates the wave that eventually trickles into the masses. That is not elitist: that is purely and succinctly about how one naturally engages with thought. There are many, many places in this country for conventionally minded, bourgeois people to live. Places where they will feel very comfortable and at home. There are only two places in this country where I feel truly comfortable and at home. And New York is definitely the first of those places. I hope that this city can wrangle its way out of this bizarre, brunch-centric bourgeois grip, which has nothing to do with "money" (NYC has always been, for creatives and thinkers, both feast and famine—excitingly so) and everything to do with ideology and values. I do not like living in a city where my creativity, bravery, and individuality—what I think of as my greatest assets—have now become my greatest liabilities.
But Schulman says it better than me.
Individuated young people came to New York to ‘make it,’ to come out, to be artists, to make money, to have more sophisticated experiences, to have sex, to escape religion, and to be independent of their families. No one is inherently problematic as a city-dweller because of his/her race or class. It is the ideology with which one lives that creates the consequences of one's actions on others. Many whites over the centuries have come to New York explicitly to discover and live the dynamic value of individuality in sync with community, instead of simply parroting the way their parents and neighbors lived in their place of birth.
Conventional bourgeois behavior becomes a requirement for [artists] surviving socially, developing professionally, and earning a living. By necessity, their goals are altered. Reimagining the world becomes far more difficult, and reflecting back what power brokers and institutional administrators think about themselves feels essential for survival.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
On rencontre sa destinée souvent par des chemins qu’on prend pour l’éviter.
We meet destiny often by the paths we take to avoid it.
I believe this quote is often misattributed to Carl Jung (for obvious reasons). Jung probably said something very near to this. This is one of the truer things I've ever read.