Thursday, June 5, 2014

What I Would Like

Let's talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.
Let's choose executors and talk of wills:
And yet not so, for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?
-- Shakespeare, Richard II

I would like to live in a world where we don't feel the need to use shock tactics, in art or anywhere else, to talk about oppression based on racial, gender, power, and monetary inequities. I would rather not stare at a mammy sphinx made out of sugar. I would like to sit upon the ground and talk with people about how we've suffered. I want to hear other peoples' stories and to be heard myself. I want there to be space for difference -- I know that I have not dealt with the specific suffering of non-white ethnic groups, of homosexual, bisexual and trans people, of lower middle class, working class people, people living at and below the poverty line. At the same time, I want there to be space for similarity -- according to Theravada Buddhism, we are all "brothers and sisters in suffering." I want to sit down with a group and appreciate that, as people do when they meditate together, as people do when they come together at Shalom retreats and share their biographies.

I want a circle that can be like the earth, which accommodates everyone and everything. If all of us are granted this compassionate zone, maybe we could all apologize to one another, not because we are at fault, but to give each other the apologies that we deserve. If we are willing to suffer together, we can imagine restitution together. I think this collective imagining, outside of any real world outcome, is intrinsically healing. I don't want to be lectured to, yelled at, castigated for what my white ancestors have done, for what they weren't able to see. If that's morality, I would take a cue from some of the hippies and drop out of it. If morality, though, involves hearing one another, caring that we all suffer, and letting ourselves do whatever we need to do when we don't have the space to care about that, I am all for it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Insight Required

Gen Med, my awesome young adult meditation group, has been discussing a depressing NYT article on the supposed non-benefits of meditation by Tony Schwartz. I responded to our group in the following way, and I think it makes a good blog post. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

One that that struck me is that he quotes teachers very selectively. Jack Kornfield does talk about the dangers of spiritual bypassing, as Tony Schwartz shows, but he also believes in the effectiveness of a spiritual path, a "path with heart." Schwartz seemed to be using that quotation to show that even meditation teachers consider what they do to be largely ineffective when Kornfield doesn't say that and writes copiously on how to use spiritual teachings to help you in ordinary life. Schwartz might do well to read him! He also quotes Catherine Ingram, who left the Buddhist path, but is still a spiritual teacher who does "dharma dialogues" and retreats, which I've been to. I think she has a complex relationship to Buddhist practice, but she definitely works to bring spirituality into daily life in a way that is not at the expense of meditation. She just likes to be less structured about it, as Schwartz's quote shows. He uses these teachers' statements in a misleading way. These teachers have a lot of spiritual faith, in practice both on and maybe especially off the cushion, and Schwartz gives no sense of that.

Another thing that struck me, and I think we've talked about it, is that he creates more of a separation between meditation on the cushion and mindfulness in daily life than there really is. Even the title of his article conveys this -- "more mindfulness, less meditation" -- as if they are not interrelated practices. In my experience, cultivating mindfulness on the cushion is a training ground for bringing mindfulness into daily life, and I think that is one of the points of sitting. It is not always easy to bring meditative insights into daily life, but the two forms are connected, the way that laypeople support monastics and monastics offer their vision of the dharma to laypeople -- there is supposed to be a symbiotic relationship between the cushion and the world, at least as I understand it. And as [Group Leader's name omitted] pointed out, that involves more than just sitting -- listening to dharma talks, reading dharma books, hanging out with sangha, even being part of other spiritual communities -- all of that helps enormously. I have been doing psychotherapy pretty intensively with experienced meditation practitioners for a bit more than four years now. I've had the chance to see that the combination of Buddhist practice and therapeutic reflection is extremely effective, I would say more effective than either one of these by itself, but that observation does not discredit meditation practice. Sometimes I bring insights I had on the cushion into therapy sessions. Sometimes therapy helps me identify a particular repetitive thought pattern when I'm sitting, because if I've discussed that thought pattern in therapy before it is easier for me to see it as mental conditioning, as a preoccupation rather than the truth, and so I can be less identified with it. 

I don't understand the idea that meditation does not create transformation. I don't understand what you wrote, [Group Leader's name omitted], about the Buddha saying that it doesn't. Meditation is how he got enlightened. Practice is the only way to work with greed, hatred, and delusion at an experiential level, so it must be transformative, and that is what I've experienced. I would say that meditation does not work in isolation (what does?) but it absolutely transforms the mind and heart. If Schwartz has not experienced that, I would encourage him to speak to a spiritual teacher and alter his practice. He's missing something. 

I would go so far as to say that transformation is the point, and it happens. But I think it doesn't happen the way we want as fast as we want. Maybe that's what Schwartz is dealing with. I know it's something I grapple with a lot in my own practice. Sometimes the transformation of practice is just noticing what is going on in more detail. Sometimes behavior doesn't change, right away or for a while. Some of my patterns have gone from incredibly difficult to deal with to now being somewhat repetitive bummers. I get upset they're not gone, but I try to remind myself that practice has its effect by helping these patterns be less debilitating, helping me live more freshly and freely. I also think that spiritual practice isn't linear. Sometimes certain wounds hurt over and over, and that's just the nature of it. Practice has a lot of beneficial effects, the chief one being awakening, eventually. I may get hard on myself and lose faith in myself, but I have a lot of faith in the path.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Both Sides Now: Musings on Quality and Value

I'm really tired but I'm holding an intention to write in this blog close to once a day.

So I asked my lovely future hubby Fusion Warrior what I should write about. He said that I need to write about Mewtwo's birthday. I told him I have little to say about this but he wasn't open to that statement. So in case you were wondering, Mewtwo is the greatest Pokémon ever. He is kind of like a purple cat but has psychic powers of destructive intensity. February 6, now yesterday, is his birthday. Naturally, Fusion got a cake and took a picture of it on our Mewtwo shrine which is bigger than my Buddhist shrine. As my colleague said today, we have our priorities right. I would like to make it clear that I share in Fusion's celebration of the greatest Pokémon ever. His birthday should be a national holiday with parades in the street. Fusion replied, "that sounds about right."

Now to a different subject...why after such a long absence am I choosing to write here much more frequently?

Because I want to teach myself that my words matter.

I feel very torn on this topic. I've always valued my own words to some degree. As an academic in training I spend a lot of my time writing research papers. But in that case my words are sanctioned -- they're for a "better purpose," my learning and my take on some school subject in art history or at times film. What about when my words are just for me, not a clever argument but simply expressive of my own experience of life from moment to moment?

Ideologically I take a democratic and even idealistic attitude here. Everyone's words are worthwhile -- well, maybe not a member of the Tea Party's, but...close enough. I think the internet is a great place for sharing where everybody and nobody gets to be an author. Jonathan Crary, in his reactionary and not entirely sane way, may refer to blogs as "the death of the political" (this from the guy who thinks we can only be social by sleeping and waiting our turn in line as if we're in preschool) but I think they're Barthes' wet dream. It doesn't matter if people read your blog or if it's "good." The point is that you don't have to worry about oppressive, hampering notions like "quality." I am using quotations not to be pretentious in a postmodern fashion but because I think that quality, while being an influential principle in human thought, is ultimately nonexistent. It's just an idea that hurts people, that maintains stratification and alienation. Ideally, we could all express ourselves within a few ethical limits and it would all be of value. Artists have been breaking down this harmful construct from a variety of angles for at least a century and a half. And then people judge how well they do that. Quality is an agreed-upon insubstantiality like money. It's something to work with, but just as a twenty dollar bill is piece of paper, quality has no reality independent of peoples' prejudices. As Shakespeare, revered as the greatest playwright who ever lived, wrote, "nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so." Quality never goes away, and it was never there to begin with.

But quality is still something I worry about. I would like my papers to be as interesting, persuasive and well-written as I can get them. And that is what one does in a doctoral program. I want to grow in my area. (Shit, now I am having thoughts about Greenberg and mastering one's "area of competence." Shit shit shit...) I want to "do good." I think that's understandable. But that's a kind of training. I also worry that my thoughts are "stupid" and I "suck." I would like to just trust my thoughts, not in the sense of them being excellent or even accurate since for Buddhists most if not all thoughts are delusion, but I just want to feel like my thoughts matter, that it's okay to just have them and write them down. I want to be free to explore my internal universe without shame. I want to be open to my thinking and writing processes because those are interesting things and I use them.

One reason why blogging could be valuable is because everyone is a special snowflake, because everyone has something unique to offer. I do not believe this. I have a lot of reservations about the idea of uniqueness. I cannot find proof that everyone is "different" or why that is somehow a positive, helpful idea, a justification for liking or appreciating things. Maybe my thoughts are totally derivative. Not only are we, as humans, derivative in the most fundamental sense -- our derivation from our parents gives us existence -- I think we like it more than we care to admit. Otherwise no one would watch TV...

So I can't, in good conscience, value my words for being "unique" or for being "mine," as if a separate self were real anyway. But that doesn't mean I don't matter or have nothing to offer. The opposite is true. I think I can value my thoughts and words for being a part of expression, just for doing their thing, for arising based on causes and conditions.

It's a struggle for me. I want to allow my thoughts, emotions, written meanderings, arguments to be whatever they are with no strings attached. But there is something in me that always feels like I am coming up short. I don't want those fears to run my life but I also can't deny them. Those fears, too, are something that exist, that don't want to be hurt for not measuring up to their siblings, happiness and joy. They, too, want their place in the sun. And they have it. I like the way Pete Seeger puts it in his addendum to Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now:"

Daughter, daughter, don't you know
you're not the first to feel just so.
Let me say before I go
it's worth it anyway.

Someday we may all be surprised,
we'll wake and open up our eyes
and then we all will realize
the whole world feels this way.

We've all been living upside down
and turned around with love unfound
until we turn and face the sun
yes, all of us, every one.

I like this basic okayness in the midst of instability, the insubstantiality of quality and value of all things in the midst of concerns and categories and criteria about quality and value. I was talking to a friend about feeling like I'm flowing out of control in a river, like when you fall in and are drowning, and I try to grab on to something like a rock or tree branch to get my bearings in the rapid, frightening stream. She replied, "it's all the river." It's all scary and it's all okay. I think this is what Pete, as he approached his fiftieth year, was offering to young Joni.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I Ingest You

I was talking to someone I know about my wedding planning. We were having a really fun discussion. It is important to Fusion and me to have an informal, fun, non-traditional wedding that is authentic to us. I was sharing different details about our plans. For instance, we are looking to have a custom cartoony cake that includes Jake the Dog from Adventure Time (pretty much my favorite character ever), Catbug from Bravest Warriors (my second favorite character ever), Deadpool of Marvel Comics fame, and the Pokemon Mewtwo. The last two are Fusion's favorite characters. But I don't want to make stark divisions. We love them all. We have pictures and toys of them all over our apartment. They are part of the fabric of our lives. So what better way to celebrate our marriage than to eat them?

It's really a good question. I am thinking of an anecdote that comes up in Buddhist talks. Apparently the recently dead children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak gave a young fan a drawing of his. The boy's mother replied back something like "Max enjoyed your illustration so much that he ate it." Isn't consuming a great way to show your love? Don't we consume through kisses? Don't we actually take in other bodies as much as we can through everything from hugging to sex? It is the ultimate compliment. You are so wonderful to me that I do my best to transcend physical limits and to make us one. You are so exceptional to me that I defy the limits of traditional mathematics for you, making two equivalent to one, one the actual physical manifestation of two.

This makes me think about Plato's Origin of Love. The idea, briefly and I'm sure simplistically, is that people were cut apart, separated, and that sex is a way of trying to regain fundamental wholeness. People are envisioned as incomplete halves striving and failing to make one. This perspective relates to psychoanalysis. (It is no accident that film scholar Baudry talks about the cinematic apparatus with both Plato and Freud in mind.) Again, to be simple about it, I think that psychoanalysis often presumes that the subject is forever in search of the wholeness of the maternal womb. And in Lacan's mirror stage, the baby is exhilarated by, and also longs for, the "organic totality" he encounters in his image. He is lacking in comparison to this whole image because of his limited motor function. He experiences himself as a fragment, needing a nurse or the famous "trotte-bebe" to support him. In these scenarios, the partial wants to become complete, and the sad normalcy of life is that this can never happen. Needless to say, bodies separate after sex, the maternal womb is never regained, the baby may accrue more independent motor functioning over time but he never attains the ideal whole of the image, which in fact inaugurates him into a world of separation (an image of me versus an image of you, for instance). Lack is the paradigm.

I have always been deeply touched by the emphasis on lack in psychoanalytic thought, by modernism's broader attempts to cope with many forms of alienation, so I do not wish to dismiss these things, but I think eating might have an edge here. When I think of eating -- and even more when I am loving (kissing, sex, spooning, anything) -- lack does not enter the picture in the same way. I am (something like a) whole generously yet insistently taking in another whole. I am making one two.

To argue with me, you could point to excrement. What enters the body partially leaves it. I concede that there is no perfect fusion. (Except my fiance, Fusion Warrior, of course!) Nonetheless, what interests me here is the logic of ingesting, which, more with kissing than with eating, is both addition and exchange. You're not a half looking for a missing half; you're more than one. This is communion, the incorporation of the body as food into you. And maybe this is why the idea of "oneness" as a desirable state has always irked me. True communion is more than one; it is an affectionate defiance of the standard idea of what one means. It's more than one, but it isn't exactly two either because ingestion complicates the clear-cut separation of bodies and of material. It is a liberating more, on the other side of lack -- when the boy ate the drawing, he didn't lose it but possessed it in and as part of his stomach, fully. It is an expression of enthusiasm for and inclusiveness with other things.

The writing process is amazing. I am fascinated by it. I had a completely different idea in mind for this post, but I got to eating, loving, corporeality, communion, and Adventure Time, and realized I just had to go with it. It's fascinating how writing is both an intentional process -- I need to formulate ideas, craft sentences, type them with my hands -- and an unknowable, subconscious force that grows of its own accord. As with pretty much everything, my control is limited when I write. I can edit, but the creativity involved in the actual formulation of content is not entirely, or largely, my own. As a meditator responds to conditions -- the length of the breath, the sensation of the body, the noise of the room, the intensity of thoughts -- I respond to my own writing that is both of and other than me. Who knew you could find anatta in writing? What a great place to look.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


time will tell
as the world crumbles to hell
what they created
was a family story no one will tell
it's a photo album too terrible
but the pride and the pallor continue to swell
as the matron silently prays
-- Bad Religion

I've been thinking lately about how so much of what I learned about life is utter bullshit.

Is this just the way it is for most people? Is this due to a generational divide, the differences between people who work explicitly toward healing versus those who do not? Is this the issue of ones twenties, to sort through what one has learned, to find what one didn't learn, and to make choices and changes and find a satisfying way to live? Is this a personal version of philosophical schisms, the way postmodernism mocked modernism's beliefs in originality and genius, the way modernism balked at the enlightenment's optimism around reason?

I suppose my main question is: is this problem general or particular? In other words, is this because daughters tend to be disillusioned by mothers, the younger generation sees the flaws of the older one and wants to correct it, or is this because my background is exceptionally flawed? Is this all our fault? But how unusual is it for a middle to upper middle class family to hide its traumas behind a cultivated facade? Aren't most people delusional anyway? (The Buddha would certainly say so.) Surely it's not just me, but it feels so shameful and so lonely. The happier I become in my own life, the more loneliness I feel. This is a special hole, a unique dilemma, and no other happiness can compensate for it.

Does any of this even matter?
Well, my mind can come up with many reasons why it does not, but my heart is not convinced. My emotions are in a knot about this issue. For them, it is as if no one has even been disillusioned before. There is a special sense of shattering, of mourning, loneliness, confusion, and anger. No amount of rationalization, or even of reflecting on the good things in my past and present, can change these emotions. They insist on their existence and on their enormity. I think it would be useful to do an inventory, not necessarily an exhaustive one, but I'm also scared of the task. I don't want to look at all the rubble. I'm worried I'll feel even more upset by it all than I currently do. But I want some clarity.

I learned that the world is a scary place full of people who want to take you down because you're brilliant. I'm finding that the world has suffering in it, but it's also a fun, dynamic, exciting place to be, and that most people want to help you out, especially when it's their job (professor) or they're struggling in your position too (colleague).

I'm learning that the world's suffering is not usually caused by people who suck and get perverse pleasure out of blocking your deserved path to greatness, but rather is a condition of the world. Suffering is not other people's fault; in fact, people suffer with you, and this is a great opportunity for connection and compassion. Suffering is not inflicted on you by shitty, vindictive people. Rather, it is part of the world, and instead of being condemned to its injustice, you can see it for what it is, you can navigate it, and still be really happy. There's no one to take you down.

At the same time, I also learned that I'm one of the most brilliant people ever and I need to achieve in order to prove this to everyone. And if I don't or can't prove this, I don't count and it's like I'm dead. Now I can assure you that I am not one of the most brilliant people ever, but I don't think anybody is, even the da Vincis of the world. Whether brilliance is "true," it's not a useful concept; it definitely doesn't lead to freedom from stress. What I'm learning is that I don't have to be the most brilliant person ever to be okay and happy. I can still enjoy my intelligence, and I can also enjoy everything else, like my averageness, my stupidity, my humor, my awkwardness, my kindness. I can not be perfect and still do a good job and contribute.

I learned that I have to do "the right thing" all the time, that there's a right decision to be made in every moment and I'm fucked if I don't make it. This is a tricky one for me. I'm learning that there is no right thing to do. That I can make decisions and go with them. That it's just okay. That my happiness is not contingent on every little decision. That I can trust myself, and learn to trust myself little by little.

I learned that there isn't enough to go around. So if someone else is 'smarter' than me or does well, I'm totally fucked. Now I'm adopting more of an abundance mentality. There's no need to compare. Everyone has praise and blame, gain and loss. One person's praise doesn't mean another person can't be praised, for the same reason or for different ones. No one's success cancels out my own, and certainly doesn't get rid of my possibility to learn, which can happen in every moment.

I learned that I need to complete everything really early, because that's the only way to be safe. Now I know that life is too variable for this. Sometimes I can get things done early, but sometimes I'm barely catching up, and that's okay too. I'm safe in the moment and I can allow things not to be ideal. They can still turn out well. And if not, I have refuges. It doesn't mean I'm finished or dead.

I learned that the only way to get good at something is to pursue it single-mindedly. Now I know that dedication is a good thing, but being single-minded adds a lot of stress and doesn't give the mind the space it needs to breathe. It's actually more helpful to enjoy different aspects of life, to have a variety of intellectual, spiritual, psychological, physical interests and friendships. This variety only enhances dedication rather than taking away from it. This is a big new learning for me that contradicts what I grew up with.

I learned that the vast majority of people are soulless, uncultured shits beyond redemption. Now I'm seeing that while people can indeed be annoying, they can also be really great, and can share joy and vulnerability with you, which is nicer than anything. People have their difficulties, but they are worthwhile. I can actually say this now. There is a lot to gain from connecting with people and just allowing that, more than I ever would have guessed.

I learned that learning involves being really good at something all the time and just getting better at it. I learned that learning is like "winding up a watch," where you may move backward a bit at times, but only to get further ahead (which is proof of your innate superiority). Now I know that learning isn't so simple and believing it is is a set-up for disappointment and anxiety. Learning is not to be taken for granted. It is a complex, moody, contingent process worthy of attention and reverence. I actually think reverence is a wonderful word for learning. Learning involves a lot of not knowing, cluelessness, forgetting, the brain getting overfull, being confused, feeling like you know less than you did an hour ago and even a year ago, feeling overwhelmed at how much more is out there. Learning is growth and growth involves pain. Learning is the farthest thing from a linear process. And learning does happen. It has fits and starts. Dedication and getting help, breaking it down and sticking with it and allowing it to be hard and full of failure actually gets you there. As you stay with the bumpy process, you do learn and grow and have ideas and contribute them. There is a fun and rewarding, eye-opening and even exhilarating aspect of learning, but learning is part of samsara, it is a conditioned thing, and that involves suffering, too.

I learned that bodies, especially female ones, are supposed to be thin and pretty, demure and ladylike. I learned that it is refined to eat vegetables, avoid carbs, avoid sauces because they are "bad" and always leave food on the plate. Now I'm seeing that fat bodies are awesome. They can and should be accepted. I'm seeing that ideas about 'bad' foods and restricting yourself and punishing yourself at the gym are crap. Instead, I get to enjoy lots of different food -- including loads of awesome vegetables -- eating intuitively, moving my body as I like to, appreciating my body's hunger and fullness signals. Fat positivity and health at every size are amazing worlds that are the opposite of everything I learned about my body and how to treat it.

I learned that women should look ladylike, that this matters for whatever reason, that even pinstripes are 'too masculine.' I now see this is absolute bullshit. If a woman likes feminine fashions, this is fine, but I've always been a tomboy, and if I want to wear adidas shirts, horizontal stripes, silly cartoon t-shirts, pants with flared or wide legs, and sneakers, that is fucking excellent.

I learned that people are incredibly volatile, that it's fine for them to yell at you and degrade you whenever they want because they have authority over you. I now know that this is abuse. No one gets to yell at me, degrade me, shame me, blame me for any reason. I can expect kind treatment from others and I can protest when they don't give it to me and choose to avoid certain people. I don't have to be the scared, angry, confused child I once was and just take it because I have no choice. I now have the pleasure of being in lots of relationships, especially my romantic one, where people are kind and fun and not about to yell at me. This makes humanity a lot more tolerable to say the least!

I learned that it's fine for a man to bark at all of his relatives and humiliate and shame his daughters and constantly worry about the prestige of everything. The fact that he was a prominent surgeon, as well as a fine violinist and artist supposedly made everything wonderful. I know now this is crap that has deeply wounded everyone in my family, even though most of them are too busy drinking the dead man's kool aid to admit it. I know that a man's talents do not come close to compensating for his cruelty.

I learned that suicide is caused by being too smart, sensitive, kind and wonderful for this world. I know now that suicide is a choice, and one that can be sadly spurred on by taking some strong medications. The world is not to blame for suicide, and it does not make the dead person a saint. I know that those levels of pain deserve compassion, and that suicide is not a good solution to anything; it just creates more pain for the living. There is a special place in my heart for this knowledge.

I learned that the way you deal with anything unpleasant, especially anxiety, is by immersing yourself in your chosen field and 'ignoring' everything else. The happiness this immersion, and the resultant success, gives you compensates for everything else that every happened to you and to your family. I now know this is total nonsense. You deal with anxiety and trauma by facing them, by working through them, and by seeking out community that can help with that. You deal with difficulties by developing resources, and therapy, meditation, Buddhist practice, focusing, nvc, even fat positivity are all amazing resources for processing life and dealing with adversity.

You can't drown out your issues through brilliance and hard work. Those things are largely irrelevant to the enormity of your pain. There is no substitute for working through it and developing meaningful human connections that help you do that. I don't buy the idea that art, music, science, academic inquiry can heal you. They can help, they can be ways of working through things, and they are definitely profound in their own right, but they are necessarily incomplete. Only doing the work of healing heals you. There is no way around this. When people tell you that they channeled all their frustrations into something, like their art, their music, and that this redeemed their life, they are completely delusional, they are buying into romantic myths that can't make you happy. Caspar David Friedrich was not known for the cheerful quality of his paintings, after all.

The intellect is wonderful, but nothing is better than working toward your own healing. And doing the work of healing only enhances every other area of your life, including your intellectual life. This is the most powerful thing I have learned in my twenties and it is the opposite of everything my family seems to stand for. They seem so sure you can ignore your hurt places and just surmount them through force of will. This is untrue and it harms you and everyone around you to believe otherwise.

I learned that it's important to be disciplined at all costs. I know now that discipline can be effective, but it can also hurt you and backfire. Nothing is more powerful than pleasure. I do things because I like them, I care about them, and I try to do things from a place of self-compassion and self-regard instead of to punish myself and hopefully reach a higher plane. This is a more relaxing way to live.

I feel like Hedwig at the end of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, where he's not in drag anymore, where he's naked and stumbling in an alley. I'm stumbling into lots of great things. It's not all uncharted territory anymore, but it's adventurous and rewarding territory despite the dukkha in it. I'm not sure how my sadness and anger and mourning are going to continue. I would like for them not to be completely stuck and I think that's what motivated me to write this. But I can't determine their timetable. I wrote earlier about this lonely hole that keeps commanding my attention. Sometimes it does feel like that, but the problem with that metaphor is that it's too solid. The territory is always changing. The lonely hole doesn't necessarily get filled up, but it is part of the shifting sands, the empty, ever-changing aggregates of being, and I can only wait to find out what its next shape will be.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

car si l'on me perd...

forgive both the drama and vagueness. perhaps that's what blogs are for. i don't appreciate either one of those, but i can find no other way to discuss something important to me, and i need to mention it here.
to heighten the drama, and perhaps the fun for me, i'm thinking of writing a letter to her personally. this lover has never had a gender, but it feels more like a girl than a guy to me. maybe i think this way because my toughest break-up, as i was telling a friend tonight, was with a girl, not a boyfriend. this is by far the toughest breakup yet. i've been lucky in my limited romantic life. a few boys have come and gone, and now one is here to stay. my lost loves haven't been lovers.

but i could swear by your expression
that the pain down in your soul
was the same as the one down in mine
that's the pain
that cuts a straight line through the heart
we called it love
-- "origin of love" from hedwig and the angry inch

dear lover,

it's over. i know you will continue to haunt me -- breton, right? who am i? whom do i haunt? -- to live with me, but as something i soothe and release, not as my sole connection to existence. you are no longer my way of doing things and my reason for doing them. you are still in my heart though our romance is done.

i try to remember your good intentions. you came to me when i was very young, maybe even 7 or 8. 5 or 6? truthfully, i cannot remember a time in my life without you there.

you knew what i couldn't articulate: that i wanted to die. that i found living to be a hopeless and stressful bind. and you cared about my predicament, sincerely. you rushed in to help. you gave me another option, to live for you. were you the mephistopheles to my faust? i could live if i gave you my soul? you chide me for this comparison. that is a cliché. it is too dramatic. you should look up faust; you're not completely sure if this is accurate. i'm sure you could do better. oh, my love, i have been so dedicated to you, so persuaded by you, governed by your priorities and frightened by your wrath. i have been so enmeshed with you that it is hard to live another way. but things are not the same between us anymore. i see that you're sad, angry, and frightened, i feel those in you, but you can't deny that we are growing apart, and i know that it is for the best.

i liked having the sense of purpose you gave me. we were good together, and people acknowledged us, telling me how smart and precocious and exceptional i was for loving you. i liked the sense of dedication we were building to each other. if i stuck with you, if i spent all of my time in our relationship, cultivating you, giving you knowledge and interpretations and thinking and writing and good grades and french tutoring on the side and being in museums and lots of time pondering what it all really means; if i could come up with penetrating analyses in all moments of sleeping and waking, i would be able to tolerate and even justify living. you told me that we would take the shit of the earth and turn it into glorious theoretical books. together, we would make life more than tolerable; it would be worth living through. you and me against the world.

you wanted to love me. you wanted to see me live and thrive. you believed in the power of ideas and creativity, the dedication of sitting, learning, and thinking in new ways. no doubt these are wholesome things and they're how you saved me. but, my love, your personality is too extreme. i am still not completely sure why. i wanted you to just be loving, to enjoy things with me, to find meaning and friendship with me, but it got complicated. you had a firm idea of the kind of lover i needed to be for you. we have been in one of those relationships where the man, let's call that you, is controlling and paranoid and afraid of losing his love, so he follows her around and tells her how to dress, what to say, how to behave. you said you were just loving me, but you gave me standards, and made it clear that i should die if i couldn't meet them even for a second. after taking the french exam in grad school, and being worried about if i passed, since half of it was much harder than i expected, i genuinely felt, at your prodding, at my agreement with you, that it would be such a disgrace to fail that i should commit suicide. that there would be no other way. and then i passed it. it was like you got fed, and you were happy again.

you learned how to love from my mother. where else would you learn how to behave? you taught me what had been taught to you, that love is entangled with perfect behavior and performance, and if any of our unspoken rules are breached, the only thing to do is to berate me, to make me want to die. my life has been in your hands. you would save me from dying, but if our exacting strategies did not seem to work -- if i was not the best all the time, ahead of everything, having a wonderful time inspired by my own great ideas -- you were quick to remain me of the other side of the bargain, that if i didn't match what we agreed on i should die.

and so a lot of things in my life, like studying anything, writing papers, doing well in college and grad school, just meeting with a professor in her office, became the circumstances that would justify my life or signal that i was inadequate and need to die or at least hurt myself as punishment. why couldn't i live up to our agreement? why couldn't i just be brilliant and happy all the time? why couldn't all of my thoughts, my enormous, all-encompassing dedication, so strong it carried moral weight like a good priest's concentration on scripture, my reading and writing and creative work, my comments in class, the grad school acceptances i was supposed to have -- why couldn't these things calm me and fulfill me and delight me the way you always said they would?

if they didn't -- or rather when they didn't -- it couldn't possibly be your fault, because you were my protector, my best and only friend. then it must be my fault, i'd conclude, and i would want to die. why couldn't i just make our agreement work out? why couldn't i live up to you? why couldn't i resemble my projections of everyone else? you told me that everything would be fixed, that life would not only be livable but delightful, if i effortlessly became the next rosalind krauss. after all, she ended her book on modern sculpture with a quote from proust, and when i was 13 proust was our honeymoon, the first gift you ever gave me. some lovers give roses; you gave me swann's way. that was "our thing" in middle school and high school. it had purpose in it, unlike the dry, pathetic routine i lived, surrounded by incomprehensible teens with ensor-like masks for faces.

i've never been a platonist, but my intention in high school, college, and even some of grad school, was to make myself whole again by fusing with you. you held and supported my unspoken belief in plato's origin of love (or at least in the version of it in hedwig and the angry inch!). in intimate moments, when we cooed to each other, we agreed that once we had been one, a child of the sun or moon, and then were separated due to the wrath of the gods, and that i needed to spend my life attempting to fuse with you at pain of death. all of my encounters -- with museums, libraries, artwork, classrooms -- were supposed to both represent and consummate the glory of our union. and if they couldn't do this, effortlessly every time, devastation and annihilation were my only alternatives. our promise was broken from the beginning, because how could so much risk accompanied everything. union, ultimate consummation with ideas, like embodying the transcendence of a malevich, mondriaan, or even a pollock, is a rare occurrence, and it is too difficult for life to depend on this. is this what you mean to do, or was it just a natural consequence of our impossible pact?

i've been learning that between dreams and fleeting moments of fusion and fears of annihilation lies my actual life. and this actual life is worth living in, even when i don't meet our standards for how to live it. i feel a strange combination of relief and pain at leaving you. you are still in me, still part of me somehow, but you don't run my life. you're not my belief, my god, my only reason to live.

now i have an actual love of my life. we are getting married. we are living together, for each other, but with no false and empty promises like the ones that, despite your sincere caring for me, gave me. all we, my fiancé and i, want from one another is our humanity. i adore his humanity, and i know he feels the same way about mine, as much as you and i revile it when it doesn't conform to our brilliance-transcendence pact. there are no expectations and no fears of being annihilated with him. whether we're kissing, joking, watching transformers, taking a walk, chatting about todd in the shadows or spending time at a museum exhibit together, nothing is required of us except to be here and feel as we do. you have never been able to give me that, and that is love. i know you wanted something great for us, but it was never possible, and it wasn't even good for me. i could never fuse with you and i am done trying. i'd rather be myself, moment to moment, here.

sometimes i wish i could just banish you from my life, while at other times i feel sad and guilty that i have abandoned our attempts at fusing together. my real life is somewhere in between these two. you're still with me, because even though you were not a good lover, you are my oldest and best friend. you were my only friend when no one else would be my friend. you gave me reasons to live when i couldn't find any. i think you meant to protect me, to make me such a great and brilliant person that life couldn't hurt me as it hurt my parents and as it killed my grandmother. life led to people attacking my mother and not appreciating my father. my lovely, sensitive grandmother couldn't survive it all -- she was too kind and lovely for this world, i was somehow told. and i come from all of these people. i was worried i was marked for the devastation and failure that plagued my family, and i know you cared about me so much you tried to save me from this fate, to give me a path to happiness. you are often unkind, but i think you have been trying to save me. i appreciate your steadfast love, but our relationship has never been healthy, and you know it.

the question now is: what do i do with you? we are separated, bleeding and staring at each other. you feel wronged that i am moving on. how can she be happy with this chump who doesn't know half as much about the arts as i do? you cry indignantly. how can you be happy being a little shit when i've tried to save you from that? you shout at me. you still taunt me with threats of failure and it's scary. somehow, though, we need to peacefully coexist. because i'm still here and i know you don't leave easily.

you can stand next to me at times, we can have a chat. we have memories. we have a history. we have fear and resentment of one another, and mutual tenderness too. but i won't be your lover anymore. i refuse to even try to fuse with you. i don't want you in my bed. but you're still a part of me in some way. how can we get along without being lovers? can i tolerate you being there, and can you understand that i don't feel the same way about you? traversing these questions is our breakup. i know you need to kick, scream, and mourn the end of us. maybe i need that too. i want you to know that i care about your dedication to me, and i care about what you've done in the past, but i am done being hopelessly devoted to you. i'm moving on.

best wishes ;-)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What Makes You Buddhaful

Gee, my last post here was so soul searching. And there is so much to say. But right now I will not say it. Except that Fusion and I are moving in together starting this Saturday. :-) We fell in love with the second apartment we looked at. We moved fast and got approved yesterday. We're filling out the lease paperwork today, during normal hours, and make sure our broker gets everything by Friday morning. So that's what I've been up to.

In the meantime, I've been de-stressing by writing a parody song, and that's what I put here for your contemplation. Be on the lookout for the 10 paramis and 4 brahma viharas as well as the Kuan Yin mantra. I managed to include them all in the song. Fusion gave me some good tips like the last line. I made him listen to the finished product before he went to bed. :-)

What Makes You Buddhaful

To the tune of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”

You’re insecure
Don’t know what for
Your sila stops you from acts I abhor
Your wisdom’s deep,
Resolve’s so steep
You’re gonna make it across the far shore

Devas, bodhissatvas and yogis see it
All of the Buddhists but you

Baby your grasp of the paramis is so refined,
Your dana offerings so large that they blow my mind,
You are more loving than Gandhi and King combined
You don’t know, Kuan Yin
You don’t know you’re Buddhaful

If only you saw what I could see,
The deep composure of your equanimity
Your dedication to practice, your energy
You don’t know, Kuan Yin,
You don’t know you’re Buddhaful
Oh oh
Paramis make you Buddhaful

You’ve got it wrong,
Your heart is strong.
You have the patience to listen to this song.
You’ve renounced crimes
Over lifetimes
You have the honesty to critique my rhymes

Brahmins and outcasts alike can see it
All kinds of people but you

Baby with boundless compassion you overflow
You listen to all my whining so I would know
Mudita gives you a lovely and radiant glow
And ergo
Oh oh
I conclude you’re Buddhaful

If only you saw what I could see,
Despite my tantrums you still have serenity
Your lovingkindness prevents you from hitting me
So I know, Kuan Yin,
I know that you’re Buddhaful
Oh oh
Divine Abodes are Buddhaful

Namo na-namo na-namo namo
Namo guan shri yin pu sa
Namo na-namo na-namo namo
Namo guan shri yin pu sa

Baby your grasp of the paramis is so refined,
Your dana offerings so large that they blow my mind,
You are more loving than Gandhi and King combined
You don’t know, Kuan Yin
You don’t know you’re Buddhaful

Baby with boundless compassion you overflow
You listen to all my whining so I would know
Mudita gives you a lovely and radiant glow
And ergo
Oh oh
I conclude you’re Buddhaful

If only you saw what I could see,
Despite my tantrums you still have serenity
Your lovingkindness prevents you from hitting me
So I know, Kuan Yin,
Paramis make you Buddhaful
Oh oh
Divine Abodes are Buddhaful
Oh oh
Kuan Yin you’re so Buddhaful!