Archive for the 'Intimacy/Relationship' Category

The Click

31 May 2014

When I was a boy, it was a girl. She would come into my life, and all the troubles would begin to seem manageable. As I got a little older, it became perfection, Enlightenment, Buddhahood. After it happened, after it was attained, I would be able to see. Then it was stability: I could be here now and attend to all of my needs and those of my loved ones, because I would be constant. Recently it became adulthood. Sooner or later I would know: Now I am an adult, and the knowledge and responsibility of adulthood would follow.

There have been many variations of the Click along the way, but it has always taken that same underlying form. The Click.

The Click is an idea that some sudden change will transform us from one sort of person to another, sometimes from one sort of being to another, or that will transform our lives from feeling one way to feeling another way, permanently. The Click is not a mood change, not a change in fortune (although sometimes that’s the fantasy), nor a life change or life-changing experience. The Click is only ever an idea: The life-changing experience will transform us suddenly and permanently into the being or into the life we most hope for, fully undercutting our gravest doubts, fears, embarrassments, disappointments, faults, and failures.

We are very clever thinkers, so the Click can take subtle forms. For me, the fantasy of the girl was not sudden perfection. (Even Rom-com romance requires conflict.) She comes into my life and we fight, and argue, and work, productively towards our love. It sounds like the desire to be in a relationship, which is what it was. I was painfully isolated at the time. But there is this added feature: She comes into my life and once-and-for-all my life turns towards love, intimacy, compassion, comfort, clarity. The struggle is no longer aimless and impossible. I suddenly find direction and value, and that direction and value, whatever ups and downs life may bring, could never, after it Clicks, go away.

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What is the best thing you can do for the world?

27 May 2013

I should be a little bit more precise. By ‘thing’ I don’t mean a single individual act, but rather a kind of consistent practice. So, how can you order and orient your life in a way that would be most fruitful and beneficial to the world? Yet again, further clarification is warranted. What is ‘the world’? I have in mind a kind of fluctuation of totalities. Rather than following some form of utilitarianism, I’m comfortable with the idea that, just as our consistent practice will not be identical over time, so, too, will “the world” shift and change, at times grow, at times shrink, and so on.

So, then. How can you order and orient your life in a way that entails a continuing reorientation and reordering towards bringing benefit to the world? What’s the best thing you can do for the world?

I am pretty confident the question is still too imprecise and too poorly articulated, but I’ll hazard an answer for myself anyway. Read the rest of this entry »


2 March 2013

I’m a curious mix of provocateur and introvert. In many ways I’m quite shy and keep to myself, and in many other ways I seek the spotlight, to control and push conversation. To some extent it depends on the circumstances, but exactly when I’m which way is hard to know or describe. Sometimes, when those closest to me would most expect me to want to jump out into the open, I prefer to hide away, and vice versa. Similarly, some of the times when I appear to be either comfortably front-and-center, my inner experience is more introverted: I hide, so to speak, in plain sight. Over the years, this has made it hard for me to recognize some of my fears and limitations, and, even as I’ve come to recognize some of them, it’s also made it hard for friends of mine to recognize them in me. To say, confidently and eloquently, that I am afraid of this or that, seems almost self-contradictory. If you’re so limited, why are you so able to articulate it?

This is partly why I’ve come to embrace provocation – in some contexts. I learned that expressing a feeling like sadness can result in, at best, consolation from friends. Some will just try to escape the discomfort of someone else’s sadness. Others will respond to “I’m sad” with something like: “But you’re doing so well!” These kinds of consolations are well enough meant, but they tend to miss the point. If I am sad, or frightened, or ashamed, or disappointed, often there is a need that is not being met, and it’s that dynamic that needs to be responded to and remedied, not the painful feeling itself. (Actually, if I’m sad, often the sadness itself is the process of healing the fracture; mourning the loss, etc. Sadness is the consolation to the loss it mourns. Fear, on the other hand, needs a response, but often logic fails.) Hence I’ve come to express my joy and gratitude at feeling all sorts of “negative” feelings. Even feelings like shame and fear, which don’t feel good and are often pernicious, are good to feel, because otherwise they afflict us without our notice. I’m grateful to feel fear because then I can actually begin to respond to it, even if feeling it is painful and difficult. Otherwise I’m forced to try to infer its existence and power through a kind of deductive logic. In other words: it is a fact that I experience fear, and that fear affects my life; insofar as I don’t consciously feel and recognize that fear (along with its causes and motivations), I am unable to remedy it; if I feel the fear, this means that I can begin to know and understand the fear, and hopefully start to move through it and move on. But to say, “I’m so grateful to feel my fear,” is, naturally, quite provocative. It’s only when I fully explain exactly what I mean that the sense comes into view. (I’m not grateful that I am afraid; rather, given that I am afraid, I want to fully know and understand it so I can stop it.)

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Higher Purposeless

12 January 2013

‘Atheist,’ ‘agnostic,’ ‘nonbeliever’… You could describe me by any of these terms, but I’ve never been quite satisfied with any of them. ‘Atheist’ and ‘agnostic’ carry such strong connotations; there seems to be a capital-A Atheism these days, to which I don’t feel I belong, and I’ve long associated agnosticism with a kind of waffling, “eh, who knows?” ‘Nonbeliever,’ on the other hand, just feels kind of meh and untrue. I am a nonbeliever in the sense that I don’t subscribe to religious views, but I believe all sorts of things. It strikes me as a bad starting position to call oneself something one manifestly is not. And then you get those Atheists who struggle to accept that they, too, are prone to the occasional magical thinking or unfounded belief, and it’s almost no wonder: if truly a nonbeliever, then how could they be guilty of such things?

Instead, I am starting to suspect that what distinguishes my worldview from religious worldviews is that I lack a sense of higher purpose. I would guess that even ardently religious people find themselves confronted with doubt as to their own private sense of higher purpose, just as I suspect many atheists (and Atheists, too!) actually do have a sense of higher purpose. Not believing in any god or God isn’t really all that important in terms of the way my outlook and beliefs shape my world. It’s that I don’t see a direction to the universe. I don’t see a higher order into which my life fits. I don’t feel the movement of an invisible hand of sorts through my life and history. Read the rest of this entry »

How to craft a parenthood

12 December 2012

From time to time – whether in a work of literature, an overheard conversation, the sentiment of a friend, or etc – one hears the idea repeated: Unless/until you are a parent, you cannot understand. This, though I am not a parent, strikes me as almost indubitably true. Now, I take it to be the case that empathy, if skilled, can indeed help us reach beyond the limitations of our own experiences. That is to say, I think even non-parents can empathize with parents. So there is a tension. I can *understand* the particular feelings a parent might be feeling, but I can’t *understand* something else about the feeling of being a parent, something essential. But there is a different tension I am more interested in: I do understand what it’s like to be a child, and to be a person. (More or less.) The question for me, then, is how to craft a parenthood. If there is something essential about parenthood that I will simply not be able to understand until I am myself a parent, how can I make myself at least somewhat prepared for the shock of that something? I know, as I imagine we all know, ways in which my parents failed me, and I know their failures were in large part due to their unpreparedness. We all wish not to become our parents, but it is our fate to do so nonetheless. How can we at least prepare ourselves to become – not the parents our parents were, but – the parents our parents would have been had they been prepared?

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I love you

20 November 2012

A poem/song of mine from 2007:

when your eyes glimmer from catching your reflection
and discovering, as if for the first time, your loneliness

i love you

when no other words will do
and yet your mind will not stop overflowing with words

i love you

and when no other has quite said it in the way you need
friend, these eyes of mine, i love you

i look forward to watching the lines crease on your face
i look forward to the graying of your beard
but most of all i look forward to seeing the sadness
melt away within these eyes
and be replaced by peace

i look forward to a time when i tell you
i love you
and you do not cry, but smile

Sometimes I speak about things such as “the basic human task,” which, to my slight credit, I emphasize I am only ever guessing at. I don’t know exactly what it would mean for there to be a basic human task, let alone what such a task would, exactly, be. But I know that something in me pushes me to try and orient myself around such a thing – even if only inconsistently, only at certain kinds of moments.

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Remembering interpretations past

22 September 2012

Three months have gone by, and now I’d like to get back to writing in this space hopefully more frequently again. Over the last few months I’ve had many thoughts that I wanted to explore here, and many more that I didn’t even think to but should have, but something kept me back. Around the time of my last post I started to feel the strain and stress of my impending move away from the East Coast and everything and everyone there, away from, in many ways, my former life (which I have been slowly moving from over the last two years), and out here to California, where something new continues to await me. I can write about all that another time. For now, I want to write about memory.

Memory is as primary a mode of human being as any other I know. To be a person implies remembering. Our every judgment, our every association, our every act of immediate interpretation, we cannot help but remember. And yet, memory is fleeting, uncertain, amorphous. Some would say that the past is the past, that what’s happened has happened, and that there are no two ways about it. Even so, all should agree that memory is not so. Of course, we hold fast to some memories, and we imagine many of our memories to be accurate and fixed. Most of the time when we admit to memory’s transience, it is only when we admit to memory’s faultiness. Yes, our memories can be incorrect, can deceive us, and can simply fade and disappear. But we are fools if we accept this simplistic view of memory: accurate or inaccurate, whole or withered, intact or absent.

For one thing, we remember when we interpret, which we cannot but do newly at each moment. It does not much matter whether our memories are concrete and conscious, or whether they are merely the traces of that from which our present mode of consciousness has arisen. But this, too, is less important than the even more basic point I wish to focus on. Read the rest of this entry »

Who are you…

13 June 2012

Who are you to judge…? These words, as so many others, don’t mean exactly what they mean, do they? Firstly, they are only so often meant as an actual question. Rather, they often suggest, “You should not be judging. You are not entitled to judge,” or some such thing. Secondly, the extent to which they are indeed signifying a question, it is one with only two possible answers: (i) “No one, you’re right”; or (ii) a bit of biographical detail intended as a warrant (“Well, it just so happens that my mother was a such-and-such…”). An answer like, “A human being!” is typically seen as arrogant or dismissive or ignorant. But this answer, too, hides further meaning. Often if “Who are you to judge?” is replied with “A human being,” this reply implies a dismissal of the supposed exclusivity of the matter in question. Bigoted terminology is one example of such a sensitive subject. Should I be excluded from the conversation sparked by Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent tweet? Or ought I not even want to be part of the discussion? Etc. “I’m a human being!” would, in this context, mean that this topic is open to everyone, and would imply a criticism of the view that there should be any question of its openness. (As it happens, I’m unconcerned with Paltrow’s tweet, and I don’t think being human is unto itself a good reason to join the discussion, to say the least.)

But, as is my wont, I’d like to read this bit of dialogue more literally and see what comes of it.

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O, these I lack, to make you garlands of, and my sweet friend…

7 May 2012

It happens so quickly you haven’t the time to notice, and the response it generates is so mild and acquiescent, you’d almost never realize you just hurt someone you care about. I’m talking about random, unnecessary, and insignificant cruel remarks. Or, at least as I’d argue, they seem insignificant.

The example I enjoy best is one that I think illustrates just how oddly unnecessary and yet how clandestinely cruel these sorts of comments can be: a friend mis-remembers the name of an actor, or identifies the wrong band in guessing who performs the song playing on the radio. You laugh vigorously and ask how in the world your friend could have gotten that wrong. You grab the nearest person and point in your friend’s face and relate the mistake. Maybe you don’t even bother saying aloud, “What an idiot!” Either way you make the message clear: your friend should feel humiliated. But for what? … Worse yet, when you ask your friend what could possibly have been going through that thick skull, the response is muted: I don’t know! I’m such an idiot. Maybe you even let it go, only to have your friend grab the nearest passerby and ask if they can believe what a dumb mistake they’ve just made…

Perhaps, reading this description, you’re rolling your eyes. Just having a little fun, and the like. We all find ourselves on both ends of this kind of interaction daily. It’s almost like talking about the weather. But, if we’re just having a little fun, it won’t hurt for me to ask: Why? Why is this our idea of a little fun? Does it feel good, after all? Does it establish in our friend’s heart that we ought to be trusted and respected, and that we trust and respect our friend? Or, as I’d obviously argue, does it do the opposite? Imagine just a tiny little wound is suffered – by the friend, by the friendship, by oneself – on such an occasion as this; namely, when we all but tell our friends, even if somewhat quietly: You ought to be ashamed of yourself, and feel small, and foolish. Imagine this wound being re-opened at each such instance. How are we to trust our friends, be vulnerable with them, learn and cultivate intimacy with them, if we can’t even make insignificant errors without being ridiculed? Do we not curse our parents for their overly critical attitudes? Do we not lash out at lovers who say hurtful words? Why should we tolerate such bland and insignificant cruelty among friends…? Read the rest of this entry »

Leisure, suffering, philosophy, and Joni Mitchell

21 April 2012

That first part is perhaps a bit too grand a title for this post. (Though maybe Joni will save me.) I’m thinking today about how much leisure is involved in my practice of philosophy and my reflections on suffering. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m wary of self-pity for privilege, as much as of self-congratulation. I’m privileged, and I suffer, and some of my suffering is connected with my privilege. Etc., etc. That I have so much time – free time, it would be right to say – is the pinnacle of my privilege, and though its dangers are as great as its opportunities, I’ve been able to take advantage and focus my life towards self-awareness (which I think of as super important). I’m extremely grateful for this, but I also often enough forget to be grateful. It is, after all, despite all my whining over the years, very hard to actively understand the minds of others, and so, for the sake of ease, I treat people coldly and from a distance. For many people spending a bulk of their work and leisure time on philosophical reflection would sound like a nightmare, or at least a major bore, so it’s helpful to remember there’s no inherent value in what I do, other than that for me it is inherently valuable. But I also feel passionately that there is potential value for everyone in what I do – both whether they themselves want to and are able to partake, and just to whatever extent I myself do it well – which means there’s also great responsibility.

A long time ago someone said that all things are characterized by three principles I’ll now badly translate as: they are impermanent, they are in tension, and they are not identical with or reducible to themselves. Probably even longer ago some adult cracked wise about youngsters thinking they’d live forever and taking their youth for granted. I’ve long wondered whether these two sentiments are not themselves in pretty sharp tension with one another. (How better should we have been enjoying our youth?) But moreover, I’ve also long felt both were hogwash. Not necessarily the “taking for granted” part itself, just that exclusively the young do such things. Endlessly lamenting the loss of youth (rather than, say, mourning it) has long struck me as being whatever the hideous underbelly of “taking one’s youth for granted” might be. And which youngsters, I had wondered, really think they’re going to live forever? How many people’s lives have not been touched by death, by the confusion and pain of the death of a loved one, or the death of a loved one’s loved one, of a loved pet? I’m not sure I know anyone in my age range who hasn’t known a classmate to die before the end of high school, before the end of college. These are stark examples, and it doesn’t take the death of someone close for the fact of death to make its way into our thoughts. It doesn’t take adulthood for us to reflect on the bizarre question: What will it mean for me to die? (What does meaning mean if I am dead?) And yet, our concerns remained, through high school, through college, on less cosmic concerns than the fact that we all die eventually, and that many of us may die soon. I’ve long held this notion – that there is some bit of wisdom adults have that they are right to wistfully and arrogantly remark on in our presence as if we just couldn’t yet understand – to be obnoxious and misguided. Read the rest of this entry »