Posts Tagged With: narrative

Road Reflections: Sex, Death, and Love


Introduction:

The solitude of the open road can be an experience rich in thought and emotion. Being alone in on the rorad can be a meditative exercise. The zen of driving, if you will.

It’s sometimes surprising how many prematurely ended thoughts bubble up to the surface of consciousness during moments of solitude. Yet, people do not expect this and perhaps even fear it. I’m going to refer back to Sherry Turkle’s TED talk on being “connected, but alone.”  One excellent point she makes is that many of us in smart phone and facebook society are anxious to be-by-our-self. In this condition, people are afraid when they are not connected, afraid perhaps to think and reflect.

My first day on the road was not suffered with the boredom and exhaustion that others thought I’d experience. People were shocked that I wanted to travel alone over such long measurements of time and space. Driving alone seemed foolish to them. How exhausting! How boring! Iowa and Nebraska would surely put me to sleep. There was nothing around to look at and I had no one to speak with. Well, no one but myself.

I put my Samsung Galaxy SII to some good use by hitting the memo and voice command buttons to record short quips, and used the voice recorder to archive longer ones. The following “aphorisms” are more-or-less transcripts of I archived during those first eight hours and 500 miles:

On Insecticide and Responsibility:  As I drive through Iowa, my thoughts lead me to the concept of responsibility as dozens and dozens of insects splatter across my bumper and windshield. Can my road trip justify all this death? Is driving ever justified (if we take these insects into serious moral consideration)? Then again, isn’t death inevitable? Everything comes at a cost. These animals’ deaths seem excessive as I’m not even making use of their bodies, but I’m not sure if that makes much of a difference. In the end, lives are taken in the process of all lived experience.

Responsibility is thinking through that. When we want people to be responsible for killing animals, we desire that humans be social creatures and have in mind the consequences for other beings, which is itself an ethical relationship which is itself a social relationship. How do we inhabit the world with others without the same language? It’s a difficult question to answer. We are not able to talk with them in our language or relate to them in the same social manner as we do with other humans. Nevertheless, there is something already fundamentally social about the effort to empathize with and take others into consideration. Empathizing with animals requires a pre-understanding that we have a social relationship with other animals, but we disavow this at an early age. We don’t take this acknowledgement to its end as veganism. We want to feel good about our responsibility without taking it to its logical conclusion.

Thus, we say we care about animals, but without ever questioning where that care begins and ends. To “care” about animals without an effort toward veganism is mere rhetoric. It’s as if to say “I am human, thus I care… but I don’t care more because I am human and thus have a ‘personal choice’ of whether I care or not.” So care comes naturally as a byproduct of one’s humanity, but the negation of that care is even more decisively human because it’s an exercise of the agency of the liberal individual. Of course, this rhetoric is not “human(e),” because to care in such a way is inconsistent and obstructed by an illogical prejudice (specisism), which is a threat against reason which allows us choice and agency in the first place. In the end, caring-to-reason is trumped by rationalizations against caring, against thinking.

Meaningless Death: Death is just so abstract. How can one understand it? One can understand other things that seem incomprehensible, like the creation of life and life itself. They are pretty absurd, but at the same time we are living life. We see people born, and we can experience the miracle that life is, the unfathomability of chance is before our eyes. But we never live death. It’s never before our eyes. There is no reflection on death. One is just reflecting into the darkness. So maybe there is something profound there, realizing the inability of being able to comprehend death. People fool themselves into thinking they know what death is. There is an afterlife or we return to the earth. Spiritualism and materialism. But is there something beyond both those explanations? Is death incomprehensible beyond scientific and religious discourse? What’s difficult about death is the impossibility of making sense of it. And that’s why death is so threatening: it resists any attempt to make sense of it. It’s like yelling into an abyss. There is no answer, but only the echo of our voice whispering back in our skulls.

Love and the Proximity of Nihilism: I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of love. It seems like it has as much to to do with proximity to a person as their identity. Is that all it is? Is that meaningful? Isn’t our “love” different from the affection animals feel after being fed. We want something more transcendent and deeper, but what if that’s all it is? And maybe that’s what’s sad about it: maybe it’s my realization that that’s all it is and trying to make meaning of it without falling into cultural cliches of thinking “this is my mother so I must love her,” or “this is my mother and that’s why I love her”. There is the difficulty of accepting that if that’s what it is. But it’s very real. It’s not insignificant. Love is sharing one’s life with others. That’s who one is.

I think back to that post I wrote about my grandfather. My concern was that maybe I didn’t love people in my family because I didn’t feel how people are expected to feel as “good people”, and that if I felt anything it was because I could’t get past my narcissism–my sadness for myself that I cannot feel sad for them. But my perspective is changing today. Perhaps I’m afraid of expressing and experiencing that emotion, or maybe I do experience sadness in the face of another’s future death and its a very profound feeling. Perhaps, I understand death more essentially than others, as something more than the superficiality of an end of life. And if so, I shouldn’t assume I’m not capable of feeling love.

Motherly Love. Strangely, I’m prompted to reflect on my relationship to my mother as I listen to the soundtrack for the first Kill Bill. My mom went to see the first film with me, and she knew it would be violent and wouldn’t like it (in fact, she walked out at the beginning because it made her sick). Yet, she wanted me to be happy. She is almost always supporting me and doing everything she can. I would just hate myself if I didn’t appreciate all of it. But I don’t, and this insufficient appreciation is hard for me to accept.

What makes it difficult for me to appreciate is her babying me. You begin to resent someone who doesn’t let you be you. She thinks she always knows what’s better and safer for me. And yes, sometimes I mess up because I didn’t t take her advice. But I’d like be allowed to mess up. And I’d like to be able to discover things on my own and earn things on my own. So I think what I really resent is not her, but any felt dependency on her, the feeling of not being able to be my own person and that all the great things become spoiled by her overbearingness.

And that makes me think of my ex–how I gave her lots of advise and encouragement… like my mom… and could have been overbearing at times… and I feel really bad about it. This is a really profound and dreadful realization. It’s devastating because I was the culprit, and I played a role in obstructing my exes love of me, and now we can’t be friends anymore… And I can empathize with the last person I want to empathize with. What I realize now from all the pain I’ve experienced from my ex is that I need to treat my mom with more respect, so that I may be better (more responsible and empathetic) than my ex and myself. But it’s difficult to do that when someone persistently does not respect your integrity.




Sexual Dissatisfaction: Listening to the sexually vulgar lyrics on the final track on the second Kill Bill soundtrack, I reflect on my childhood and how much I wanted to have sex. My life was so focused around it. Much of it had to do with my identity as a male. I felt that a successful male was someone who had sex with lots of women. It’s now obviously how hetero-normative this narrative is and it’s inability to be relevant for all men. More so, however, I believed in that narrative because I was  really into “science,” especially evolutionary theory: having more sex meant more potential for offspring, which signifies that one is more fit, that one is a better person, that one has been chosen to have a stake in the future. So I felt like a complete failure within the evolutionary and patriarchal narratives by not having any sex.

Even to this day, I sometimes feel unsatisfied with the amount of sexual partners I’ve had. I think people place a great deal of value on their sex lives like I do because of  an insecurity with their self-worth. (So it’s not necessarily a masculinity issue. Today, women are judged for having too few and many sexual partners). So I think my high sexual drive is due to not only a desire for pleasure and experience, but also because of an insecurity with my self. Though, I don’t think these two things are so inseparable because I feel less valuable the more I “miss out” (i.e. the fear of missing out), the less “experiences” I have. But sex is different. It’s not just an experience, its about desire for another and their desire for you.

It feels so good to be attractive to a person you are attracted to and have respect for. It validates your self-worth. And when we discover someone slept with us as a means to an end and not because of the person we are, it feels “dirty,” or rather “meaningless.” We become so vulnerable in the act, emotionally and physically, that we open ourselves to hurt. We become even more humiliated because we feel not only undesired, but cheated and taken advantage of–duped into thinking that someone else thought we were valuable as a person, as a self.

I think back to that previous song on the soundtrack by Johnny Cash called “Satisfied Mind.” As long as I continually compared myself to others and understood myself through others, my satisfaction with life would be contingent upon circumstance and not with life itself. Having more or better sexual partners would never be sufficient. My worth has to be self-sufficient. And it’s that feeling of self-sufficiency that we call confidence, that quality which breeds sex.

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Categories: Deep Thoughts, Essay, Oregon Trail 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love is a Beautiful Fiction


I. Why “Love”?

Her soft voice had me falling over her every word. My eyes were transfixed on her smile, my ears tuned into her story. She apologized for talking so much. I told her I love to listen. It’s how we get to know one another, I said.

Something was happening. Not any something, something exceptional. I was not going to censor how I felt. I was going away soon and had been too long bound to fear. Excited and curious, she encouraged me to speak. I said I had never felt this way in a long time. My knees were shaking. I wanted to lunge over the table and kiss her. I had never felt so connected to someone for years, so attracted to who they were. She said she was feeling something special, too. She smiled.

She asked me what I liked about her so much. I didn’t know, but I felt obliged to respond, so I foolishly tried to capture my feelings in words. It was a beautiful story if I ever heard one. A sincere and seductive fiction. She said I was sweet.

Moments later we were making out on Michigan Avenue right outside the thrift store she worked at. She said I was beautiful, that someone should paint a portrait of me. Near the end of our date, she said she didn’t feel the same about me. In the minute I had taken to use the restroom, she lost confidence in her desire. She may have been afraid of being in a long-term relationship, but she was also afraid of feeling used and of growing close to someone who was leaving so soon. She said she needed more time to assess her feelings and that we should get together again another night.

When I returned home, I did what every internet junkie does. I logged onto Facebook and “updated my status:”

 Mutually “falling in love” (or whatever the fuck you want to call knee-shaking intense attraction) with someone you just met is super amazing

Why had I chosen those words, “falling in love”? Yes, I had put them in scare quotes to emphasize my suspicion, but I had never thought the word “love” during the entire experience. Only after it was over did I choose those words. Why?

 

II. Who Loves Who?

By morning, the previous night seemed relatively uneventful. What had just happened? Why had such a powerful event been diluted with a few hour holiday from conscious thought? Was I protecting myself from being hurt, or had I ever really felt those feelings in the first place? Had I interpreted my attraction to her, my shaky knees, and her attraction to me as “love” for the sake of security after heart aching reflection, indecision over a car purchase, intoxication, and anticipation for sexual commencement?

A thought darkened my image of myself: had I only said what I said in order to fuck her? Was I one of those douche bag guys who would say anything to get in a girl’s pants? I was concerned the previous night that that’s what she was afraid of. I reassured myself and her that I was being sincere and I sincerely believed that! But I can be a manipulative person with plans below the surface, acting and desiring to be considerate but not without a more primal underlying desire. Was I unaware of my subterranian agenda? Had I fooled myself the night before that I wasn’t one of those guys? I wanted to believe I was better, but the question presented itself to me: was I?

But that sketchy story is also a fiction, a story just as much as the previous one about falling in love. Just as there is no one ultimate meaning to life and the cosmos, there is no intrinsic meaning to our affect and actions. Whether I narrate myself as sincere and sweet or stealthy and seductive, when it comes down to it, I am both and neither, for all “I” am is a fiction with no author. “I” am but a translator of actions and affect of the practices of my-self-formation. To translate oneself to oneself is perhaps our most fundamental responsibility. Who is self? Not “I,” but self-conscious autopoesis–life becoming conscious of itself, naming itself as such, and narrating itself into existence through its bastard child be call language.

It’s a scary thing not knowing who we are. And that’s why we write. More fundamental than being sincere, sweet, stealthy, and seductive, I am a sorcerer conjuring new identities and worlds to inhabit. These are not my creations, for I do not simply precede them as a cause to an effect. For the very “I” who has crafted these narrative dolls is itself a doll woven by yet a doll before it and the one before it and is contingent upon whatever string and instruments those dolls have been enlightened to use. We are driven to translate our affect and actions to others in conversation, to share our-self-formation and to be recognized as such. So “I” can never be sufficient. There must always be an other who precedes, exceeds, and lives amongst my presence.

 

III. A String Theory of Love:

The compulsion to feel complete and connected is a human one as  is the suffering produced by it. In an impermanent world in which we are all by natural law unraveling, the concept of “love” as that which binds is very securing. But love is not the stitches, nor the stitching. Love is the gravitational force that spins the soft string so that it contacts and caresses other string. It pulls us closer to others while not binding one to the other so that me may slip in and out of our identities, unraveling into and out of one another. There is no inherent meaning to the string of love beyond the pleasure, desire, and joy of love’s contact; and whatever meaning there is, is woven and rewoven.

Love is a craft out of our control. To bind ourselves to ourselves and to those we care about is not always an affirmation of love, but more often an act to protect ourselves from it.  To love self and other is to allow slippage into and out of one another, reducing friction. At times, the discomfort of friction and puncturing is necessary to free others who have been tied up by the hands of others in the cat’s cradle of oppression. To love, then, is not to secure and design, but to ride along the sensual flows of soft fabric that rips, tears, is punctured, and patched up. This is the life of string.

So-called “love” is a beautiful fabrication. It’s not something that exists prior to linguistic craftmanship of the materials and instruments we’ve inherited from past experiences and techniques. It’s an art form of the deceit of security. When I say “I love you,” I am translating my affect and self into existence, weaving the strings that pre-exist me into a doll in relationship to another doll to make myself whole, to complete “me.” So it is true that “love” makes one complete, but only true as a fabrication. The reality that underlies it, however, is that “love” is not love. It is us who does the stitching and the knotting for love is always in motion, not stasis. It is an unnameable excess through which “we” come into existence.

Categories: Essay, Original Writing, Social Conciousness | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Sewing Oneself Into Suffering


I. The Sound of Suffering: While writing the last poem, “Solar Eclipse,” I recalled the powerful song “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” In the summer of 2009, I broke down during my drive to work when the song came on the radio. Something about its lyrics instantly captured my attention. The song, like “Somebody I Used to Know,” spoke to something truthful in my lived experience. It articulated sentiments I felt but could not sublimate quite so craftily and beautifully. My heart sank deeper from the enhanced awareness of my affections and suffering but it was not accompanied by the weight of emotional oppression. Instead, I felt elated. Liberated.

And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever

. . . . .

Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I’m only falling apart
There’s nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the heart
Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there’s only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the hear

So three and a half years later, as I chose the relationship between sun, earth, and moon as the theme for a “love poem,” I came to wonder if “Total Eclipse of the Heart” had a similar message, whether I was picking up on something I heard before or a transcendent image. In the former experience, I was deeply hurt by my lover not returning my calls and emails, avoiding coming to an agree on an apartment and that my companion animal, Duke, was possibly on the verge of death, and I needed emotional support. I really loved her, but was truly “falling apart” and I “needed her more than ever.” There was no one I had ever felt more intimacy and connection with than her.

In my present situation, however, I had been deeply hurt by an ex-lover, -partner, and best friend. I no longer loved her. There were times I verged on hating her. Her cowardliness and unfairness disgusted me. I never felt so much rage and dislike directed at any one person before. So I asked myself:

II. Why am I still mourning? Why does she still occasionally haunt me five months after I was pressured into officially ending the relationship, (seven months after I had done the same to her) and two months after removing myself from the risk of encountering her at a community event, on the streets, or in a bar? Do I still love her, despite my bold assertions otherwise?

So here I catch myself romanticizing over a lost friend, a “dead” friend, for this person no longer exists in the world and never will. The person who fell in love with me and who I had fallen in love a year ago would never have been so callous and displayed such contempt for me. Or perhaps she would have. Perhaps I never really knew her. Or perhaps I did, and allowed myself to remain ignorant.

During the trauma, after the breakup leeched into my community of friends, corroding my final security, the last emotional support beams I had left, I begrudgingly relived a short but intense disagreement between us. She had said something out of desperate anger that I could never forgive, but had brushed under the rug because I loved her so much and could feel her pain. Essentially, she wished that one of my friends be date raped because she had cyber-bullied her one day on Facebook. Over the next two months, I started noticing and confronting her on racist things she would say. Each of these comments tempted me to end things, but I was afraid. It was difficult to reconcile my love for someone with the terrible, hateful things out of her inability to healthfully cope with psychological and emotional trauma. Eventually, I became the target of her venom, from her inability to healthfully cope with her indecisiveness about continuing the relationship. I can speculate as to why, but what I’ve realized during the whole process is that understanding another (and even oneself) is severely limited, if not entirely impossible. Eventually, I gave up appealing to reason, to talking things through in order to reach mutual understanding and respect. All I wanted was to rebuild trust and decent feelings between us, but she would have no such thing. All I know is that I had ignored the warning signs. The beautiful duck was now a rabid rabbit. The duck and the rabbit were there the entire time, but I cared only to see it one way.

III. The simulacrum of a specter. The person I grieve over now is not the actual subject of my historical love, but a projection refracted through selective memories. I grieve over an imaginary past. Why cry over a person who I never loved, who never existed outside my imagination? To make my suffering more concrete, to crystallize it into an external love object.

We like to hold on, to believe that there is something holding us together into a coherent whole, to tell ourselves lies–not in order to avoid suffering since we suffer all the more for believing them–, but to flee from the torment of despair and anxiety. For at least there is security in suffering.

The body of my existence was unraveling before my eyes into an incoherent pile of string, so I narrated a story to stitch my fragments back together. The more I repeated the story, the thicker and more secure the stitches became, reinforcing the story to hold together: this is who I am, this is who she is, this is how I feel, this is how she feels, this is why we act the way we do. Returning to memories, imagining alternative actions I could have taken and words I could have said… I was playing with dolls.

But could I do much else? Is it not necessary for one to make sense out of string? Can one exist as an incoherent pile? No. So we sew ourselves into a story, a narrative self. Playing with dolls was all I had left to make sense of the explosive trauma that had torn me to pieces. It was a painful process of healing. Each reinforced stitch, another non-anesthetized puncture, another pull, another tear. But I was naively sewing myself more securely into the trauma. I was reinforcing a self who could not escape. So dreadful was the annihilating unravelment, I kept stitching old patterns forgetting that annihilation opens oneself to a new form and future.

Categories: Essay, Original Writing, Social Conciousness | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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