Saturday, April 26, 2008

discipline + passion = ?

Recently a dear friend expressed a desire that I too have been encircling: how to become disciplined in keeping commitments? I identify myself in certain ways, but I act in ways that contradict them. What does this do to the self I am creating?

Concretely. I claim to value:
- steadfastness
- hard work
- perseverance
- thriftiness
- simplicity
but I am lazy, I give up easily, I complicate my life, spend too much money, time, energy on foolish trivialities, etc.

I claim to want to:
- begin recycling
- exercise to become strong and healthy
- cut out sugar and white flour (well, significantly)
- send out conference papers and journal articles regularly and often
- read a new book/article a week
but I keep throwing away yogurt containers and milk cartons, I eat donuts and cake, I haven't gotten my bike tuned and I sleep in rather than read or write.

So my projected self, though developing, does not have enough in common with my practiced/practical self. I do not, as Beauvoir might say, 'coincide exactly with myself'

If passion is not channeled, then it is like a destructive flood - powerful but murderous. And if discipline is not filled with passion, then all that remains is a desert. neither can sustain life.

hmmm. accountability anyone?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


When Kierkegaard describes despair he notes that it is both indicative of privilege and evidence of sin: to despair is to persist in a lack of faith; that it is possible for us to despair negatively shows us the possibility for faith, i.e., relationship with god. Despair is then likened to an abyss: the terrifying depth of the abyss also reveals the height of the mountain. Both depth and height can only be measured relatively. When you look down, when you train your focus downward, you find depth - and this is part of despair. When, however, you look up, when you orient your focus upward, you can only measure height. This is part of, or the beginning of, faith.

As I can recognize myself expanding into peace and generosity, it is difficult not to look down. Indeed, there is some good in looking down, so long as my downward perspective is part of an upward orientation (ok, i'll explain that!). When I look down and see where I've been, when I see old behaviors which I have been discarding or modulating, when I see old fears that no longer have power, I can see how high I've come, and I am both humble and proud. If peering gently into that abyss prods me to remember to keep moving upward, then that peering is good. If peering into that abyss reassures me that progress has been made and helps me to trust in further, future progress, then that peering is good.

Unfortunately, peering over the edge and into that abyss can make me fearful. "What if I slip?" "What if this progress I made is only temporary?" What if I can't go any further?" "What if I'm not as far up as I think I've climbed?" In such a case, I may become fixed upon the depth below me and then bring that fear to the height above me: "I can't do it" "I will never climb far enough" "There is so much to do and I don't even have the proper shoes" " If I climb higher, I might fall and then where would I be?" "It gets steeper..."

So currently I am sneaking grateful glances over the edges and am both cheered and worried:
- I am so glad that Maria had so many loving friends around her at Mass on Sunday (the subtext, which embarrasses me and so I didn't want to write it is that I am both so glad for her and so proud of myself for experiencing that happiness without jealousy. there. no hiding, right?)
- I am so happy that I have been able to keep myself from saying some of the hurtful and negative comments I used to say to Paul. I *can* watch what I say if I pay enough attention.
- But I am just past ovulation and will begin the slow (ok, not so slow) descent into PMS and crampy, cranky pain. What if I am just as ugly to myself and my friends in a week? What if I've not *really* been growing?
- What if my self-perception is off? I can swear my stomach looks flatter today but no one else would ever be able to notice. What if the same is true of my attitude, my person? I feel different, but can anyone even see it? Is it actually helping my friendships, or is it just in my head?
- I don't know how to be loving and firm, yet. Do I?

Some of this worry is helpful, at least for now: I am not likely to let my head swell over my progresses quite yet. And the cheering is good too: I am not likely to throw in the towel over my worries.

To learn to fail, continually, cheerfully, without stopping, without blaming, without self-pity, with love and gratitude ...

Monday, April 14, 2008


i have been gaining a much clearer sense of direction these past weeks: rather than fight my tendencies, i will work with them to produce behaviors and results i can admire. sounds simple, yes? well, i never said i was *smart* ...

as a result, i find myself directed to change the way i relate to people in certain relationships. some of this is difficult, some less so. in particular, i found myself being quite blunt with a friend about some behaviors i found unnecessary and difficult to generously interpret. as a result, i was informed that i "may not be as calm as [i] claim to be."

ouch! that stung! particularly since i was not particularly shrill, neither had i (or have i generally) claimed to be calm. and i wanted so very very badly to retort: "no, it is you who claim to be so very calm. and your behavior earlier and these past weeks has shown you to be anything but." i did not say this.

i want so very much to be recognized as *right*. relinquishing this is difficult. instead, i only told this friend that the behaviors i mentioned were not ones i was able to patiently tolerate at present. i am trying to remind myself that what i spoke was true and that i cannot control how others choose to interpret me. i can only control me and what i think of others.

letting go of this desire for control - a control i never really had, nor ever could have - is really really difficult

Sunday, April 6, 2008

the buck stops here

Apparently there's a little game going around. Once 'tagged' you must post a 6-word memoir about yourself and then tag other bloggers. Since I know no one but the one who blogged me (thanks, Jenna!), this is the end of the line for me.

vortex -

read it as a sentence. i like it that way.

baking powder and vinegar

I've been neglecting housework these past weeks as I race to finish up this semester. Certainly, if I used the time I spent procrastinating on chores, I would have both a clean home and time to complete my academic work. Still I procrastinate.

I've just - finally - scoured my stove. I've been meaning to do this for weeks; every time I've walked into the kitchen, the caked-on grease splatters, spill-overs and crumbs have drawn from my lips a sigh as despairing as a dirge. That stove has been taunting me, reminding me that I have not been on top of things, that I fail, that I have not been managing my time properly, that I have not been feeding myself properly, that I am undernourished and not only in terms of dinner.

I have so very much to do today. Deadlines have kaleidoscoped - they seem to have infinitely expanded. But just now I have finally scoured the stove. It sparkles, it shines, it practically sings. I feel more relaxed than I have in days. Finishing the dishes doesn't seem so daunting. Outlining one more chapter of Nietzsche? Peachy. 20 more pages of Beauvoir? I'll do more! Plato? Great-o. Grading? ugh. grating. (ok, this is going to annoy even myself now!)

The point being that I should realize by now just how important these seemingly trivial chores really are. Doing the dishes, folding the laundry, scouring the stove are such mindless, easy chores, none of which can really be done while also doing anything school-related. But when they are not done, they elicit such a sense of failure - "I can't even get my laundry folded! I am a miserable wretch!" every single time.

Clearly it is not enough to have sparkling moments academically. My stove must also sparkle. There's going to be a metaphor in here somewhere. probably something having to do with my character. probably having something to do with dark, unscoured corners of my ethical orientations which seem trivial and easily brushed aside. But then, I've got too much work to do to spend time fully exploring this ... ;-)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

mirrors everywhere

It is humbling and a bit disconcerting to imagine yourself as others see you, particularly when the reflection is less than flattering. I am lately reminded of my snobbery and my pretension. In efforts to distance myself from particular behaviors and traits I find unattractive in my friends, I elevate myself to push them down and away. By so doing, I show myself just as pettily related to those behaviors and quite the antithesis of the cool, collected, superior being I wish to be.

Just yesterday I indulged in some eye-rolling and grumbling about an acquaintance who tries to engage conversations with those she considers intellectual superiors but social equals in - what seems to be - a plea for affirmation and validation. Just a few hours after this 'indulgence', having chatted with a professor while ever-so-slightly under the influence, I was uncomfortably reminded of my dismissal of this acquaintance. I genuinely like this professor and I enjoy conversations with him. Further, I miss having conversations with people who are not, strictly speaking, my peers; having left Beck's my day-to-day conversations and community have been more limited in range. However, looking back on the rather rambling, disjointed conversation I carried on, I wonder just to what extent I resembled the young woman of whom I was so indulgently scornful. Just how much petting and approbation was I looking for? How tedious was my nattering?

How do I go about reminding myself, continually, to be generous in my opinions and attitudes toward others? When I find myself puffing up, wanting to distance myself from an opinion, an attitude, a statement, a mode of comportment, how do I make myself relax, ease up, let go and exhale?

How do I remind myself to re-orient myself ethically toward the one I see, toward those I cannot see, toward the one next to me, to myself?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I don't want you to feel ... X

I don't want you to feel guilty about
I don't want you to feel sad about
I don't want you to feel angry about
I don't want you to worry about
I don't want you to feel sorry for

These are (generally) well-intentioned sentiments, and I do not want to denigrate those good intentions.

But it doesn't really matter, does it? We really are blind, aren't we? Feeling around in the dark, denied access to everyone else's thoughts, feelings, meanings and intentions. How silly we are when we say "please don't feel/think X." As though our saying so could prevent or remove the feeling. As though we could actually intentionally change another person's perspective.

When 'you' say: please don't think that I think X about you, do you see what you're doing? No.
Ok. When I say: please don't think that I think X about you, I am acknowledging the possibility for you to think that I think X. By so saying, I have, actually, already thought X. But I don't like X and I see the harmfulness of X and so I don't want you to think I've thought X because if you thought I thought X then you would be hurt and you also might think less of me or love me a little less or ...

When I ask you to not feel a certain way, I acknowledge its possibility while refusing to accept what I admittedly think would be a reasonable response were X the case.

If I ask you to not think of me that I think of you in a way in which I don't think you want to be thought, could it possibly be true that I am actually revealing more of my own insecurities about what you think of me? I say: please don't think I'm angry with you. But am I not perhaps meaning: please don't be angry with me?

How foolish to ask people to not think things, as though the asking doesn't require the one to think the very thing you don't want her to think.

So when I worry that perhaps you will think X of me, or that you will feel Y toward me, perhaps I will do better to examine the ways in which you occasion a way of worrying about myself that I can only understand when I see myself in you. When I worry that you will think X about me, it may be more true that I worry that you will see X in me. When I worried that my lover was not making sufficient progress toward his degree, that worry had nothing to do with him. I saw myself in him reflected back to me and worried about myself through him and then mistakenly projected that worry and irritation onto him.

When I worry that, for example, you will think I'm selfish, I might be more honest if I said instead "I worry that I will find that I am selfish when I see myself reflected back to myself in you"