Archive for the 'writing' Category

A post about posting (or not)

July 14, 2015

Yesterday I had something to do that I was to some extent dreading and which did turn out to be difficult to do.  But I got through it, it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great.  On my way home, alone again in my car, I got to thinking about how I could write a blog post about it.  And I realized, as I was observing what I was doing, that that line of thinking was leading me to, to borrow a contemporary colloquial phrase, make it (the episode) a thing — to make it a thing instead of just letting it go.  I had anticipated the episode, I had engaged in it, I like to think that I had done something reasonable during the course of it, then it was over, and while I wasn’t all that happy from the experience, I didn’t really need to assess it, I could just let it be — just let it “have been” — in fact, it was probably better all around to just leave it as something that had occurred, like paint drying.  It had happened, but I didn’t need to reify it.

That got me wondering what impact writing more generally has on how people process their experiences and think about the world.  I know I never wanted to write the book about our experiences building a family that many people suggested I write.  That reaction came to me as a matter of not wanting to relive all those events.  Now my sense is that writing requires me to choose a particular way to present the material, that a particular voice be chosen and that the events be characterized and assessed to some degree and assigned some kind of significance — I don’t think most books are just flat recitation of what happened.

I don’t doubt that some people, perhaps even as a result of writing about them in a certain way, move on from events in their lives after writing about them, but it really hit me yesterday that the process of processing the events in order to write about them was going to impede me from just accepting them as things that had happened, that really did not need to be assigned greater significance than that, and that writing about them would turn them into permanent artifacts of a certain sort in my memories, like bringing home unwanted bargains from a yard sale.  To present the events might lead to positive reactions from others — the material certainly would lend itself to making something dramatic out of it — but I think it would actually result in trading a healthier frame of mind for some more immediate positive external feedback.  I don’t want to file the events away under particular emotional headings, I would rather leave them more fluid and let the memories give me different or more attenuated impressions over time, if that’s what happens.

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Intentional or unintentional

October 20, 2013

I don’t like dualism, but here I am going to contrast intentional mirroring with unintentional mirroring, an issue that’s been on my mind for a long time.

The mirroring that has power occurs not through behavior we engage in with the intention of mirroring.  Effective mirroring takes place at a deeper level, the level revealed when we manage to pull away our personal concerns, desires, and fears — that other strand is what produces the mirroring effect, it is not something we consciously craft.

When someone mirrors another in this way, they may not be aware of it.

Just as it is difficult to distinguish the difference between badly-intended behavior and stupid behavior, it is difficult to tell when a person is conscious of what is going on in their actions, including writing, and when they are unaware of what they are doing (“It’s just a song,” for example).  People may consciously write versions of their friends and relatives into their novels, but people may also write pieces of other, real people into their books, too, whether they are aware of it or not.  Maybe it happens when they think they are communing with a muse, I don’t know.

Contrived mirroring (self-conscious acts of trying to mirror someone’s behavior or attitude back to them) doesn’t have the same impact, I don’t think, as mirroring done through a deeper level of the person.  Contrived mirroring may be a technique to modify behavior, it may be a way of calling attention to itself, kind of like a friendly wave or a not- so- friendly gesture — some sort of indication of response — but I don’t see it having a very significant function in the great scheme of things.

Here’s, for me, at least, the rub:  how do you talk about the part of this that occurs unwittingly, with people who don’t “believe in it?”

One participant in the interaction cannot even tell you “where it hurts,” what is going wrong, the other claims they are not doing anything to impact the other person negatively.

People disconnected from their inner selves may actually not be aware of what they are doing, other people may have some degree of knowledge of what they are doing, but employ a defense of “deniability” — they hide behind how socially unacceptable in our culture it is to talk about any of this and claim they ain’t doin’ nothin’.

An abusive pattern can continue over and over again if neither party has a clue what is going on, just as post partum infections spread so easily in hospitals before people realized they needed wash unseen germs off their hands between examining patients.

What I think is true, however, is that we only need one member of the interactive pair to understand what is, wittingly or unwittingly, going on, to end the dysfunctional dynamic.  That person just has to tolerate being regarded as a little daft.

Talking to myself

October 19, 2013

I wrote a comment last night (to Gail Collins’ column about Texas politics) about waiting for Sen. Ted Cruz to flame out and wanting to open the flue wider to accelerate the process.

This morning, when I was looking to see if there were any more replies I needed to respond to, it occurred to me that this is what I think a central task in life is in general:  to open up our flues (the crown chakra, according to some people) and let us follow our trajectories instead of remaining stalled.

When I wrote my comment, I was focused on how Cruz really does remind me of the Republican presidential hopefuls last election who showed up at all those debates during primary season and flamed out (I started the comment with how I am reminded of them by him).  They went out one at a time, it seemed, seriatim, and I had the sensation of waiting for the process to run its course until we got a nominee.  Here, I hear Cruz as a demagogue with an unconstructive approach to governing and a negative impact on the federal legislative community (that would be Congress I’m talking about).  So then I got into the flame metaphor, and and thought about our wood burning stove, and there you go, my comment.

But I really am concerned with the issue of opening up our spiritual fontanel (the place in a baby’s skull where the plates don’t fuse until after birth), as well as opening up our hearts.  If I think of our wood burning stove, we need to open the door to put wood in the stove and we need an open flue for the chimney to draw the way it needs to in order for the combustion process to occur effectively and efficiently and not to fill the room with smoke.  I think there’s a parallel for all those things in our spiritual lives.  (Maybe I will elaborate on them in a subsequent post.)

What is so mysterious, I think, is, whence the spark?  How do we catch a spark?  Henri Nouwen wrote Life of the Beloved I think in the hopes of doing that, but apparently succeeded mainly in explaining to those already with the spark what that’s all about.

I feel as though I “caught the spark” listening to a concert on TV during which I thought I perceived something like faith in the eyes of one of the musicians.  It was as if his faith ignited mine.  Why those details were part of my experience of relocating my faith I think has to do with old karma and past lives, which I mention in order to explain why I don’t think that listening to a concert is going to be the answer for everybody.

I see the acquisition of that which reveals the world as it looks through faith, as a positive thing.  Obviously, not everybody shares this characterization.  Some people see it more like the catching of a virus that confers pathology.  Some other people pay lip service to seeing faith as a positive thing, but believe and behave in ways that are not consistent with a perspective through faith.

So when I find myself teaching myself something, what is that all about?  It, to my way of thinking, is about pulling out some understanding deep within us which we have trouble bringing up to conscious thinking.  It emerges through some other process, and then we can read it back with our conscious minds.  It is clearly consonant with some inchoate understandings we already have, but it helps us conceptualize them more clearly.  If this were occurring through the imagination and cognitive thinking, I don’t think we would have the sensation of reading the thing written as if we are a separate person from the person who wrote it.

Kayaking

September 9, 2013

I have a friend who kayaks, drives her car with her kayak on top and stops off to put it in the water and paddle.  She asks me periodically if I want to come along kayaking with her, but I know it’s not for me and I always decline.

But I don’t try to write books about kayaking, either.  Even if I did my research and interviewed people with a feel for the sport, I would not myself acquire a feel for the sport, so what sort of a book would I be writing?  An observer’s guide to a participatory sport, perhaps.

As to a participant’s guide to a participatory sport, some such people would rather help the audience member acquire the equipment and teach them, in person and including by example, the fundamentals of using it, rather than write the book.

Ten Years

August 21, 2013

Tomorrow it will have been ten years since Willy died.  I went to the cemetery today.  I wondered if I would feel like going afterwards to the antiques store nearby we used to like to go to together.

I parked my car in the cemetery where I usually do, towards the end of the short road, where it meets a couple of other short roads and it’s easy to turn a car around.  There’s also shade there, and I backed the car along one of the roads to take advantage of that.

Then I got out and walked across towards Willy’s grave.  I spotted a small hawk feather, as I stepped onto the grass, then I saw more feathers, including two big ones, between me and the grave.

I wonder what happened to the hawk.  I saw what looked like pigeon feathers scattered at the other end of the cemetery road, near the gate, as I was leaving the cemetery.  (I got out of my car to see what they were.)  Maybe there was an interaction between the two birds, maybe there was another animal involved, preying on them both — I don’t know enough about how these things go to say.

That’s what I left with, the thought that we get bits of evidence, this and that data points, and we try to make sense of them, often by means of putting them together in a sequence and then adding setting, theme, motivation, etc.  until they tell a coherent story.  Sometimes it very much matters whether the story is accurate, for other purposes it doesn’t.

Conduits

January 7, 2013

I think I’m one of those.  Actually, I think we all are, whether we’re effective at being one or not.  I think we are conduits for forces we are only dimly aware of.  Sometimes the forces mix with us and what comes out is, for example, art, sometimes it is addictive behavior or even psychosis, sometimes theoretical physics, sometimes a combination of things, including a combination of useful and destructive things.

What I have thought vaguely for a while is that I can hear some interesting things that I could never have thought of, and that I can translate them into words and try to communicate them to other people.  I want to let those interesting things come through into the world — they are more helpful than what I could come up with through my intellect.

What I think I’ve spent years doing is cleaning out my apparatus, the conduit apparatus within me.  I think someone had used it for relationships and acquiring stuff and influencing people according to what that someone wanted.  I think it had been developed well enough to do that, and that it was kind of like this person finding someone else’s fully loaded laptop and using it to pick up girls and pay off lobbyists.  It got kind of corroded and bent by being used for personal gain and attachments.  So it took awhile to get the junk and dirt out of it, retrieve some missing pieces, and get the thing up and running as it is intended to be used.

It takes a fair amount of effort for me to hear what I hear, and it often comes best as a reaction to reading or hearing what somebody else is saying.  I focus on the hearing part, including maintaining a good connection, and I tend to give shorter shrift to the translation and presentation part.  If I lose the connection, then the whole point is lost, so that’s why I put my energy there.

I have wished for a collaborator who would focus on the writing and translation part, but Gita has steered me away from that configuration — she thinks I should be doing the whole undertaking.  I struggle with the writing.  I think in parentheses and footnotes and gerunds — how to get those curlicued and nested thoughts into linear form, into short, declarative sentences, and into something that others can follow is a challenge for me.  And taking the time and having the patience to explain it all and not leave too much to be gleaned from between the lines — that’s a challenge for me, too.  Willy used to talk about how programmers get bored after figuring out the gist of a programming problem, and often are impatient with subsequent steps, including the debugging stage.  I’m probably like that.  Once I feel satisfied myself, I have to discipline myself to go further with the project after that — I either don’t hear a call to communicate it well or I override that call with some nonsense of my own (including residue from having a number of people tell me I don’t write well).

I feel somewhat better about the process of learning to communicate when I think of it as finding my voice.  That, in turn, leads me to recollecting the intentional misreading (by a friend of a friend) of the Latin phrase “cave canem” (beware of dog) into “cave caneam,” beware lest I sing.  (The friend of the friend is Debbie Roberts, who I think is a professor at Haverford College.)  I like the idea that somewhere inside of me I have a powerful voice, if I can only find it.  Again, to get back to where I started, I think we all do, it’s a matter of realizing our potential.

The limitations of explanations (and of their sources)

January 6, 2013

I have encountered a pattern among people who see situations only from one perspective, the perspective of a self so closed off from itself, and hence from others, that it cannot put itself in the shoes of others:  the person promises to do something important for my welfare and then finds it inconvenient or difficult to do and so doesn’t do it, I pipe up with some sort of protest, and the person then explains why they said what they said originally and why they’re doing what they’re doing now (occasionally they also re-promise, but it is even clearer that that promise is not going to be kept).

The part I am continually amazed at is that they really don’t comprehend that their explanation does not meet the need that is also not being met by not doing that which was promised.  To put it somewhat rudely, do I really care why they’re not following through?  In one case it was a forgotten theater ticket; “Yes, I made plans over weeks to drive you home from surgery but I just realized I have a ticket to a theater matinee performance,” he said the day before my surgery.   That’s the easiest example for me to write about, but there are half a dozen more, at least, in my life.  The promises are equally explicit and about significant matters, and the person just doesn’t do it.

What I’m writing about here is Stage 2:  the explanation.  Because sometimes the person does feel compelled to explain, especially if I pipe up and ask for what I need and what they said they would do.

It’s sort of the “That and 50 cents will get you a ride on the subway” kind of issue:  just what am I supposed to do with the explanation?  Wrap it around my naked self like a torn blanket that does not cover?  Use it to produce magically another person to drive me home from the surgery?  Take it to mean the person does care and that should be enough, even though they do not come to grips with the difficulty to me from the situation they have left me in?  They have induced me to extend myself and then not come through with the support to make that extension work — where do they think that support will come from if they bow out?

My own take on this is that it is a path towards a fuller relationship with God:  to quote Dave Carter, “in praise or lamentation, peace or desperation / any way I do, I come into the presence of the lord” (from “any way I do”).  God is the dance teacher who will dance with me when my date who brought me to the dance won’t, and this is a blessing.

The catch is getting hung up in an argument with the human partner who won’t dance with me.  They want me to see it their way and assure them it’s okay in a way that it’s not.  It is okay in the great scheme of things; it’s by their own system of values and view of the world that it’s not okay.  I don’t have to subscribe to their system of values and view of the world, and I don’t, but I also can’t get them to subscribe to my system of values, view of the world, or view of the particular situation and my (unmet) needs, any better than they can get me to subscribe to theirs.  If I get hung up on getting an acknowledgement, I create difficulty for myself.

To go back to my surgery example, I needed the ride then, I would have chosen a different appointment and/or made arrangements with someone else for a ride, had they not promised.

In the other situations, a way to regroup has actually been less clear.  They have involved things others could not provide for me, or me for myself (or children).  There has been real damage as a result.  I have learned enough to know that those are my issues now to deal with, and I have learned enough to know that no one has to make amends to me or that such amends will meet the original needs.  What I am still struggling with is acceptance, the “How could you?” part of my reaction.  One of the tools that has helped me here is thinking about the meaning of “No room at the inn” in the telling of the story of the birth of Jesus — it helps me to know that this is a part of what is encountered on a spiritual journey.

The person will never see themselves as I see them, is what I can get stuck on, especially if they want to have some kind of on-going connection with me.  It’s like the tunnel constructed by drilling in from both sides of the mountain that doesn’t meet in the middle.

For me, the lesson seems to be, “It happens, it’s not the end of the world, it’s painful, difficult, etc., etc., but there are always forces greater than I who can guide me through and through whom I can feel sustained.”

I know others have foundered trying to land this airplane, that is, trying to play out an ending to this script that doesn’t look like the end of a grand or soap opera (with bodies strewn all over the stage).  Their difficulties finding a way through inform how I handle my turn.  And I know that the more mature age at which I have encountered this scenario has helped, as has my having been happily married for a reasonably long period of time before this.

But it’s still a rough landing, I don’t deny it.  Some of the folks who have gone before me have said that it has helped them come to terms with their own attempt to hear me learn from their experience, to hear me point out what helps I have had that they did not, and to hear me point out how hard I find this.

In the end, some of this story is about self-forgiveness, forgiving the self for trusting another human being and having that trust have been unsuitable for the person and situation, and forgiving the self for having had the need to trust that other human being at all in the first place.

The other part, for me, is about learning to recognize the difference between expectations I can have of God and expectations I can have of people, even people who want me to see them otherwise.

Writers seem to preach that writing about things helps expiate them or accept them or see them in a new light.  Maybe it’s testimony to the fact that I am not a writer that I don’t find that to be true, or maybe it’s just that I haven’t written about these things thoroughly enough or precisely enough yet.

Ani Dalit

August 30, 2012

I was going to write about my reaction to the speeches I’ve been watching or listening to on line through the PBS website at the Republican convention (about what came across to me as Condoleezza Rice’s fear, discipline, and brittleness, for example), but I decided to write about my reaction in a different way.

When I started writing comments to news items on line a few years ago, I think I was much less judgmental (and my expression in my writing was much more crabbed).  I used a screen name, Ani Dalit, in part for privacy.  The two pieces of the name come from people in the lineage I’ve been exploring.  “The Dalit” was a girl in India centuries ago who didn’t even know her given name — she was just referred to by the people who kept her as “the Dalit.”  Ani was somewhat older, her given name had been Ang, and she had not only a poise I admire but a strong spiritual discipline I would do well to emulate.  I think I was seeing the world more through their eyes.

As I was listening to Paul Ryan’s speech last night, I noticed my resistance to it.  That’s what got me thinking about my screen persona as Ani Dalit, and how differently I would have reacted to the speech and to Ryan through her lens.  I am mindful that sometimes it doesn’t serve to put out what we think of as our “best china” — paper plates or plasticware at a picnic or barbeque would probably be more appreciated by the guests, to use the analogy.  So I am not sure whether I should try to “go back” to seeing things through their eyes, and think of what I’ve done more recently as sort of a detour.

I think Ani Dalit would find a way to embrace someone like a Paul Ryan, with the sorts of limitations he apparently has, with compassion and with acceptance that he’s doing the best he can do, and without taking on his set of values and worldview or trying to meet him on his own terms, regardless of how provocative she might find what he says to be.  I don’t think she would become angry or agree to become provoked.

But what if I should be using my paper plates instead?  Or plasticware (if the food is likely to be too heavy or greasy for paper).  What would that look like?  How to accept the messenger and still respond to the message as a participant and not merely as a detached observer?  How to respond to the message in a way and in a language that will be understood by the person to whom I’m responding, without actually adopting their own language?

I am thinking there’s a way to take what Ani Dalit would see and then translate that back into a language useful to those who don’t.

Processes

August 19, 2012

I’m not sure whether Amazon.com is employing new software or whether it’s just that the way I’ve used the site has recently triggered something that’s always been there, but I don’t like it.  I consider buying something, and then either they raise the price of the item I’m considering before I decide to buy it or they start sending me emails about even more expensive, related items for sale.  It’s enough to make me change my use of the site.

Similarly with the processes of posting comments to pieces on newspaper, and such, websites.  I long abandoned posting comments on the website of The Boston Globe.   It had turned into a “conversation,” and the results were not, in my opinion, for the better, in terms of quality or interest.  At the time, I didn’t much mind, because I was enjoying posting comments on the NYTimes website.  That was back in the days of the previous commenting format, in which the comments were numbered, for example, and everything was, I think, on a first-come, first-served basis.  And Marie Burns took top prizes.

I think Marie Burns can be found elsewhere on the web.  But there are other aspects to the old process I miss (such as the greater formality of most of the entries), and I am thinking I am detecting the degenerating of the whole enterprise into more casual interactions among commenters — better for the social networking, worse for the content, which I think benefits from focus on ideas, not on their reception.

I’m not against interaction per se, I just think it needs to be structured in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on the primary enterprise.  I should probably also note that under the current regime at the NYTimes, I personally am able to post my comments without going through moderation — on the Globe website, there is only moderation after the fact, and for everyone, of course, I think.  But I am much less content with the dynamic now at the NYTimes as a whole than I used to be.

I also comment on the PBS NewsHour website, where many fewer comments are posted and I can’t quite figure out the moderation practices.  There the dynamic seems to vary, with some very interesting interactive threads and some seemingly random and oddly-inspired comments.

But, to get back to my original point:  just as I don’t enjoy the apparent Amazon.com algorithm I’m encountering, I find my interest in commenting on the NYTimes changing for the worse — I find myself feeling put off by the dynamic.

My reference to the dynamic on the NewsHour site makes me want to say that I really don’t know what makes an interactive experience satisfying and what doesn’t for me — I suspect for me it’s about openness and a focus on ideas and not personalities.  I wonder whether for others, it’s more enjoyable when it’s quite the opposite and has a greater component of reacting to one another.

I don’t know what the NYTimes’ objective is for their commenting feature.  With Amazon I’m going to suspect it’s pure profit.  So I really don’t know whether to expect that there will be other changes in the future to the commenting feature to try to maintain quality and not just traffic, for example.

I have been contemplating other changes in my life of late, and I’m not sure how this issue fits into that.  I’ll be going away later this week and into the next, so maybe time away will help me determine what I’ll do about all this.  Maybe it will seem to me that the universe is nudging me to go in a different direction from what I’ve been doing and turn to something else.  Things in this world are always changing in some way.  Or maybe I’ll just come back with a different attitude towards the same activities.

Ganesh

May 1, 2012

I have been thinking lately about Ganesh, the Hindu deity.

When I read about him, it’s like reviewing something I already know.

Reading about him also brings up other sorts of ideas, as if I can remember having used the name as an affectionate nickname for someone I was close to when I was a child and he was already a man — his elongated earlobes, beaked nose, and sturdy legs reminded me of Ganesh in a way that put me at my ease in a situation in which I was scared, is what comes to me.  It feels like either an arranged marriage, or a school or convent or temple to which I had been sent.

I started writing in longhand about it, but what I found myself describing was a very different scene, involving an outhouse, a sexual assault, and not being believed afterwards because I had made it sound like Ganesh was my attacker.

I don’t know whether the two versions belong together or not.  Maybe I can find a short story in here somewhere.