Eccentric Flower:201109/Convergent Streams

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Convergent Streams

I wasn't planning on posting again so soon, but it seems to be a fragile week. I'm not going to apologize.

1. This post of Ursula's and my reply:

As I get older I get less and less tolerant of wearing the normal suit. The problem is, the threat never goes away - the idea that if you slip up, even a little, the normals will band together to Eliminate the Alien From Their Midst. I keep hoping one day to be in a position where I honestly won't have to give a damn, but all such positions seem to require me either to be very rich, or resigned to always being very poor (e.g. completely off the ladder one way or another).

2. I had a miserable headcold this past weekend. It's been going around. Nothing new. The problem is that recovery has been unusually difficult. I've had minor balance issues, fatigue, that has persisted for several days after the immediate cold symptoms subsided. If I take NyQuil at night I sleep but feel groggy the next day, that sort of disconnect that comes from having had no dream-sleep. On the other hand, last night I didn't take any and I slept in fits and starts and today I'm not disconnected, but I'm exhausted. It's so difficult to make a rational assessment of your mental condition and your position on the grand scale when you can't even get the basics of the body baseline solid. It feels like such a stupid thing, such a waste of time that could be spent getting to more important things. "I shouldn't HAVE to be worrying about finding energy to do even trivial tasks! I shouldn't HAVE to be worrying about finding 'upright' consistently!"

3. This thread. It's a brilliantly helpful thing to read, and yet it stabs me in the gut every time I read it. Both. At the same time.

(Don't bother looking for serious confessions from me in there. I'm not comfortable enough with that lot yet to open any doors there. My sole post is at #3 and not really germane, although it was interesting to see later how many people agreed with me so thoroughly about Umbridge.)

There's a line somewhere in there that made me nearly give up on the day today and go home and not come out. Strangely, the line was intended, I think, to have the opposite effect:

Barbara Sher says, "Isolation is the dream-killer." I know that. And yet, I still cower under my rock. I kill my own dreams.

I guess "If I didn't kill my own dreams, who else would have the kindness to?" is probably not the right answer, eh?

4. The other day I learned a major fact of importance about a friend of mine which knocked me for a complete loop. It wasn't a bad revelation, you understand. It was a good and encouraging one, but it was such a surprise. It was a reveal of an inner person that I had never even come close to suspecting was in there. That, combined with a remark about a much lesser but similar situation with a friend in an unrelated conversation later in the day, led to my writing this:

Sometimes I imagine that one particular day, a day that otherwise would be like any other, we all appear for the day in the forms of our inner selves, the images that show our desired way of being, the bodies that show the way we'd appear to the world if only if it were possible/practical/safe ....

Life wouldn't stop, of course. We'd still go to work or school or whatever the daily routine is, but we'd all be different, and there'd be a certain amount of confusion and shock as we sorted out who was who. The executive of the charcoal suits who spends every day so tightly screwed down that his underlings swear he must have never taken a shit in his life has suddenly become a 15-year old girl with bubblegum-pink hair, a skirt a length her parents would never approve, and omnipresent earphones full of j-pop. The benign, sweet, faceless secretary in bland Lane Bryant sweaters is sporting black fingernails to match her dress, raccoon eyeliner, and a pointed wit. The woman who always wears improbable heels and inappropriate decolletage is almost invisible beneath her nun's wimple. The straightest man in the office has feathers in his glowing hair that match his boa perfectly. The beautiful, naive blonde is still beautiful, naive, and blonde, but is now a man.

There would be mockery and surprise and glee and recrimination and discovery.

The next day, everyone back to their costumes and masks, it would be difficult to look each other in the eyes for a while, but then, some of us have always had problems with that anyway. Ideally, most of us would quickly realize how little it mattered, how pointless the game of disguise was, and the world would grow better by tiny increments as each small wall fell.

I find that I'm reluctant to post anything else on top of that right now; I don't want to cover it. I want it to be passed around, as if by passing it around we could somehow achieve some sort of magical critical mass and make it actually come true. I'd like us all to have the ability to be what we actually would like to be; is that too much to ask? Apparently it is.

5. I wanted to write an essay the other day. The problem is that it was political, and as I have remarked before, I've deliberately allowed myself no place to be political. (Tumblr is deliberately too shallow; Twitter is deliberately too short; and I'm trying to slowly ban rants of that sort from this space.) I've decided that being political is not just dangerous, it's unwanted. That is, no one else wants it. We've already passed the point where one's political opinion is incapable of swaying anyone else's - our dialogue has become too polarized. So if I write about how stupid I think Obama's position on a Palestinian state is, people will either totally agree with me or totally disagree with me, and mere agreement contributes nothing useful in that particular situation, and I don't have the energy to deal with the disagreers. So.

That wasn't actually what the essay was going to be about, by the by. Nor was it going to be about this, although I do endorse the opinion expressed there, nastiness and all. But it does get close to the matter, in a sideways way.

What I have come to believe is that we are not bad people for lack of compassion in situations we have no direct experience of. That's not the damning indictment.

We're quick enough to change tunes when it becomes personal. We stop being anti-gay when the nice gay couple moves in down the street and we see that they don't eat babies for breakfast. Our policies on abortion are affected greatly by whether our own daughter had an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy that could have ruined her life. Our feelings about the poor are in direct proportion to the number of actual poor people we know; our feelings about immigrants are in proportion to the number of immigrants we know; our feelings about the transgendered are in proportion to the number of transgendered we know - and so forth. We are not, at base, uncompassionate people.

And we are not initially to blame for isolation. It's not our fault if we grew up in a gated closeted white suburb of the upper middle class normals and therefore have no idea what actual black people or Mexican people or gay people are like. The problem comes when we deliberately refuse to broaden our horizons, when we deliberately avoid contact with things outside our personal zone of "normal" because, if we did encounter counterexamples to our normal, we might unexpectedly be forced to become compassionate toward those things, and we can't be having that.

That's what's going to destroy us. Ultimately, of all the many many things, that's gonna be the one that does us in. It has already begun. And the intolerance and willful ignorance is not limited to the people on the Other Side, so don't kid yourselves.

That's the essay I didn't write, in condensed form.

6. More than ever I consider whether certain things which have never looked like they were worth the overhead (time, cost, emotional pain) actually are. I won't bother enumerating them, but you can assume most of them come back to some form of psychotherapy in some way. Most of this reassessment is simply a matter of my running out of patience and life - I can see fifty from here, I don't expect to live past seventy, and I become less and less sure what the point of Trying To Cope With Everything On My Own Terms is. I grow increasingly frustrated with this world and increasingly frustrated with myself.

However, the same forces also make me increasingly reluctant to try to consider any psychological help, because the same forces also make that help look more and more like denial. Oh, sure, make a happier reality for yourself, my brain says, but you'll always know it's a fake, because you know how horrible the real world is and you'll always be reminded, every second, that you chose to abandon the truth for a fantasy just for your personal happiness.

Then again, my personal happiness is very nearly the only person's happiness I am ultimately responsible for. (I am willing to bear some responsibility for my wife's happiness as well, or that statement would have been absolute.) If the world is beyond hope anyway, what are the penalties for spending my final twenty years in it with fewer self-induced pains from stress, disappointment, and heartbreak than I have now?

I think it's coming soon. I just have to get to the point where I no longer give a damn whether I'm trying for escapism. Some days, lately, I get very close, close enough to see the edge from where I am. Waiting for me.

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I'm tempted just to hold my breath in fear that even if I say something encouraging, you'll want to push back against it. But I will try this much: Therapy does not create any reality -- real or false -- for one. It only gives you additional tools for looking at your reality. Looking at the moon through a telescope is no less real than looking at it with the naked eye; you only get a different perspective. And to be fair, you may like or not like the view the tool provides, and you may choose to use the tool or not. A competent therapist doesn't appropriate your personhood or staple rose-colored glasses to your head. You are still solely in charge of your life and of how you feel about it.

Now I will resume holding my breath.

-- 18:53, 22 September 2011 (BST)


I agree with ProfRobert - although have only minimal direct experience on the matter. But I am curious about your take on, for lack of a better term, a zen or buddhist approach.

I am personally really taken with the notion that it is possible to observe a bad (or good) thing and to dispassionately also observe my own reaction to it - but not let that reaction own me or *be* all that I am.

Mind you - I do *not* do this nearly as much as I wish I did. But a good friend of mine has spent now several years doing meditative and related practices and has really sold me on the notion that badness in the world need not impose bad feelings in myself. And really, what good do those bad feelings do for anyone, anyway?

Again, I *fail* at implementing this, personally (and spent part of an afternoon this week sobbing in a bathroom, so you know.. take this for what it's worth) - but I have a whole ToDo list and a bunch of reading and links and podcasts related to *rummage rummage-what did I call it* "Develop a regular meditation practice" because I think it will help me cope with many things better.

-- 19:07, 22 September 2011 (BST)


I also agree with Robert and Medley.

Also: you know how much work it is to constantly be trying to find upright? It's not that upright has gone away. It's not that you have discovered the underlying reality that there is no upright.

As someone who has not been able to take upright for granted for something like five years now, I know whereof I speak on this.

-- 02:51, 23 September 2011 (BST)


I was thinking of you when I wrote those sentences. I almost put in "(This is the part where Mrissa says 'amen.')"

-- 03:15, 23 September 2011 (BST)


Having contemplated some form of "therapy" or other over the years, I have come up against the very real dilemma of not being able to trust anybody I have to pay to listen to me. I've been afraid that trying and failing would lead to never trying again. So now, I look at everything through rose-colored glasses and go my merry way, the best I can. I make my own happiness, through denial, through eschewing deep contemplation of ideas and questions that have no answers, so why bother with the questions. I suppose that means I hide under a bushel, but it seems to be working. I don't feel a life of "quiet desperation," but live constantly with fear of the unknown.

This is part of why I find your inner reflections so... brave, I guess, and so thought-provoking. It's tempting to say oh, get on with it. But you can't, and neither can I, if I spend much time analyzing. You have a gift for describing your soul that I greatly admire. Haven't tried it myself since I was about 16 years old. I decided it was too scary, and there aren't really any answers to the questions I would ask. All I could do, all any of us can do, if we're lucky, is come up with some inner philosophy for coping, and then move on. That's how I cope, but it makes me a very shallow person.

-- 11:52, 24 September 2011 (BST)


Funny I should say this, since Sean is always accusing me of analyzing things into the ground. Perhaps my life as Little Mary Sunshine is just one what-if after another. I do have a habit of contemplating the worst-case scenario, then trying to deal with it in my mind, so that whatever actually transpires probably won't be nearly as bad, and I will have "dealt" with it. Maybe that's why I can't sleep.

-- 11:59, 24 September 2011 (BST)


@Bunny re. "not being able to trust anybody I have to pay to listen to me."

And yet, presumably, you trust your physician not to kill you, your lawyer not to lose your money, your accountant not to get you audited, your gardener not to plant weeds . . . need I go on? You hire professionals or experts all the time and trust them not to screw you over. Of course you can find a bad egg, but in general you trust the people you hire to do a good job for your. Why would a therapist be any different?

Indeed, I'd argue that paying the therapist is exactly what makes him/her trustworthy: Your friends and family inevitably have agendas with you -- need and expectations that you fill or, at your peril, not. A good therapist has no agenda with you other than getting paid (which, BTW, a big source of tension can be when to end therapy, because that is the *only* time where the therapist's self-interest might be implicated, but a) if they're good, they'll have more client requests than they have time to handle, and b) you run the same risks with anyone who bills by the hour or on a fee-for-service basis, so again, there's nothing unique to therapists here).

-- 07:23, 25 September 2011 (BST)


Robert, that's a very good point. Maybe it comes down to being afraid to try, because of all the anecdotal bad apple stories. When you don't have much money, a failed experiment can be daunting. You can use word of mouth referrals, I suppose, but when it comes to analyzing what's in your head, everyone's different. It's so subjective. A bad lawn guy is fairly evident.

Bottom line, I guess I've never been desperate enough to attempt the search. The one time I sought help, about a year after my husband died, it turned out to be chemical, and about 18 months of it did the trick and put me back on track.

My brother had problems with anger management, so he went to someone. Says it's the best move he ever made. However, I'm not all that fond of the person he's become as a result of it: cynical, and apathetic. If he doesn't let stuff bother him, he doesn't get angry. I dunno, he just doesn't seem to care about anything, anymore. That's one way to cope. Is that the standard methodology, or did he just get a lemon for a therapist? As long as he's content... But that's what I mean about anecdotal evidence.

Most of what is keeping awake at night falls into the "this, too, shall pass" category. I can trace the causes to circumstances, and they are transitory. What I'd get from a therapist would probably be suggestions of different ways to cope with the tension. But I haven't exhausted all the physical ways, yet. You can be sure, however, that when and if the need arises, I will keep in mind what you've said.

-- 13:10, 25 September 2011 (BST)


Just to be clear, Bunny, I wasn't suggesting you *should* be in therapy; I was only addressing the "trust" point you made.

As for your brother, I think the appropriate litmus test is whether he is happier in his life and whether he manages his relationships better from his perspective than he did before.

-- 15:22, 26 September 2011 (BST)


Oh, I knew that. But I'd never considered a therapist as just another form of professional. I appreciate your insight.

As for my brother, he thinks he's happier and better able to cope. I guess that's what counts. I wouldn't want to be that apathetic, myself. I've always figured that the highs are worth the lows. But he's happy. End of story.

-- 00:23, 27 September 2011 (BST)


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