about guilt… and shit

A colleague of mine told me at lunch that she thought I looked so zen about life in general that she thought she should adopt my attitude towards everything. Which sounded quite flattering, up to the point where she said she thought I was simply not thinking about certain problems (that she does/others do worry about) – which sounded as if my attitude was a bit silly and at best mildly irresponsible. But, in any case, if I did worry about the same things, then the zen was just a facade and her image of me was ruined 🙂 .

Luckily, I trust her and, generally, people around me, therefore I didn’t get sucked into any kind of spiral of suspicion about what kind of implied judgment her comments may have contained. I just realised how differently people can value things. Because balance, to my mind, is not made of ignoring any kind of stimulus that might throw you off balance. And therefore ignoring stimuli doesn’t bestow any value upon one’s state of balance. Balance is taking in all the stimuli, thinking about what makes them powerful and choosing, in an as informed as possible manner (insert ten-line disclaimer here), which ones you allow to change your behaviours and which ones you stop fretting about. (Because, as far as I am concerned, balance is about managing comfort, angst, guilt and perhaps other little runaround cousins of theirs.)

Some decisions are easy: apparently worrying that somebody else makes less of an effort than yourself in a commonly run process is really time and energy-consuming for many people – I hardly ever bother thinking about it, except maybe when I fold a mountain of laundry – again. I realise though that it’s a matter of trust in the process partners and that trust works like a market force (I’ll have to think about this in more detail at some point – apparently people write whole dissertations about this 🙂 ).

Worrying that you will get ill or that you should eat very healthy food so that you live longer is, again, something that doesn’t keep me on my toes. I’ll go with the mainstream in maintaining my body in functioning order, check everything regularly and take action when there are repairs to be done, just as I maintain the house, but, although I might feel guilty about things I eat for ecological reasons, I refuse to feel guilty about `feeding my body poison`. Foods will keep being processed, ingredients will change with the years, either I’ll get cancer or I won’t. But I’m not going to pay for the insurance daily and get it anyway, I don’t think it’s worth it.

Some decisions are hard: motherhood decisions are hard. Do I adopt an all-healthy diet for the kids? No. Am I irresponsible for not doing so? Do I cut the tv completely? No. Are they going to develop attention disorders from it? Do I teach them schooly stuff early? Not really. Aren’t they going to miss the headstart I had when I went to school reading fluently? Do I try to dam in the pink spree of my four-year old? No. Shouldn’t I stand at least a little bit more feministically in the matter? (all right, the last one is already discarded to the non-issues bin.) 

Also, womanhood decisions are sometimes hard. Do I work at how I look or do I try to accept myself, my age and my body as they are and be happy with that? Do I like who I have become or do I want to change as a person? Is this point in my life determined more by comfort or more by fulfilment (and then again, who says they can be told apart?)?

Political decisions are horribly hard. There is so much information to take in, so little time to deal with it before there’s more information, so many voices that should be listened to properly before dismissing, joining or splitting their message into usable and unusable bricks… Am I guilty for being partly an economic migrant? Do I have the right to protect myself by not reading the garbage or should I know it all in detail?

All these decisions, taken on a daily basis (do you use two or three sheets of toilet paper?) or for life, entail a plethora of feelings about who you are based on those decisions and about your human worth. The most common of these, in my case, is guilt. Which seems to never stop pouring from everywhere, even with so-called zen. I remembered twenty things, I forgot one birthday  (guilt). The children who came to my daughter’s birtday party didn’t actually eat sweets – ever (doubt and guilt). Guilt for consuming, guilt for ecological gestures that you couldn’t afford or simply didn’t have the time for, guilt for non-bio food, guilt for your economic status, guilt for the age of the car’s engine, guilt for ever watching tv, guilt for being broken by the time you get home and not feeling like a good roll over the floor with the kids, guilt about fishsticks, guilt about the fact that you felt good about doing a nice thing, therefore it’s not nice anymre, because it’s not selfless – and it spirals slowly into the absurd.

Balance is being a witch from Discworld (I really loved this image): you learn to balance the pain (or guilt) into a big ball and pour it into something else. One day at a time. And this is why trying to achieve balance is, to me, more valuable than many other things – because you get to live and experience and learn from all the shit, but you do your best not to put it on others.

Anunțuri

obsolescenţă tehnologică

Mi-e groază că, într-o bună zi,

n-are să mai existe industrie de softuri

de transformat

diapozitivele din capul meu

în poze digitale;

că LP-urile sentimentale

n-au să mai găsească producător

de ace de pickup;

că pentru sutele de scrisori

pe care voi vrea cândva să le caligrafiez

cu mâna mea

nu va mai exista fabrică de peniţe

care să se potrivească la stiloul chinezesc

şi că cerneala se va fi abolit.

Mă tem că va veni o zi

în care voi fi lost in translation,

întrucât copiii mei vor fi fost prevăzuţi

cu un stick de memorie

cu port diferit

decât se folosea

pe vremea mea.

 

 

Gaura ca temă recurentă

Zicea băiatul ăla cândva

Că gaura din steag se va umple cu sens,

Că scopul va deveni palpabil, ca pe pahar vizibilul condens,

Că gaura e mai mult decât ea.

Ziceau şi la cunoştinţe despre natură că puloverul cel mai gros

Nu-ţi ţine cald cu lâna, ci cu ochiurile rotunjite pe andrea

Că pledul de aer din spaţiile circumscrise e… aşa

…un fel de termopan avant-la-lettre miţos.

Să zicem, prin urmare, că şi gaura asta din stomac

Între când, carevasăzică, totul urmează şi totul a fost

Are, probabil, un rost,

O pupăză sau măcar un colac.

… none of the above :)

There’s obviously no wisdom highground to be taken by someone who is being emotionally incontinent online (in the illusion that this saves some energy from friends who might not have any to spare for one’s shit and also, hopefully, it prevents one from blurting out inappropriate relation-altering nonsense just because it hasn’t received any vent for too long) on the notion of dealing with one’s emotions. With that disclaimer in mind, though, I’m wondering whether there’s not something to be said for… denial. If the fact that it’s part of one’s process of acceptation of traumatic experiences doesn’t mean that it might have a useful part to play in how we deal with our emotional reactions to all sorts of things.

All right, perhaps I’m being too vague. I wonder if the things we feel cannot, sometimes, be made less aggressive towards our own fabric by recategorizing them somewhat. If the consequence of calling something an emotion which is socially accepted as intenser doesn’t allow it to take over you in a more depletive way. It’s probably the same approach I have to pain thresholds (we are, after all, creatures who think in categories). What if, as soon as you say `I’m depressed` instead of `I’m sad`, that changes the quality of your emotion and it empowers the emotion over you. And while I think it’s a good idea to live one’s emotions instead of burying them completely, I’m wondering if sometimes we don’t live more dramatic emotions just because… well, I don’t know – they give us purpose as individuals, maybe?

It seems to me that the yoyo (I know, I have a fetish-image, get over it already) bounced back at some point from an (overly masculine, some will say) overly rationalistic way of conceptualising the world, towards an (overly feminine) overly emotional manner of dealing with things as a mainstream. What if the divide is not as simple as `rationalistic defies nature, emotional embraces one’s impulses`, but instead, being rational is just as natural an impulse of repressing the feelings that make one incapable of functioning effectively, while what we experience as `embracing one’s emotions` is also a greencard for filling one’s life with a host of `issues` which get in the way of experiencing any good, growth-bringing feelings? What if we might imagine this as only a gradual scale between the two attitudes and what if there was a, perhaps healthy, way of balancing the rigid, starched collar with the fluttering tye-dye robes? What if our children need to learn to harden themselves just as much as they need to understand how important empathy is?

risk

It’s like playing a sort of Risk with two, you know? With each of the players having a different objective on the start card and neither of them knowing what the other’s objective is. And while one is playing the entire time to win as many continents as possible and assuming that the other has a similar goal, the other’s card might just say `you both win when you have an equal number of armies and there’s a truce`. There is no way of obtaining that in a game with just two, because there’s nothing that might bring about a truce, if there’s nobody else. Therefore if your winning is conditioned by harmony, you lose from the start. That’s sometimes how it feels – as if consensus is a non-notion, there are only different positions on things you care or not enough about to defend. You lose each battle that you win and you lose each battle that you lose. And it wasn’t about losing in the first place, it ought to have been about playing together, but somehow the game is perverse and doesn’t allow you to play for fun – you either win or fold altogether – which is not acceptable, because that is your own rule number one.

musings on thought systems

I am (almost) full of admiration for people who can take a very clearly definite position in the world. In connection to… well, pretty much everything social. It seems that they have to be either very, very intelligent (as in, they have thought of everything that plays a part in every single equation of their world model and made up their minds) or else, and I’m trying really hard not to make this sound mean, but… quite misguided.
While trying to decide how I feel (think) about all sorts of social topics, I have come accross the same type of mind-numbing complexity.
For instance, on one side of the possible ideological field, it seems very well-intended to want to change skewed relations in society in order to give people who are being treated unfairly a better chance to realise their potential – yet that means that a) the efforts of the people who have managed to overcome the income crookedness/glass ceiling/education gap/ (fill in any of tens of topics divided along this line) become irrelevant the minute the rules change; b) that the stimulus (for people on both sides of the normal distribution) to make any effort gets seriously reduced – and people are nothing if not lazy; c) that, eventually, excellence levels out. It’s hardly worth illustrating this point with politics, therefore I’ll depict this puzzlement of mine within other topics of potential interest. I read this post the other day which, to me (and I apologise for the need for labels), falls under `feminism`. And I felt, for one part, as if I was ready to stand on a barricade for the right to behave like a girl, to accept one’s emotions and live one’s – socially successful – life within the framework of one’s own gender (and nevermind, for the purpose of this discussion, how much of that is social anyway). Yes, it felt unfair and crooked that you’d have to `man up` about everything („stel je niet aan”, „nu-ţi pişa ochii”) instead of being allowed to be in tune with yourself. Yet, for another part, it seemed as if, if that rule changed, then half of how I, personally, and many women with me, define themselves would become worthless. The ability to play `as men` and to perform within the crooked framework – it would be irrelevant as soon as everything got redefined to make the playing field level. As for what it would all look like as soon as we structurally embraced emotionality, I dare not formulate any thoughts on that matter…
Another example: University entrance exams – in my generation, they were still the rule. Luckily, Romania still being a postcommunist country, the divide between extreme incomes had not yet systematically become so large that some would always be able to get preparation for a superior education and some never (although I am sure there will always have been people in whose horizon of expectation school didn’t play a part to begin with). It was, quite often, a matter of working hard (or at least, so it felt). People whose parents earned little worked extra hard, without private lessons, to pass this entrance exam. And there were fewer places. Today, everyone is welcome, on the basis of their highschool exams (SAT-like) and a tuition fee. Democratisation, in a way, although there are much fewer scholarship places and much more tax places – more students in general (because more people should be schooled), but also more students that can afford it without particularly having to make a dramatic effort. And yes, although the system of the small elite may be unfair, it seems unfair to one who couldn’t afford many things, but went to university in a time when it was a bitter struggle to get in, that their diploma is worth much less, through sheer inflation.

This is not, by the way, a post about rather sympathising with right (see, I said it, it seems impossible to get out of the left-right paradigm, however much you try). On the other end of the ideological paradigm, it makes perfect sense to me to assume that people will be more motivated to produce and make an effort when they embrace their self-centeredness – therefore a liberal economic and social system based on people’s self-driven `pursuit of happiness` sounds correct to me. But then, again, there have to be some rules so that one’s freedom shouldn’t impede on someone else’s freedom. And that’s where I start seeing flaws on this side as well: a) it is difficult to make sure that the freedom of people with more resources doesn’t become more important than the freedom of those with few resources – because man is nothing if not corruptible, especially when distribution of wealth becomes very skewed; b) this sort of system, without in-built (and therefore, unfortunately, state-built) holdbacks, will always choose money over quality of life – on a societal level: there is always the question of how economic motivation stops being the motivation of gaining a certain quality of life – because, well, in the process of attaining it, you relinquish the momentary quality of life (you hardly see your kids, due to the long hours you have to put in to pay for the dream-house that you hardly live in) and after a certain ceiling of wealth, the accumulation no longer simply sustains the very high standard of life, but becomes self-driven – because man is nothing if not greedy, as well; c) not everything is as profitable and therefore the market system reduces potentialities because not enough people are interested in them, although the input of different points of view/cultural products/niches may be very fertile for the evolution of the mainstream – it’s as if you chose (oh wait, that has already happened!) sweet corn as the corn that everybody likes and stopped producing regular corn other than for livestock, thereby losing large portions of food culture relying on a taste that isn’t there anymore, sweetening `general preference` in a way that subsequently requires the sweetening of all sorts of other varieties of food and – oh, surprise! falling into the pit of a structural body weight problem; d) not all external effects can be quantified, therefore the market system overuses resources… and, of course, one can go on for a long time. (I know, by this point it really is purely political 🙂 ) .
Coming back to where I started: I can very well imagine society as an organism that needs persuasions the way our body needs hormones. THe moetaphor is, to spell it out, that a group of people of one persuasion is an organ secreting a cetain type of hormone and, on the big scale of things, hormones keep each other in balance – right-wing governments follow left-wing governments, some push one way, some the other, public opinion on… say, body image gets formed at the intersection of beauty industry-generated models and people militating to step away from photoshop representation of bodies and so on. It seems fair enough, if that’s how you represent the whole thing in your mind, to strategically pick a place to stand in one organ or another because you feel it needs reinforcement. But there are so many unquestioned, well-rooted beliefs in our heads that it seems to me almost impossible to make a well-informed choice on this matter – and sometimes on any matter. And then I wonder (especially at times when the level of alert in the world reached boiling point) – does any single neuron of this organism-thingy know, at any given time, how it ought to work? Is there anyone with a firm position about everything which is actually based on something?

somewhere in there

In keeping with how eclectically I usually write this blog, this has nothing to do with books (or politics), language (or children) or basically anything I have been thinking about lately. And yet it is a recurrent thought that kept gaining flesh… and yet it is, like all of the above, (also) about identity.

The way we conceive ourselves – and it’s very difficult to figure out if this is characteristic of women and men at the same time or even of most women – seems to be this archetype of who we would like to be/used to be in photos/intend to be at a certain time. It seems to me that, at any point in one’s life, there are things that a person is, and yet thinks (or merely hopes) they’re not.

`I look all right these days, if only there wasn’t for those pimples` – followed by a mental photoshop brushing away temporary things that are not essential to who you want to be.
`I’m actually not someone who wears glasses. It’s just because I can’t stand my contacts lately and I don’t dare attempt surgery and… oh yeah, because I have bad eyes` – photoshop to your face 4 years ago when you were wearing contacts or to 9 years ago when you refused to wear the glasses on the street.
`I’d be feeling very well with myself if it weren’t for those extra pounds. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror, this is not me` – photoshop brush to 63 kilos that you may have had 10 years ago, while at that time photoshopping towards 59.
`My cheeks in this photo look like a basset hound’s, but it’s just because I was pregnant at the time, this is not how I generally look` – accompanied by silent envy towards all the gorgeous pregnancy photos of friends, who probably photoshop their own head out of those pictures as well…
`I sound like a very controlling mother, although this is really not how I am, I want to…` – photoshop towards a mental image compiled from Hollywood family movies where kids roam around free all day and yet follow the most perfect table etiquette.
`I’m really not an office clerk, I’m a writer…` after years of deskjobs in which you never wrote a line of literature. (all right, this is really not one of my thoughts, it’s more inspired from the `Bartending is just a temporary thing until I get an audition` – I admit as an identity decision that I could never live in the insecurity anything artistic as a vocation presupposes.)
`I’m sorry my house is such a mess, I’ve only just gotten home…` – whereas it would look just the same at any moment someone visits without calling beforehand, because the way the house it’s supposed/designed/imagined to look only lasts while the cleaning lady has just left the living room and is sweeping upstairs, only to be completely lost for another week by the time she goes out the door.

The thought came back to me again yesterday, in Polish class, when a colleague describing me said `she has curly hair` – and although I had taken the mysterious change that electrified my hair a few months ago for a temporary, `not-me` phenomenon which will pass, after which I will `be me` again, it dawned on me. Every single day I will be things that I want to photoshop away and things that are esentially the way I want them to be. Things I know and I don’t know about myself. Outside and in. There are `ways I am` that I will have to fight my whole life because they will not simply allow themselves to be changed radically, but will allow a daily `straightening`. The things by which I define myself are not pick-and-choose, although, for the sake of minimal confidence, they are the ones one rather concentrates upon. I don’t think there is peace to be had with all these things I don’t like about myself (temporary or not). But the layers I try to strip away in order to get to `really me` are, sometimes, to be accepted as inevitable, and sometimes, as demons that can be louder or quieter roommates on my asteroid, but the `baobab plucking` or `volcano cleaning` keeps me on my toes and makes me aware of my shortcomings towards others.