New Fires

 

Yesterday, I mentioned how I will often work through things I’ve taken on as my identity to determine whether I want to keep them, and I wrote about a time when I went through this process in the presence of my (then) partner. She actually wrote about that moment, and I loved what she had to say, so I thought I’d share it here. As this is not an article written by me, I am only sharing an excerpt and then I’ll add my own insights along with hers:

When she told me she felt guilty, it made me upset. I mean, why would she feel guilty? And what did that mean, exactly? All I wanted to do in that moment was to change that feeling for her. After all, in my opinion there was nothing to feel guilty FOR. But here she was, wrapped in the covers, sitting on the bed with an intense look on her face. I grew in frustration as I changed into my pajamas. I just wanted to go to bed peacefully, but I had to do something. I had to think of the right thing to say to help her process this emotion and make the monster go away.
But no matter what I said, it all seemed to fall on deaf ears. My frustration grew, eventually turning into anger, and I began to do the worst thing imaginable toward her: withdraw. Sensing this, she attempted to explain:
“I need to sit here with this guilt,” she said.
Sit with it? Well, that didn’t make much sense. Why sit with this emotion? Why let it make you feel this way? Again, I reminded her that she had nothing to feel guilty about, so why sit and feel it? She explained further:
“You don’t have to fix what I am feeling. I need to see what this guilty feeling is made of. Who gave me this guilt? Where did it come from? Who said that I had to feel this way?”
And I was in shock. You mean you want to feel guilt so you can kill it? Man, what a revelation! Talk about taking the tall, overshadowing monster and reducing it to ashes! Picture this for a moment: she was actually going to take an emotion and turn it inside out. As if she was filleting this monster down to nothing. Who does that? How did she learn to do that? Wait, how come we never KNEW to do that? Was she saying that instead of trying to ignore the emotion or take days to get over it, she was going to grab it by the throat? And if she can do that, we can too? We can change our thinking? We don’t have to carry some of this baggage around we’ve been carrying? This really was a revelation….

She goes on to write that after this moment, she began to hold some of her own thoughts and experiences up for evaluation. She writes about how she came to understand that we tend to take information, think we understand the fullness of it, and then share it with others. This can certainly be a beautiful thing (I do a lot of that on the blog), but it becomes a problem when we build, as she writes, “little camps around that truth and sit by it,” inviting only those who are in agreement to sit there with us and never allowing room for further revelation. She writes that she is beginning to understand that she must leave room for revelation that doesn’t “look, smell, or feel the way I THINK it should.”

This is a beautiful realization, and one I’m thankful to have been some part of.

Yes, we really can change our thinking.

No, we really don’t have to carry around all that baggage.

But, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, doing that means changing our conceptual framework. It means digging deeper, becoming willing to consider new truths, and finding a different “other.” Because what neither my partner nor I understood enough to articulate at the time is that we are psychologically hardwired to not only remain comfortable in the warmth of our campfires, but also to remain safe in the company of those we know and love best. We are hardwired to value the opinions of others, and especially those of our closest people (in fact, this is where the term “significant other” came from, and the opinions of these “significant” others carry much more weight and become much more incorporated into our sense of selves than the “generalized other” I wrote about, yesterday). As long as those people make up our “significant other,” there will be aspects of ourselves that we cannot change. This is why, as I have recently learned, many people are literally not capable of healing until their parents or partners pass away. Because casting off actions and beliefs that no longer serve us requires that we move away from the warmth and safety of that which we have always known and step fully into the unknown.

We must seek out new fires. Or maybe a better way to say that is…

We must construct our own.

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.”
—Brene Brown

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The Other

This semester I’ve been taking a sociology class, and one of the most impacting things I’ve learned is in regard to the processes we go through in creating our sense of “self.” (Bear with me as I slip into academia for a moment, I promise it will get good).

A quick summary is that our concept of self is generated through the process of our interactions with something called the “generalized other.” The “generalized other” is the group of people that we “engage in internal duologue with when we evaluate our own feelings, thoughts, and actions. When we find ourselves saying, ‘Well, that’s just the way it’s done,’ or ‘People will be upset if I do that,’ we’re responding to our interpretation of the ‘generalized other’—our own internalization of social attitudes and expectations. We [may not] actually know who the ‘they’ is that we’re referencing; we just know that ‘they’ have certain expectations, and we judge our own behavior in accordance with our perception of this generalized other, or ‘they’” (1).

In other words, we are constantly evaluating our thoughts, feelings, and actions against our perceived ideas about what other people (and especially those important to us) will think or feel about them. While this can sometimes happen on a conscious level, it is always happening on a subconscious level. There is no getting away form this, we all do it, it’s just part of what it means to be a human being. Now here’s where it gets good:

This means I get to choose.

Not only do I get to choose who my “generalized other is,” I actually consider it my responsibility to choose who my “generalized other” is. I’ve long told my kids that the people we choose to have in our lives matter (especially those most important to us), because these are the people whose opinions will influence our thoughts and actions. Not only does this make it incredibly important to choose our friends wisely, it also confirms something I have done for years—something that doesn’t always sit well with the important people in my life–which is to continually change my life in accordance with new ideas that I want to incorporate into who I am. For instance, many of the people who currently make up my “generalized other” are authors I have never met and public figures I have never spoken to. An ex-girlfriend saw this and accused me of “letting other people influence me.” Another told me she felt it was “hypocritical” to be continually changing. (She once asked “aren’t you supposed to be consistent?” to which I responded by reciting a favorite quote: “Don’t be consistent, but be simply true.”) And several family members have accused me more than a few times of “reading too much.”

It’s understandable that some people see this process as inauthentic or hypocritical, because while we are all always subconsciously shaping our identities in accordance with the opinions and values of others, I also try to be aware of this process and do it consciously and purposefully in a way that is a bit less typical. For instance, I might read something that resonates with an idea of who I want to be and then work to incorporate that trait into myself. For instance, if I hold “kindness” as a personal goal, I might watch someone help an elderly person across the road, interpret that as an attribute of what I define as “kindness,” and then incorporate this practice into my concept of self and begin walking little old ladies across roads every chance I get. This example is a fairly easy and painless one—I’m simply adding to an identity I already have. But others are not so simple (or painless). For instance, I might read something and decide to “try on” certain traits to see if they fit. I’ll ask myself questions such as: “does this seem to integrate well into my sense of who I am or who I want to be? Does this seem like an action that is helpful or beneficial to myself and others? Do I find joy in doing things this way?” After a period of “trying it on,” I will either choose to accept this as another aspect of who I am or discard it. Likewise, I might take off previously accepted aspects of my identity and work to determine whether these old standards are those I wish to retain. (One of my partners actually saw me go through this process in “real time” when I was struggling with the feeling of guilt. Rather than give in to the feeling or try to suppress it, I sat thinking about it in an effort to determine whether the belief I had adopted and was feeling guilty about was one I wanted to keep [it wasn’t. More on that tomorrow]. Another time a family member accused me of not being there for her, and I engaged in the same process to first determine whether she was right and, upon realizing she was, whether I wanted accept her opinion of how I ought to behave or remain distant. I chose the latter).

Understandably, this is not the easiest process for a loved one to go through with me. As Jodi O’Brien states, sometimes significant others are able to “shift themselves into new alignment,” and sometimes they are not. I have lost many people along the way due to my desire to be ever-evolving, and I know I will lose many more, but I have come to understand this as an imperative part of who I am.

But whether we want to spend this life constantly evolving or we want to spend it (as a friend says) “sitting with our ancestors on Plymouth Rock,” WE GET TO CHOOSE. If we do not like some of our actions, thoughts, feelings, or ways of navigating the world, we get to change them. If our “generalized other” is causing us to act in ways that don’t mesh with who we want to be, we get to change that. If we are exposed to something completely different from our norm that we appreciate and want to take on, we get to do that. If our “generalized other” no longer fits, or if we find a “generalized other” that fits us better, we get to adjust.

As I spoke with a friend about this today, I pointed out that this is likely one of the reasons it usually takes years and a lot of therapy for someone who has always identified as “straight” to come out of the closet. She said that during her own journey, her therapist would continually ask “what are you afraid of?” But recognizing the concept of the “generalized other” makes it easier to see why this is so hard—it’s not necessarily that my friend was afraid of what people would think, it may just be that those opinions had so long formed her “generalized other” that they had become incorporated into who she thought herself to be. And, for most people, changing their self-perception to include traits that the “generalized other” considers wrong or immoral (especially if it could completely change their lives) can seem almost impossible.

This also helps me to better understand some of my past relationships and some of the difficulties I have had. If my partner and I have vastly different “generalized others” who hold extremely different beliefs and have had extremely different experiences, there is a very good chance our values and desires regarding how we want to navigate the world just won’t mesh. In this sense, learning these concepts can turn them into valuable tools that help us to better comprehend the motives and actions of those we love as well as help us better understand why we are who we are. More importantly, they can help us to consciously make choices that align more closely with who we want to be.

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(1) Jodi O’Brien, The Production of Reality

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The Little Dirty Girl

May I brag for just a moment? Professors who assign amazing material and give incredible feedback are why I’m kicking my own ass to make perfect scores in my classes this semester (well, the classes that matter, anyway. We don’t talk about Geo. 😆) This is a comment one of my professors recently made on a essay I wrote for his class:

“This is one of the most impressive reflections on a work of fiction that I’ve ever had a student write. It is thoughtful and moving. If the author (Joanna Russ) was still alive, I’d suggest sending it to her, but unfortunately she passed away a few years ago. You’ve made me glad that I assigned this story!”

I’m glad he assigned it, too! This is the second time this professor has given us an assignment that hit me at my core, and this particular essay was in response to a story he had us read called “The Little Dirty Girl” (PDF versions can be found online, and I highly recommend it!) In the story, the narrator is approached by a spectacularly dirty little girl with tangled hair, a wrinkled dress, and snot and tear marks on her face. She looks “ignored, kicked out, bedraggled, like a cat caught in a thunderstorm.” At first, the narrator wants nothing to do with the Little Dirty Girl, but as time goes on the narrator begins trying to care for the her. At the end of the story, we come to understand that the LDG is the narrator’s own inner child, that repressed part of herself that she has ignored for far too long.

The story touched me deeply, and since I cannot share my thoughts with the author, I thought I would share them here (slightly edited to protect anonymity):

—————-

“Remember me talking about ‘inside me?’ That little girl part that I’ve ignored for over twenty years? I don’t yet know how to honor her voice, but I have gotten so far as to have given her a voice, and right now that is both a blessing and a curse, because, before, she was regulated to her corner and stayed quiet. But now, I’ve done enough healing so that she is no longer muzzled and there are now times when she RAGES….”

A few years ago, I recognized that I seemed to have two “selves”—an inner self (where my true needs and desires lay) and a sort of outward representative who often trampled all over the “inner self” and completely ignored her wishes. This “outward self” continually laid aside my true desires out of a sense of obligation. As Joan Didion writes in Slouching Toward Bethlehem:

“We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our own willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Anne Sullivan: no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.”

From that moment of recognition, I began working hard to live my life differently. I began having difficult conversations with friends and family members and began being much more honest about who I was and what I wanted. Slowly, slowly, that “inside voice” (which I began calling “the inside girl”) started to say and ask for more. As I worked to honor “her” wishes, my entire life began to change, and I felt more peace and joy than I’d ever experienced, before.

But last year, I became involved in a relationship that wasn’t right for me. In a effort not to lose the person I loved, I completely ignored this “inside girl” and continually did things I didn’t want to do and made concessions I didn’t want to make. Needless to say, it did not end well, and this eventually led to me writing a friend the lines at the beginning of this paper.

This will explain some of my unexpected reaction to the story “The Little Dirty Girl.” The ending, when the narrator embraces the LDG, initially brought tears to my eyes, but in looking the story over again to write this paper, it was a line found early in the book that struck me to the core. During their first interaction, the LDG looks at a candy bar the narrator is holding and states “I like those.” The narrator writes: “It wasn’t a hint, it was merely a social, adult remark, as if she had long ago given up expecting that telling anyone she wanted something would result in getting it.”

THIS. This is exactly what I had done for over twenty years and then did again during my recent relationship. I completely lost my own internal compass. Years ago, I had stopped listening to the voice. Or, rather, that “little girl” stopped speaking, because she knew I wouldn’t pay attention, anyway. But now, after having given her a voice, she was raging. My insides and outsides were fighting over my life as who I wanted to be battled who I wanted to be with. I had freed my inner self only to imprison her again, and no longer would she remain silent.

We see this exact thing happen with the LDG. But before we get to the point of rage, we see the narrator continually trying to “fix” the LDG. The LDG isn’t happy with these attempts and at one point, after having her hair brushed and hearing the narrator comment that she looks nice, LDG responds: “No I don’t, I look conventional.” Later, the narrator tells her: “I’ll get you anything you want, no, not what you want but anything you really, truly need,” and the Little Dirty Girl responds: “You can’t.” The narrator promises to try, and so the LDG promises to come back, but when she does, she is in worse shape than before. Dirty, soaked with rain, coughing, shivering from cold, and soiled in her own feces, she accuses the narrator:

“You hate me, you starve me, you want to clean me up because you don’t like me!”

“You hate me” … How often have I directed hatred toward myself in the form of negative self-talk and impossible, perfectionistic standards?
“You starve me”… Although I’m sure this line is meant to speak more toward unmet emotional needs, I have literally starved myself through anorexia.
“You want to clean me up because you don’t like me”… How often have I tried to change myself to conform to someone else’s standards?

I absolutely love that the little girl comes back to the narrator even more wretched than she was, literally having soiled herself. And somehow, that is okay. The narrator holds out her arms so that the “terror of ages could walk into them.”

The terror of ages.

Is there any better way to describe our innermost selves? Is it possible to more accurately express how we must be willing to embrace every single part of ourselves—even those parts we consider hideous, even those parts the whole world says are wrong–and love and honor them? I remember, while going through the process of embracing my own internal self the first time, being impacted by the following words by Heather Havrilesky:

“You’ve got to lean way in to what you already are. Lean way the fuck in. Look right at the worst — the so-called worst — things about yourself and figure out how to celebrate those things.”

This is what happens between the narrator and the Little Dirty Girl. Afterwards, they cry, they laugh, they fall asleep together, and the next day the little girl is gone (sort of).

I find it interesting that the story doesn’t end there, but that the narrator resolves to have a visit with her mother and “this time” be openly angry, only to discover that there is nothing to be angry about. She recounts spending the day with her mother and says she wishes she could describe a scene of reconciliation, but she can’t. Afterwards, however, we see the narrator and her mother slowly begin to have a changed relationship–not a close one, but a kinder, gentler one. I think this is what things are truly like when we make peace with and start to honor our “inside selves.” Maybe everything doesn’t fall into place right away, but things slowly get better. Maybe we never have a great relationship with the people who hurt us, but we learn to see things in a different light. We become be more patient, loving, kind, and accepting of what is instead of wishing for what could be.

At the end of the story, the narrator gives us an update on the girl–who is still called The Little Dirty Girl (I love this, because in my mind it illustrates the fact that none of us ever become fully “clean”). The narrator says the LDG compels her to go places she didn’t think she’d want to go and meet people she didn’t think she’d want to meet. She says that some of things she thought were good before she met LDG are no longer with her, but says she would be “lost without Little Dirty Girl, so it’s turned out all right in the end.” And then she writes my favorite line of the whole story:

“She clamors for a lot, lately, and I try to provide it.”

.

Related Articles:

Sanctuary

Guilt or Glory

Breadcrumbs Home

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Pioneer

“Here’s the thing. What you want is what you want, whether you admit it or not. And it’s going to affect how you move through the world. If you’re a human who wants something, who longs for something that’s true or right or that’s even maybe a little off center, it’s what you want. If you don’t admit it, it’s gonna come out in your body. It’s gonna come out in your posture, in your mood and your attitude, the way you treat other people.  I think that we’ve clumped desire into one big ball of taboo. As we begin to parse it out in the presence of God, we can trust that He is smart enough and intuitive enough and strong enough and kind enough and compassionate enough to lead us in His way in His timing as we’re honest with Him and with ourselves.”
– Emily Freeman

Four months ago, I left the woman I thought was the love of my life for one reason:

We wanted different things.

I had a vision for my life and who I wanted to be that she could not accept. And I think she had a vision for her life that I couldn’t accept, either, though she tried hard to change in many of the same ways I did. And the thing is, there is nothing wrong with us wanting different things, it just made us wrong for each other. But it has taken me months to even begin to feel okay with that sacrifice, to even begin to feel like I haven’t made the biggest mistake of my life. Even now, I can close my eyes and feel her arms around me. Even now, I can see her smile. Even now, I can hear her voice–at times kind and at times mocking my desires, still making me feel as if I were wrong, somehow, to want the things I wanted. Not, I hope, from anger or spite, but just from the fact that our early experiences shaped us too differently, and she could never understand why I wanted the things I wanted. They made her angry. Resentful. Left her feeling hurt and uncared for. And if I’m honest, I felt the same about many of the things she wanted. It was a recipe for disaster from the start, but we wanted it to work so badly that we were both, in some ways, willing to give up pieces of ourselves to make it happen. I like to think that this is a testimony to how much we loved each other. But call it love or call it disfunction, in the end it took more than forty books, five therapists, and the fourteen months we were together and the four months since our breakup to finally recognize the truth of the quote above:

What you want is what you want.

Even if it’s crazy or weird or strange or seems absolutely, insanely stupid. Even if the most important people in your life criticize you for it. Even if it means leaving the person you love. Today, while searching for the quote above, I came across another one I had posted months ago, by Glennon Doyle:

“I understand now that no one else in the world knows what I should do. The experts don’t know, the ministers, the therapists, the magazines, the authors, my parents, my friends, they don’t know. Not even the folks who love me the most. Because no one has ever lived or will ever live this life I am attempting to live, with my gifts and challenges and past and people. Every life is an unprecedented experiment. This life is mine alone. So I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been. There is no map. We are all pioneers.”

I have lived as a rule follower and people pleaser for most of my life and I can say that this is absolutely true: THERE IS NO MAP. My last relationship felt like the culmination of every single way I have ever tried to justify living my life according to someone else’s wishes, and it broke me into a million pieces. I loved this woman. I loved her desperately. I loved her more than I thought it was humanely possible TO love someone. And for fourteen months I fought with every ounce of me to deny the simple truth: No matter how much I loved her, I could not be who she needed me to be. Not because what she needed was wrong, but because it was wrong for me.

I have since found a wonderful therapist and amazing friends who have reminded me that there are people in the world who can and do understand. There is a whole tribe of people out there whose experiences and desires and life goals and ways of navigating the world are similar to mine. And I hope and pray my ex has found a whole tribe of people out there whose thoughts and beliefs align more closely align with hers. At the end of the day, is there anything more we can really ask for, than to be deeply and truly known by people who understand and support us?

I loved my ex. I love her still. And I know that she loved me. But at the end of the day, we both needed other people. I hope she finds hers. I’m starting to think I’ve already found mine. She’s sitting right here in front of a computer screen, listening to the chatter of eight little voices as she takes a break from school work to jot down a few thoughts. Maybe someday she’ll find someone to share this life with and maybe she won’t, but either way, she’s living in all the crazy, weird, adventurous ways she wants to live. And she’s finally, finally at peace.

“Here’s the stark truth about the person who is right for you: They want the same lifestyle that you do. How do I know this? Because that is, by definition, what makes them right for you. To be with someone whose eyes light up when yours do, whose heart races when your blood also pounds, who is enticed and inspired by the same forces that drive you forward, is a gift many of us never truly get to experience.
So how do we meet such a person? That’s simple – we do more of what we love. We give ourselves up to uncertainty, to searching, to pursuing what we want out of life without the certainty of having someone beside us while we do it. We throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the things that we love and we consequently attract the people who love what we love. Who value what we prioritize. Who appreciate all that we are. We throw ourselves into the heart of possibility instead of staying comfortably settled inside of certainty. Because we owe it to ourselves to do so. We owe it to ourselves to live the greatest life that we’re capable of living, even if that means that we have to be alone for a very long time.”
–Heidi Priebe

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The Angel in the House — Virginia Wolf on Perfectionism

This is a slightly edited version of “Professions for Women,” an abbreviated version of the speech Virginia Woolf delivered before a branch of the National Society for Women’s Service on January 21, 1931. It was mentioned in one of my classes and I resonated deeply with what Woolf had to say, because I have often felt the same. In order to truly write anything meaningful, I must first fight with all the voices in my head telling me what I “should” or “shouldn’t say.” Woolf is specifically talking about writing here, but I think any life lived in authenticity requires battling with the Angel in the House…

I discovered that if I were going to [write] I should need to do battle with a certain phantom. And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem, The Angel in the House. It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her–you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it–in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all–I need not say it—she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty–her blushes, her great grace. In those days–the last of Queen Victoria–every house had its Angel. And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand, she slipped behind me and whispered: “Be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.” And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot [write] without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must–to put it bluntly–tell lies if they are to succeed. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had dispatched her. Though I flatter myself that I killed her in the end, the struggle was severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning Greek grammar; or in roaming the world in search of adventures. But it was a real experience; it was an experience that was bound to befall all women writers at that time. Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.

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A few thoughts on the horror genre

Had a bit of an epiphany moment last week and wrote about it for class. We were assigned to read the book The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Alan Poe, and my professor asked the question: “What is the appeal of psychological horror? Thought I’d share a bit of my answer here:

For me, the appeal lies in knowing we ALL have this within us. Whereas other forms of horror might be attached to something external (ie. a place you can choose to visit or not, a ghost that maybe you’ll see and maybe you won’t), psychological horror has to do with things we all have inside of us, simply by virtue of being human. I may not have ever been irrational to the point of wanting to murder someone because of his eye, but I have been irrational to the point of wanting to cause harm to someone simply because they hurt me. I have never carved someone into pieces with a knife, but I have certainly carved people into pieces with my words. This type of horror often takes us through very dark emotions–emotions that we all have within us. One of my favorite quotes is by Carl Jung: “No tree can grow to heaven unless it’s roots reach down to hell.” I think seeing/recognizing/facing those parts of ourselves is imperative to our growth as human beings. Psychological horror gives us a moment in time where we are allowed–even encouraged–to face the demons that reside within us all. In that sense, I think it this makes the horror genre an extremely important part of human psychology. It becomes a method and means by which we face parts of our own nature we often otherwise never face.

Recognizing the power of the this genre to allow us to step into that part of ourselves we so often regulate to our deep subconscious makes me think I have probably done my children a great disservice by not allowing them access to these types of stories. I grew up reading stories like Tell-Tale Heart, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Picture of Dorian Grey (my absolute favorite book as a teenager), but in my early twenties, I embraced an extreme form of Christianity and raised my children within that framework. As they grew older (and I grew in understanding) I dropped many of those beliefs and patterns, but some of those old practices still remain, sometimes just by habit. One of those is not allowing my children to watch or read horror or even tell ghost stories, because as a young adult I adopted the belief that to expose them to this could somehow make them vulnerable to the “demonic.” (I feel half crazy even admitting this, but I would imagine that, as someone who studies folklore, this belief is not new to you, and there is probably even some coherence in beliefs throughout culture that lend at least some–if not validity then at least universality–to this kind of idea). I don’t think I realized before now how much those stories may have shaped who I am as a person, especially some of the things I want to cultivate in my children.

Thank you for that. I just ordered a few books for my kids!

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The Solution of my Problems

I read this in a book I’m currently studying for school and thought it was beautiful…

An Iranian student, shortly after his arrival in Berkeley, took a seminar on metaphor from one of us. Among the wondrous things that he found in Berkely was an expression that he heard over and over and understood as a beautifully sane metaphor. The expression was “the solution of my problems”–which he took to be a large volume of liquid, bubbling and smoking, containing all of your problems, either dissolved or in the form of precipitates, with catalysts constantly dissolving some problems (for the time being) and precipitating out others. He was terribly disillusioned to find that the residents of Berkeley had no such chemical metaphor in mind. And well he might be, for the chemical metaphor  is both beautiful and insightful. It gives us a view of problems as things that never disappear utterly and that cannot be solved once and for all. All of your problems are always present, only they may be dissolved and in solution, or they may be in solid form. The best you can hope for is to find a catalyst that will make one problem dissolve without making another one precipitate out. And since you do not have complete control over what goes into the solution, you are constantly finding old and new problems precipitating out and present problems dissolving, partly because of your efforts and partly despite anything you do.

The chemical metaphor gives us a new view of human problems. It is appropriate to the experience of finding that problems which we once thought were ‘solved’ turn up again and again. The chemical metaphor says that problems are not the kind of things that can be made to disappear forever. To treat them as things that can be ‘solved’ once and for all is pointless. To live by the chemical metaphor would be to accept it as a fact that no problem ever disappears forever. Rather than direct your energies toward solving your problems once and for all, you would direct your energies toward finding out what catalysts will dissolve your most pressing problems for the longest time without precipitating out worse ones. The reappearance of a problem is viewed as a natural occurrence rather than a failure on your part to find the ‘right way to solve it.’

To live by the chemical metaphor would mean that your problems have a different kind of reality for you. A temporary solution would be an accomplishment rather than a failure. Problems would be part of the natural order of things rather than disorders to be ‘cured.’ The way you would understand your everyday life and the way you would act in it would be different if you lived by the chemical metaphor.

–Metahpors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

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