Friday, April 09, 2010

Me, Myself and I

When the child was a child,
Berries filled its hand as only berries do,
and do even now,
Fresh walnuts made its tongue raw,
and do even now,
it had, on every mountaintop,
the longing for a higher mountain yet,
and in every city,
the longing for an even greater city,
and that is still so...

~Peter Handke
Besides watching episodes of this fascinating BBC teen drama Skins on Netflix (you'll be glad to know I'm using my time so wisely), I've been slowing turning over various thoughts. My mind is not like a rock tumbler - the stones don't come out polished and shiny. My thoughts are more like the clothes you forgot in the dryer, so wrinkled you need to put them back in the wash.

The wrinkled laundry includes: ambition and desire, artistic production, doubt and longing, God and creativity, God and desire, emotions versus values, and my stupid tooth. I'll get that last out of the way first - I had a root canal and now another tooth hurts. All expressions of deep sympathy are welcome. On the positive: I now have a bottle of Lortab.

I keep thinking about that Insurrection event. I've already mentioned Peter Rollins' take on doubt, which I found incredibly comforting and challenging at the same time. I've been practicing not leaping in to fix negative feelings. You know how therapists will tell you to rewrite the tape or recognize the distortion and rebut it? Well, I'm giving that up. My thoughts and emotions are what they are and if I try to correct them at every turn I'm just getting more enmeshed in myself. So, no beating up doubt with the cudgels of faith. I'm tired of always trying to soothe myself. No wonder my memory is crap - my eyes are pretty firmly fixed on myself.

At one point, he said something along the lines of "I desire your desire." At the moment he was alluding to the human need for approval, love, and admiration, but it made me think of God's desire for us. If we yearn for Him, he must also yearn for us. I guess that's Christianity 101, but it isn't something I get. It's like doubt, which we say is important and understandable but we really just tuck it away with the ugly Christmas present from Aunt Agnes. We act as if God were a frigid, purse-lipped missionary who drops by to say the occasional hello, leave some pamphlets, and check the sheets. Or perhaps as the smug and glib CEO who drops by on a Sunday morning to graciously receive our applause and drop a few inspirational words in our ear in return for dippy praise music. If God wants us, really wants us, that's kind of...weird. Why would He?

Desire, ambition, yearning, creativity. I desire your desire. I am reminded of that interminable book I read many years ago by Deleuze and Guattari, which spoke of desiring machines. I only read it because I had a crush on my lit crit professor. It was over my head, or full of crap, or both - something about production and schizophrenic capitalism. It was very French. But that in turn made me think of a friend who told me she got turned on listening to a lecture about Paul Ricoeur. I guess we all have our kinks. I tried reading Ricoeur and it did nothing for me. Which made me think about the excitement of ideas, because I actually totally get what she means. Why else did I have a crush on my lit crit prof anyway? He wasn't all that cute, but he was a purveyor of interesting ideas. That's why we have celebrities that people obsess about. If you hear music that completely floors you, that breaks open your heart, and there in front of you is the musician, that musician becomes the most desirable person on earth. You would like to be their best friend ever, or have their babies, or just a few hours in a motel, whatever. You think that surely God swept through that person, and maybe He's waiting there for you. Or at least I think like that. I have the urge to yank the divine out of the people I lust after admire.

He also talked about how the stories we tell don't always match up with how we actually are. The way we appear online, but also in person, is highly edited. Of course. Otherwise everyone would hate us. I have one story at work: straightforward creedal Christian, dry sense of humor, something of a scandalous past that I've fully repented. I know the lingo and I can use it. With others I would downplay the Christian part, because I'm way too cool for that. It's just decoration. In general I want people to think I'm witty, intelligent, a good writer, insightful. I'd rather be smart and clever than nice, but I would rather be nice than contradictory. I want everyone to like me. I desire your desire, only that sounds as if I want to sleep with you, which I don't. Well, some of you maybe. I reveal a lot about my weaknesses and foibles on here. But, in fact, I am the definition of "disingenuous." It is, I find, quite easy to deliver over parts of myself; I can transform them in the writing, give them a bit of panache, and it's all about me. I've always been fascinated with me, even when I've loathed my very existence.

Peter mentioned Columbo in connection with making the story told match the events that actually happened. Well, Columbo reminded me of the great film Wings of Desire, in which Peter Falk appears pretty much as his TV persona. There - desire again, the desire of angels to experience being human, which is the desire of humans to experience being human, the suspicion that this world should be heaven, because the leaves turn brilliant colors, and cats sleep in the sun, and there are paintings by Caravaggio and Rothko and poetry by Rumi, John Donne and Mary Oliver and music by Bach and Schoenberg and Owen Pallett. Shiraz and Chardonnay, strong coffee, chocolate chip cookies, romance and love and friendship. Heaven should be that, for everyone.

But the problem is, I'm all talk, and I really have to change that.

The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor:
And Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we;

And mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears:
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Caterpillar and Fly,
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat;
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The Gods of the earth and sea,
Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain

~William Blake


  1. A very insightful post though I don't know what to make of that second (William Blake) poem - I've read it and re-read it and yet still feel that I'm not quite 'getting it'. I shall have to think some more on these words. Thanks for sharing them Alice.

  2. Hi Petty: I think Blake is fairly difficult without some reference to hand, and I don't have the partner poem from the Songs of Innocence here. What I take from it is that Blake upends the Christian virtues, saying that they only exist because of poverty, oppression, fear and so forth. Christians do nothing but congratulate themselves on their virtues, feeling no obligation to actually alleviate suffering or injustice. The virtues are abstract.