Thursday, January 31, 2013

does anybody really know what time it is?

You remember that section in The Bell Jar where Esther is talking about expectations? Her dippy college boyfriend Buddy Willard has come up for a visit--to see someone else actually, that horse-face girl from her hometown, Joan--and Esther, stinging with disappointment, thinks, "I decided not to expect anything from Buddy Willard. If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed."

I've been thinking about that a lot lately.
from you can buy one there; a model, that is, not a real human heart.

Slap me with the hipster label if you want, after having read this book more than ten years ago, I still find places in it where the humanity is real. For some it may be the woman's answer to The Catcher in the Rye, with its young, privileged angst (and that book has not held up well for me) but I still feel parts of my soul echo when I read The Bell Jar. The feeling of being pulled in so many directions, the feeling of being ruled by emotions, of wanting so much from others and colliding headlong with their inability to give you what you need, the raw fear, the raw ambition, the vulnerability. It still speaks to me. Maybe that means I'm still stuck in my 19-year-old self. I prefer to think that the novel explores some ideas that endure.

But this isn't about The Bell Jar.

I've been thinking of making a Change. Not a haircut change, or a rearrange the furniture change, but a capital-C Change. To speak openly about it makes me feel vulnerable, so forgive the shady and hedged nature of my writing about it here. It's not ready to breathe on its own yet. Change. and I ask myself, What would change like this bring me? Would I become some stellar woman with a magic touch.Would I amaze others with my ability to throw down? Would I transform the hearts and minds of others? Or would it be more grunt-work, more disappointment and more monotony?

There are all these moments, places, relationships in my life, wherein I had expectations. Expectations that my family would like or understand me; expectations that my job would be there. Expectations that there'd be something for me to eat; that this feeling would last forever; that people, even when they are hurting, want to try to do good; that people can listen to each other. And over and over again, these expectations get destroyed.

(I imagine a hot water bottle overfilling to the point where it explodes.Which is interesting. My choice of metaphor might suggest that my expectations are so ludicrous that nothing, Nothing, is big or strong or smart or compassionate enough to contain them. That's not lost on me.)

Everything I read spiritually tells me that expectations are bad. That is, that they don't help you arrive at any higher version of yourself, they don't help turn me into someone who can love deeper or greater or more compassionately. There's a Sanskrit word, dukha, that means suffering, and according to the Yoga Sutras, it comes from a blindness, a refusal to see things as they are. All the yoga study, the meditation study, says to observe without judgment, to detach from the results, to witness feelings and experiences without being compelled to act on those feelings. So I guess I should say more about expectations. I think what happens is I come to a thing--a person, a relationship, an opportunity--hoping to find some part of myself that will be reflected or met in it. I hope to see or touch or recognize some part of myself in these moments. I hope to find some meaning in the work I do, the people I keep company with, the interactions I have. And I don't. Instead, they're flat, or worse, not only do I not experience a healthy mirror, but I get an experience that denies me: that tells me I don't exist, that I don't feel what I'm feeling, that I don't matter or I'm not real or that I'm not there.
So if there are all these moments in my life wherein I've sought a mirror, and expected to find one, only to be disappointed, I wonder is there a mirror even out there. Is there any experience that has meaning? Is there anything that can meet me where I am and give me what I need?

I don't like this kind of existential casting about. It feels decadent. It also feels hackneyed. Poor woman must be so burdened by not knowing whether or not her life has meaning, the millions of people who are hungry or dispossessed or incarcerated notwithstanding. But this is where I am: wondering, if the things that used to be so full of joy and meaning for me are now empty, does it even matter what I do? Is everything empty, devoid of meaning, of reflection?

Do I spiral into a nihilistic vortex that leads me to act without care for consequence? Does it lead to destruction? To inertia? To hedonism?


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