A Skeptic's Delight
There are times when, strange as it is to say it, a pop song captures the mood of the moment. A few lines from a Peter Gabriel song, "Only Us", popped into my head this afternoon as I was mulling over some recent revelations.
Seduced by the noise and the bright things that glistenLet me try to explain the connection.
Too many of my posts to this forum in recent months have been little more than expressions of my own misery and self-absorption. The pain, confusion, and self-pity throbbing in my brain made it impossible to see or hear what was really going on around me, to assess the true magnitude of the problems that confront me, or to really appreciate all that is good in my life right now, in this moment, for all that it isn't what I once thought it should be.
I think what I need to do, in a sense, is to live up to my user name: hyperskeptic. I need to be skeptical beyond all bounds, and to turn that skepticism mainly on myself, on my perceptions and reactions, my judgments, my expectations.
The throbbing misery in my brain was a kind of filter applied to my perception, in much the same way a brick wall is a filter. It was skewing everything, shutting out too much, driving me to despair over what may in fact be a trifle.
Somehow, today, I changed filters. Somehow, I silenced the throbbing. Somehow, I managed to shut up and listen.
(Okay, that "somehow" included some rather stern posts from other forum participants. Thank you very much for those.)
To switch metaphors, it was like taking off a pair of glasses that had darkened to near opacity and putting on a new pair with clear lenses at more or less the right prescription.
With those new glasses, I could look more closely at the actual disagreement I've had with my wife over the care of our children and say, "That's it? Really? That little thing?"
I could look out our marriage, our family, and see all that is still strong and good in it.
I could look at my own limitations, and see the fairly straightforward things I could do to manage my time a little better, to make some room for warmth and companionship with others, should they happen along at some point.
I'm less sure of myself than I was, I know less than I did, and that's almost certainly a good thing. I'm more open to possibilities that way.
I'm humbled and wonder-struck.
. . . which is as good an excuse as any for a fresh start.
So, I begin this new blog thread with a promise to myself. I will not use this thread - or this forum, any longer - to whine and complain, or to vent my spleen, or do any other such fool thing.
If I find myself facing a difficulty, a disagreement, a puzzling circumstance, or any such thing, I'll use this blog to rake my own perceptions and assumptions over the coals, to make sure I'm not making mountains of molehills, or straining out gnats and swallowing camels, or whatever other disproportions you'd care to think of.
In other words, I'll use this blog to unlearn things, to remind myself of what I don't know, and to remind myself to shut up and pay attention.
That's the skeptic part.
As for the delight, I also intend to use this blog as a record of good things that happen - limitations overcome, conflicts resolved, discoveries, um, discovered, connections made.
That's my intention, anyway.
It occurs to me to wonder whether some of this shift in my mood has to do with impending spring. It rained here, yesterday, and afterward, as the sun set, the world smelled and looked and felt very much like March, very much like the possibility of green things growing.
Around this time of year, another bit of cultural flotsam lodges in my brain, almost without fail: scraps from the poetry of e.e. cummings.
i mean that the blond abscence of any program
I have no words of wisdom, but I did want to comment that I love your writing, and your way of expressing yourself. I imagine you are a truly inspiring teacher. I'm looking forward to reading more. Best wishes!
Based on my experience with online forums, both recent and less recent, it occurs to me I should take a more cautious approach to posting here. In that spirit, I would like to propose the following rules, which I will attempt to impose on myself from now on.
1. Shhhhh! When I feel like posting something, I should be quiet for a while. If it's worth posting, it will keep. If it's not worth posting, that will become clear with even a brief period of time for critical reflection.
2. I'm wrong. I should always assume that I am starting from a false premise, that I am missing something, that I am making a false assumption, that I have the wrong filter on. This rule is in the great Socratic tradition, according to which the admission of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom . . . and the Aristotelian tradition, according to which inquiry begins with wonder. Mainly, though, this rule is to keep me humble and open to learning; it's to keep me listening and attending to what's around me; it's to keep me aware of and sensitive to people who may be discussed in or affected by what I write, including the otherwise hapless readers of this blog.
3. Be constructive. I was going to write, No whining!, but that would have been in violation of the spirit of this rule. (Just imagine: "I whiiiine too much! I really hate it when I whiiiine!") Basically, I should confine what I post to positive, constructive efforts to figure something out about myself, or to post things I have figured out, or discovered, or accomplished, or that simply struck me as pretty wonderful in themselves. If I am unable to live up to Rule 3, I should refer back to Rule 1 right away. (In other words, if I don't have anything nice to say . . .)
4. Attend to responses, rather than reacting to them. If someone replies to something I've written, I should refer immediately to Rule 1, proceed in due time to Rule 2, then, perhaps, to Rule 3 . . . before returning again to Rule 1 for a couple of hours, at the very least. Once I've really thought things over and determined I have something useful and constructive to say in reply to a reply, then I can post it. If I don't get to that point I should return to Rule 1 and remain there.
That's a start, anyway. If I think of any further rules, I'll post them. In the mean time, shhhhh . . . .
"Do you know Doc?"
Here's something I need to think about, a puzzle I need to work out, sooner rather than later.
That Vix goes to Europe to travel with Doc is a fact widely - but quietly - known in our local community. It's hard to be clear about this while trying to maintain anonymity, but this is a community of interest that spans the U.S. and Canada, with branches as far away as Europe and even New Zealand.
Even though Doc is living in Germany, he lived in the States not that long ago, and is widely known throughout the U.S. as an active part of this community.
Friends have asked Vix about this, and she has told them outright that she and Doc sometimes travel together and participate together in this particular activity.
Meanwhile, other friends, whom Vix has likely not told directly of her travels, may have caught wind of it. At one gathering, someone started talking about Europe and mentioned Doc by name. He turned to me, with a somewhat cautious look, and asked, "Do you know [Doc]?"
He was distinctly uncomfortable asking. I was equally uncomfortable in replying. I said something mildly evasive - "Not well, but yes," or something like that - and moved on.
It was an awkward moment.
That's not the first time people have (pointedly?) brought up Doc in my presence, and I have wondered what they know, or what they suspect, and what, if anything, I should do about it.
Sometimes, it depends on my mood with respect to Vix, which - as readers of my old blog and other threads have reason to know - is, um, inconsistent. Sometimes I'm comfortable enough with having her travel with Doc, sometimes I'm rather less comfortable.
I think I need to decide on a policy. Vix has chosen to be open, but only to a point. She tells more trustworthy (or at least unavoidable) individuals that she occasionally travels with Doc to attend events; that she needs to be away from Atlanta in order to breathe, and Doc has a house in Germany that is too big for him and otherwise empty; and that they enjoy one another's company. As far as she's concerned, that's all anyone really needs to know.
I wonder if I should take the same line, just brazen it out, and let people think what they will.
It doesn't sit well with me to be too evasive, too indirect - I've sometimes coyly referred to Vix's "breathing holidays" - just as it may not be advisable to be too open or too, um, specific regarding, say, sleeping arrangements when Vix and Doc travel together.
(They sleep together in the same bed, and sometimes have sex.)
I'll think about this more, and pay attention the next time someone mentions Doc in my presence. I'll report back how I respond, and how it goes.
It will be good practice if I end up with another relationship of my own, especially if it's with someone in this same community.
Two Good Things
Okay, I'm probably overdoing it, but I really have let tonight's posts percolate for a few hours before writing them. I've passed them through the filters of the above-listed rules several times.
Really. I have.
There have been two developments today I take as generally positive.
1. Vix bought tickets for her next trip to Europe, at the end of the month. She consulted with me about timing, and we negotiated reasonable time for her to leave and to return. She'll be able to have dinner with us before she goes, and will return on the first day of our girls' spring break . . . a day on which I do not have teaching obligations, and can probably work around other obligations.
We made sure her flight and travel information made it on to a shared calendar, and that it actually showed up on my phone. Meanwhile, we've made sure all my work-related obligations show up and, between now and when she travels, we'll work out arrangements for getting the girls hither and yon when they have activities that conflict with my obligations on campus.
On the whole, it was very . . . practical.
It felt like a positive step.
2. I wrote to the woman on whom I have had a crush, asking her to lunch once again. I asked her a couple of weeks ago, and received no reply.
I was assuming that she was rejecting me, that she was creeped out by my attention, that she wasn't interested even in friendship with me.
That's nonsense, of course. In the spirit of skepticism, I should assume no such thing.
So, I added a post-script to my note, today, which I quote here verbatim:
P.S. Please let me know if my asking again is annoying to you. The last thing I want is to be a nuisance. Be blunt, if you need to be.It's not very good, perhaps, but at least I've made an opening for her to be direct, if she's so inclined.
I hope she'll respond to the prompt, one way or the other. If she tells me to stop asking her, I may be a little disappointed, but at least I can act based on knowledge rather than ignorance or assumptions.
I haven't heard back from her, yet. If I don't hear from her, I might just have to go ahead and make an assumption about what her response to my post-script would have been . . .
I was wondering, with all that barricade talk, are you a Les Miz fan? :D It seemed a little too irreverent to ask on the other thread.
I used to like the musical, of which I had the original New York cast recording, but eventually cooled on it. I haven't seen the movie, though I suspect it earned the award bestowed upon it by The Onion: the Academy Award for Most Sound . . .
[EDIT:] P.S., that other thread really is painful to read, isn't it? I'm not sure anything any of us can say would do any good.
In my world we are not "out" but that doesn't mean that Dude is a secret or we act like he doesn't exist. So, the situations that could be "awkward" if we acted guilty or like there was something wrong are NOT awkward because WE aren't embarrassed by them.
So, for instance, if Dude and I are out together and we run into someone that MrS and I know: "Oh, hi, Sam. How are you? I don't know that you've met my friend Dude...we just had lunch at the restaurant you suggested the other day. MrS is home working on that project he was telling you about last week, it's going really well. I'll let him know that you said Hi."
And leave it at that...if they choose to go home and speculate as to what is really going on, that is their problem.
If Sam runs into MrS a few days later: "That project turned out really well. Jane said she saw you last week when she and Dude were out to lunch, they said they really liked that restaurant you suggested."
Any more than that is nobody else's damn business.
I've slowly been coming around to the realization that much hinges on how I handle and project my own feelings about Vix and Doc; mainly, though, I need to work on my focus and courage when I'm in such situations.
But that's a much bigger issue, for me. You see, another puzzle for me to work out arises from the fact that I have, since childhood, been much too sensitive to others' perceptions and judgments - or my assumptions regarding their perceptions and judgments - of me and my actions.
I could say it's a function of growing up Lutheran - surrounded always by that unseen cloud of witness, watching and judging me - but that would be neither fully accurate nor really fair. Any number of other factors may be involved in it: third child syndrome, some neurological quirk, some excess of empathy, etc.
The sporting question, though, is whether and how I'll learn to get over that limitation in myself, to stand up and say, for example, "Vix and Doc are traveling together now," and be secure in my own judgment that the arrangement is good and fair.
In short, I agree with you on the essential point: if I find nothing shameful in Vix's relationship with Doc - and that's the case, nearly all the time, and more so now than before - then I should not act as though there is anything shameful in it.
If people draw contrary conclusions, let it not be due to my actions or attitudes when talking about their travels together.
I recommend the new movie, but then my recommendation is biased because I've loved the musical all my life and will never not love it.
And yeah, as for the other thread... I realized that I was probably identifying with it more than was necessary/reasonable, and once I stepped back a little mentally it was better. There are relatively few models for the lives we're living, so I think it becomes easier than it ought to be to project when we see a situation that reminds us of our own.
Of everyone, you were probably the best positioned to possibly help, but, yeah, help wasn't actually possible. If the thread had started where it is now, we'd still try to help but it wouldn't be difficult to witness in the same way. It's just watching that moment of dramatic disintegration, that tipping point, and feeling like maybe you could do something in some small way to arrest it, except you can't, that's really hard.
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