Tag Archives: Love

Assaulted by Memory

This morning, driving home from errands, I rounded a corner on the road.

I saw drenching April rains, grey skies, newly awakened bright green trees and grass, and the dark black asphalt cutting across and into the bright green.

In a moment, out of nowhere, I was assaulted by a memory from this same road.

Driving home at lunchtime to walk my new dog.

Same rains, same skies, same bright green tress and grass, and same dark black asphalt cutting across and into the bright green.

Pinned down and overwhelmed by the memory, I am unstuck in time.

Is it 2002? Is she waiting for me at home with her brother?

Or is it 2013? And she’s nearly two years gone, leaving just me and her brother?

As a youth, I wrote once of “Memora constantly encroaching upon reality”.

I’ve lost the pretentious words of youth, but the experience remains the same.

Sometimes, we are assaulted by memory.

The past overwhelms and overlays before we know what’s happening.

And as we reorient, reground and come back to present, we feel all we felt in between then and now in an instant.

All the joy, all the sorrow.

All the things that happened that you didn’t know was coming at the time.

I continued on the road, riding it to home.

I greeted her brother, remembered her and missed her.

I thought about how much longer he and I have together.

And then I walked him, because I refuse to let memory or fear of loss keep me from living now and building new memories.

Even if one day those same memories may assault me as well.

Rejection

It has been a while since I’ve done a word meditation. For a variety of reasons, the word I’m focusing on today is “rejection”

Rejection” combines “Reject” with “-ion“: the latter is a standard suffix used in English to make verb, adjectives and past participles into nouns, specifically to show action or condition.

“Reject” is the key though. “Reject” comes to us from Latin and is formed with the Latin prefix “Re” added to “ject”.

“Re” is a heavy-lifting prefix in English. Even though it comes from Latin originally, it’s well ensconced in English such that it may as well be considered a native (kind of like me and the Pacific Northwest). “Re” conveys a sense of “return” or doing again.

“ject” comes to us from the Latin past participle “iactus”. In classical Latin, there was no “j”: an initial “i” before a vowel was pronounced like a “y” in “yes”. By the middle ages, the convention of indicating that “y” sound by adding a tail to the “i” created our letter “j”. Over time the “j” transformed from a “y” sound to the “j” (as in “jack”) sound we’re familiar with today and so what was once pronounced “yact” became “ject”. Frankly, I’m not sure about the transformation of the “a” to an “e”, but it is a consistent transformation.

In Latin, “iactus” is a particle of the verb “iacio” which means to throw. That verb is used in one of my favorite classical Latin sayings: “Alea iacta est”, which means “the die is cast” and was uttered by Julius Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon and irrevocably set in motion the Civil War. Iacio as a verb conveys a sense of throwing and hurling and the many words in English that have “ject” in them convey that sense of propulsion (project, deject, inject). So motion and propulsion are important elements in any word that is constructed with “ject”.

Bringing this back to “reject”, then, we have a word that has a very clear sense of “throwing back” and that’s key to this word’s power. When you reject something, you are throwing back something that was given to you. You show that it’s not wanted in your act of throwing it back. Rejection adds in the “-ion” suffix to describe that act as a state.

Rejection is a very powerful, negative action and emotion because it almost always inherently points to an imbalance between the giver and the receiver. The giver wants to give. But the receiver doesn’t want receive. In its most powerful and painful uses, “rejection” is a word associated with love and emotion and describes what goes on within unrequited love. Perhaps the most powerful visual illustration of rejection is this short scene from The Simpsons where Bart experiences the rejection of unrequited love and in a dream sequence shows what he feels is is happening.

In some ways, “rejection” is one of the most painful and horrible things to experience. When you are in a state of rejection, you’re not wanted, thrown back, thrown away. What you have to offer is refused (sometimes very cruelly). The imbalance inherent in rejection also has an inherent vulnerability on the part of the giver and a hurting on the part of the reluctant receiver. Rejection is such a painful experience that the fear of it is codified in our language as a stock phrase: “fear of rejection”.

Sadly, rejection is something I’ve known a lot of. I’ve talked about abandonment issues and rejection is buried in there as part of that. For myself, the greatest rejection was my father who I never saw in person after age six and never spoke with after age 12. He made no efforts to see me and so I felt that a very deep, thorough rejection. It made me believe that there was something wrong with me because why else would he want nothing to do with me. Rejection poured over me like acid, burning and scaring me on the outside, and seeping in and destroying and corroding my stability and structure on the inside.

There have been other rejections in my life and one reason I’m writing this is I’m processing another one (as is someone very close to me even more so). No matter how familiar you are with rejection, it still hurts. It’s one of those things that it seems no amount of exposure or experience will dull or lessen.

And yet, if we would give, if we would love, if we would do anything other than sit behind our walls and be safe, we have to risk rejection. We have to go out there, put ourselves out there, open ourselves up….and get the living shit beat out of us on a regular basis for doing so.

What else can we do if we would truly live? For just as we experience rejection there is also acceptance. And so perhaps one of those paradoxical things about being alive is that to be alive, we have to accept rejection rather than reject rejection. In a way, this acceptance strikes me as inline with some of what Buddhism talks about in regards to the role of suffering in life. Specifically, that suffering is inherent and just part of the price you pay for being alive. Part of the Buddhist path is accepting that reality rather than rejecting it.

The Unalienable Right to be Stupid

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – United States Declaration of Independence

….and to do stupid shit when young and not pay for it for the rest of their lives. – Me

This is a posting I’ve had kicking in my head for a few weeks. I first thought of it in the wake of the Kristen Stewart furore. Now that there’s a new uproar, over semi-naked pictures of Prince Harry of Britain from Las Vegas, it seems like it’s time to vent my spleen.

In my day job, I do work around publicity and press. And I can say based on my years of experience that it’s a hard, mean, brutal and unforgiving world and has only gotten more so year by year. The combined impact of the Internet, social media, mobile computing has been a profound erosion of privacy and explosion of publicity.

I’m also a man of a certain age, which means I (somehow) managed to survive my teens and early twenties. And that means I remember (at least some) of what it’s like to be that age.

When I take those two points and bring them together, I have conclude that there is something profoundly wrong and damaging in how we’re subjecting teens and twenty-somethings to a 24x7x365 social media-driven gossip culture that rests on schadenfreude, tearing people down, and violates that most important and inalienable right young adults have (or should have): the right to be stupid and not pay for it for the rest of their lives.

Let me pause here and be clear that there ARE some stupid acts that should have life-long consequences. Bringing another human being into the world in an unthinking and irresponsible way, killing someone because you’re driving in a preventable, impaired state: all of these can and should have profound, life-long consequences because they cause profound, life-changing effects and often great pain to others. But, the covert optimist in me still believes that the majority of teens and young adults do mean well and don’t do things like this.

But certainly, these years are hard, confusing years for everyone. I’ve described hitting adolescence as you being given the keys overnight to a fully functional Ferrari without ever really getting driving lessons. Nearly overnight, your body goes from a child’s body to a near-adult’s body, with all the capabilities, hormones, emotions and feelings that entails. You get that all at once with no ease-in time, no training. And anyway there is no training that can prepare you since we’re talking about what you feel. The grown-ups can describe sex all they want but nothing can prepare you for the feeling of that first orgasm (and the near obsessive need to have more once you have it). Talk is cheap and sometimes downright useless.

Add to this it’s a time of increasing independence (by desire and cultural design) and you’ve got a period of life where there’s going to be a lot of swerving, bad turns, inelegant starts and stops. And yes, accidents, both fender benders and serious crack-ups.

It’s a time that is so hard to begin with that putting actions during that time into the public gossip machine is beyond cruel. And as a society, it’s unwise. If we don’t want a society of passive cowards we have to honor the need for experimentation and yes, failure, by giving people space to fail and to recover. Creating a society that harshly enshrines a culture of one wrong move and you’re done is a sure way to make everyone conform, follow the path of least risk and resistance and take no chances.

And anyway, it’s not fair to judge what people do in this time. It’s arguable if it’s ever fair to judge but certainly it’s not at this age. How many times do I remember the rational part of my brain futilely trying to call me back from the edge of a bad decision, only to be muffled and drown in a rising flood of seminal fluid and sex hormones? At that age you can know what the right thing is and still be unable to do it. You are like the person in the back seat screaming while the crazy driver goes barreling down the highway laughing at the death that you’re sure is coming for you soon: helpless, terrified and doomed.

The funny thing is, relative to my peers, I was good, smart, responsible, and considerate. And yet, even I did some stupid, stupid shit. For me, my stupid shit tended to center around sex (not surprisingly) and was key in my figuring out that I was a failure with monogamy. There was the time I cheated on my girlfriend within days of her going home from college and ended up cheating with three different people in two months (and likely would have with more given the opportunity). I actually ended up in Seattle as a direct result of that period but I sure wouldn’t want any part of that story to be plastered on Google news. Hell, I’m not even sure how I feel about mentioning it here, but it’s been over 20 years and maybe that summer of spectacular failure can give me some credibility on this topic.

Maybe I feel strongly about this because both these cases relate to love and sex and I had such challenges myself. Regardless of why, though, I do know that this isn’t the right way to support teens and young adults while they figure out what they’re going to do with that Ferrari they’ve just been given the keys to. We all respond to shame and judgment with avoidance: we cover up, we lie, we do all we can to ensure we don’t bring that opprobrium from others onto ourselves. And if I’ve learned one thing about relationships as I’ve gotten older, and about publicity and PR from my work, it’s that the lying and the cover-up is always worse than the act itself. We should be making it easier not harder for people to be open and honest about love and sex. And yes, that means trying to make it safe to fuck up and do stupid shit, admit it, and move forward.

So, give Kristen Stewart a break. Cut Prince Harry some slack. Let them flail and struggle and figure it all out and exercise their inalienable right to be stupid and not pay for it for the rest of their lives. Because it’s not just about them: it’s about everyone that age. You can be sure teens and twenty-somethings are watching and learning from this all.

In the end, my old rule of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” pertains here. Just because you can read about this, share it, tweet about it, take pictures, text, etc. about something stupid doesn’t mean you should. And besides, do you want to be under this spotlight? I didn’t think so. I sure don’t.

Fear: A Meditation

In my continuing word meditation series, the word today is: fear.

Such a small word. Even its etymology is short and simple.

No complex conceptual evolution. No transitions or transformations across time and cultures.

It’s just fear.

Perhaps this word is simple because the thing itself is so simple. Perhaps it is unchanged because it doesn’t need to change: fear is now as it was and shall always be.

I don’t have to describe it to you, you know it well. And you recognize it in others easily, even beyond humans. Fear is the most recognizable emotion most broadly among living creatures.

Fear is one of the most important things in keeping us alive. Fear is one of the things that most hampers our ability to thrive.

We would die without fear, but we cannot live with too much fear. They say a real hero isn’t one who feels no fear; a hero is one who feels fear and still acts. And so we spend all our lives learning how to manage it, how to face it, how to accept its lifetime companionship.

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to rally a terrified nation against fear and accurately described its effects: So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Nikos Kazantzakis (author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ) asserted his overcoming of fear and the fear of death especially by having written as his epigraph: Δεν ελπίζω τίποτε. Δεν φοβούμαι τίποτε. Είμαι λεύτερος (I don’t fear anything, I do not hope for anything, I am free).

The Buddha also spoke about the role of fear in one’s life: The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.

Frank Herbert in his novel Dune coined his famous Litany Against Fear. Even if it was for a work of fiction, it has true power and usefulness:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Roshi Joan Halifax in Being with Dying quotes Rainer Maria Rilke saying “Love and Death are the great gifts that are given to us; mostly they are passed on unopened.” Why are they mostly passed on unopened? I think it’s because of fear: we’re afraid to open them. And that is a shame.

If I’ve learned one thing as I’ve gotten older and learned how to make my relationship with fear more a true partnership, it’s that the more I feel brave enough to open those presents, the more rich, fulfilled and previously unimaginably wonderful my life has become.

It’s not a perfect relationship: fear and I still have rough patches like any lifetime partnership does. But we’re not fighting like we used to. Fear keeps me alive so that I can then do what I need to thrive.

So, to my fear, I say: thank you. I look forward to many more years of working with you.

The Game

About all things, the question can and should be asked:

Is it worth playing the game?

No matter how much we win, by equal measure we will lose. The greater winner becomes the greater loser.

Is it worth playing the game? If you are looking at the game for payoffs, then the answer is no. There is no payoff, really. You walk out with what you walked in with: nothing.

But, what if you look at the game not for the payoff but for the experience itself? No one can take that away from you. The highs and lows you experience as you win it all and lose it all: those are yours and always will be until you are no more.

It is worth playing the game? I can say yes it is, because I’m learning to love the game and not worry about the payoff.

Today is one of those days I thank the Universe for all the pain, suffering and loss in my life. Because without them, I would fail to recognize and appreciate all the pleasure, joy and richness.

It is a day that reminds me of the powerful courage it takes to say “Yes” to Life, to look at at it all and say “Yes, thank you, for all of it, I wouldn’t change a thing”. This is what Nietzsche tries to evoke in his talk about “eternal return“. As he says in The Gay Science, Aphorism 341:

The greatest weight

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

So, yes, I do desire this all once more and innumerable times more. Yes, thank you, for all of it, I wouldn’t change a thing. Yes, I can’t wait to do it all again, and again, and again, and….