Tag Archives: Reflection

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.

You’re the Son of a Bitch We’ve Been Looking For

Today is a day of history. Being such, it’s good to go back to history for some lessons.

In 1865, after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, the Union Army dispatched riders to carry the news to stop fighting.

The story is told that on hearing the news a Union soldier shouted back to one rider: “So you’re the son of a bitch we’ve been looking for these 4 years”.

Today I find myself feeling some of that, though it’s been nearly ten years.

One cannot help but feel like the news of Osama bin Laden’s death should bring some sense of closure. Regardless of how you feel about killing him, his being dead is the closest thing to a clear moment of victory in this thing that is called a “war”.

I wrote nearly five years ago about how this “war” wasn’t a neat war with a clear ending. I borrowed from a Babylon 5 two-part episode title and called it a “War Without End” (itself an echo of the Roman Catholic Credo that declares after the second coming of Jesus Christ, his kingdom “will have no end”).

And here we are, today and the thing that can most closely be called an end has happened.

Now what?

It is like so much I’ve been going through in my own life. It feels like this means that everything has changed and nothing has changed.

Perhaps if this end had come in 2002 it would feel like an end, a victory.

But as it is, it feels less like a victory and more like a formality. It lacks the clear demarcation of a powerful closing. Instead it feels like we’ve made formal what’s already been reality for a while. It’s feels less like a clean break and a new start and more like signing the divorce papers after living apart fifteen years.

I find myself coming back to the ending of T.S. Eliot’sThe Hollow Men“. I think I feel the power of its sentiment most keenly now. Before they were words. But now, I feel what it means.

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

It’s taken nearly ten years to get where we are now. It’s going to take more than one person being killed to get back from that.

The Fall

It has been some time since I’ve written and to say that much has happened is an understatement of the highest order.

At its simplest, I finally accomplished what I set out to do: I walked out of that poisonous, abusive, unhealthy work environment on my terms, my timeline, with my head held high, much love and support from friend inside and out, and no small amount of envy from those left behind.

For the past eleven days now, I’ve been coming to terms with the separation, learning what it is to not check e-mail every 30 minutes unless on vacation. Most of all, I’ve been recognizing that a number of issues I had when I was younger haven’t really gone away: they were just pushed to the back of the closet. When something takes up nearly 90% of the available space in your life and your mind, you shove a lot to the back of the closet.

I expected that what I feel now is what I would be feeling. In a way this reminds me of my skydiving experience. You’re falling from a great height, fast, the air is rushing loudly and feels like water, you’re thrilled and scared all at once, you’re flying and falling and so alive and could well be dead if it all goes wrong.

And then….

…you’re on the ground, it’s quiet, there’s no movement, no danger, no excitement, no sound. It’s just you, where you are, with what you have with you. That’s it.

I’ve been watching the scene in the new Galactica where Adama enters the boxing ring and fights well to a point, at which point the fight becomes just a beating, a punishment, something that shows how much he can take until finally, he can’t take any more. And then, he falls.

The idea of falling is very prominent in my mind as I grapple with the new reality. I have had to cope with the idea that I have fallen, that I had to leave that job because I took it until I couldn’t take any more.

I always said that the difference between a setback and a failure is whether you get up again. And I am determined to get up again and move on.

But first, I have to heal. First I have to gather my strength before I try to stand once more. But I will, and I will move on to new and better things.

For now though, I am taking stock of where I’ve landed, what I have and who I am. That last perhaps is the biggest thing to work out, because I am free for the first time of the conditioning and conforming expectations of others. And while that’s wonderful, it means that it’s up to me now to fill all that space myself that others were happy to fill for me.

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….

The Smooth Touch of Silk

Somewhere near the bottom of the footlocker of our everyday lexicon is a phrase that nearly everyone has heard at least once: “the Silk Road“.

And, for a popular culture that suffers from a terrible lack of knowledge about history, most people manage to get some vague idea about what it was right.  Most people know that it was an overland trading route between Europe and China and that it played some role in prompting Columbus on his voyage. Oh, and that there were camels and silk.

Considering that most people keep trying to put Vietnam as the southern neighbor of Canada and the western neighbor of Iraq, that’s not too bad!

And so, in our popular understanding, this turn of phrase calls forth some of that exotic orientalism of old: mental images of camels, chinese silk clothes, deserts, Marco Polo, Kubla Khan, and maybe Xanadu (no, not the Olivia Newton John version).

Until a couple of years ago, that was roughly where my understanding was, though my history has always been pretty good, so tilt me more historical information and less poetical.

In the past couple of years, though, I slowly stumbled my way into reading about first Afghanistan and from there more and more about Inner Asia. And, like one of the explorers of the Silk Road that I’ve read about, the more I dig and find, the most I’m left simply speechless at the beauty and diversity that I’ve found.

For it turns out that this very simple and pithy phrase (coined by Ferdinand von Richthofen uncle of the Red Baron of World War I) really labels not so much a simple road or path but, really, a juncture; a juncture that sits in the middle of the largest land mass on the earth and knits together the four major spheres of settled civilizations on that land mass: the civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean; the civilizations of China and South East Asia; the Civilizations of Persia, the Near East and the Mediterranean; and the civilizations of India and the surrounding regions.

Into and across this juncture come elements, goods (yes, including silk), peoples, thoughts and languages. A huge expanse of land mass that serves essentially as a cultural superhighway transmitting things between all of those civilizations. Paper from China finds its way to the Muslim world and eventually to Europe. Gunpowder, silk, cannons, alphabets: all of these circulate across this superhighway.

And ideas. Perhaps most important, ideas. Buddhism from India to China. Manicheanism (best know because of Saint Augustine) can be found everywhere, all the way from Europe to China. Writing: many scripts of medieval central asia use a script derived from the Sogdian Language which was an Iranian language that used an Aramaic script.

Perhaps most interesting, especially in today’s multicultural world of mass movement and travel, peoples and languages. From the Indo-European Scythians, Sarmatians, Goths, Sogdians, and Tocharians to the Turkic Koks, Huns, Kazaks, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Turks of Turkey to the Mongolian Mongols, Tartars, and Manchus the Silk Road and the Steppes represent the worlds greatest melting pot, ever.

Spend any time studying the Steppes and the “”Aryans”” (meaning the early Indo-European peoples) on it and you realize just how thoroughly ludicrous racial purity theories are, most especially ones focused on Germanic identity: the Goths (perhaps the strongest and most successful of the early German tribes) were strongly intermixed and influenced by the Huns, a Turkic people. Genetic scientists claim that perhaps 1 in 200 people carry DNA from Genghis Khan. Through migrations, trade, and war, among other things, the the Steppes and the Silk Road took those isolated spheres of  genes and ethnic identity and mixed it all up.

Perhaps there is no better example to explode these compartmentalized ideas of history, culture and ethnic identify than a picture. This is a picture of Buddhist monks from the 9th Century CE. It comes from Bezaklik which is located in the Tarim Basin (here is a map to help you see where that is. The image really speaks for itself.

Another example of the incredibly interesting mix of cultures and history is the tale of Baron Roman Ungern von Sternberg, also known as the “”Bloody Baron””. A Russian General who played a major role in the Russian Civil War. He was a liberator of Mongolia from China who saw himself as a reincarnation of Genghis Khan, and declared to be a Mahakala incarnation by the Dalai Lama XIII.

I am a history person.  I always have been and I always will be.  I’ve always been particularly drawn to lesser known, more obscure history. And so, in many ways, I have found a true treasure trove for my interest in this region. It’s only a couple of years since I found my way into this region but I know this will be a lifelong interest as it unites so many interests including a desire to someday write a history about the role of the horse on Indo-European cultures.

And so, we see, there is so much buried in this one phrase, “”the Silk Road””. A lifetime of pleasant study, at the very least. But also, a very key element in the history of humanity and one that we could stand to study more because it can influence and guide us both as our current world becomes ever more connected and fluid and as we move (as we surely will) into the broad expanse of space. I firmly believe that our experience of space will be very like our experience on the Eurasian landmass: pockets of civilization joined by a fluid, open juncture.

If you’ve made it this far, then you’re probably interested in learning more.  So, here’s some places to go:

The Silk Road Foundation has great resources and articles, though the site is clunky: http://www.silk-road.com/toc/index.html
The Silk Road Project is a wonderful musical project: http://www.silkroadproject.org/
The International Dunhuang Project is simply incredible for information and resources: http://idp.bl.uk/