Saturday, July 31, 2010


It was a weeknight, sometime midweek. I was in the parking lot of a popular chain restaurant, checking out my best friend's new car. Her wings, one might say, to fly away with.
I've been spending quite of bit of time talking to this friend. She's been going through something, and yet she doesn't want to talk about it. She wants distraction. She wants something else to think about. We had been entertaining her mind with camp stories and wilderness adventure website discussion inside. Now it's time for her to go home, and she is not ready yet.
There was a wide expanse of lawn between her car and the nearby bank. We watched the children play in the grass, shooing them a safe distance away so that we could have more private conversation. In our parting words, we reveal the inner workings of our hearts. She tells me her worries and concerns for what lay ahead. Then she shuts down again and throws back into my court the burden of conversation. What else can I pull out of my hat....
So I tell her about this other thing that's been on my mind. I tell her about my latest late night obsession, which has been a little over the top, even for me. I was tired because I kept going down this odd internet road before bed. Some astrology thing that had my brain ticking. I kept getting frustrated because the hits were not working out - I wanted this particular kind of exchange from the experience and it hadn't been yielding it, and then suddenly I had hit jackpot. I found a website that said exactly what I wanted it to say, and yet, I didn't like the answers. It was like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that turned out to be fool's gold instead. I wasn't sure of its accuracy, so I turned it on its head and ran the reading another way.
I was comparing certain zodiac alignments involving myself and these people in my life. I would expected comparing these two individuals from this kind of dimension would yield radically different results. However, when I ran the "test run", on the former relationship, the answers came out eerily similiar. The stars were aligned in almost exactly the same way. The ten paragraphs were practically identical, actually, within about 80%. There was only slight differences in wording. I knew how this one on the second reading turned out, so it was somewhat ironic that it cast this one as the longer lasting relationship.
The differences between these two readings I would say were accurate, and it was these differences I was talking to her about now. There were about three. She agreed with me on what I told her it said, but then adding her own perspective.
"That is one good thing I can say about your ex," she said. "He always gave you the freedom to be who it is you want to be. Ultimately that is really important to you."
And to a large extent, that is true. My life was shaped by the forces of desire for freedom. It was part of the sympathy for the mustangs and little Wild Horse Annie trapped in a polio cast and longing to break free, let her spirit run unfettered, and her imagination as well caught up in the rumblings of the hooves of wild horses. I'd been talking of freedom for years and never really living it. Or was I. Did he give me that gift that no one else had been able to give.
And it was possible. I remember thinking that, actually, as a reason to justify remaining with him all those years. With him I was free to be myself, and he always accepted this about me, didn't influence me to change in any way. In his family, I had gotten acceptance I had never felt in mine, and that was important to me, in terms of personal growth. "I still think you guys weren't meant to be together, though," she added, and we agreed.

Later we come back to this same conversation. I was telling her these stories of dinner fiascos. How I had this same paralyzing feeling about cooking with these people in my life, and then when I do, there is some spice incident that throws a damper on the whole thing. Kind of a funny random memory of a garlic incident dinner in college I had forgotten to tell her about all these years. I am asking her about how it started out with her man, something I should know the answer to somehow but don't. We weren't hanging out a whole lot in this period of our lives, both in the budding of new significant relationships. She can't remember when that all happened for them. I never remembered having those kind of feelings with this ex. I tell her about how it was for us back then, how we would help each other make dinner, the stuff that was endearing about him back then but later would drive me nuts, like how he would go behind me and add more to the pan. Back in those early days, we were having fun with it. I don't remember having this kind of anxiety. She added that it all goes back to what she was saying that night after dinner. The anxiety wasn't there because there was nothing but acceptance.

When I think about what she is saying, I think about my reaction to my parents. My childhood friend likes to blame my "running off" with the ex on my negative reaction to my parents heavy handedness. She thinks I rebelled against the tyranny of oppression, and perhaps it was, in some way, but not that directly. It was probably this kind of general acceptance of who I was as an individual, and no attempts to change me, that drew me to him in the first place. Looking at it this way makes it seem like less of a sad thing, a regret thing, but rather an experience I was fated to have to learn to get over some of my issues with esteem, or learn how to deal with them.

In a way, I am glad we had these conversations now. This next week, I'll be dealing with some of the real consequences to the ending of a life together. I think thinking of him through this more favorable lens may make it easier to deal with the splitting up of a family household. We'll see what kind of peace that brings me in the days ahead.

Friday, July 30, 2010

It was late in the evening, early in the week. I was on a certain popular social networking site. The little messenger screen pops up, a friend of mine from the past. I hadn't talked to him in six months, so I was filling him in on recent history. He had noted my name change.
"Good. Now you can get back to being the girl you used to be, the one I knew."
This thought catches me for a little while. I tried to imagine that, this fun game I like to do where I detach myself from my "lens" and try on someone else's. Life begins to seem like a pile of fractals, all layered on top of each other to create this thing called reality. What is the truth, if not some inner core made up of all these things, these many perceptions and reactions out there on this emotional universe from a million different angles.
It's the eternal mystery, this kind of guessing at what it looked like from the outside, from all these different aspects. I wonder what kind of impression this person had of me. In this case, it would have been a rose colored view, as there was some adoration on his end. I wasn't available, because my loyalty kept me with somebody else. But he had probably had me under a microscope longer than anyone else had in my natural life. So I have to wonder. What was it that he thought made me who I was in the first place?
I task him with answering that question.
All week, I've been wondering about this myself. I'm wondering why some people might suggest, as he had, that I needed to go "find myself" first. Did I lose myself? Did I? It's really hard to say, because self is only half our reality and half someone else's perception of who you are. So my half says, no...I've always been whatcha talking about...
Only, their perception might have changed. From what to what?
I try to think about who this girl was that this person had known, maybe fifteen years ago. The context in which you know someone is relevant in terms of relative common reality. In this case, our mutual interest had been literature, the written word, writers with cult followings, old movies in which dialogue mattered. He was always a captive audience for anything I wrote, and offered his critique, which had been well thought out and honest. So certainly some of his perceptions were based around this sort of exchanging of ideas, intellectual discourse in the wee hours of the morning at the all night diner.
Have I lost this person, this part of me? No, not really. I can't stay up so late anymore, but there's still that part of me that digs deeper and deeper into those subjects of interest, that wants to talk talk talk of ideas and come to some clearer understanding of it all. Here lies some of the source of the cosmic cowgirl persona, this riding out of the mental range, rounding up stray thoughts and making fenceposts out of them. The touchstones are still the same; Kerouac, Robbins, Pirsig. The mental fences are still strung with horses, beat poets, Indigo Girls, behavior, humans, evolution, science, psychology, religion, poetry, animals, all the many little bits and pieces of mental floss I pick up over periods to chew on for a while.
Nah...I don't think I ever lost myself. I don't think I need to slow down for a while and look for her, either. I think somewhere in there those things that made me who I was are all still there. Where would I have gone? Would I have become invisible to this marriage? I think I held tight to that concept of identity and self preservation rather well, so I get some kind of emotional bypass, a free skip ahead on the game board. Move your piece one square ahead....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In the defining book of my seventeeth year, namely, The Fountainhead, the central premise posed the question, "Does Altruism Exist?" The author, Ayn Rand, used her characters to prove her premise that, in fact, altruism (in this case, meaning the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others) does not exist. She holds up two architects as examples as either end of the spectrum, and shows us through Howard Roarke that self is the only thing that matters...well, that and principles, which should be inherent as part of the Self at any rate. Truth and Rationalism are the reigning heroes of this novel, while self-sacrificing Peter Keating plays a particularly pathetic role as the perpetual people pleaser.
I think it's funny now that my best friend and I were so consumed with this idea, this novel, that we debated it for a year or more. We bought into the idea completely that Rational Self Interest was the highest ideal, and that it made perfect sense to not sacrifice self to others. We took it apart and put it back together again, and never realized that it ran contradictory to our beliefs as Christians. Now, looking at Rand's philosophy, some parts I buy into, but some I can't seem to wrap my mind around.
The Christian attitude towards altruism is completely different. In fact, the idea of altruism is present in several of the major world religions. Most religions advocate the spirit of selfless giving to others. However, even Rand would argue here, as well as some philosophers, that ultimately, the motivation to serve others, or to give to others, is still primarily motivated by matters of the self. For instance, the giving to less fortunate by members of the church, the philanthropy of the rich and powerful, the caring for children even, is all governed by the impulse to avoid anxiety by giving into what society says is right, what our religion says is right, what our conscience tells us. Giving as a means to ease our conscience or to feel good about ourselves, they say, is still a selfish act.
To really be "altruistic", in its purest form, is to give to someone or something without expectation of reward. Perhaps in its truest form it takes the shape of a man dying for his country, for his values of patriotism. Or, say, a nun who spends her life among the ill and dying, or a freedom fighter. In some cases, it may even be people you know, who give freely to their community without expecting recognition or reward.
As I get deeper into my faith, I learn more about what it is saying, and the examples that are given about what love is. I throw love into this equation, because in a way, the relationships between lovers speaks volumes of the eternal debate between self and others. Every day there are choices to make between acting for ones self, and acting for the benefit of others.
In the New Testament, Paul lays forth examples of what love ought to be. In an oft repeated verse in the First Letter to the Corinthians, verse 13, he says this:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

One could assert, and some have, that the self seeking part of that verse indicates that love means selflessness, to put concern for another's well being ahead of your own. Many other biblical examples assert the same doctrine of altruism in relationships (e.i Phillippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves), and seemingly Jesus himself not only advocated but lived a life, was in fact a walking example of selfless giving. How much selfishness was inherent in his act of sacrificing his mortal body for the forgiveness of sins of people he hadn't even met yet?
I wonder about what the truth of this debate is, and put it up to both the theoretical test of objectivism and the subjective test of experience. Are the actions we make towards other people, even when they appear to be selfless in nature, even when we appear to be giving up our own wants and desires, subconsciously driven by selfish motivations? Is, say, the giving up of desired time and attention for the more worthy goal of someone's health or habits really based out solely out of concern for the other's well being, or the perception that it may pay off in other opportunities or rewards later?
Do any of us ever love others selflessly, and if so, is that a noble goal? Is the act of love inherently selfish in nature, wanting some part of another for oneself, or is true love the ability to let go of a lover, if the other person would consider themselves better off without? Altruism, or selflessness, in its purest form, is to give without regard to reward or the benefits of recognition or need. To give selflessly would mean to never expect anything back. Would that even be a worthwhile goal, to never get back what you are investing into a relationship, say? In our culture, that kind of giving eventually either defines you as a doormat, or ends a marriage. We may give selflessly at times to love, or sacrifice our immediate selfish wants or needs for the benefit of another in the short term, but the expectation is in what scientists call "reciprocal altruism"; that, in effect, the good you do comes back to you. Even people who would term themselves "pleasers" or "givers" eventually want the same kind of treatment given back to them, otherwise it fuels resentment that interferes with the continuance of the relationship.
So I am not sure, based on some of those questions or theories, if Rand was right and altruism does not exist, or if basically we all do a little bit of selfless sacrifice for others on a regular basis every day. Look at moms, for instance. Or look around you, at your friends, at your lover, at your mate. It may be less black and white and more a million shades of gray, so much going into the motivations that it is impossible to seperate our motivations out between selfishness and selflessness.
Or consider the dolphins. I wonder if Rand ever considered the dolphins (read below story). Is there any evolutionary fitness strategy, any selfish motivation to the actions of dolphins putting themselves in harms way to save humans from certain death? Can their actions be explained by anything other than true altruism?

Monday, July 12, 2010


I've been reading this book, The Wild Places, by Robert MacFarlane, and every so often there is a paragraph or part that just touches me and I want to share it. Here is today's:
In 2004, a father and son were sailing in the Gulf of Mexico when their yacht was capsized by a gust of wind, sixty miles offshore. They clung to the hull, as it was carried on the powerful currents of the Gulf. After night fell, the water became rich with phosphorescence, and the air was filled with a high discordant music, made of many different notes: the siren song of dolphins. The drifting pair also saw that they were at the centre of two rough circles of phosphorescence, one turning within the other. The inner circle of light, they realised, was a ring of dolphins, swimming round the upturned boat, and the outer circle was a ring of sharks, swimming around the dolphins. The dolphins were protecting the father and his son, keeping the sharks from them.
I read more about this story, as it is an actual true event, on the internet, and learned that the father and son were of great faith. They were out there for two days, and felt strongly that God would take care of them. Here is a quote from the father about their experience:
We made peace with God about it. Ultimately it came down to unless God moved on our behalf, we wouldn't make it in," Ken Heybrock of High Point said. (AP, Charlotte Observer).
My take is that God sent in his dolphin angels. It is pretty amazing that the dolphins would do that. Here are some other stories I found of dolphins saving humans from shark attacks:

Apparently, it is an occurence that has been reported as happening as far back as ancient Greece, where the first dolphin related human rescue was reported. Very fascinating. I wonder what motivates the dolphins to take the actions they do. Any theories?

Monday, July 05, 2010


Driving into the rain, into the city, passing the red cliffs that marked the entrance into this state and the approach to the major city. Heading south, into the comfort of warm beds, to the prospect of town and hot food and showers. The land rose up on sharp angles all around us, while the rain dulled the edges. It made me start thinking, or maybe I already was.
I was thinking about an image of home. Perhaps this thought was tied to the feeling of missing my children. I was imagining them now, and I could see their little faces light up with laughter, their father having fun with them. I was thinking about what "home" was to these children, and I had a fresh memory of what it was at its best, two people standing side by side, playing off each other in terms of jovially directing the children, . That was a man and a wife. But now, severed apart.
And not for less than good reasons. I imagined what it was like from his side, how he must feel about losing his wife to loneliness and lack of trying. How this woman, for twelve years his companion, was out in the wild with another man. About how it feels, this sensation of divorce, how much like pangaea splitting apart, a continent adrift. Once locked land mass, removed. How the distance began to lap at its edges, widening, the gradual drifting away into the great ocean. A life, less lived.
What does that even mean, I wondered. Do all of us ever fully live our life. How? What's the criteria?
I was of thinking about what is is people do with their lives. What do they really do with them? There's the outside perception, and then there is the way the day to day operates, the activities that people do to fill their idle time.
I am thinking this, and trying to imagine my companion in the everyday. This got me curious, wondering about his experience with the continental divide. Was it the same for him, this mutual experience we had?
I ask him questions. The answers lead to more questions, as this usually does with me, and I try to wrap my mind around this image of two, the motions of a marriage, the ways we fill our mutual time. I am thinking about his answers and trying to imagine it, this life he is describing. My imagination carries it, but then I feel that jagged little edge of jealousy and I stop. Still, my mind carries images of union, of what passes for peace among two people, the agreed upon time spenders.
I'm trying to think of how I could put in words what home life was like for me the past decade plus of my life, how we had spent our time. My mind reached into the memory bank and pulled out one rather odd, but perhaps typical, memory. It was a memory of baseball season, maybe one or two years ago. What did we do with our lives?
We took our boys to things they were involved in, mostly the older one. In this memory, we are at a baseball game, watching my older son from opposite ends of the field, and fighting. Often, the fighting, the anger, a drink in his hands half hidden from view, or the frustration of sitting alone in the crowd.

Around this moment, the radio turned to a Fleetwood Mac song, the song I had chosen to dance with my father to at my wedding to this man in my memories. Stevie Nicks singing about climbing a mountain, and turning around, and how I had felt like that before, and how I had given it all up to live in union with this man, the same one so much anger between years later. I wonder what my father thought of the reasons I had divorced this man, and, and how he might have felt about allowing his daughter into such a union.
I think about my parents and their imperfect marriage, about how perhaps they feel torn occasionally, too, between feeling sad about the idea of divorce, of this fractured family, and feeling happy for me for finally climbing that mountain and turning around. I wonder where their sympathies are.
Me, I feel sympathy for everyone. I feel a little sad about each one of these broken continents, not just myself, but the lot of them. Starting with my parents, but spreading not just to myself and my island of loss, but this man of my past, this one beside me, and the wife of his past. How that feels to be seperated from this greater whole, cut adrift, and the whole thing makes me sad. In my case, maybe I am more sad about making the choice in the first place, about these choices we make that make ourselves miserable. And yet there is so much happiness in life, like the way I have been feeling, that makes it so much more worthwhile that we lose to those locked years.

I am sad for a while, wondering how we went up in these situations, how these things happen, how we let go. I wonder how my father let go of his daughter in union to this man, and how he would have been able to release me. As I sat in a tub full of warm water, I contemplated this, and I remembered just exactly how. He had asked me if I was sure, if this man took care of me, if he was good to me, looking me in the eye as I answered, something my father seldom did. He paid attention to me when I told him yes, I was sure, yes I was happy. I was so in love with that man then I couldn't see the obvious faults that would divide this land. Or, perhaps, it was just that then I only saw the good, and there was some of that, too, occasionally.

Or perhaps, things really were wonderful, for a while. And this is the thought that calms me, eventually, perhaps some cognitive dissonance, but peace with that piece of history in me.