Thursday, October 28, 2010

On certainty

At some point in my pre-teen years, probably after reading Ben Franklin's autobiography, I got this crazy idea to measure how successful I had been that day in improving the three main aspects of self: physical, mental, and spiritual.

In measuring the physical, I would count the calories I had consumed that day and compare any exercise to the previous exercise the day before. In measuring the mental, I would go through each class, any test scores, my homework, and consider future projects that I might want to pay attention to in future measurements. In measuring the spiritual, I would remember all the conversations I had that day and gage whether or not I was a good person. I would rework interactions in my head, figuring out how I might have been better to that person than I had been. I would take pride in myself for reaching out to an underdog, to standing up to someone popular or in power.

At the end of my freshman year of high school, I was first in my class, had scored the highest on national Freshman exams in the state of New Jersey, had been the only person in the state to receive a perfect score on the writing exam, and had raced in scoring position on the state champion cross-country team. I also fell in love for the first time.

At the very end of my freshman year, my first love came to me with a dilemma. He loved me, that was clear to him. He absolutely respected my virtue and did not feel he had any right to ask me to have sex with him, as he did not believe that this was something I wanted or was ready for and he did not want to be the type of guy to put pressure on me. But he wanted to have sex. He was never going to cheat on any woman, so he saw that the only way to get around this was for us to break up so that he could have meaningless sex and I could continue to be virtuous.

That night all the science of certainty seemed to have dissolved before me - I was incapable of measuring self.  I was heartbroken, rejected, and yet the reasoning behind it was meant to protect and uphold my virtue. I was like the computer in War Games playing tic tac toe. I could not figure out a scenario in the future that would enable me to be a better person. If I had sex with my first love, he might stay with me and not go sleeping with other women, but then I would lose my virtue, and this might affect me personally, but it also might make him fall out of love with me as I would be so fundamentally different. If I did not sleep with my first love, then I could not help but feel that I must be less than I was when he decided to love me in the first place, as he had decided to leave me. I would need to get prettier and smarter and be an even better person so that he might just love me again - but would he, if ultimately it wasn't about me?

Though I did not know it at the time, I can see in hindsight that this was the first moment in my adult life of realizing life isn't black and white, that the most difficult times in life, the most trying decisions we make, are not a choice between right and wrong, but a choice that has consequences from both sides. If we try to find certainty in amongst the grey, we will wind up making no decisions, or else building up false realities to believe that one decision was correct and the other wrong.

For a long time, I kept trying to measure self, and it kept getting more and more difficult, as life got harder, bad things happened, and I needed to make difficult choices because of circumstances I could not control. There were moments when I made no decision at all, and then obsessed over whether or not inaction was better than action with negative consequences. There were other moments when I made a decision, and asked myself if it might not have been better to make no decision at all. And I reached a point when I had to take a seriously look at whether or not any good was coming from the act of self measurement.

On Saturday night, having a couple of drinks with friends, I brought up the topic of my new blog. One friend brought up the topic of certainty - that there had been times in his life when he wished he wasn't so grey, or at least did not appear to be so grey to the outside world, where he wished he could at least pretend he was certain of something and be believed by the outside world.

This conversation has been on my mind all week, and is what inspired this week's blog. Is there anything in my life that I am truly certain about, or is even the sacred subject to grey? So I went straight to the source, my daughter, and I thought to myself, am I truly certain about my love for her and will I always be truly certain about my love for her? And all of my physical being says yes, that there is no way that I would doubt my love for my daughter. But then I thought about how my relationship with my own parents has played out over the years, and I could see pockets of doubt in their love for me, and moments when I did not approve of the way my parents were treating me, and thus had to make a spiritual break. And I feel I would be unfair to my daughter in her independence if I did not allow for similar periods to happen in our lives, should it take a natural course.

I have grown up a lot over the years, and have come back to the trinity of self: physical, mental, spiritual. But instead of measuring how I compare to days before, looking for quantifiable improvements, I ask myself if I tried as hard as I could given the day that was in it, and I pray to a higher god or goddess to help me try equally as hard the next day (notice that I didn't say 'try harder'). This too has its consequences, as I am ultimately exhausted most nights from the amount of effort it takes to be as much as I can in a given day.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Can't seem to shake these misplaced feelings of guilt

Note from me:

When I wrote the original version of this blog, I hadn't shared the blog with people I know personally. I also tested that it did not come up in various searches, so I felt somewhat safe, but a little daring in putting myself out there, in being raw, seriously true to what I was feeling and thinking and the circumstances around those feelings and thoughts.

But once the next blog idea came to me, and I realized I would like to share it, I tested the waters a bit, and within a day, a friend emailed me to say that I should change the blog. I have read a little bit about blogging etiquette, and I have seen recommendations on how to talk about sensitive subject matter, and the act of blogging in itself feels grey - truths that aren't as raw as they could be, processed for some audience that you aren't really sure exists or is listening.

And I purposefully acted against the grain in, breaking all sorts of 'blogger rules'. But then in hindsight, I felt guilty about writing in such a way about my 'feelings of guilt' , and here I am, in the act of changing the original version. The friend suggested that I take out all the specifics and leave in the emotion. The result is effectively an introduction and a conclusion, with no explanation.

From a writing perspective, the whole notion of figuring out what is the audience and purpose of a blog is a very interesting topic and one that I will explore in a future blog. But for now, here is the revised blog, with specifics taken out, but feelings and emotions left in.

As soon as I picked my daughter up from daycare yesterday, and as the evening wore on and we talked and played, feelings of guilt went from just a little itch, to a proper sinking feeling that lasted through the night of funny dreams.

My natural persona is to be positive, inspiring, self-deprecating, and empathetic, but I am also relentless when it comes to problem solving. Being an emphathic, relentless person, most of the time, is very rewarding. It means that I work very hard to achieve set objectives, but am understanding of other's needs, differences, etc.

There are times like yesterday when these two traits are unreconciliable, and I am forced to choose one over the other, inevitably resulting in me feeling either guilty, as I chose to be relentless over emphatetic, or else disappointed in myself, as I chose empathy over achieving an objective.

[insert story here to explain feelings and emotions]

But then when I picked my daughter up, that feeling of guilt crept in. I wasn't shiny, inspiring, kind-hearted, and understanding. I was firm and relentless in making an important point.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The first blog

It is a warm night for October, typical for the city, but since it isn’t summer, the sentiment is more of reflection than of rebirth. And I saw this spider crawling up the window, and thought about how I like spiders, never felt any kind of fear. And it dawned on me. Spiders are grey. They aren’t the most appealing creatures on the outset, but they tend not to be dangerous and they feed off pests.
I am reminded of recent conversations with my friend who bought a pack of clove cigareetes for us to share, but she makes me keep them so she doesn’t smoke them all in one go. We are that strange anomaly that can only be described as grey. We do not swing so full heartedly to the left or the right, but we do not see ourselves as somewhere in the middle, as we have strong opinions. 'Sensible' is not something that we strive for.
So what does it mean to be grey? This is what I am hoping to explore, at least for now.