Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Little things, big things, honesty, caveats.  §

Another post title that could just as well be “miscellaneous.”

Thing is, the best years of my blog were years in which there were no titles. But WordPress and most CMS systems operate in a title-centric way, and you can’t really walk it back. Sure I could “not include it in the theme” but then it would still be in the backend. I could code things up so that every post automatically got the date as its title, and only this was only shown in the backend.

But it would still be there in the part of the world that I look at. And it would still color my thinking. I would still know that it’s in the database as a post title. So I may as well embrace it and play with it in the most natural way for me.

Which is to fill that field with a bunch of intuitively chosen, basically meaningless words before I begin to write—words that have some (unclear) bearing on how I feel at the moment I begin.

— § —

The popular, connotative image of “intimacy” is that of a kind of sameness, ease, and comfort. Happiness, even. Sharing secrets and so on.

That’s bullshit. Intimacy is by its very nature fraught. Someone, and probably both people, will be uncomfortable a lot. If nobody is uncomfortable, nobody is intimate.

Note that the sort of discomfort involved is important. Intimacy traffics in the discomfort of exposure and risk, in leaps of vulnerability, acceptance, and blind (dare I say: naive) faith that may result in destruction if things go wrong. On the other hand, discomfort that results from repression, confinement, and sacrifice have nothing to do with intimacy.

The most intimate moments of your life are only experienced as intimate after the fact. In the moment, they are tremendously unstable, uncertain, and off-kilter, as both people venture out onto a ledge together and hope that nobody pushes.

That’s intimacy. When both of you are there and the opportunity is calling out to you—and nobody pushes. Afterward, when you feel grateful and awed by the fact that nobody pushed, that’s when you actually experience the intimacy. Retrospectively. It is a retrospective experience.

If you think you are feeling it in the moment, you’re probably feeling something else. Love, possibly. Infatuation, desire, excitement, joy, lots of other possibilities. But intimacy is challenging, risky, and scary enough that you can’t consciously conceive of it while you do it. Your whole self—and the other person’s whole self—are entirely preoccupied with the precarious circumstances of mutual vulnerability and the heroic (also from a book) intention and will required to maintain it. If you are conceiving of intimacy at any given moment, that means you’re not quite managing to do it at that moment.

At least, that’s my working theory right now.

— § —

Whoever decided that the way that the universe would work was that “small things” would “accumulate” and ultimately be definitive… sucks.

Sure, it’s lovely and inspiring that lots of good small things can ultimately make massive positive changes. But that gift is outweighed by the unjust fact that lots of bad small things can ultimately accumulate into the kinds of mass destruction that they do in fact accumulate into.

I started writing this thinking of individuals and relationships, but I think I also mean it in relation to entire communities and societies as well. Jeffrey Goldfarb, who happens to be my Ph.D. committee chair, wrote a rather profound and optimistic book called The Politics of Small Things that explores the ways in which tiny gestures and changes can result in great transformations for the better.

The dark underbelley of the analysis is the implicit truth that it works both ways. Tiny gestures and changes also enable the kids of human devastation, sometimes at unimaginable scales, that his positive small things are ultimately called upon to liberate people from.

— § —

I know that some people would say that this a wash, or even a net positive, since it means that we can always potentially effect change for the better, even as individuals.

My inner orientation in life is and always has been toward justice, toward that which I might intuitively feel would occur as a matter of course in a “good world” or under “good natural laws.”

So for that reason, in my inner self of selves, the unjustice of tiny negative actions having outsized negative effects seems definitive. Even if that is the world that we do, in fact, live in.

— § —

I am sitting at her table, in her house, on her chairs. Sleeping in her bed, this weekend. It is lovely and right—after all, we are married—but it is also somehow troubling.

It doesn’t generally run in the other direction. A part of me is asking me the tough questions. What about me? My tastes? My places? My life? Where do I fit into all of this?

Still another part of me is binding and gagging the doubter. She doesn’t want to come over. If you’re going to make that an issue, you may as well just say that you’re done with the whole project. Are you really interested in doing that? No, of course not. Have some patience and sensitivity. Pick your issues carefully, you asshole.

They have been engaged in an inner fistfight for a couple of weeks now. I am hoping to throw them both out before too long.

— § —

And yet always the nagging questions.

Am I supposed to continue to learn from experience? Conventional wisdom says that experience is one of the foundations of maturity, and of the healthy self

Or am I supposed to discard experience? Recent events suggest that experience is often unhelpful and destructive.

Learn from experience in “new ways?” What, precisely, does this mean? Aren’t the ways in which we learn and interpret experience based also on experience? At some point, the implication is the same as it is one paragraph above—throw the experience away.

— § —

At some point, the specter of “growing apart” begins to haunt the frame.

This almost came up tonight, or at least I thought it was about to. That old narrative about both people growing and then sometimes they just plain grow in opposite directions and if that’s the case and both people are going to be their best selves, thennnn…

In the end, thats not where it went.

But it does bring this old trope to mind. For me it has always been one of the most frightening and most regrettable in all of human relationships, because it implies that we ultimately have no control over them if we are to do the right things for others and ourselves. Doing the right thing means that relationships are subject to the whims of fate; if they’re not, somebody is not being honored, supported, or accepted.

And yet I’ve always believed that somehow, relationships are an intentional act. People don’t “just grow apart,” but rather choose to grow apart. I’m not sure in practice how this intention is expressed and acted upon, but I continue to believe it.

Relationships are an intentional act. People that say that they just “grew apart” are avoiding taking responsibility for what they have chosen to do and the life they have chosen to live. They can’t bear to say:

“I decided I regretted my previous choices, and that I didn’t want to be with him anymore.”

or

“I decided I regretted my previous choices, and I decided to break the contract that was our marriage”

or

“I decided I regretted my previous choices, and I decided to abandon a friend forever.”

So instead, they say, “We just grew apart, it was decided by fate and circumstance, you have to honor reality and be true to feelings and selves” and so on.

Long and short, I still believe that people are responsible for, and should be held responsible for, the outcomes of each of the relationships in their lives. Not that the responsibility is entirely theirs; every relationship of any kind involves at least two people, after all.

But “just growing apart” remains shorthand to me for “never grew up.”

Sorry, folks. I don’t know if that’s going to change. I suppose you’ll have to take it or leave it.

— § —

Honesty at times strikes the same kind of uncomfortable emotional chord for me.

There is much that is laudable in the idea that honesty is the key to healthy human interactions and to functional relationships, communities, and societies. This is a restatement of the “communication” trope in many ways; what is implicit in the claimed need for better communication is the assertion that the problem at hand is that people have not understood one another, often because they were not given the opportunity to do so. Either someone wasn’t being honest and clear or someone wasn’t listening to honesty with clarity and empathy.

The problem is that honesty itself is something of a fraught concept.

Things pass into a head and then out of it again in a matter of minutes, or even seconds. Every soul experiences multiple levels of feeling, and we learn that some of them repress others. Which one is the right one?

Some of the books talk about “microscopic truth” and so on, but that tends to get very abstract in an ironically concrete sort of way. Telling someone “my chest is feeling tight” or “my head is hurting” still leaves a great deal open to interpretation; it seems to me that this may cause the very same kinds of communication breakdowns that everyone is trying to eliminate by writing such books.

But when to be honest, then? The easy answer is “be honest about what is in your innermost self” or things of that sort, but of course, it’s not so easy to be honest with yourself, either.

And this is not necessarily a matter of intention or a failure of clear thinking, or the result of repression. Sometimes you work very hard at figuring out what your innermost self honestly thinks or feels and you can’t for the life of you figure it out—because your innermost self is conflicted or confused in its own innermost self.

Whatever. More meta.

— § —

It’s been cold. Very cold. Cold and windy, in ways that suck the warmth right off your bones.

At times like this, it’s very good to be in love.

And here we are, in love. And married. And living in two different places. And sometimes close and sometimes awkward. At some basic level all of this still does not compute; I don’t have the proper schema, data structures, or algorithms in place inside of me to make sense of it.

So I just go with it. That’s the “live in the moment” thing.

But there is a way in which living in the moment is also a way of avoiding responsibility, of being blind to what has gone beore and what is to come next.

Aren’t we supposed to learn from the past (not least, at the very least, our mistakes) and plan responsibly for the future? Or is that not something that we’re supposed to do anymore?

And if not, what’s with all the jails and all the books on budgeting? What’s with the public schools that litter the landscape?

But I’m thinking in circles. At the end of the day, at the present moment, I want to be here, even though at times it is uncomfortable. Because at other times it is wonderful. It is the experience of having thought you’d lost your spouse forever, only to find that they’re still alive, coming back, etc. It is, at these other times, the experience of paradise reclaimed, about which much saccharine fiction and narrative have been written, and for good reason.

And I am taking those scattered moments of discomfort to be the hints and shadows of true intimacy. They go into the plus column right now.

But of course this also suggests that if there are no moments of discomfort, then we are failing. The Hollywood-and-Americana wisdom holds that the “right” relationships are the ones in which nobody has to feel discomfort.

There is, of course, also the opposing narrative, a time-worn one that says that relationships are hard work, but are worth it in the end. This is what the literature is seeming to tell us right now, and the view that I’m holding to at the moment.

But it does mean that the hard work of discomfort, at times, has to be done, so that we can also live those transcendental moments at which paradise is regained, each time. Makes it much easier to understand why people in healthy relationships also regularly need time alone. Everybody is just a bit worn out at times, that’s all, even if the life is ultimately good and right.

— § —

There is another bit of conventional wisdom that says that what will happen in the end, because we cannot help it and because it cannot be otherwise, is that people will muddle through, in messy ways that can’t be evaluated for correctness or even for their effects on happiness or sadness.

People will muddle through and in the end they will have a life and it will be what it was and it’s more to do with their temperament and approach to life whether at the end of it all they think it was worth it and well-lived or not worth it and a disaster.

The mess can’t be avoided, though it is our mess to make in intentional ways, and the only thing we can consciously order is our experience of and reflection upon it after the fact, either leaning toward happiness or not.

This, for years, is the approach that I keep coming back to. This is more or less what I think I am at the end of the day—someone that believes it’s going to be a mess. My mess. Her mess.

And that is going to try to embrace the mess that we make together.

— § —

So, despite reservations and even some moments day-to-day that are difficult to live through, this is where we’ve chosen to be and also this is a place of renewed happiness and intimacy.

Life is a mess. I almost don’t dare to say—

Life is also beautiul. In that messy, conflicted, uneven sort of way.

But I’ve just said it anyway, for the umpteen thousandth time on this very blog.

So help me.

Everything old is new again, and I am—once again—learning from myself as well.

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