Sunday, 22 November 2015

[FEC!] Fragile Empathetic Capacity

However, these brains – let’s call them walnuts in honour of their appearance – are also very subtly and dangerously flawed machines, flawed in ways that typically don’t announce themselves to us and therefore give us few clues as to how on guard we should be about our mental processes.
The walnut is extremely bad at understanding why it is having certain thoughts and ideas. It tends always to attribute them to rational, objective conditions out in the world, rather than seeing that they might be stemming from the impact of the body upon its thought processes. It doesn’t typically notice the role that levels of sleep, sugar, hormones and other physiological factors play upon the formation of ideas. The walnut adheres to a psychological interpretation of plans and positions that are, at base, frequently merely physiological. Therefore, it can feel certain that the right answer is to divorce or leave the job rather than go back to bed or eat something to raise blood sugar levels.

Recently, or, this year rather, this lady's Walnut has made some utterly shoddy decisions.
Instead of recognising that I'm physically drained, overwhelmed or stressed by some particular thing, I sort of blanket that anxiety over everything, unable to tell if it's a new relationship, a work deadline, an offhand remark from a loved one, or, crucially, I haven't been eating right or need a proper rest.
I realise all of these things are linked of course, if i'm stressed I eat poorly, if I'm worried or bloated or in pain I don't sleep well, if my mind isn't reseted my body is unlikely to be and of course vice versa. 
Often though I will neglect caring for my body (drink too much caffeine as a short term solution to being tired, or do less and feel bad for doing so, rather than sleeping properly. Or shut myself off from things that cause me anguish - new relationship insecurities - ensuing guilt from detachment or further insecurity) or making a sensible choice, in favour of some inferior mental sticking plaster.
My dad in his professional capacity knows this - in the past when things got particularly bad, and it seemed like the world was ending, my dad knew, to pick me and my tear-inducing cluster headache up from uni, driving us home, offering me a sedative in the mid afternoon, closing curtains switching off lights and instructing sleep, chemically induced if necessary (and it was, then, reader).

I wrote some, about my fragile walnut, here and linked to the original kernel too, but, I don't know if any of you dopes bother to click on these links I lovingly provide you with, so, the good people at The School of Life have kindly made a video of the article, beautifully narrated by Alain de Botton, so you don't have to trouble yourself with too much reading...

I read this short article, Black clouds and Revelations,on my way home on the train Friday night. It was a shitty, cold, damp, tear-filled and tiring journey, delayed, it got in at 2am instead of 00.45. The poor Walnut was not helped by this sorry state of external affairs, that's probably the main reason I was so anguished, lack of sleep, shivering, bloated and bleeding... This quote I took out when I  shared with my 132 facebook buddies, as a way of emphasising what I took most out of the account;

"Something that isn’t discussed too often is the deeply frustrating ridiculousness of depression – I know it’s selfish, I know it’s absurd, I know that in so many ways I am so very lucky. But this doesn’t take away the sensation that there is a stack of bricks where my heart should be, or that something inside me is rotting.
When my friend explained that they couldn’t be there for me, they vocalised the voice in my head that so often says, “No one will love you when you are like this. Your sadness is contagious.” The rational part of me knows this isn’t true, but also knows that on certain levels, this friend simply rejected me."

Did you just reject someone Helen? Did you miss out on knowing a fine person? Is that what has happened? Is it still happening? Could you not have lightened things a little? Could you have put aside a part of yourself?

How could you do anything, though, when all you could see was he peaceful on a beautiful old Danish couch? The thought of your disturbing that, so deeply disgusting.
Though, you should have done more you selfish weary woman.

Fragile Empathetic Capacity 

In September, while e-corresponding with a friend, I sent the following in response to his ruminations and condolences, his comforting words. He had asked how I was feeling about my failed romantic situations essentially, and I had worried about my tendencies to rush to put people on pedestals, he had asked something like; If you can't put the person you love on a pedestal what's the point of a pedestal? And I replied;

I think that's probably a little bit of what pedestals are for , to be sure, as well as plinths for carved marble and fantastic metallurgic castings...  In terms of me and him, I just don't know if it was even love yet, ya know?
I think I've just been treated quite shoddily in the past, that, someone, I don't know, human (?), with the faculties of kindness and a little decency, just floored me.
I don't know what happened specifically to make me feel so unworthy of (and therefore so easily taken by) normal nice people, but, it seems I'm prone to being carried away when they rarely come my way..
Again though, if you can't get carried away in a new liaison then when and with what can you legitimately expect to be spirited away..?
Sometimes I think I almost fell, other times I think it's just terribly wounded (almost) pride that convinced me that I did, I had to have, well, to excuse the anguish experienced since...

Other times I realise, other people are actually just less shit than I am for the most part... for example, is it even ethical of me to share the correspondence of friends without even asking? 
Just assuming they won't mind is crappy... I would clearly remove anything if people asked, but, imagine I'm your friend? 
Imagine every time you send a message you have unknowingly signed a release-clause for dissemination of your words...
Well, reader, if you're my friend, take comfort in the fact that you're probably one of 5 other friends to have read this, and nothing goes any further! 
Which reminds me, all of that ^ was like some giant "at least"... Like I've one-upped someone's bad experience to justify something awful, in the process doing something awful (sharing without consent)  and belittling it (excusing it with an "at least nobody is reading it") That is not cool...

Yesterday morn one of my friends shared this lovely animated video about the differences between sympathy and empathy and it just fit in so well with all the stuff going on in my mind right now - am I a good person who just does bad things? Do I have a heart? Why am I so selfish? How to work with my weaknesses?... How to be a better human in short...!
All of this made me realise how poor a listener I am, how self-involved and hypocritical, and, most worryingly of all; how bad a friend I am.
I internally (and externally - here!) lambast others and their lack of communication yet am guilty of it myself! Where is the application of this yearning for far-reaching understanding when it comes to the lives of others Helen?!
Why am I so bad at cutting people slack for being tardy with text replies?

Yes I really like to hear from certain people, but, I'm not always so great at getting back to some people myself.

I often am irked by people's desire to phone instead, and, sure, as an activity, texting is less overtly obvious, but, it still requires a concentration and effort to be done well...

Even though I'm not in the habit of phoning people, maybe that should be how I correspond with people? Book an appointment to hear their voices and interject my own... Yes it might mean not hearing from people as often, having to make this altered effort, but, for those non urgent correspondences, the "I was thinking about you the other day" or the "have you heard this? Thought you would enjoy it" Type conversations, that's ok...?

I think what I'm getting at is, I've grown accustomed to this speed, even though I often loathe how instant everything is nowadays, I am used to it and I have allowed myself to be corrupted with habit... I expect you to answer back, even when I know you are not obligated, you may be busy, you may be worrying about what to write, you may need a break, you may be lying down in the dark trying to forget the world... This is your right, person, and I need to get on board with that... Yet, when I see a message has been read and still no reply after hours, where is my mind? 
That was a stupid message anyway - should I send an apology? A "you don't have to reply by the way, I just wanted to share that link with you"
Fuck, fuck, fucking fuck, they hate me, why the fuck am I bothering them, they clearly wish they had never humoured me, this is a huge mistake, my chest aches, I can't deal with this, I should Not. Be. Allowed. Access. To. Communicative. Devices. EVER.
Why is nobody supervising me?! How am I just allowed into people's lives?! I am NOT QUALIFIED for this!

It's ok...

Fragile Empathetic Capacity 

And without another nut to crack with, nobody to properly discuss these things with, once again I turn to the written, typed, printed, recorded words of others for consolation.
There's a wondrous quality in literature, that isn't available to film really. My lighthouse is not necessarily the same as your lighthouse, not at all... 

Lighthouse at Two Lights, Captain Uptons House Lighthouse Hill, Lighthouse and building, Portland Head.

Even so, there is a great comfort in reading out that you're not alone...

Virginia Woolf, to the Lighthouse, p 25
For her whose wishes must be obeyed, the happier Helen of our days

p 26  how the girl had said "At home the mountains are beautiful" and there was no hope, no hope whatever.

"she winced like a dog who sees a hand raised to strike it. She would have snatched her picture off the easel, but she said to herself, One must. She braced herself to stand the awful trial of someone looking at her picture. One must, she said, one must. [...] But that any other eyes should see the residue of her thirty-three years, the deposit of each day's living, mixed with something more secret than she had ever spoken or shown in the course of all those days was an agony."

p 58
To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others. [...] this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest of adventures. When life shrank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless. [...] the things you know us by, are simply childish. Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by.

p 141
The extraordinary unreality was frightening ; but it was also so exciting.[...] Perished. Alone. The grey-green light on the wall opposite. The empty places. Such were some of the parts, but how to bring them together?

p 151-2 
The brush descended. It flickered brown over the white canvas; it left a running mark. A second time she did it - a third time. And so pausing and so flickering, she attained a dancing rhythmical movement [...] and so, lightly and swiftly pausing, striking, she scored her canvas with brown running nervous lines which had no sooner settled there than they enclosed (she felt it looming out at her) a space. [...] Here she was again she thought [...] drawn out of living [...] into the presence of this ancient formidable enemy of hers -this other thing, the truth, this reality.

p 169
The urgency of the moment always missed its mark. Words fluttered sideways and struck the object inches too low. Then one gave it up; then the idea sunk back again [...] For how could one express in words these emotions of the body? Express that emptiness there? (She was looking at the drawing-room steps; they looked extraordinarily empty). It was one's body feeling, not one's mind. The physical sensations that went with the bare look of the steps had become suddenly extremely unpleasant. To want and not to have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain.

An Armenian Sketchbook (Vasily Grossman);

p 126
What simple and frugal means nature uses to create a picture of extraordinary power. A calm and clear winter's day, snow on the mountains, pine trees... I do not know if it is the vastness of the sky and the infinite forest, or the stern peace or the extreme purity of the colours [...] but the view has an astonishing charm, a simplicity, an inner wisdom.
A man looks at this clear silent world, a world of crystal peace and purity, and decides that he does not need the valley of everyday life, that its vain  bustle is destroying his soul. Tempted by the great purity of the snowy summits, he imagines feats of asceticism. he sees a little shack in the woods.
Involuntarily I began to think such thoughts. Life in the valley is indeed bitter and turbid. And I had inflicted a great deal of grief on people, probably more than they on me. It would be better for me to live on my own.

p 128
Is the life of a hermit really a manifestation of courage? Can there really be courage in withdrawing from life? What about suicide? This too is a withdrawal from life. A retreat into being a hermit forever.

p 132
"yes, this is where I must come to heal my soul. Here I can find peace, tranquility and silence. Here I can enjoy the charm of the evening, mountains, the silent forest...". 
None of this, however, is true.
The anguish of the human soul is terrible and unquenchable. It is impossible to calm it or escape from it.
No outward tranquility can save you from grinding anguish; no mountain air can cool you when flaming pitch burns your insides; no bloody and gaping wound can be healed by life in the wonderful town...

Roberto Bolano, Nazi Literature in the Americas, p 116;

Given the ease with which he fell in love and took offence his life was one long series of indignities, which he endured with the fortitude of a wounded beast.