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Friday, March 10, 2017

In Which I Ramble and Say, "Oy," More Than Expected

Here is a beautiful quote from Leonard Cohen:

“That ‘hineni,’ that declaration of readiness no matter what the outcome, that’s a part of everyone’s soul. We all are motivated by deep impulses and deep appetites to serve, even though we may not be able to locate that which we are willing to serve. So, this is just a part of my nature, and I think everybody else’s nature, to offer oneself at the critical moment when the emergency becomes articulate. It’s only when the emergency becomes articulate that we can locate that willingness to serve.” 

—“The Fires They Got” in T:The New York Times Style Magazine, March 5, 2017. p. 96-7

Oh my lord, WHAT am I going to blog about this week? I feel newsy not profound. The above quotation is profound. But what to make of it? The emergency becoming articulate. Is that my book? I’d like to think it will help people. I’d like it to be profound like Leonard Cohen. Literary but funny as hell and approachable. Wise but also goofy. Like me, right? I’m really describing me. I mean me as I would like to be. I'm actually anything but profound right now. 

What is on my mind, Readers? Dry mouth. I must be exercising more than I thought because I have dry mouth. Unless it’s a symptom of a disease. Diabetes? I’m not peeing all the time, though, which I thought was a symptom of diabetes. The die-ah-beetuss. 

Today, I watched Jennifer Scott’s video chat, “Tea With Jennifer” about the Oscars. I don’t quite know why she appeals to me. She and her books. They’re all about being proper, being poised, looking presentable. And she is so very dang earnest. So dang earnest she makes me type dang instead of goddamn, which would normally spring to my fingertips because, as I think I’ve mentioned before, I have a real sailor mouth. Such that the children - my children, that is - I don’t swear around just any children - say to me, “Mother, don’t say that. It’s crass.” Which is them throwing my words right back at me. As children do. 

But anyway. I watched the video and Jennifer Scott's earnest talk about the Oscars - whose dresses she liked, the tourist bus prank. The whole time she held her pretty teacup and saucer and was earnest. Gosh darn earnest. Which I am often not. And yet she appeals. She makes me want to “look presentable always” and other old school stuff like that. 

Speaking of the tour bus of tourists who were surprised by their appearance at the Academy Awards on camera, while I watched them process in, cameras raised, most of them dressed super-schlumpily, I thought of Jennifer Scott’s mantra, “Look presentable always.” Although on occasion I totally lose interest, most of the time I enjoy pulling myself together a little before heading out for my day. A little makeup, some thought to my clothes. While I am aware this is perhaps regressive and anti-feminist on some level, I enjoy paying that attention to myself. And I buy in to the outside in phenomenon. Sometimes the way to feel better is to look good. It does build confidence. Yes, that is sexist, most likely. You feel good when you look good because women have to look good. Yet I imagine plenty of men feel better when they know they look good. And it’s easier for them to look good than for a woman. Etc. And high heels - don’t start. The conflicts are endless. I like ‘em. I hate ‘em. I hate that I like ‘em. I don’t wear ‘em cuz they’re uncomfortable. But when I do put ‘em on, I like how I look in ‘em. The complexities. Oy. I reserve the right, via feminism, to care or not care about my appearance as I chose. 

Those schlumpy tourists. Oy. They were embarrassing. I felt embarrassed for them - and for myself as a fellow American. 

So that reminded me of traveling. Specifically, that I like to look decent while traveling. I am old enough to remember dressing up to travel by plane. Just last week, I traveled by plane with the 9th Grader. Due to various snafus, we ended up packing in one wheeled suitcase too large to carry on. We had to check it. I have to say, it was so nice to freely walk around the terminal with just my purse and book. And to climb into and out of the plane unencumbered. 

Sure, it took a little extra time - and extra money, which is really an outrage and explains why most of the time most everyone tries to carry on their luggage. Who wants to pay yet more money to check a bag? But the extra time was worth it, I have to say. I sauntered off the plane and went to the ladies room and it was all so easy. No maneuvering into a stall and out again with a suitcase. It was genteel. Almost. I mean, there was still the gauntlet of humiliation known as “Security.” Going through that was decidedly un-genteel. But then we were free to roam in search of chicken nuggets (the 9th Grader’s request, at 10:30 a.m.) The experience was almost pleasant. It was especially so on the return flight, when mirabile dictu, for an unknown reason**, we had priority tickets and got to go through security the old-fashioned way. That is, just going through the rectangular beeper doorway to the beyond with our shoes on. No shoes and belts in the grey bin. No mysterious machine with hands in “I surrender.” No extra wanding. No triple-check of my purse. No swabbing of the 9th grader’s stuffed animal to test for drugs. (That happened on the way down, FYI.) Just the rectangular beeping doorway and we were free. Without humiliation. How refreshing. 

But what is this emergency of which Leonard Cohen spoke. He had it in him. It was his creative urge. Do I have the emergency? Or am I just a dilettante? Do I have the emergency driving me to create? Or what? The emergency to create a kind of life? 

This quotation reminds me of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. I wrote about it here. In his theory of psychology, Maslow saw a return to human based philosophy and psychology.  His training had been in Behavioralism, but he felt that was too limited to explain psychology. He argued that there were higher needs than Behavioralism allowed. Those higher needs were biological in essence - they were “instinctoid”, he said, meaning they are almost like instincts, but not quite. This was the essense of Humanistic psychology, he said. Those needs were what he laid out in his pyramid. 

Maslow revised his initial hierarchy, by the way. In his original paper on the hierarchy, written in 1943, he topped his pyramid with self-actualization. However, after giving it more thought, he felt there was something beyond self-actualization that drove people. He said it was the urge for self-transcendence.  In a talk in 1967 at the Esalen Institute* where he introduced his revisions, he said, “The focal point, or the point of departure, into this transhumanistic realm comes when they answer the following kind of questions: 'What are the moments which give you the greatest kick, the greatest satisfaction? What are the great moments? What are the moments of reward which make your work and your life worthwhile?'"
I can’t help but note that Maslow and other humanist psychologists grew - well, that philosophy of psychology grew out of WWII. Viktor Frankl was one inspiration for it. He founded Logotherapy as a result of his experience in a concentration camp, and that became an inspiration for Humanistic Psychology.  Maslow was an American but was influenced by interacting with European theoreticians in the field. Maslow like Frankl and the others was an atheist. But that is not my point. My point is I don’t think it coincidental that my renewed interest in this psychology that pays attention to what it means to be human and how to be the best human you can be coincides with another dark political time. Or maybe just with air travel. 

*Edited by Dr. James Fadiman from the tape of a 1ecture given at the First Unitarian Church, San Francisco (under the auspices of the Esalen Institute), September 14, 1967. Copies of this tape are available from the EsalenInstitute, Big Sur, California

** I am not in actuality an idiot, but I do not know how I got Priority tickets in one direction. I didn't upgrade intentionally. But when I bought my tickets, the only seats left on the plane actually cost extra (a nice scam, right), so I guess that got us those Priority seats on the return flight. 

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