2.25.2018

Other People (as Death and Liberation)

It's Saturday evening; the sun will set in over an hour. This is my favorite time of day. I don't care much for afternoons; they sprawl, a nebulous temporal mass of duty and sun. Everyone is working or running errands; on weekends, I don't know what they do — hike, I suppose, or shop. Me, I stay home, the blinds closed. This is a great luxury of working from home. The San Francisco sun irritates me; its sharp, severe angularity is like jagged glass in my eyes. Robert Bechtle, the San Francisco artist, paints this so well.



There's this beautiful moment when the intensity of the light gives, the world relaxing its clenched sphincter and, just like that, I perk up. I feel a surge of energy. Don Juan tells Carlos to be careful at sunset; it's a powerful time and, if you're not careful, things can go awry. I know exactly what he means. I like to respect this cosmic shift by toasting it with a cocktail. I never day drink; it's unseemly (not in the social sense but in the cosmic sense, in the energetic sense). And I rarely night drink. I enjoy my cocktails as a way to respect dusk, to temper that surge just so (mind you, I don't want to overdo it; that would be disrespectful to all involved — the sun, the day, the earth, me).

So here I sit before my screen as music gently fills the room — Lemon Jelly, at the moment — with a glass of tequila at the ready, neat, in one of my hand blown tequila glasses. This is a perfect moment. Few things, if any, afford me such sheer, unqualified contentment. As I was dropping my son off earlier at a friend's birthday party, I awaited this exact moment with tingling anticipation. When another parent asked what the evening held for me — he was staying to socialize with other parents — I couldn't contain myself: Oh, I'm gonna go home and write. "Are you writing something in particular?" he asked, "or is it top secret?" I was briefly thrown by the question. What was I going to write? What do I write in general? Should it be top secret? What kind of writing would that be? But all I said was: Oh, whatever pops in my head.

I find the social exhausting. It takes some energy for me to figure out the rules of the occasion and then much more energy to adhere to these rules. It's not that I can't read the social; I can size up a room quickly and well (so I believe, at least). I don't experience social anxiety; I am comfortable talking (no duh, Coffeen! If only you were less comfortable talking thinks anyone who's ever spent time with me).

The source of exhaustion is manifold. I don't know the things people talk about; I don't read newspapers. When I hear people talking or see posts on the Facebook, I think: Jeez, I don't even know how to enter these conversations — about the president, sexual harassment, guns. I may have opinions. But in order to express them, I'd have to ask for time to establish, then clarify, my presuppositions. This, alas, is a) absurd; b) supremely difficult; and c) absolutely exhausting. I don't know how people talk to each other.

I don't offer any of this as a judgment or condemnation of people and their conversations. I am not suggesting that I am so different, so special, that I have to remain outside the social — a martyr, paying the price of loneliness for my idiosyncrasies. I am saying, however, that aren't we all so different? Don't we all have strange world views that rarely, if ever, sync with public discourse? I don't know what people talk about; I don't know how they do it. It appears I am socially inept, after all.

Other than my inability to navigate conversations with any grace, I find that when I'm with other people, I expend too much energy. I lean too far forward, too eager to make a joke, too eager to make some insight I find interesting, some connection with the other person that may or may not be desired. When I'm in the social, I am rarely poised. I'm a dog who hears the words walk and treat and can't contain himself, all drool and paws. I get overexcited and try to please (which is ironic in that I usually have the opposite effect). I try to be affable.


Which is why I don't like people spending the night at my house, especially in my bed. I can't shut down; I can't stop trying to please. As a result, I can't sleep — which is more annoying for my company than it is for me. After an evening with other people, I am thoroughly spent.

It feels like I have a faulty mechanism, a valve that is either open too much or not enough. And so I spend a lot of time alone. For here in my refuge, I have everything I need, everything I want — peace most of all.

But these asocial tendencies have drawbacks. In an immediate and crass sense, it hinders my ability to enjoy the company of women on an ongoing basis. It turns out, after a few dates, she expects to spend the night. I can do my darndest to explain my way out of that but, alas, there is no way that ever — ever — plays well. Such is the social: one's movements have semiotic ramifications beyond one's control. I may not mean any insult when asking a woman to leave at 12:42 AM, post-coitus, but my act has significance beyond my intention, my control, my personal meaning.

Such is the nature of being in the world: we are never masters. We don't have a domain; we are in the mix. The things we do and say resonate beyond us, without us, having effects we may never have intended or predicted. Such is life: it is to participate in a social body  which has demands and logics that figure us despite our best intentions. To live in this world demands abandoning control.

Rather than join the fray, my instinct is to withdraw completely. But this is a losing proposition. I have a son; an ex-wife; I need to make money with other people. And I enjoy many aspects of romantic entanglement — sex, physical intimacy in general, existential intimacy. And love: I love to love. Who doesn't?

Which is related to another drawback. Being alone, I am free to indulge many of my worst traits.  What makes them my worst? They leave me less healthy, or better, less vital ("health" is too medical for me; I may have technically poor health but still be vital. "Vital" is a better mode of assessment). Rather than find resounding cosmic peace, I find local, domestic peace. Sure, no one is bothering me at the moment. But I still see the world as a place of bother — and hence don't experience a peace that permeates, that streams through me. All I experience is a little respite from my personal madness.

Other people, then, afford me an opportunity to find that peace. Yes, I can meditate when no one is around and feel the resonant flow of all things. But that flow bypasses the social all together. At these moments, I move from myself to the infinite without any regards to others. But this involves deploying special blinders, keeping my eyes focused on the sky and not the sounds of the social.

Kierkegaard posits a religious state of being that enjoys an immediate relationship with the infinite. No need for marriage, for religion, for social institutions: we can have a direct relationship with the infinite without going through any of those things. But there are two aspects of this religious state. There is the one who takes leave of the social, becomes an ascetic, and devotes her entire life to God. But there's another one, the knight of faith, who doesn't need to renounce the social because she has such profound faith. This knight steps into the infinite and back to the finite with each step she takes. This is Abraham who bypasses the social when he ascends Mt. Moriah to slay his only son and then returns to his wife and community as if nothing happened!

What blows Kierkegaard away, and what incites me so, is precisely this ability: to have a direct relationship with the infinite and with the finite. For Kierkegaard, this is the lesson of Jesus, he who is both man and god at once. So are we all both human and divine, finite and infinite, mortal and immortal.

The thing is, the social can be so trying. The ego, in particular, is such a nasty beast. I become afraid she'll leave me, become disgusted by me, lose interest in me, become annoyed by me. And this, in turn, makes me ill at ease — which, of course, makes me disgusting, annoying, boring. The only way to live in the social without such dis-ease is to let all that happens happen without attachment, with a perpetual so it goes. Just as I watch the clouds come and go, I try to learn to let love come and go.

Then again, there is a great temptation — and a great joy — in experiencing the undulations of human all-too-human being. To be in the throws of passion, to feel great hurt, great loss, great lust. How do I do both of these things — be detached and utterly human? Did Osho ever get really pissed off? Have an anxiety attack? Do or say something stupid in order to win another's heart, touch, lips?

Without other people, I don't know any of these answers. I don't know how to be in the fullness of this life. And so rather than see other people as my disintegration, I try to see them as a meditative practice. How can I be here talking to you, talking to her, being with her, and still be absolutely at peace? How do I stand in the social with poise, without leaning too far forward or too far back? How can I be with all of this world, not just with the clouds and sky, not just with ideas and books, but with the flesh of this world — with its caresses, stumbles, pains, stinks, and pleasures?

So, yes, I can meditate alone. I can find a peace alone. But this is the move of the ascetic, of the nay-sayer who finds this world too much to bear and so retreats from life, staying home alone with the blinds drawn. I want to be that knight of faith, the one who is absolutely at peace whether he's alone or with others, who walks with equanimity among clouds and people alike.

9 comments:

dg said...

"The San Francisco sun irritates me"

I'm in Vancouver. What is this "sun" you speak of?

"Other than my inability to navigate conversations with any grace, I find that when I'm with other people, I expend too much energy. I lean too far forward, too eager to make a joke"

Spend a few shifts framing a house. 2 people communicating through their actions to build walls, stand them up, and secure them. Talking gets in the way.

"It feels like I have a faulty mechanism, a valve that is either open too much or not enough. And so I spend a lot of time alone. For here in my refuge, I have everything I need, everything I want — peace most of all."

India... Go to India... Not on a tour...

Daniel Coffeen said...

One of my favorite ways to converse is with catch — throwing a baseball or frisbee back and forth. Like you framing a house, there is a lot communicated without words. There is something very beautiful about catch. Framing a house, too, but that seems more purpose driven — you can't just move it any old way that feels good. But in catch it's all about shifting the speed, the intensity, the arc, running for it, making him or her run for it, the mistakes and play of "sorries." If only my lady friend enjoyed catch (I actually proposed to my first wife, spontaneously, after playing catch with a frisbee — despite having only known her a few weeks. Such is the power of catch).

But do I have to go to India? It seems bereft of peace — intestinal, sonic, spatial. Why India? (I am a terrible traveler.) I fear my valve will only get faultier.

Mark Crawford said...

Strangely enough, it was after discovering your podcast that I decided I must make an effort to communicate with this person. Usually, I just lurk, reading a blog for years without comment. I think perhaps it is the communicative energy you bring to the podcast that makes me want to reply.

I feel similar to yourself regarding the social, though. The thing I hate the most is when close relatives and friends ask: "How's work?" Because, of course, this is an enquiry into one's moral virtue even if the person asking doesn't realise.

dg said...

"It feels like I have a faulty mechanism, a valve that is either open too much or not enough."

You haven't convinced me there's anything "faulty" with you. You're functioning well within the "normal" range by any reasonable measure.

I don't think the digital valve (0 or 1) works as a metaphor; We're analog: A transistor has a fixed gain or amplification. So a 1 amp base current will allow 100 amp collector current; a 2 amp base current will allow a 200 amp base current. Perhaps your gain is higher than many, so you amplify sensory input such that you need to regulate it more diligently, "peace". Your sensitivity/gain could be perfectly tuned for a nomad or hunter-gatherer living within Dunbar's number in the wild.

Maybe it is the world and not you. Why not? Why can't you be sensing something before others, or what others aren't seeing? Isn't that what artists do? It would be good for your genes to run away from the tsunami before it hits your village.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Oh, I like this nomad living you speak of....And, well, it's not just me and not just the world: it's my way of going with the going of the world. And while I kvetch here, my point was more neutral, I believe: this is just how it is. And, for the most part, I've adjusted accordingly. But I'm still trying to flee the tsunami I see coming....

Kevin Pajak said...

The connection between the I and Not-I creates the foundation of human. Even now, as a reaching-to, you craft words to extend to the other. Yet, you, as you say, do this in isolation. This is not true. You are NOT isolated. Else, no blog. No, interjection of the lawn mower as you write. Etc. yada yada yada. Does it matter that the other is invisible making him-it-her-we-us more viable or does it make the other inviable? We are always already connected with the other in the skein of living. This is inescapable. Wether or not we choose to experience this connection is the choice. When the moment comes and she must go, what you are saying is that I choose to not look at this connection. Maybe its closeness prohibits the closing of being to the interface of the other. This interface moment brings clarity of seeing to us, but in the "alone" time we can choose to see or not see, and we can contemplate. Although, I would point out that we are always already connected. This news bodes ill for some who would wish to never be connected to the EX-Other and that "evil" so-and-so. For we are always already connected in the skein of living.

It is the multiplicity of us as loci that makes it possible for us to be ourselves. What you desire at 12:42am is the "not so close" moment where it becomes possible to ignore this or that connection and to stop the care-of-the-other AS care-o-the-self. This excessive desire for care-of-the-other is selfish.

Back to the discussion of sorting information. The "not-so-close" moment can occur always if we are properly balanced. Think of a room full of sounds and life. There is an almost overwhelming vibrancy that sometimes verges on the sublime. Yet, somehow, we sort the room into threads. This allows us to (I want to say absorb, but I think it is the wrong word) consume??? not quite right either. embrace. That is it!

Embrace this or that extension of the other toward the self (although we also know there is no true self. Self is an illusion Allusion to what?). So, we can embrace and interact with specific occurrences in the room. A conversation by two people standing right next to us goes unnoticed while a tiny gesture from a finger, did that pinky just waggle?, captures us in amber and we MUST analyze it. Likewise, any other such sorting of information is possible.

Possibly, Daniel, you need distance. The distance from the other that allows contemplation of and understanding of the other. You, in your desire to love and to be eager. This eager really is a desire stemming from an imbalance of inner peace. You are correct that this eager is a not-letting-come. It is a desire to control. A weakness perhaps?

I am not your therapist, nor anyones but my own, and a poor one at that.

I see Daniel having the same experiences I have in his discussion of these social situations. For example: My mom died recently. The whole clan came out for the memorial service. She donated her body to science. I hadn't seen these people in a long time (some of them never). As usual, they (people) would come and chat with me for a bit, but then float off. Float is the absolutely correct word. I see many people floating. Anyway, they would float away never to return. And, in the end. I was left with just my normal connections. A twin and three friends.

Why do people always float away from me? I contemplated this. Then the reason my family left became obvious. They were here for one thing, I another. They wanted to chat and small talk about mom. I, on the other hand, wanted to talk about how the prison system in the U.S. is destructive to society. I wanted to talk about string theory. They wanted to cry and weep. I wanted to talk about how light illuminates, and that thought, if considered as light, also illuminates. I wanted to talk about new ways of building and living. I wanted to talk about colonizing space. I wanted to talk about interesting things. They did not.

Kevin Pajak said...



People, in general, I find to be puerile, simple creatures who want to talk about their day, the event XYZ, or who did what. Worse yet, what is on TV. Why do they think telling me what happened on a show--when I could watch it myself--is conversation? Why do they think I care.

I don't walk this Earth seeking connections. I long ago jumped into the smallest portion of time just as the universe was born AND I reside in that energy zone and resonate with its power. And still, sigh, I am connected to mud walkers.


It is refreshing to know someone who also has difficulty interfacing, when one cares to do so. I, unlike Daniel, do not seek to expend energy or to discuss their things. I talk about what I want to talk about. They are saying, "Look at that Sports XYZ" I tell them sports are corruptive of the human and I ask them what starving child or after school child have they helped. I begin discussing and attacking their beliefs. I shake their foundations. I am joy--they drudgery. It is okay. I know I am playing with my toys and have once again broken them. Mommy died last year and can't put them together again for me.

I will have to find new toys to break.

I want to quote Daniel for he says what I think.

Below is his quote: I would, however, say that social is not exhausting, but that I am energized by the ideas and interactions. Although, mostly none of the people with which I interface find me so--as I am always talking and interacting about what I want. I do not hear the banal.
---------
I find the social exhausting. It takes some energy for me to figure out the rules of the occasion and then much more energy to adhere to these rules. It's not that I can't read the social; I can size up a room quickly and well (so I believe, at least). I don't experience social anxiety; I am comfortable talking (no duh, Coffeen! If only you were less comfortable talking thinks anyone who's ever spent time with me).

The source of exhaustion is manifold. I don't know the things people talk about; I don't read newspapers. When I hear people talking or see posts on the Facebook, I think: Jeez, I don't even know how to enter these conversations — about the president, sexual harassment, guns. I may have opinions. But in order to express them, I'd have to ask for time to establish, then clarify, my presuppositions. This, alas, is a) absurd; b) supremely difficult; and c) absolutely exhausting. I don't know how people talk to each other.

I don't offer any of this as a judgment or condemnation of people and their conversations. I am not suggesting that I am so different, so special, that I have to remain outside the social — a martyr, paying the price of loneliness for my idiosyncrasies. I am saying, however, that aren't we all so different? Don't we all have strange world views that rarely, if ever, sync with public discourse? I don't know what people talk about; I don't know how they do it. It appears I am socially inept, after all.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Well, Kevin, jeez louise: I thank you heartily for this. And I'm sorry about your mother.

So, yes, ontologically we are constituted by the Other or by others. For sure. This is an essential aspect of how I think about the world: we are always already enmeshed with others. I might say "I" am this particular, albeit ever changing, metabolic function, always desiring, digesting, and distributing others (not just people but everything — words, clouds, tequila, Yo La Tengo, sleep, etc).

But my post is about the practical issues of living — which is the second half of your comment. You are absolutely right: I need distance. And I claim it. I spend the overwhelming majority of my time in solitude; I've never had a job job as I can't stomach, in every sense of the word, being around people for 8-10 hours, five days a week. I've engineered my life well to suit my metabolism.

And, yes, most people talk and think about things that are of no interest to me. This, too, has been easy for me to avoid; I live in a beautiful bubble of beautiful geniuses. These are not the people I try to please; ignoring them has been easy for me my entire life.

For me, the complexity — the conflict — arises when I desire the company of these geniuses but am left spent by it. And so, as a result, I've often retreated from everyone. Which has meant neglecting love and the spoils of intimacy.

As I get older, I am rethinking the importance of these things — practically (aging means sickness means getting around alone can be harder and harder) but, more importantly, existentially (or what some people might call "spiritually"). Approaching 50, I am still trying to figure out how to love a woman completely without exhausting myself to death.

Kevin Pajak said...

Hi Daniel, thank you for your kindness about my mom. We were all filled with joy as a result of her life and her dying. She lived life like our whole family does, filled with wonder and joy--innocence. A new and freshness everyday. We also know death comes. So, we all lived, even she, through her lung cancer death in glorious fashion. Life, after all, is too short to trudge through it in sadness. Emerson said it best when he said, (and I paraphrase) embrace in joy both good and bad moments.

I wanted to further tell you that what caught my eye was your comment about light. I thought, silly me I never read the titles, that you were going to do a riff on light. :P

I have become enchanted with a thinking about light. I have a recent post on my blog about light. I might need to expand on it. You can find it here: https://kevinpajakwrites.com/2017/06/26/waves/

What is interesting is that I discuss water as light (well sort of) you will see when you read it.

I don't have a critical thought website, blog, space, whatever. The blog is about writing as I am attempting to be a published author. I see you went the self publish route. I need to get your book.

So, I am at a loss as to where to post my thoughts NOT related to writing. Maybe, I should start a critical thinking (i.e. rhetoric) blog as you have done. Might be a distraction, but then getting the thoughts out stops them from distracting me as well.

In closing, 1) would you please do a riff on light? 2) do you have any articles or critical theory books about light that you could suggest?

Kevin