Saturday, February 13, 2010

Binary? Guilty as Charged!

A friend commented that it's either all or nothing with me. Yes, when it rains, it pours! I have had more than a few good laughs about that one. I know I can be binary, coming at life in fits and spurts. Over the years, I have smoothed out a little. Yet I know this is part of my nature, that when I'm on, it's all the way. So I work with it, ride it as far as I can, then jump off when necessary - all the while trying to maintain that meta-awareness that can help give me pause at key moments.

I've learned to enjoy the balancing act, finding my own brand of moderation not in a lack of extremism but in a balance of extremes. But it isn't all just leaping from one thing to another. In some ways, I am a slow stewer. I take things in and let them steep. And as more things are taken in, the pressure builds. At some point, all that energy comes bursting through. It only looks sudden and unexpected.

So many of the cliches contain nuggets of wisdom, which makes sense since they 've stayed with us all this time. Three steps forward, two steps back - I think this more aptly describes how we learn that most of us would like to admit. Mistakes are necessary to learn from, yet we delude ourselves into thinking there is a thing called perfection and then kick ourselves for not holding up in comparison. As I have mentioned before, I only really found my rhythm when I allowed myself to start making mistakes. As I've passed my twenties, I've begun to see a split take place between those of us who continue on the path of growth and those who stagnate into bitterness. The difference seems to stem, at least in part, from the degree of flexibility one possesses. Those who are rigid and rate themselves against external standards seem to be at a disadvantage. Whereas those who have learned to balance gentleness and a sense of focus within themselves seem to thrive. You can tell a lot just by looking at someone's face - what expression is it set in? What is the look in their eyes? We can never really hide the truth, though our words may tell another story.

I have an interesting instructor in one of my classes. He challenges with the level of intellectual dexterity he requires, often making students feel a bit stupid for their comments by cutting them off and attacking their points. I like that he's impatient with mental laziness, though I can see his approach has the effect of cowing most of the class into quiet submission. Not surprisingly, our verbal tussling only encouraged me to speak up more as the class went on. He's seen that I won't back down, and that I know how to reason to substantiate my points. The truth is, I do like a good, rational argument - so few people know how to engage in logical debate, it can be exhilarating to find that someone else in the room is actually awake. We will have to see if this observation plays out, but so far he seems to coddle the few boys in the class and be more critical of comments from the rest of us, begrudglingly conceding my points while heaping praise on one of my male peers (I did get the last word in class the other day, which of course, works for me). I find myself stepping back from the immediacy of the class to analyze him as a potential therapy client, observing his body language and tracking his comments for hints of his past experience. I know this is a strategy to leverage my sense of power. But hell, he sits comfortably in his authority at the head of the class, so why not summon mine? I realize a lot of the other students in class, especially with so many of them recently coming from undergrad, are, whether consciously or not, seeking his approval first and foremost. When he doesn't automatically give it to them, they withdraw. His style seems dismissive of this, like by being off-putting he's trying to show us it's about gaining his respect through critical thinking, not having him pat us on the head for being good girls. It should be a stimulating class.

What made me think of that instructor was some comment he made about how, back in the days of Seneca et. al, people wrote things simply to convey their ideas to others and not to gain tenure (obviously one of his hot buttons, as he mentioned it more than once). I too have cursed the nature of society, where one's art and ideas get whored out to make ends meet. Yet here I am, blogging for no other reason than because I feel like it. There is hope, dear professor - you just have to stay open to finding it.

I'm off to South Beach, Miami. Have a great week!