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Hell is Other People

     Hell:  A netherworld where the dead continue to exist, where the damned suffer everlasting punishment, torment or destruction.  In Jean-Paul Sartre’s one act play, No Exit, the three characters discover that hell is a hotel room.  Garcin, the first to arrive – therefore the only occupant to experience solitude – later decided that “Hell is other people”.  If this statement is true, it is only because they have been given that power.  Other people are external forces and, as such, a distance or separation exists with them.  Whatever thoughts or opinions imparted from them are subject to interpretation.  In contrast, our own thoughts are internal, subject to self-deception and denial – both which collapse without reinforcement from external influence.  Hell becomes the search for self with no opportunity to experience self.

     In ‘Being for Others’, Sartre states “The Other looks at me and as such he holds the secret of my being, he knows what I am”.  The ‘Other’ has an impression of what ‘he’ sees, but how much influence can ‘he’ hold as an external force?  How can ‘he’, as an external force, hold a ‘secret’ that ‘I’ as an internal force, have not given him.  Sartre uses the word ‘what’ in reference to his ‘I’; this indicates that he is objectifying himself.  The objectification is not a reflection of what the other person sees of him, but rather what he perceives the other person sees.  This is indicative of how he sees himself in the others eyes.

     Sartre wishes to recognize the ‘freeze-frame’ that accompanies first impressions.  Sartre claims that Bad Faith is “…a certain art of forming contradictory concepts which unite in themselves both an idea and the negation of that idea … a facticity and a transcendence … two aspects of human reality that are and ought to be capable of a valid coordination.”  The idea of first impressions is an example these contradictory concepts and the possible breakdown in coordination.  First impressions are subject to circumstance, context or physical attributes such as gender or race, wherein the impression is a reflection of the other person’s biases or experience.  This first impression has little to do with the ‘I’ being observed, and more to do with the ‘other’ observing.  The breakdown in coordination occurs when the perceived opinion of another holds more weight than that which we have of ourselves.  To allow a strangers impression to influence one’s sense of self-image is a reflection on one’s own self-image.  If no interaction has occurred, then the impression perceived may or may not be accurate or well-informed.  We see ourselves in another’s eyes, but it is a reflection of what we present to them.

     In No Exit, Garcin initially wishes to continue in solitude, wishing the opportunity for self-reflection.  To the two women who have joined him in the suite he states “we’ll work out our salvation, looking into ourselves”.  He is not afforded his solitude.  He later reveals doubts regarding the actions that led to his demise.  He questions whether he was standing by his belief’s or whether he was a coward running from responsibility.  The only salvation that he can conceive is the affirmation of the former from another person.  Without that other person, or external influence, he would be trapped in this question alone, coward or martyr.  This is hell.  If one is in Hell for all time, then there is little to distract from the internal debate.  Every moment and every decision that one makes in one’s life would be measured to determine the validity of ones existence.

     Sartre states “…I choose myself from day to day, and I make it mine by making myself.” The day to day decisions we make shape our personality, our acceptance or denial of consequences shape our character. If Garcin saw himself as a coward, he masked it by hiding behind principles.  His evasion may be successful to onlookers, but never to himself.  A mask means nothing when no one is there to see it.  If a first impression becomes a lasting impression, it is because we do nothing to expand or inform that impression.  If we allow others to dictate who we are, then we are condemned to accept the role in which we have been cast.  If Hell is eternal, it is these decisions that we must reconcile or, at the very least, recognize.  Each of the characters in No Exit required affirmation of some sort from the other. They relinquished control of their self-image and consequently their self-worth.  They cannot find salvation from within because they do not recognize themselves from within; they only recognize how they are seen from another’s point of view.

     Hell as other people comes not in the condemnation of others, but rather in the affirmation of others.  As long as one can deceive an onlooker they can deceive themselves.  When the only company that remains is ourselves, it is ourselves that we must come to appreciate.  When we learn to appreciate ourselves we are no longer condemned to everlasting suffering, we are no longer in Hell.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Confessions, philosophy, psychology

 

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Day Jobs and Life Callings

         16 days ago I  had a job interview; 15 days ago I was offered a job; 14 days ago I accepted the job, and 13 days ago I posted about authenticity (rather, I was easing into the concept of authenticity).  12 days ago, I started the job that I now view as the ‘entry-level position’ to my life calling.

            Now, before I get too far into the ‘job’ post, I have to tell you something about the past year. 

                                    I discovered Existentialist Philosophy.

I had planned on a gradual and detailed account of these new insights, but, well… abstract half-thought… to be continued…  The important thing now is the idea of authenticity.

            Those who have read my posts of the past know that I try to live my life openly, honestly and without reserve.  For many who meet me in person, this can be a little unnerving and overwhelming at times.  At times I have doubted the wisdom of my choices.  When I discovered the existentialist concept of authenticity … vindication!!!!!

            So, segue completed, circling back to my new job.  I am happy to report that I love my day job.  I am working as an Instructional Assistant at a high school.  My duties include:  taking notes for students who, for various reasons, cannot take notes for themselves; help students organize assignments and complete assignments in a timely manner; find new and interesting ways to explain confusing or difficult material, and assist instructors in non-academic ‘chores’ that detract from quality teaching time.

            Many of the students I work with remind me of a teenage me.  Some have unusual learning styles, some have a single-minded focus on one subject, and sadly for some, life has taught them lessons not found in a classroom – lessons no child should have to learn. 

            High school the first time around made little impact on me academically.  It was an escape or a chance for creative exploration through theater and music, but rarely was it inspiring on an intellectual level.  I appreciated concept and significance, while the faculty appreciated memorization and regurgitation.  I rarely went to class.

            Now, after all this time, I get to experience a little bit of high school again.  I finally made it to US History and I can truly appreciate how far my country has come in such a relatively short period of time.  I feel a renewal in my optimism.  I also have the privilege of sitting in on a fundamental English class.  I finally understand the ‘comma-splice’.  I know, I know, its basic grammar, but I must have been absent the day they taught subordinating, coordinating and correlative conjunctions because I have been faking it and passing the buck to ‘grammar check’ for years.  I was in BAD FAITH!!! (I just had to throw in another term from existentialism).  So, while my posts may be a bit irregular for a while, I am taking notes and forming thoughts.  

 
 

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Abstract Thought and Authenticity – part one

        “Falling under the influence of mass opinion, we become inauthentic because we neither seek nor create what is most meaningful to us as individuals.  When we live the way everyone else does, think the way everyone else thinks, and hold the same values everyone else holds, we do not use our freedom to create ourselves as unique individuals; instead we become slaves to a communal standard that more often than not, is mediocre and repressive.”                                                       Linda Patrik – Existentialist Literature

 

In the past I tried to tackle some abstract ideas, but I merely scratched the surface.  For every published post, there are three or four incomplete drafts.  I ask myself, and all who read this, is it necessary to complete an abstract thought?  In fact, is it not a sign of arrogance to claim complete understanding of an abstract idea? Indeed, such a claim is counterproductive; limiting the possibility for deeper revelation.  As I am on a quest for enlightenment, I shall endeavor to avoid the intellectual trap of arrogance. I hope that some of my half-thoughts compliment the half-thoughts of another.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Confessions, philosophy

 

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Retrospection

            My decision to blog again has much to do with the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  I didn’t go into detail about how that day influenced my life in my early posts, truthfully, I skipped the experience entirely.  Everybody has their own version of that day, and each one carries a unique burden in that experience.  Those experiences should not be trivialized or diminished as so often happens when comparisons are made.  I have held my memory of that day close to my heart, protecting it from cynicism and recrimination.

            I avoided all media exposure on the anniversary.  Instead, I sat outside in the sunshine and read a romance novel, avoidance in a truly self-indulgent fashion.  When I had read the last page and the sun had dropped below the horizon I felt ashamed.  Without my distractions I began to feel that I had desecrated the sanctity of that day, that I had disrespected the memory of the lives that were lost.  Some days later I read a memorial blog that changed my perspective.

           From ‘Ephemera and Pseudo-Events’ by J.N. Nielsen:

                        “An anniversary is an arbitrary thing – the length of a year is utterly arbitrary – but it is natural to want to commemorate a loss, as it is natural to want to celebrate some joyous occasion. … To memorialize an event is to prevent its repetition, the render it singular, although we must relive the trauma in each memorialization.  Failure to memorialize an event means that it will be visited upon us time and again, though we will be spared the retraumatization of the continual consciousness of the event.”

             My experiences of that day have shaped every aspect of my life, but not in a negative way.  I honor the memory of that day by living each subsequent day with deep appreciation in my heart.  When I remember that day I don’t linger on images of destruction or fear, I am overcome by the humility and compassion I felt all around me.  I tremble not with grief, but with awe.  Remembering now feels like a renewal of hope, and hope and shame cannot coexist.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Coffee Shop Whore?, Confessions, philosophy, psychology

 

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Letter – a work of fiction

Dear Julie,

     I couldn’t help but notice how nice your hair smelled today.  It was so beautiful in the sunshine, it took all of my self-control to not run my fingers through it.  I also couldn’t help but notice that you had lunch with that man again, I thought that my previous letters would have alerted you to how disastrous a relationship with this person might be, surely he could not love you as much as I do, but that is beside the point, I am sure you will realize that I am right on this point.  Have you told him about me?  Silly me, asking such questions, he would know better than to intrude on our relationship.

     I have been trying to decide what I would get you for your birthday this year.  I never see you wearing the earings that I bought you last year.  I have been trying to think of something more personal, something that you can cherish, something to remind you of my love.

     The first time we met my life changed.  You were so young and beautiful.  You were wearing that little pink sweater.  I remember how pretty your hair was in that ponytail,  I thought it a shame that you cut it all off.  I know you didn’t mean it to be hurtful to me, after all, I did say how much I liked it.  I am glad that you are growing it out again.  It’s much better looking when it is long.  It would have looked so beautiful streaming down your back at graduation.  But that was a long time ago, I barely knew you then, not like now.

     I hate to keep harping on about it, but that man you had lunch with… he is so much like that boy you were dating back then.  Richard something or other.  I tried to warn you about him.  You wouldn’t listen then either, I don’t know if you know, but I finally had to talk to him, I mean, really, even then you knew that we were destined to be together.  I know you had to have your fun, but he was getting a little too serious, he thought he could steal you from me.  I hope this one doesn’t make the same mistake.  Richard whatshisface just wouldn’t believe me when I told him you were mine.  Even after you moved away, I knew you were getting away from him, you knew that I would find you, no matter where you went.  The connection between us is too strong to ever be broken by miles.  Richard didn’t have that connection with you.

     Anyway, that’s all in the past.  We are the future.  I should go now, I will see you soon anyway, but I wanted to tell you that I love you and think of you always.

                                                                                                                                     Love and Devotion,

                                                                                                                                     Your Secret Admirer

 

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True Confession

          When I started ‘Confessions of a Coffee Shop Whore’ I wanted a home for my fiction.  It did not take me long to realize that fiction was not what I needed to write.  In fact, the harder I tried to focus on fiction, the more I became distracted by my reality.  I was not sure how to write about my reality.  I had always been a story-teller and that was not the same as being a writer.

            I had never really identified myself as a writer.  This is an odd concept to explain, so bear with me.  For as long as I can remember, I have entertained myself with absurd little stories.  These stories matured with me, gaining depth and complexity as I grew older and learned more words.  Whatever I learned whether in school or in life invariably found its way into my little fantasy world.  My stories became an embodiment of my education.  My stories helped me make sense of the world.

            I didn’t start writing my stories down until I was eighteen.  I can actually recall that first writing experience.  I don’t remember what I wrote, but I remember quite clearly my state of mind.  I was in despair; violent, self-destructive despair.  I was far away from all that was familiar and alone in an unforgiving and unsympathetic environment.  The back of a duty roster became my confidant. 

On the page I could separate myself.  My problems became obstacles for my characters to overcome.  In my stories I could say what was on my mind without fear or consequence.  Still, I did not consider myself a writer.  I was a sailor who liked to write in her spare time.

My characters became my best friends.  They traveled with me, consoled me and they never pressured me or made me feel ashamed.  People were not nearly as accommodating.  When you are in the military, people and places are temporary and sadly interchangeable.  True connections are few and far between; at least they were for me.

I wrote throughout my time in the Navy, tending toward the dark and sinister corners of human nature, nicely disguised in fantasy or science fiction.  After signing my discharge papers and heading to LA I adopted the sunshine into my narrative, but soon I was distracted by school.  Once again I was processing whatever lessons I learned by writing it out.  I would twist and turn each idea until I could see it from every angle.  I turned those angles into characters, and those characters began to have voices different from my own.  They came to life, independent and complicated, and for the first time, unique.  I was no longer the main character of my stories.  Yet still, I was a student who liked to write in her spare time.

Spare time…such a common and unassuming pair of words, but ah, the illusion they create…  There is no such thing as spare time.  Time may be occupied by a variety of activities, but it is most definitely occupied.  My stories gained life because I was living.  My characters became independent because I became independent.  My mind was active, synapses were firing, connections were being made, and input was producing output.  My time was fully occupied, but still I thought I needed more time.

I thought that shifting into full-time writer status would be a breeze, after all, the creative juices were flowing, I had more ideas than I knew what to do with… if only I didn’t have that test to study for or that chapter to read… if only I had more time to dedicate to writing… if only.  A few months after I was out of school the ideas dried up.  I had plenty of time to write, but I had nothing to write about.  No input, no output.  And if I have nothing to write about, how can I call myself a writer?  This is the spiral I found myself in last year.

I may have been blocked on my fiction, but I did discover something new about my writing.  I discovered my voice again.  Somewhere along the way I stopped needing a character to speak for me.  Suddenly it became more important to speak for myself – to take back ownership of me – to no longer bury my thoughts in plot lines and dialogue.  But that was not how I had envisioned my blog and I didn’t know how to adjust.

When my computer crashed I found it impossible to keep up with the blog.  I had no theme, no continuity, no criteria from which to build a body of work.  I was writing myself into circles and corners.  In retrospect, writing for a self-imposed deadline, and then stressing about it, is rather idiotic.  I was the worst boss I had ever had and I should have known better.  I needed to step back and regroup… but I did not want to admit failure… (what plan am I on now?)

So, back to where I started with this thing.  I am a writer who occasionally works elsewhere in a non-writing capacity.  Not only does this non-writing occupation of my time help put food on the table, it also provides input to keep the output flowing.  Fiction or not, I am writing.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Confessions

 

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Computer Issues

Just when I thought I was getting things together… my ONLY working computer, STOPPED WORKING!!!!!!! As I have no library card – and therefore a miniscule amount of ‘guest’ access – I am once again delinquent on my postings. I have six minutes remaining on my borrowed computer. I want to cry.

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2010 in Confessions

 

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