my greatest fear.

I’m afraid of heights.  I’m not a fan of tight spaces.  Loud noises and bright lights horrify me, especially in the dark when I’m alone.  I don’t like walking in the woods at night.  People, in general, terrify me . These are simple fears.

Perhaps even bigger than those simple fears is my fear of vastness.  The kind of vastness that makes you feel small in a physically vulnerable sense.  Like being alone in a crowd, wondering if you’re surrounded by an army of enemies or just that one crazy guy with a knife and sticky fingers.  Like outer space, a frontier we pretend we know about but are really just fools for pretending like we can handle and explore it.  Like great spaces in the atmosphere, open stages for gravity and better evolved organisms who can fly.  Or like the depths plunging into the core of the earth, like a void opening and you have no say in where you’re falling.  But even worse, to me, is the ocean: you can drown in a puddle, but the ocean gives you that opportunity a thousand trillion times over.  A water that only makes you thirstier.  A depth so deep it would crush you.  An entire planet – the origin of life – still submersed and unknown and perfectly unaware of our feeble existence.  Waves with uncertain power and height.  The Loch Ness monster.

But no, I don’t fear those things at all.  I fear an underlying factor.  I fear: losing control.

I’m afraid of falling, of being crushed, of being overpowered.  I’m afraid of not having a say in what happens to me or how.  That’s my greatest fear, and truly my only fear.  When they say having one fear and it’s fear itself, I think it might be what they’re trying to say: fear of something overcoming you, out of your control, because that is, in a way, fear.

Fear is my own mind.  It’s my perception, my reception, my curiosity and consequent fulfillment.  Maybe that’s why I like Sylvia Plath so much – she, too, feared losing control, at least until she gained control by shutting her head in an oven.  (Her quotes in bold/italics.)

Is there no way out of the mind? 

I fear my own mind because it’s my greatest critic.  It’s never satisfied, always wanting to learn, analyze, and criticize.  Usually, I’m its only subject.  And as my most intimate judge, my mind pains me when it disapproves – as it does so often.  It’s never enough, I’m never enough, and its thoughts are impossible to escape because they are always there, silent but perpetually heard.  An unspoken speech that you already knew was coming because, well, you made it.

I’m afraid of being left to my own devices sometimes, despite always craving time for reflection – or feeling grounded.  But being alone so much can blur the lines between alone and lonely.  I start to compare myself and wonder if the life I’m living is a socially healthy one – or if being social is in actual human nature, not just the society-inflicted one.  I’m always trying to imagine a myriad of life scenarios, wondering which are the most rewarding.  Knowing I can’t control the outcome of anything.  Feeling that hopelessness and loss of control all over again.  Become evermore aware of my insanity.

And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.

But gaining control is this odd balance that actually requires letting go of it altogether.  It’s like investing a trust in something and someone else.  Not the kind of trust you hand over, but the kind that is inherently rooted there and which continues to blossom.  It’s being able to walk away from your house with all your doors unlocked and not thinking about it, your house of course being your soul.  And when you find that kind of freedom, and you’re able to carry it across all aspects of your life – well, I think that’s when you’ve finally conquered the fear of losing control, because you’ve embraced it.  You’ve gained control by losing it in the greatest sense of the irony.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted to lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free.

When you find a home in what you do and with whom you spend your time, and the only thing you can do in that place and presence is to go as you are, and couldn’t imagine not being yourself, and fear or want of something else is trivial and ridiculous… That’s how it is to be free.

modern Noah.

The news on Google today was flooded with photos from the 2014 Met Gala Best Dressed.  I humored myself for about eight seconds of perusing posed shots of celebrities in fancy clothing before I couldn’t stand looking at it anymore.  It’s like when you cut sugar out of your diet and you no longer can stand the rush from sugar.  I can no longer even fathom what thrill people get from these kinds of things.

I used to look at outfits and appreciate the creativity, flow, contrasts, etc. of each piece.  If it were a school assignment, sure – I’d whip out all of those elegant words from the bank and I could fool anyone.  But today was completely different and I felt nothing for the outfits.  Nothing positive.  Actually, I felt disgust.

I’ve been applying for several travel scholarships lately in the hopes of scoring an award to either a global sustainability class or a service project in one of the least attractive corners of the world.  I constantly want to push forward and do something.  That something generally involves putting time, effort, and money into working with impoverished people in this world who are the voiceless, working bodies holding every society together.

In other words, when I saw those outfits, I saw the faces of the people who grew the cotton or mixed the dyes.
I saw the anguish, the integrity, the bleeding hands.

I did not see the floozy in the gown or the million-dollar smile.
I did not know the name of the celebrity, but I wished I’d known the names of the servants who created her.
From a million miles away.
With several million dollars less.
And what has that celebrity done?  Relative to her potential?  ZIP.  ZILCH.  NOTHING.

NOTHING, as far as relative goes.  NOTHING when you can buy up an entire fleet and take world problems by storm.  NOTHING when you have the voice and the potential to be heard by so many sheep who blindly follow.

What can the peasant do?  Keep quiet, keep humble, keep working.

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This all happened so perfectly in timing with my spontaneous decision to see the movie Noah.  Going into it, I had no idea what to expect – I just know the imagery looked intense.  Well, quite frankly, I had two impressions: 1) WOW, that was creepy and 2) WOW, that didn’t seem accurate.

And it wasn’t.

I’m no expert on the book of Genesis, but it’s short and I’ve been around it since I was little enough to get the main ideas.  With a little help from reviews, I was able to back up the reasons for my reactions.  First and foremost, Noah was played out as a maniac trying to kill, kill, kill.  It was all supposed to be showing his devotion to the Creator’s will, but you know how Hollywood takes ahold of things and runs with it.  Now, there were also some technical things wrong with the film, like how Jepath was not the youngest son but rather Ham was, or how Lamech didn’t die when Noah was a child.  But there were also some points in the film that were clearly strategic in capturing any kind of audience: the overlaying of Creation with Evolution.  Admittedly, I know enough people who insist both coexist that I actually really liked the implications the directors  made – but I also know a lot of Christians did not like said implications and took offense to Hollywood selling the Bible for profit.

It’s true, though; one could justly say this group’s scriptures have been misrepresented and sold.  It has been work-shopped questionably and beyond the entitlement of “artistic license”.  From the “rock people” to the dramatic, wordless visions from God, Hollywood was really just pitching a highly animated sci-fi movie – and how ironic, right?

But perhaps one benefit that came from this is the message it gave.  Now, people will argue the message of Genesis is that humans left their god and ran astray, so they were all wiped out – save for Noah, his family, and a bunch of animals meant to repopulate the earth.  In other words, disobeying the Creator is the big no-no.  Well, in this version of Noah’s story, it’s about what humans have done to the planet and less about how they’ve forgotten their god (although it does come up time to time).  Noah’s obedience to God is supposed to show why he has been chosen, but he just comes off as crazed until he learns love with discretion.  Meanwhile, the Flood is allegedly occurring to cleanse “evil” and to save the “innocent”, meaning the animals.  It’s like an eco-friendly, modern Noah story.  Save the planet, or you’ll have nothing left.  At least it’s a positive message, although missing the Biblical mark by a substantial bit.

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So Met Gala.  Noah.
These two ideas finally collided in my mind.

The evil-doers in Noah were transfixed on themselves, on their power, on humanity’s greatness, on their ruling over everything below them, on their image in the eyes of others and not in goodness,… They were eating other humans and holding absolutely no values, bloodthirsty to be at the top just as they were when the Flood came and they scrambled over each other to the highest peak to avoid the inevitable.  Because they thought they were great.  Because they had raised themselves up and not appreciated or ever understood the foundation on which they were standing to begin with.

Wow, just like our society today.

Dog eats dog, climbing over each other to the top, striving to save that extra buck so you can get that much farther ahead.  Idolizing things that should not be idolized, like celebrities who bring nothing of good fortune or true inspiration to a wholesome life.  Meanwhile, we take for granted our foundation, the one as simple as who grows our food.  Do you know how few people could survive without that anonymous web of peasants laboring below us?

“Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.” – Proverbs 28:6

The toil, the labor, the strife peasants pour into providing riches to the already rich… that’s just an example of these same themes.  False pedestals hold false idols, and becoming a sheep to the wrong flock drags you down the road of foolishness.  You can no longer hold what is important in your mind.  You become materialistic and take advantage of the downtrodden.  But the world balances itself out and nature/God/whatever will always have the last say.  “…for a piece of bread a man will transgress.  A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him” – but he is often already poor.

Yes, celebrities and those who idol them are poor and sickly.
It’s the impoverished, the righteous, and the downtrodden who live righteously who are the richest, the ones who are safe from the transgressions of the world – the ones closest to being the modern Noah.

the company you keep.

“Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men.  Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.” -Proverbs 4:14-15 NIV

“For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” -2 Timothy 2:2-5 NASB

I don’t care if you don’t believe in the Torah/Bible/God; scripture can offer some really good advice if you know how to read it.  For example, in this quote from Timothy, take “God” as a symbol for living peacefully and good.  It provides the same meaning and is certainly applicable to any faith or faithlessness.

How did I get these quotes?  Well, I Googled quotes that could demonstrate the idea of “the company you keep”.  And these were my favorites.

Today, I became (yet again) a victim of online bullying.  It was a rash, brash, offhand, unprecedented comment from an uninformed, unimportant individual.  In the past, I would have blown up over it.  I would have sobbed, raged, replied, and probably done a lot of things I would have regretted later.  But that was me before I started paying attention to these kinds of things.  That was me before I began thinking about the company I keep.

It made me realize the company I choose to keep does not behave like this person.
Meaning he meant nothing to me and he couldn’t hurt me.
Meaning he doesn’t know the truth but the people who matter do.
Meaning I don’t keep his company because he is not considerate, respectful, classy, and of good sportsmanship.
But the company I do keep is all of these things.

In thinking of the company I keep and who I want to be, I debated my options.  I could delete the comment and move forward.  But maybe this person was making a point?  Maybe I had overlooked something that had evoked his reaction in the first place.

Aha – indeed, I had.  I realized he was either being completely tactless and cutting me down without reason, or his tactlessness arose from a misunderstanding in what I was saying.  And yes, this was all about hockey.

First, I chose to leave the comment.  I didn’t reply.  I won’t reply.  It’s not worth it, and it exposes his lack of anything human.  And it makes me look better in the meantime.

Second, I e-mailed the captain of the team.  I thanked her for her candor, congratulated her team for their season, then made her aware of the situation in case someone else might have taken what was said in the wrong way.  I know I didn’t have to do it, but I felt like it is good to clean things up and it can’t hurt nipping a potential problem in the bud.  It also gave me a chance to explain why I left the one team for another: sportsmanship.

The comment that was left and a teammate’s supportive, subsequent reaction to that comment were the perfect parallels to the situation.  It showed how my old team lacked the sportsmanship and respect I craved and how I gained so much more in those fields and others by switching teams.

It reminded me of this past Sunday when I spent time with a friend.  I’ve gotten along swimmingly with his whole family and realized there’s a reason for that.  Kind of like there’s a reason why I can throw my closest friends from all over the world in a room together for the first time…and they love each other.

We always tend to migrate towards the same kinds of people.  And I’ve been trying increasingly harder to base my “kind” of person off of his/her character.  His/her goodness.  His/her positivity.  Even though I haven’t always been the most positive person, it’s amazing how letting go of a little negativity and surrounding yourself with good people will really change your outlook on life.

You really can change your life by the company you keep and surrounding yourself with good things.

As the quote above from Proverbs tells us, don’t be tempted by that evil path.  Just because others act one way does not justify your reaction in their footsteps.  You have to own what you do and you are responsible for the consequences.  Every step you make should be towards the kind of person you want to be, no matter how big or small that step is.

And this person’s bullying is exactly what Timothy’s quote is describing: This person may have been reacting from a misunderstanding, but it was still completely uncalled for, demonstrates his lack of good character, and proves that he is insecure about another’s accomplishments.  He had to cut me down for my pride in the wonderful people I have discovered on my new team and by the honors I’ve received for being a part of their society.  Clearly, I have a LOT that he lacks.  And he doesn’t like it.

While I can’t change him and it’s not my responsibility to try, I can just hope to lead by example and to continue supporting my teammates, choosing better, and maintaining a close watch over the company that I keep.

This Bell Jar, and Plath.

I love Sylvia Plath.

Yes, she’s rather morbid.  Yes, she had “issues”.  Yes, she eventually killed herself.  But I think it was that internal struggle she was dealing with that made her writing so freely profound, poetic and yet harsh.  She had a way of wording things and of looking at life in a way that was beautiful in the same sense as a deadly storm.

I started read The Bell Jar at the beginning of the year.  It wasn’t until I was recently inspired to read an entire list of “life changing” books that I found online, as well as books on the histories of religions, that I decided it was time to finish up some books I had forgotten I’d started.  I’m kind of surprised I stopped reading The Bell Jar midway – I think it was due to finals and me leaving the country.  But, either way, I finished the rest of it in essentially one sitting.  I feel like there is a lot to take away from it.

OUR OWN BELL JARS

The whole “bell jar” bit didn’t make too much sense to me until, somewhere in the middle of the story, Plath drops the words “…because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

I thought, WOW.  THAT is what the bell jar is.  The bell jar is what we pull over ourselves.  We live in this little world of our own, yet we can let our own negativity suffocate us if we don’t lift that jar every once in a while.  No matter where we go, we carry that emotional baggage with us, a kind of baggage that no change of scenery will alter enough for us to completely forget if we don’t cause some kind of resolution or absolution within ourselves.

I began to think of my own bell jar and what I feel like inside it.  It feels terrible a lot.  Too often, in fact.  But that’s why I bury myself in sports, arts, books, cooking, dance, and especially travel… It’s like my way of lifting that jar a little bit every once in a while, like a small distraction.  But that jar never totally disappears.

DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT IN LIFE

I feel that jar heaviest when others affect me.  I have the tendency to go out of my way too much for other people just to feel useful and have worth.  I don’t expect anything in return.  But when I get stood up or let down, I think it hurts twice to thrice as much.

“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”

Wise words.  I should listen to that.

I’ve come to realize I’m never disappointed when I expect someone to back out, no matter how much they swear they’ve committed.  I just shrug it off.  But that’s hard to accept all of the time, to expect disappointment.  I love the anticipation of something.  It’s what makes the days happier.  Why ruin that with expectations of letdown?  (“I couldn’t see the point of getting up.  I had nothing to look forward to.”)   It just makes one feel inadequate.  (“The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.”)  And Plath’s character continues to struggle under her bell jar for a long, long, long part of the story.

GETTING OUT OF YOUR BELL JAR

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

Yet the whole story isn’t just about depressing thoughts (although, some of them really make you think, like when Plath wonders if the most beautiful thing in the world is actually shadow).  In reality, Plath’s bell jar sealed shut just after the publication of The Bell Jar.  Esther Greenwood, however, the narrator of the story,… she finally flings off her jar and takes a deep breath.

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people.  I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.'”

If that isn’t testament to how the best medicine for anything is just a breath of nature and the world, then I don’t know what is.

ACCEPTING BETTER LOVE

Finally, one of the quotes from Plath in general that I recently shared on Facebook (and which received a lot of applaud) is one about love.  I often think about how lousy we can get it when it comes to friendships or relationships, and why is that?  And my answer always come back to The Perks of Being a Wallflower: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”  Not to mix up authors and stories here, but I think that is true.  And I find it particularly interesting to take that notion and juxtapose it with Plath’s quote.  Plath seems to be quite the self-loathing person with little value in herself, should you base her personality off of her writing style, yet she shows strength enough to reject men who don’t strike her very specific fancy.  Here is the quote I adore so much:

“Yes, I was infatuated with you: I am still.  No one has ever heightened such a keen capacity of physical sensation in me.  I cut you out because I couldn’t stand being a passing fancy.  Before I give my body, I must give my thoughts, my mind, my dreams.  And you weren’t having any of those.”

In the words of my mother-aged peer, “What a wise, tragic woman who said that.”