Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Three Things, and a Leopard

"Leadbetter’s Cockatoo," in Edward Lear’s 1832 work Illustrations of the family of Psittacidæ, or Parrots. (Besides being an illustrator of nonsense, Lear was also an accomplished natural history painter.)

I. A little story, one of my favorites.

I mangle stories, so you may have heard a more elegant version of this, but the point is the same:

Someone asks Buddha, "So Buddha, you know how sometimes you wake up and everything is super clear: you see what you've been doing that's fucking yourself up and causing suffering all round, and you just know with certainty that you aren't going to do that anymore? And then you don't! What do you think about that?"

"Oh, that path to enlightenment is excellent," Buddha says. "Yes, this sort of liberation from illusion is a wonderful gift, like a clean sharp knife. Very beautiful. You will be able to help many people and yourself on the path to full awareness through this sudden clarity. Very fine indeed."

The questioner continues, "Well then, what about when you see what you're doing wrong and how you are creating suffering, but you just can't seem to make the changes you need to make. You keep trying and failing and getting disheartened... What about that?"

"Oh!" Buddha says. "Yes! That is a most excellent path to enlightenment! You truly come to understand the struggle and grow in compassion for others who also struggle. When the illusions drop away, that is even sweeter. I highly recommend this way of cultivating awareness. Through this practice, you will be able to help yourself and other people very well. Yes, very good, very fine."

"OK," continues our friend, "What about when you just don't think you're doing anything wrong. You blame everyone else and you make excuses for yourself and you just keep on suffering and causing suffering."

And Buddha exclaims, "Excellent! Yes, this is one of the best paths to awakening. When you finally get it, you will really, really get it because you have so thoroughly gone all the way into suffering. This is a very great practice toward enlightenment. You will surely help yourself and other people greatly by taking this path."

II. Three Things I Know about Being Single, Upon Ten Years of Reflection

1. You have to do everything yourself.

2. You get to do everything yourself.

3. Repeat.

III. And a Fourth Thing

Every so often, the time comes to gather your inner resources, face your fear and loathing, and ask for help.

IV. Thinking in the Shed

Last night I read Malcolm Bradbury's very funny short novel Cuts (1987), about a silly man named Henry who spends all day in his little shed, writing, until he gets sucked into writing for television, during Maggie Thatcher's reign. Before he gets sucked in, however,

"There were moments when Henry was glad he was a writer, for writers could live in their own minds and didn't have to go outside at all."
As he explains to an interviewer, ""Writing is mostly thinking, I find.'"
Which all reminds me of me.

V. Scampering toward Leopard

Yes, my point is, I am enormously proud of myself:
Today I caught a whiff of enlightenment (freedom from the illusion of fear), stopped thinking, and went outside my little shed, as it were, to the Apple store.
There, I asked for help doing something I would definitely have put off onto someone else if there had been someone else I could put it off onto.

[This is me and the Holy Spirit dancing on the way to the Mac Shop, by Edward Lear.]

Though the Apple boys and girls are unfailingly kind and helpful, in the store I feel that same queasy fear I felt trying to figure out public transportation in Istanbul.
And when I have to do things to my computer, I experience the primeval fear of things blowing up, coupled with the more modern fear of very expensive things shuddering to a complete and irreversible halt.

(You who are computer literate will perhaps not comprehend my fear when I tell you that I was only upgrading my operating system.)

I try to avoid those queasy feelings.
However, one of the neat things I've learned living alone is that if there's no one else to do something I really, really want done, I will do it. Eventually.

What I really want is to put words, pictures, music, and motion together, and since this summer, I was finding there're programs to help me do that (like GIMP, the free alternative to photoshop) that I can't download because my OS is out of date.
So now I've installed Leopard, I can! The nice young man at the store told me how. He didn't even laugh at all.

(I think the language is part of the fear factor. "Installing Leopard." Doesn't that sound like you should have to know something--something dangerous--to do that?
Instead it consists, as you know, of putting a DVD in my laptop and clicking "install." It could more rightly be called Folding Laundry or something.)

Anyway, as Buddha might say, there are three ways of getting to the Apple shop: right away, later, or maybe in your next life.
They are all excellent, all very fine. All will lead to a good story to tell, and if you can't make it on iMovies, you can always draw it in the dirt with a stick.

Thus concludes the lesson for today.


evve said...

I used to find asking for help nearly impossible. An admission of defeat, a failure in terms of my strongly-held belief that I had to be able to do absolutely everything for myself and never ever have to rely on any one for any thing.

I've discovered that people love helping other people, they're often just panting to be asked. That it's not defeat or failure. And I love helping other people myself, so why should I have all the fun?

Fantastic that you're pursuing this dream/reality so determinedly. Hurrah!

Rudyinparis said...

I like this very much. A reassuring thought that however we get there... well, we get there eventually.

I've been musing on your second point recently, as a matter of fact. Well, not even recently, For awhile. The whole cult in our culture of couplehood... and I've been thinking more and more about Kierkegaard of all people and how he wrote in Either/Or that (I'm paraphrasing, obviously): marry and you will suffer. Do not marry, and you will suffer... etc. And the flip side, of course, is marry, and you will be happy, do not marry, and you will be happy (and this applies nicely to having children, too)... basically, that no matter what you do, you will both suffer and be happy. I think this is very, very true (can something be very, very true? Wouldn't it just be true or not true? Wouldn't that be like being "very pregnant?" You can't be a little pregnant...) So, the other side of second point would be

II. Three Things I Know about Being Coupled, Upon Ten Years of Reflection

1. You have to do (pretty much)everything with someone else.

2. You get to do everything (pretty much) with someone else.

3. Repeat.

fresca said...

Social scientists say that people's #1 fear is Speaking in Public, which I believe, but #1b must be Asking for Help, because when I talk about it, almost everyone says they fear it too.
And for a host of different reasons!
I fear being mocked and shamed for being stupid--(my professor father, god bless him, used to do this, when I was like 8...).

But thanks for that insight, evve, people usually like to help. THat seems right: if nothing else, they get to feel superior!
But that's the negative take on it--I truly think our hearts are designed that way, to want to help, unless they get all tangled up, which of course they do.

Rudy: Nobody knows Kierkegaard is a comic (except people who read him).
He's kind of saying what Buddha says--it is not because of your circumstances that you will be happy or unhappy.

Maybe I'll write more about being single and living alone...I was just thinking about it at this, my ten year anniversary of it. I don't think we know a whole lot about it. I mean, it's not something humans have been able to do much of, until the modern era made it easy to live alone, not have children, and not die.

Yes, you're right--I exaggerated by saying "everything"--I like your addition very much! Of course it's only "pretty much"--but you know (having lived alone), sometimes it feels like you have to do every bloody thing--every single dish has to be washed by you, every single bill has to be paid by you---basically every decision comes down to you, you, you.

But there's enormous freedom in that: Throw the dishes out, if you want! Let the lettuce rot in the bottom of the fridge! Leave for Duluth at the drop of a hat! Who's stopping you?

Actually, I think there is a gradation of how true something is. Like with colors--there's shading.

Also, as Bill Clinton put it so well, it depends what you mean by "is"!
You've had babies--surely you think there is a difference between being a "little bit" pregnant and" very, very" pregnant? (I can't say, but it sure LOOKS like it!)

Thanks for writing--good stuff to think about in my shed! : )

fresca said...

P.S. Oh, Rudy--I read the "pretty much" insertions as having to do with me--but of course they are about being coupled, as you are--I remember that too--same thing, the double whammy!

Once when I was traveling alone I felt so fatigued with making every decision--should I turn left or right; but I also remembered the pure rage I felt toward L. when we were traveling together once and she insisted we go a certain way....

There's no way round it! We *are* ridiculous!

bink said...

I don't remember ever insisting we go a certain way. I remember negotiating... if we go this way and it turns out to be a big hill (we were on bikes)-- you could hit me. The route did have a fabulously big hill--but also a glorious seven mile downhill coast. And I think the fact that you got to slug me as hard as you could was ample trade-off for going my way. But maybe you are thinking of another incident... :)

fresca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fresca said...

Bink: Actually, I meant that statement to be a composite ("like in New York magazine")!

Rudyinparis said...

Well, the "pretty much" comments were geared toward coupledom... I mean, when you're alone in a house, you're alone in a house. But you can be in a house with someone else and then go into a room by yourself. But I suppose it does go both ways...

I remember a gazillion years ago when I first moved here I had a friend who got in a minor car accident on 35W and I remember her talking to me about how right after it happened all she wanted in the whole world was a boyfriend to be there with her and just help her walk through all the crap that needed to be done (getting the car towed, insurance, getting a rental car, etc., etc.) Not that she wanted a partner to DO it all for her, but that she just wanted someone to share the load. Back then I had never had a real serious partner, so I remember thinking her sentiment was odd, even weak. But I get it now. Sometimes it's just tiring to slog through all the crap parts on your own. But then you get all the good parts to yourself...

Remind me, sometime, to tell you the whole Sandwich Epiphany I had a little after this. It's vaguely related.

And, you know, this is where I am a complete Gemini, mercurial, because now that it's afternoon I'm thinking OF COURSE something can be very true or less true or kind of true! Geez louise, listen to Ms. Literalist-in-the-morning. And, yes, having been pregnant--oof--one can certainly be more pregnant at some points than others. (LOL)

fresca said...

Rudy: You always make me laugh (in the best way).

I was thinking the "pretty much everything alone" applies to living alone because even when you live alone, you can invite people over, and do a wide variety of things together!
Sometimes guests even do the dishes, though I disapprove of this on principle (usually).

I find I don't take on certain things--like a car (or children)--that I know I won't want to bother maintaining.

So there's this erosion of frippery that happens, living alone, that leaves you stripped down to who you really or.
Or it has that cool Buddhist-y potential anyway, if you approach it that way. Which I do (on my good days).