The Power of Destruction

The only true power we have as humans is destruction. Think about it. If you want to create anything, there are so many other forces of nature to contend with, but if you want to destroy something, there is only yourself. For example, to successfully grow a tree, you must have the right soil, a good amount of sunlight and rain. A storm could knock down your tree, or bugs might eat it. It might develop some disease. Lightning could strike it and set it aflame. Any number of things could thwart your tree-growing power.

However, destroying the tree is far easier and more certain. A chainsaw, an ax, a winch and a pickup truck - these would all make fairly quick work of killing a tree.

I think it's human nature to prefer certainty. Some of us also avoid work whenever possible. If creation is the tough, uncertain path, and destruction is the sure and easy path, it's no big mystery to me why you see human-wrought destruction everywhere. I'm not just speaking of environmental destruction; there is a daily destruction in procrastination, in arguing with our partner, in watching TV instead of doing something productive. It's easier to eat a Twinkie than it is to make a healthy meal.

I also think destruction makes us feel powerful, because it creates certainty where none existed. You don't know if your marriage will last, but if you decide to divorce, you know it certainly won't. I wish I could remember where I read this, but an author likened it to children stacking blocks - you don't know when it's going to fall, so rather than living with the unbearable tension of not-knowing, you purposely (although often subconsciously) knock it down.

To me, this explains a lot of previously inexplicable behaviors, such as why people do things that seem contrary to their own interests. I see it all the time in my own life, in small ways. Sometimes when I feel tension I'll provoke an argument to get out from under the uncertainty. Right now I'm avoiding a call to the insurance company about a disputed claim because I don't know which way it will go, and some part of me would rather pay than deal with the confrontation. (A friend of mine would say "...rather than create a new possibility.")

Anyway, I'm becoming more aware of this, and trying to be more accepting of the fact that none of really have much power to begin with. That's not to say we can't use what we have skillfully, though.

The freebie list

Out of boredom and procrastination, I present to you my "freebie list," a la Friends, circa 1997 (explanation). These are in no particular order, and they're not necessarily picked for their acting ability.

Chris Noth - so hot he deserves two photos. I've liked this guy since he was first cast on Law & Order. He manages to be sexy yet not arrogant.

Jason Statham - I can't say much for his acting ability or choice of films (Crank?!?), but just look at the guy. He oozes masculinity.

Chris Meloni - I've adored him since Oz, and my greatest fantasy is that Chris Noth ends up on SVU and they somehow have to make out as an important plot point.

Jude Law - who doesn't want to sleep with Jude Law? Plus, exposed midriffs drive me crazy.

Ralph Fiennes - The English Patient was my favorite movie for a long while. He just has some vulnerable quality about him that makes me want to tie him up.

Lighting a fire under my ass

So, I've been stagnating something fierce lately. Through my own (well-intended, but poorly thought-out) choices I've gotten myself into a situation. I've been here before - oh, have I ever - so I know the only way to get unstuck is to trust myself and haul myself out. The horrible/beautiful truth about this life is that no one - and I mean no one, no matter how much they love you - is going to do it for you. It's horrible because often I'm the most unmotivated person I know, and this is some heavy-duty suffering I've self-inflicted. It's beautiful because infinite possibilities only exist if I do the work; otherwise I'm constantly hampered by other people's agendas.

Dive into the pool

Someone told me a story about going to a pool party where everyone was jumping off the diving board. She was not a strong swimmer, and the idea of just nonchalantly jumping off terrified her. Yet, it still looked like a lot of fun, so she made a deal with herself. First she'd dangle her feet off the side of the pool. Next she'd sit down on the diving board. And so on, until she finally worked up the courage, hours later, to actually jump off. She loved it, and she made 20 or so more jumps before the party ended. She wondered why she'd wasted so much time in attempts to make herself comfortable, when the act of jumping was not actually scary at all. She could have done a lot more if she hadn't been hampered by irrational panic.

This is where I'm at, and honestly it's a familiar place for me. I'm unemployed and terrified by the prospect of jumping into the job pool. I've danced around the edges - checking the listings, reading industry news blogs, keeping in touch with a few people in my network - but the actual act of applying and interviewing for jobs just sends chills down my spine. Partly it's a lack of confidence - I feel like this is what I've spent my life trying to achieve, and what if I can't hack it once I'm there? What if the job disappoints me? Another part is a lack of a sense of urgency since I live with someone who makes a good salary. I don't want to be financially dependent on my fiancé, but then again I've covered a lot of his expenses while he was in transition. It probably comes close to evening out if you look at our entire relationship and factor in that I didn't have a full-time job for most of it.

So, I've found a multitude of distractions to keep me from actually leaping into the pool. The worst is MetaFilter - I spend at least a few hours there every day. I also have a ton of very active RSS feeds (see "what I subscribe to" on the sidebar). I feel some obligation to at least skim them every day before I start my work, but of course this isn't necessary. I should check a major news source to see if anything blew up the day before (since 9/11 this has become a habit), and everything else can wait. I don't need to read 20 Lifehacker posts about optimizing your Windows taskbar.

I'm not so bad anymore with the chatty sites. I still visit every other day, and participate in its forums, but not to the extent I once did. Metachat has not really grabbed my interest. Years ago, I used to spend hours every day in Yahoo Messenger chat or similar. I can honestly say I've been IM'd once in the past month, and that was from a meatspace friend. Yet I can always find other ways to kill time.

This is a long-standing pattern for me. I wanted to be an artist or a writer when I was in high school, and one day someone from the San Francisco Art Institute gave a presentation on the school and instructions for applying. I was gung-ho about this for a month or two; I'd been to San Francisco and had truly left my heart there. But when it came time to build my portfolio, I decided that none of my paintings or drawings were good enough, and I dragged my feet on creating any more. This is possibly the biggest regret I have in my life. I think it was the first time I went from being someone with boundless opportunities to someone who puts restrictions on my dreams. That's like a death in a way. You are killing yourself by stifling your creativity. Maybe I would have sucked, but I wish I would have found out for sure.

Another childhood dream I had was to become a Solid Gold dancer. For those who are too young to remember, or who were busy snorting coke in the 80s, Solid Gold was a US television show from 1980-1988 that showcased the top musical hits of the day, as danced by a rotating cast of female dancers. I was six when this show premiered, and I watched it religiously throughout elementary school. I tried to copy their moves, and I often made up dance routines completely on my own. It didn't occur to me that I couldn't become a Solid Gold dancer, or a professional dancer of any sort. See, I have severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) that limits my movements and frankly does not lend itself to the "look" of a dancer. This is why I sobbed - SOBBED - when I saw Bryan Gaynor on "So You Think You Can Dance." The dude had a dream, and he said "fuck it, I don't care what people think, I am going to do what I love." (I'm getting choked up right now.)


This weekend was exquisitely painful. I came face to face with some demons I'd been avoiding for a long time. I'm a little like an alcoholic in that I keep engaging in certain behaviors that only hurt me, yet I seem powerless to stop. (I just realized that I described the human condition.) Knowing why I do these things doesn't seem to help me stop. My attachment to this behavior is the most powerful thing I've ever known. I simply can't even conceive of being free of it, because who would I be without it? It's rather incredible that a destructive behavior can define my identity to this degree.

It's affecting those around me and my relationship with them, and this is the part that makes me want to just move to a deserted island and not subject anyone else to this. I think this is why I sometimes fantasize about being single. It's not so much thinking "he would be better off without me" as "I wouldn't have this pain if no one else was around." Unfortunately, I'm such a social person that a life of solitude would be equally, if not more unbearable.

It's just astonishing how the confluence of long-ago events can continue to shape who I am today. I suppose as soon as I think I am locked into a way of being, I am in fact bound by it. I feel like I was shoved naked into the world this weekend. My reaction to vulnerability is to get angry at whomever made me feel so raw, and that's exactly what happened. I really don't want to hear the truth sometimes. I want to blame this all on someone else, I want to believe that I'm really the reasonable one.

During an argument a long time ago, my mother said that I just wanted everything handed to me on a silver platter, implying that I don't want to have to work for anything and that I feel a sense of entitlement. That stung - it still stings - because it's true. I don't have any idea why it's true - my best guess is that I feel like I've been through enough in this lifetime, or that if people really loved me, they'd just give me (or do) what I wanted. I am totally unskilled at asking for what I need but then letting people do their own thing. It feels extremely unnatural. I'm almost always at either end of the continuum - trying to control the situation, or just completely giving up.

Why is it that the right choice usually feels unnatural? Ever notice that? The wrong choice is almost invariably seductive. I can understand where all the stories about the devil came from. They don't tell you in Sunday School that the path to heaven is going to be even more difficult.

Deluding ourselves

A story: A parrot came to stay in the hermitage where a bhikkhu meditated-a very peaceful place with many fruit trees. The bhikkhu tried to teach the parrot, saying to it, "Oh parrot, there is a danger here. A hunter will come and scatter some grains; you will be attracted to them. He will throw his net; you will be caught in it. A great danger; you must be very careful. The grains that he scatters are very dangerous, because through them you will be caught in the net. A great danger. Oh parrot, the hunter will come. He will throw some grains. You will be attracted towards the grains. He will throw his net and you will be caught. Be careful. Oh parrot, be careful!"

The parrot learned to repeat these words. It would keep on reciting, "Oh parrot, be careful! Oh parrot, be careful! The hunter will come and scatter grains. Don't be attracted to them. He will throw his net and you will be caught. Be careful! Be careful!"And exactly as the bhikkhu had warned, one day the hunter came and scattered some grains. The parrot was attracted to them and the hunter threw his net, ensnaring the parrot. The hunter caught hold of the parrot, which still kept on reciting the same words: "Oh parrot, be careful! The hunter will come. He will scatter grains. He will throw his net. Be careful, be careful!"

A Vipassana meditator who relishes the grains of the hunter becomes entangled in Mara's net. And these pleasant sensations on the body are the grains. This is Mara's snare. When you start relishing them, you are caught. Yet you imagine that, because you are practicing Vipassana, you are becoming liberated, you are approaching the experience of nibbana. Instead you are running in the opposite direction.

This is how the wheel of misery keeps rotating. It always starts with pleasant sensations and with craving towards them. Aversion simply follows. One is not entangled in Mara's snare by the unpleasant sensations. So long as you have craving and clinging for pleasant sensations, you will have aversion towards the unpleasant. The root is your craving for the pleasant. And when free flow occurs you face a dangerous situation. This is the stage at which a subtle craving will start. At the surface of the mind, at the conscious, intellectual level, you will keep saying, "This is anicca, anicca." But deep inside you will start clinging to the experience. You will behave exactly like the parrot that keeps repeating, "Oh parrot, be careful; oh parrot, be careful!"-even after he has been caught because of his craving for the grains scattered by the hunter. You have craving, and as long as the craving exists you cannot come to the end of vedana. (From The Snare of Māra by S. N. Goenka)

I was really struck by this story today. It humbled me, because I've been feeling like I'm on the right path, but I'm really doing the same damned things over and over again. I've gotten really sucked into this idea lately that if so-and-so just behaved a certain way, and xyz project fell into place, that all will be well. Of course, in my clinging to the hope that external events will change, I'm ignoring what I do have control over and responsibility for, namely my own thoughts and actions.

This was a good wake-up call. I cannot follow this path by rote repetition or intellectualizing. That is like standing beside the path and saying "Look, there's the path, and if only so-and-so would get out of my way, and I had some new shoes, and the weather was sunny, I'd walk it!"

The monsters in my head return

We spent some time away this weekend; this was taken from a fishing boat we rented. It seems like most people feel more relaxed when they get away. I wonder if it's a function of panic disorder that I usually feel more tense. I'm away from my usual routine and all the comforts of home. I like knowing where I am and what to expect.

Being away also brings me closer to whatever I've been avoiding. The constant white noise of daily life dies down. There's no minutiae to take care of, and I'm left with the monsters in my head. This weekend they were very loud and insistent, and I realized I have a very insidious problem in the way I relate to my fiancé. This bad habit I have is like a cancer; there's no easy way to remove it because it's entangled in everything I do.

The first step, of course, is awareness.

I've only had about 8 hours sleep total for the past two nights

Men, women, relationships, tolerance

Disclaimer: this is totally anecdotal experience.

It seems like most of the men I've known put up with a lot more crap in their relationships than most of the women I know. Their relationships can be full of discord, yet if you ask directly, the man will say there's no real problem, and he has no intention of leaving. It's the woman who is constantly torn with should-I-stay-or-go. Yes, there are women (and men) who suffer physical abuse, but I'm not referring to those clear-cut cases, just the everyday conflicts and resentments that seem part and parcel of most any relationship. I have zero tolerance for actual abuse. Most of the men I know have abundant tolerance for discord.

Given the male reputation for being commitment-shy, I wonder why this is. Most obviously, it could be observation bias on my part - my female friends might be more apt to confide in me about their feelings towards their relationships. Then again, I know far too much about my male friends' relationships.

It seems to me that men get far more stressed out by work and financial matters, and relationship stress is less likely to show up on their radar. My own mate is often incredulous why I'm making a "big deal" out of some relationship issue when such-and-such is happening at work. It also seems like men are more quick to express anger and quicker to cool down, whereas women quickly become seething pots of resentment.

The women I know, including myself, tend to spend a lot more time thinking and talking about our relationships, and I wonder how that contributes to the perception that it's all gone wrong. I think we feed off our own thoughts, and each others', and sometimes we might be well served to adopt the male code of silence & sports (or other distraction).