by j-a

[main menu] [thoughthistory menu]




I'm outside puttering around after having cut the hedges. My next door neighbor Mike is up in his garden with a guy I think is his boss (whom I have met, but it turns out to be his stepfather, whom I have not yet met) and his mother (whom I met very briefly once a few weeks earlier. I couldn't see his mother; she was hidden behind some bushes.) I turn off the fountain that I'd been allowing to run to aerate the water for the fish and I'm about to go inside when Mike yells to me. I walk back into the side yard. His mother shouts out "Hello, Joe," down across the yards at me. I shout "Hello" back to her. I never did get her name. Mike has a pepper from his garden. He asks me if I want it. "You can put it on pizza tonight if you're going to make any." (A few weeks ago I gave him two remaining slices of a leftover homemade pizza, which he was grateful for and much impressed with.) He points out that the pepper has a few holes in it. "They all have holes in them," I say. Everyone (his mom and stepfather have arrived beside us) thinks the comment is humorous, although I think it is not so much, so that I get the feeling that I'm being patronized, or appreciated. I always did get those two confused.

I take the pepper from Mike and we walk down toward the pond, each of us on our respective side of the fence. Mike's mom asks me how my fountain is doing. Mike and I had reclaimed it from its empty inactivity only weeks earlier by installing a new pump and filling it with water. I respond to her with some inanity similar to hers, something about how the water has become murky. I become increasingly aware of how difficult it is for me to form my sentences. I know, each time I prepare to speak, what I want to say, that is, I have the concepts in my head, but when I speak, I cannot accurately form them into words. I don't like this, I hate to be at a loss for words, but I stumble along seeming nevertheless to manage to communicate my ideas despite my tendency toward incoherence, as if (this is an afterthought, an after-analysis; I didn't think it at the time) I am in intuitive contact with them (or her.)

Mike's mom says several other things, which I attend to, but as if from a distance, not looking at her but facing the pond. Then the stepdad steps into the conversation. He is standing closest to me. I had qualified, still awkwardly, my remarks on the murkiness of the water by saying that it's not the water but the algae growing in the pool that makes it look the way it does. Mike says something about getting an algae-eater. I say that they make a chemical that'll kill algae, but I don't know if it'll harm the fish. The stepdad says, with authority: "Yes. It will definitely kill the fish." I immediately attend to his demeanor. He reminds me of Mike's boss, who knows everything, but not in an unpleasant way. In other words, he, Mike's boss, and the stepdad too, and Mike as well (and also, perhaps most importantly, myself) are intelligent people who have a command of a world of information. We can contribute significance to any conversation, and we do so at any opportunity. We are proud to demonstrate our command of the arts and sciences, and often we come across in what seems to be an overbearing manner, although I never think it is such at the time, or I would back off and try to hide away. I always feel, when I am overbearing, that I am being merely friendly and helpful, so I have to assume that anyone else who might act the same way feels the same way too.

But I have been thinking recently that, in fact, I have been an overbearing person all my life, even way back when I was a shy kid who would never speak to anyone I didn't know extremely well. This may not be true--or it may be. I am evenly split on this opinion: because I am withdrawn and seldom enter willingly into conversations, I tend not to be assuming, nor overly assertive; on the other hand, when I get to know someone, when I learn to trust them, even tentatively, I open up, and then I more freely offer my facts and opinions, which can become multiplicative and even vociferous in an animated tete-a-tete, and short of this, I can dominate a conversation with my knowledge, so that people, maybe, if they are not impressed, with the essence I am, will think that I am a know-it-all. This is my dual nature, which I continually try to guard against, remaining passive in order to assure that I am not so aggressive, a strategy that doesn't work, because not only is the tendency toward passivity a part of the schizoid problem, but passive-aggressiveness is a problem in and of itself.

So, when I notice this same tendency in Mike, and in his boss, and in his stepdad, and in many others, I am really noticing it in me, projected. I take care, then, not to become critical of people who display this tendency, lest it become self-criticism. So I take a friendly attitude toward the stepdad as he stretches his hand across the fence and belatedly introduces himself to me (because, apparently, no one else is going to do it.) He says, "I'm Jim, Mike's stepfather." And this is the first time I know who he is, and I begin to suspect, only as an inkling, why he has positioned himself between his wife and me. He shakes my hand firmly and generously, to the point where, as such acts always do, although appreciative of the contact, I am slightly intimidated and I look away, toward the ground.

Mike's mom, looking around as if distracted, asks Mike if the plants growing next to the house are onions. He says he thinks they are. They are growing wild and have already gone to seed. I say that garlic grows wild all around the neighborhood and surrounding woods. Mike and his mom have been pinching off and smelling the odor of the plants. She pinches another piece and brings it over to me. I reach to take it from her in order to smell it, but instead of allowing me to take, she holds it up beneath my nose, resting her hand against my fingers as if it is I who is initiating this action. And maybe it is, I'm not so certain. I say that, no, it's not the same thing. [A strange association pops into my head: I remember Michael Kitchen in Out Of Africa smelling Meryl Streep's perfume because it reminds him of the scent of a woman he once knew.] I tell her that the plant smells more like onion than garlic, and the wild garlic has a different flower top and seedcase. She says something indicating interest in the topic, which I think is throwaway conversation. She wants me to pursue it, so I do, explaining, and still struggling for the right words, that I'd gathered the seeds one fall and saved them, and in the spring I planted them all along my wall in back, and now garlic is everywhere. She finds this what I would call abnormally interesting. I mean, after all, who cares about garlic I planted in a fit of a control fantasy, wanting to maximize the bountiful harvest of nature?

Mike has already begun to drift away. The brief get-together is breaking up (I recognize all the signals) except for Mike's mom, who seems not to want to leave. She inquires about my grapevines, asking if I get grapes from them. Duh. Jim, over his shoulder as he hesitates while heading toward the porch, says something about going to get her car. But something about his words, or something in the tone of his voice, causes me to wonder, to look away from the woman, from her endearing nature, from her inquiring eyes, over her shoulder toward him as he looks back at us as we stand face to face across the fence. I think I hear sarcasm in his voice, as if he were telling her not to worry, that he would take care of what is necessary while she continued to get up to whatever it is she is getting up to, with no regard for him and his feelings. This ideation all occurs in me in one brief look at him. But I can't take the time to attend to what he's saying. I quickly bring my attention back to her as she also ignores what he has said and the fact that I had looked away, which, since we have been in intense eye contact, I felt, should have disconcerted her, in the same way that it will disconcert any woman who is trying to maintain your attention as a man only to have it broken away toward a different subject matter. It's as if she knows what she's doing and is intent upon letting nothing stop her. As we continue to talk, I am aware of Jim in my perifery as he hovers near the doorway, hesitating going inside. But he's not the reason that I'm still not easily able to comprehend her words. I have to struggle to extract a meaning from them. This is not a phenomenon I am unfamiliar with. I'm beginning to lose myself in her eyes. If I allow this to continue, I will be reduced to a babbling mass of protoplasm, entirely intuitive, but lacking any ability to function rationally, to act reasonably, basing my behavior on essential wisdom, due to having been stripped completely bare of any semblance of logic by the focused contact we have made. Another detached wayward thought pops into my head: Robert Redford in The Natural reverses an earlier statement he made about Kim Bassinger when he realizes he has been through this same psychodynamic before and it had resulted in the derailment of his career. He says something like "I was wrong Memo. I do know you."

I manage to grasp onto a coherent concept as she talks about the trees in Yellowstone Park, how the fire there twelve years ago has stripped them bare, how the landscape now seems so barren, all suggested by the two dead remnants of trees one standing, topped, one lying, cut completely down, in my back yard. I say I had to cut them down because they had died and stood so tall (here I begin to lose it again, like before, when I couldn't come up with the exact words that I wanted) threatening the house if they would fall.

She understands, and goes on to talk some more about Yellowstone and it's now barren nature, not at all like she had experienced it the time that she had been there before. She speaks as if I have known all along that she has recently been to Yellowstone, that she doesn't have to explain the obvious to me, although it took me a while to understand this fact, adding to my confusion. Jim is now fully inside the house, and she, I imagine, is backing away. Although she stands her ground, I think that I perceive a hesitancy which she resists, causing her to stutter in her stance, refusing to step backwards to stutter in her step as I look at her with what I feel is even more intensity because she has looked at me in the very same way. I feel her postural attitude in my own speech, or vice versa, the way it wants not to say/do what it feels. It's the same attitude I felt earlier but hardly attended to, when she was in the garden.

Eventually, she goes inside, talking to me, engaging me with her eyes, all the way along as she heads toward the house. I keep my attention fixed on her face, but I'm aware of her body, how petite and sexy she is, especially for an older woman. And even more so, I am aware of a certain softness she exhibits, a kindness, a gentility. Or else this is nothing more than the fact that she has chosen to attend to me, that she has gone out of her way to contact me, calling my name out from the garden when I didn't even know that she was there, braving the retreat of Jim and his disapproving comment and expectant posturing for her to follow him, looking into my eyes, creating any excuse to remain a moment longer, as if these words about onions and grapes and trees and Yellowstone were anything else but convenient metaphor.

Back inside the house, I see her out in the street a few minutes later talking to Vince, an unusually handsome neighbor from across the street. Is she doing the same thing to him that she only moments earlier did to me? And if so, does it matter? Finally, after Jim has waited patiently behind the wheel as she spoke to Vince as she stood beside the car, door ajar, she gets in and they depart. I remember the first time I met her several weeks earlier. As she drove away, as I watched similarly, knowing I could not be seen, she looked up toward the house, actively scanning the property, and I wondered if she looked for me. But why would she, I would think, as I dwelled on her departed image later? She would because I did. Why do I always assume that what I feel for another person could never be returned, that attraction and perception are not mutual. We are, or I am, always locked into this self-doubt mode where rational, scientific thought must predominate, even though I know that a whole lot more is going on just below the surface.

As I always am whenever I suspect that genuine contact has taken place, setting aside conditioned responses, I am fraught with ideas, the first and foremost of which is always: how can this have been genuine contact when it is so obviously patterned, instinctual behavior?

When I experience these touching moments, am I alone in my own reality, while the other person exists in her own, more unconscious, state of existence? Could this be true, that I see more deeply into human motivation than the people who only think they see thus into me, if they think of it at all? Is any of this behavior intentional on her part, or is it all unconscious and instinctual?

Dead trees are a metaphor (psycho-symbolism) for her barren relationship with her husband, which may have been more exciting twelve years earlier when they perhaps went to Yellowstone early in their relationship.

Did Jim insert himself between his wife and me intentionally, or unconsciously, in an attempt to keep us separated?

Is Jim's initial offer of friendship intentional intimidation? The offer of friendship is a traditional (instinctual) means whereby one man sends the signal, or at least establishes a set of conditions whereby another man will not challenge him too readily for the attentions of his woman, instilling a sense of guilt into a rival who is becoming his friend. What kind of man steals his friend's woman? Exactly.

Who do I think I am anyway? Sigmund Freud?

Am I overly sensitive to people's psycho-manipulations and unconscious intentions? Should I be more unconscious?

Of course I shouldn't.

Instinctual acting out increases your sense of self-worth (via flirtatious behavior), self-image being enhanced through knowing that you are desired.

Relationship is strengthened by initiating challenges to it; or else it is deteriorated, enabling the success of the challenge.

That I am able to detect and understand this behavior is empowering.

I know, now, I could make a successful challenge in a case like this.

But then where would I be? Am I fit to live with a woman? Or am I too selfish, too determined to be the way I am, to uncompromising in lifestyle?

It is assumed--no, pre-defined--that to develop a permanent relationship with a member of the opposite sex is the height of mental health and the ultimate goal of psychological development. And I believe that this is true, to an extent. But like all transient phenomena, the nature of this adaptation is relative. We, the human animal, always want to try to make each stage of life the ultimate situation, the one we believe we are destined to remain in until the end. Working your way through relational development is an important phase of life. But is it the end-all goal? Or is there a more "advanced" mode of being, an independence of being (beyond the "American" independence of being out in the wilderness alone) whereby we can set aside the bonds of attachment to another in favor of an independence of spirit. (We already know that attachment to things, even to physical existence, is a detriment to be overcome, and what is attachment in relationship to another but an aspect of this dependence?) We (psychologists) define dependence, and especially co-dependency, as a state wherein the dependent person or co-dependent people are less than adequately autonomous. Of course, the actual definitions we use are not so blunt, but are more sophisticatedly complex so that we do not notice how well they hide the fact that dependence is undesirable in a less relativistic sense--because we are all dependent, so that to call it into absolute question is to be self-critical, so we postulate a place where relative dependence is okay, adaptive, normal, but only when it is seen as stage along the way. When it is seen as a permanent condition to be achieved--well, you get the idea? We are each going to die our own death, no one is going to do any of it for us, nor will they help us in any way, except to enable our illusions, that we are not facing so terrible an ordeal, that we are going to a better place, that everything is, after all, all right. Everything is not all right! We are dying! And comfort at such a time is counter-productive. We should be scared out of our minds. If we have not, by this time in our lives, developed to the point where we are more or less independent (of even our own separate--individual--minds), then we are going to have a lot of problems with the end of life, and with any possible afterlife, if most theological theory is at all valid.

So, let's cut the pretense that all our problems will be solved if only we can develop good relationships, especially that one single significant relationship which is supposed to be the Dyad of our life. This is nothing more than simplistic thinking. Life is more complex than this. Once we work through the difficulties inherent in how to develop a good relationship, our problems are only starting to be manifested. Developing a good independence, next, is far more important, and far more significant, to our lives, the spiritual ones. Remember them? Or has postmodern society permeated us too deeply to any longer care?


Sometimes women's devotion to their men disgusts me. It can be an instinctual dependence that's counterproductive to species advancement. There's something insulting about the way they (women) relate to men,1 not that their deference isn't wonderfully appealing too, but the fact that they do it so often, almost as a way of life, a standard modus operandi, demeans us (men) somehow: it's disturbing to become aware that there are so many other men whom they have related to with exactly the same script/process, that set of behaviors designed to attract and entice us, to provoke us to start chasing after them, to involve us in the game, to intimidate and humiliate us if we don't make exactly the right moves at exactly the right moments. None of which, of course, detracts from the charm of it all. It's better left unconscious if all you are going to do is analyze the psychology of the situation.

The danger that many men (and some women) run into is that they take it all so seriously. (Some men get themselves into even more trouble because they do not take it seriously enough.) They take it all at face value and base what they think are profound, spiritual relationships on this time-honored pattern of behavior. This is relationship established upon a basis of instinct as opposed to intelligence, which is fine if that's what you're about, if you want to live your life as an animal. This is what most people do, thinking all along that they are some higher form of being. This is what I did, for a long time, until I realized the nature of the human as a psychological animal. I understand that love arises out of instinct and is functional in the development of the human psyche. But when does it cease to be an automatic process? How do we ever know that we are not merely acting out the imprimatur of a genetic code, blindly following the pattern that has created us? This is important to me, not to be led along by the forces of nature, not to be manipulated by the multitudes of chemicals streaming through my veins and settling in my cells. I mean, we have an instinct to play sexual and social games, and we hardly even question why we do it. To propagate the species, of course, but is that all there is to it? What about love? Is it nothing more than the advanced instinct to care for each other in order to provide a nurturing environment for offspring? Is there, after all, no real spiritual component? Are our psyches trapped in a coded pattern which dictates that we either follow each other into relationship after relationship or abandon our physiological natures in favor of a "spiritual" (i.e., denied-physical) one? I don't know. It seems that this dichotomy is a necessity. And so I propose the latter course of action, yet not as a denial of the flesh so much as a prudence to ascertain what is real and what is merely programmed body chemistry, a postponement, if you will, which could last lifetimes, mine and many others as well.

What's wrong, after all, with simply being in love and developing love without the intense physical engagement, to hold some special knowledge of or with a person, a special insight or shared perception never spoken of? What's wrong, in fact, with having several of these kinds of relationships, or many? Why is it that we have to head down that road we can never walk back up again toward eventual involvement and commitment? This is what I try to avoid, mostly unconsciously, when I avoid approaching women. It's a part of my nature and has been with me since I was very young. My experience with women (and it is not insignificant) has been gained as a counter against this more genteel and innocent tendency, in a battle of wits with myself, living with an intuitive knowledge that I must be both innocent and experienced with no conflict between the two modes in order to get into the proverbial heaven. (The inexperienced go to limbo, in Catholic theology.)

On the other hand, there is a certain dishonesty about my "approach." I maintain the illusion that I am disinterested. [I am not disinterested, quite the opposite; I am extremely interested, and no matter what course of (in-)action I choose, the interest is always peaked or peaking.] I can't allow myself to be seen (especially by myself) as approaching, particularly when that approach might be interpreted as macho-assertive-aggressive. But even far short of that, I have to make myself available without seeming to do so. They must make the first move (and the second, and the...) each and every time. I present myself as if unknowingly and I wait, as per my overall philosophy, for them to call or come to me. I use my presence and residual, surreptitious attraction to prompt their action, so that I may be seen as non-aggressive, non-assertive, unassuming, whereas the truth is pretty much the opposite: I am not all that much different from any other man. (But even the slightest difference is significant in the area of human psychology.)

I was wrong, Memo. I do know you.
Robert Redford
The Natural
"Why are you so afraid of a commitment? Don't you want us to be together forever?"
"Why? So you can go running around looking for another commitment to supercede the one we've worked so hard to establish?"
"What are you talking about? I would never do that. I want us to be forever."
"You're doing that right now, with your husband. I bet you wanted to be with him forever too."
"Yes. I did. But he changed."
"Maybe he's not the one who changed. Maybe it's your opinion of him that changed. Anyway, What's change got to do with commitment. Real commitment resists all change."
"You sound like you don't want me to leave my husband."
"You should do what you think you should do, independently of what I think or do. You should leave or not independently of any commitment I might want to make. It should have nothing to do with me."
"Oh, yeah. I'll leave him; then you'll tell me to forget it."
"If you want to leave him, you should leave him. If you don't, you shouldn't, no matter what I want."
"If I leave him and you don't want me, I'll have no one."
"Oh, I kinda get the feeling that you'll never have no one."


A completed goal: for a long time I've known that if I had an outlet for my work, if I had an audience to play to, I would be far more prolific. It has seemed so purposeless, even though I knew it wasn't, that it was a purpose unto itself, an unfolding process, to go on creating without a venue. But now it's a moot point. This opportunity has been available for years, but I hadn't realized it's potential: a website. Now that I have one, I know what I've been missing.


Everything I write that isn't dedicated to a writing project doesn't have to go onto my website, does it? (This is the tendency I am battling at the moment, that I in fact have always been battling, a universal systematization imperative.) The site's purpose is not to take the place of my writing system--which it is tending toward. [But this is why I've been backtracking to get this stuff into my (all-inclusive) journal system, which is rapidly becoming another example of the same universalization tendency.] The site's purpose is to, well, I've already stated it elsewhere, and I can't quite remember what it is just now. But I know it's important, even if it does seem at times like it's just another collection of random opinions by someone who should know better. Everything I ever do has got to be all or nothing. I can't just do things a little bit at a time.


1. I know that this statement, in itself, is insulting to women, but that's just a sympathetic reaction on my part. [back]

[top] [menu]