Ai Weiwei

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I had heard of Ai Weiwei and had seen his art in photos, but my first direct experience with his work was here in Málaga where we currently have his Zodiac Heads on exhibition. I mentioned to a friend that I would be going to London this past weekend, and he recommended the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Royal Academy of Art.

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“Tree,” installation by Ai Weiwei in Royal Academy of Art courtyard. The tree structures are composed of dead trees collected on the mountains of southern China. “These artificial constructions have been interpreted as a commentary on the way in which geographically and culturally diverse peoples have been brought together to form ‘One China’ […]”
It is immediately evident why Ai Weiwei is such a tremendously popular contemporary artist, especially in the West. His political message is irresistible to us. He is disgusted by and reacts to the superficiality, materialism, prudishness, and conformity of the newly-rich communists in China who only aspire to driving their Mercedes-Benz and wearing their couture. He has suffered physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Beijing police as a result of his brave efforts to document and make public the corruption and outrages against human rights always present in China. But it’s not just the politics. The enormous scale of his works is appealing, as is the big personality that infuses them. His playful sense of humor is palpable. He flipped-off the White House. What more can you ask for?

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Grapes. 27 wooden stools from the Qing Dynasty.

I think it’s too bad that many people shy away from contemporary art. They say they don’t like it because they don’t understand it. I went to a contemporary art exhibition with my adolescent son in Málaga a couple months ago. It was great because he is at the perfect stage in which he was slightly uncomfortable because he feels that these works are supposed to be telling him something and he doesn’t know what, and yet open and curious enough to ask questions and independent enough to look for his own answers before finding them on the smart phone. This is the ideal attitude to bring to a contemporary art exhibition. Discomfort mingled with curiosity will take you a long way.

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Ai Weiwei’s art is very accessible anyway. Not to say it isn’t forceful in its impact, or that it lacks complexity. I had spent the previous day at Stoicon, the Stoic Week Event, surrounded by logic. I love Stoicism and I am grateful for the philosophers, past and present, who have helped me in my quest to live a larger, more meaningful life. But where I feel at home is in an art museum, a concert, or in the street dancing. I value how Stoicism helps me to center myself in my principles and focus on what really matters to me and brings meaning to my life: my relationship with myself, with the people I care about, and with art. Art is where I find the contradictions and tensions, power and beauty, that make life interesting and whole. Logic is great as long as it is accompanied by lots of creative passion, frequent laughter, and connection to my body. Art is a reminder that sometimes things aren’t orderly or logical, but they are right and true and just as they should be. (Or not.)

There was one large room of the exhibit in which I could not laugh. In the end I couldn’t even stay in there to see “Straight,” Weiwei’s response to the Sichuan earthquake in which more than five thousands children were killed when their shoddily-built schools collapsed. There are photos, films with footage from the aftermath, two enormous walls covered with the names of the victims, and 150 tons of steel-reinforced bars used in the construction of the schools that Weiwei purchased and had painstakingly straightened.

“Straight” Ai Weiwei’s response to the Sichuan earthquake

I saw about 30 seconds of the footage and a few photos. I turned around and saw the names covering those enormous walls, and I lost it. I started crying. I didn’t notice anyone else crying. I tried to pull myself together because I wanted to listen to the audio and look more, but I couldn’t do it. I had to move on to the next room. I returned to the room later and tried again, but no go. In fact, remembering it now as I write makes me cry. I tried to use my Stoic practices to get myself through it but it didn’t work. I couldn’t be there.

Ai Weiwei was very influenced in his New York City years by Marchel Duchamp and Dadaism, who sought to make art about challenging our assumptions. The Dadaists wanted art to be less visually pleasing and more intellectually stimulating. This kind of art appeals to me now. I’m going through this personal evolution right now in which it appears I no longer value “pretty.” I bought a joint ticket to the other big exhibition on at the RAA, Jean-Etienne Liotard, a wonderful and unusual portraitist I’ve always admired.

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Marie Adalaide of France by Jean-Etienne Liotard

Seeing Liotard after Weiwei was a mistake because I felt under-whelmed. I was a bit bored by Liotard’s portraits and he deserves better.

Prettiness bores me. Lately I’m far more drawn to realness and wildness. I find more beauty there, and in individuality. Stylistically I’m feeling inspired by Patti Smith and Iris Apfel.

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I know, nothing alike, but neither are pretty and both are much better than pretty.

I am single and while I am interested in having a relationship, I feel completely and utterly bored by men who are attracted to me mostly because they think I’m pretty. I know I should feel flattered and grateful by this attention, but… I’m not. And I suppose that makes me bitchy or what was it one guy called me not long ago? Arrogant. I am sorry I appear that way, but I simply can not get jazzed about guys who are only interested in prettiness. I can just hear my kick-ass grandmother responding to this attitude of mine with something like: “Well, Lindsay, you won’t be pretty for much longer, so there’s a blessing!” Yessah.

I’m not sure how I got from Ai Weiwei to here, but I do know I share this sentiment with him, at least today:tsn0hcb8ww2ykektmmt8

And I love his bicycle chandelier!

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What can’t you stand?

It was an intense weekend. I did CTI’s Process course which is about expanding into the present moment, having curiosity about it, being able to name whatever’s going on inside of you at any given moment, and slowing down to appreciate and enjoy the journey. It’s about being fully alive.

We also learned how to recognize blocked emotion, bring it to the surface, and help clients be with their emotions. One exercise we did to explore blocked emotion was to name what it is we absolutely can not stand and recognize what it is within ourselves that is causing us to fixate on this issue. For example, people who loathe hypocrisy may have difficulty reconciling contradictory elements within themselves. “You spot it, you got it” is the idea.

After completing the course on Sunday, I decided to text this guy I had been seeing. We were getting to know each other but I started to see things I didn’t like and I didn’t feel comfortable at all the last time I saw him. I think he realized it and maybe felt the same. We just weren’t compatible for a relationship. Over a week had gone by without communication between us and I felt awkward. I wanted us to be friendly acquaintances at least, if not friends, so I started what I thought was a friendly, neutral conversation with him. That was probably my first mistake. I should have waited longer to contact him. Anyway. Somewhat out of the blue he said he was really really sorry, but he just didn’t think it would work out between us, but that I’m a beautiful woman and I shouldn’t let his rejection of me upset me too much or make me feel insecure or inferior.

So. At this point I should have said, that’s fine, thank you for your consideration of my feelings and just let it go. Right? That’s what I should have done. But his passive aggressive ass-hattery riled me so much that I couldn’t. I fell into the trap headfirst. I had to get into it with him. I will spare you all of the mean things we said to each other. It was not a pretty sight. It made me feel terrible, in fact. Even though I recognized that his attacks were obviously ego-based, the things he said still hurt me. (You know what his answer was a few weeks ago when I asked him what he couldn’t stand? Egocentrism. I think “you spot it, you got it” is right.)

I do not like it at all that I couldn’t just let it go. I felt disappointed in myself after that exchange. I felt like I had lowered myself. Why did it have to bother me in the least that he wanted to feel superior by “dumping” me? Who the hell cares? Well, it seems that my ego did. I don’t want to be the kind of person who let’s my ego dictate what I say and do. I want to love. I want whatever I do in the arena of romantic relationships to be loving and kind. Ego, you are not welcome here, even when sorely provoked! I want to be a big enough person that those kinds of remarks are just water off a duck’s back.

So, what do I do? The next time something like that happens, I need to sit there with that feeling of humiliation and just let myself feel it without striking back. I can see from this incident with this guy that it would have been MUCH better to just let it go. That would have made me feel good about myself. I need to remember that.

Are you thinking about what it is you can’t stand, and what that indicates about you?

keeping it fake

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I write to keep from going mad from the contradictions I find among mankind – and to work some of those contradictions out for myself. -Michel de Montaigne

I haven’t yet read “Keep it Fake: Inventing an Authentic Life” by Eric G. Wilson, but that will not keep me from commenting here on Clancy Martin’s NYT review of it.

Martin cites at the beginning of the review an anecdote Wilson relates about the time when he was trying to be a good father and also struggling with depression, overwork, and drinking too much. Wilson began referring to himself as “Crazy Dad” instead of “Super Dad.” Once he let go of the “Super Dad” ideal of being conscientious, responsible, and square, he discovered other fascinating possibilities for inspiring fatherhood within his reach. He was able to play to his strengths and saw improvement not only in his role as a father, but in other aspects of his life as well.

That reminded me of a time two years ago when I was going through a bad spell as a parent and in every other way. I found out one day that a mother at my daughter’s school wouldn’t let her daughter come to play at our house because this woman didn’t think I controlled my children. She was right. I have never seen the need to control my children. They appear to thrive, in fact, without my meddling. Even so, this woman called me an “irresponsible mother” and that hurt. There is nothing like someone criticizing your parenting skills to fill you with self doubt. Though I didn’t worry too much about what this lady thought of me, I wondered if maybe I was irresponsible and if my children needed more from me. I asked my 11-year-old daughter, “Do you think I’m an irresponsible mother?” She thought for a moment and replied, “You’re… an interesting mother.”

With these words, it was as if my daughter suddenly turned up my resolution. I wasn’t like her friend’s mothers. I wore stiletto heels and sometimes came home at 5 am. I had crazy friends. I ate and slept at odd hours. I danced in the kitchen alone or with my children and made them laugh until they cried. I had boy trouble. I was even invited by my daughter’s friends to slumber parties. I was interesting.

The fact that she didn’t outright deny that I was irresponsible did give me pause and I realized I needed to tighten up the ship a bit. However, she taught me that you don’t have to buy into a certain standard or ideal way of being in any given role. And that not only are there different ways of being a good mother, for example, there are different points of view on the same mother. Seeing myself as the “Interesting Mom” opened me up to “enjoying a more zany, capricious, playful, capacious, love-charged, creative existence,” as it did Wilson.

So all of this is great. What confuses me comes next in Milton’s review. He talks about how we “act our way through life” and that we are different people in different contexts. I’m different with my children than I am with my friends, than I am in my job, with strangers, with my sister… And then he says:

But there is an undeniable tension between that observation and the nagging feeling we all share that behind those masks there is a “real me,” a “genuine self,” some kind of master narrator who stands behind, informs, controls and even unifies these other selves. After all, if I am not one self but many selves, can I ever tell the truth about myself? […] That sounds like a threat to all kinds of things we hold dear. Self-knowledge, telling the truth about how we feel, sharing frightening aspects of ourselves with loved ones, developing intimacy, cultivating a coherent, reliable personhood: These virtues seem to be threatened by the idea that we are merely playing the game of being a person.

I know that this is a thing and that philosophers have been agonizing about it forever. One reason I love Montaigne is the absolute glee he takes in contradicting himself within the same essay. I love it because I identify with it and so do most people. People are infinitely complex and full of contradictions. The more people insist on defining themselves a certain way, the less I trust them, and the more I think they are repressing the part of themselves that is not “that way.” Shouldn’t self-knowledge, truth, and authenticity take our complexity into account?

For example, as far as developing intimacy goes, the closer you get to someone, the more a certain part of you wants to get the hell outta there. I love the Civil War’s “Poison & Wine” lyrics for this truth about all romantic relationships:

You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don’t want me to
Oh your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
I always will

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice but I’d still choose you

 

more seeing

William Blake was an English poet, painter, print maker, and visionary of the Romantic period. He has influenced and inspired the work of such artists as William Butler Yeats, composers Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and counter-culture poets and songwriters of the 1960s like Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and Jim Morrison. Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, considers Blake a major influence in his own philosophy and work. Most online bios of Blake note that though he was considered mad in his time for his unusual ideas, now he is lauded as a magnificent luminary and genius. As in, those people back then just thought he was crazy but now we, a more enlightened people, recognize and appreciate him for what he was.

I don’t stand in judgement of who is crazy and who isn’t, but I’m willing to bet that most of these Blake fans, if they had the opportunity to have lunch with him today, for example, would come away thinking the man’s got a screw loose. William Blake started seeing visions at age 8 and continued to see visions very frequently, almost daily, throughout his life. He claimed to converse on a regular basis with angels and demons. How does that sit with you?

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Blake saw the above “ghost of a flea” during a seance one night. Blake claimed the flea told him, “fleas were inhabited by the souls of such men as were by nature blood thirsty to excess.” In Blake’s time, a belief in the supernatural was not considered as idiosyncratic as it is now, so I wonder if he was considered mad more for his religious and political views.

When I was fifteen or sixteen I found in our bookshelves a copy of Blake’s Poetry and Designs. I found it mesmerizing and shocking. At that time I was obsessed with feminism and social justice, so I quickly picked up on those themes in his work. But as a believing Mormon, I found his religious ideas confusing and some of his artwork extremely unsettling.

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The Ancient of Days (Urizen surveying and measuring the world he has just created)
Ancient (Urizen surveying and measuring the world he has just created)

His artwork was so powerful and arresting I couldn’t stop looking at it, but I didn’t understand it. About ten years later I bought a copy of Blake’s Poetry and Designs and I continued looking at the images and reading the poetry, thought I don’t know that I came much closer to understanding it. I didn’t know whether I liked it or not, but I had to have it. Unfortunately I left the book back in the US when I moved to Spain.

A few days ago researching creative vision brought me back to William Blake, and I wish I had the book with me. I’ve spent the past three days with whatever I can find of him online. I could write many more posts about all things Blake, but for now, this. What he thought about seeing. He sent the following lines to a friend in a letter:

Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And threefold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always. May God uskeep
From Single vision and Newtonssleep!

Let’s start with single vision, the dreaded Newtonssleep. Blake was not an Isaac Newton fan, and single vision represented the purely rational, logical, scientific way of seeing. Blake dreaded this literal view of the world, divorced of all emotion, empathy, and intuition. Twofold vision would include both reason and emotion, and an ability to contextualize and imagine. At the threefold level you have access to poetic, creative inspiration at Beulah, a place in Blake’s mythology “where Contrarieties are equally True.” It’s the subconscious. It’s where Blake goes Jungian. (In Beulah, it seems, the sexes “blissfully converse in shameless selflessness.” Sign me up!) Fourfold vision is mystical bliss. Ecstasy. Revelation. Visions.

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 For Blake the purpose of reason is to give form to imagination. Allowing contrary truths to coexist without one repressing the other is the ideal explored in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. He believed the paradoxes of human existence should be allowed and in fact it is from these paradoxes that creative energy springs. 

“Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and
Repulsion, reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are
necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call
Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason.
Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.”

Harvey Birenbaum wrote of Blake’s Songs of Innocence: “The tensions of the world resolve here, appropriately–not in rest, however, but in play, a fluency of energy in absolute delight,” “…thus the meaning of life itself is not a philosophical problem but the function of a process or activity–properly a dramatic or a mythic problem.”

I am fascinated by the idea that we don’t create meaning in our lives by buying into a certain belief system imposed from outside ourselves, like formal religion and science, but rather through our way of seeing, of experiencing and enjoying creative energy. I agree with Philip Pullman, who says, “Single vision is deadly. Those who exalt reason over every other faculty, who condemn those who don’t respond to life with logic but allow themselves to be swayed by emotion, or who maintain that other ways of seeing (the imaginative, the poetic, etc) are fine in their place but the scientific is the only true one, find this position ridiculous. But no symphony, no painting, no poem, no art at all was ever reasoned into existence […]”

On my to-read list are:

698081Blake, Jung & the Collective Unconscious: The Conflict Between Reason & Imagination by June Singer

Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake by Northrop Frye

seeing

A guy I was going out with once tried to insult me by saying, “You have your own reality that is entirely your own. No one else shares it with you! You take situations and turn them around somehow so everything is wonderful and great.” It was one of the sweeter insults that’s been sent my way, but yeah. I get how annoying my way of seeing can be for the very literal and the excessively sane. There are times that I tell myself I’m not going to be like this anymore and I try to “pull myself together.” I try to see things as they really are and deal with them in a practical way. I imagine this will make everyone more comfortable, including me. But you know? That always feels as if I’ve taken off my perfectly-tailored blazer that’s a bit shabby but the color and cut suit me perfectly, and put on some trendy little jacket that’s too small in the shoulders.

I generally end up back in the tailored blazer, “stubbornly” seeing things my way. How annoying to be called stubborn! I mean, stubborn why? Because I don’t necessarily change my way of seeing things when it doesn’t suit… whoever? Because I generally prefer to learn through my own mistakes rather than demurely taking others’ advice? I’m trying to remember the last time I referred to someone as stubborn. I can’t recall. I don’t think I ever think that about anyone. And you know why? Because I wouldn’t presume to call a determined, tenacious person “stubborn.”

So, how is it that I see things? Last year on National Book Day I published the following on Facebook:

Cuando quiero rendirme, me acuerdo de Don Quijote, mi gemelo de alma, y la fuerza que hay en ver el mundo mucho más dulce, noble, generoso, mágico, y maravilloso que lo que realmente es. Sí, ignoro la verdadera naturaleza de las cosas. Y qué? Feliz Día Internacional del Libro, amores!

When I feel like giving up, I remember Don Quixote, my soul twin, and the strength there is in believing the world more sweet, noble, generous, magical, and marvelous than it really is. Yes, I ignore the true nature of things. So what? Happy International Book Day, loves!

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I think this is what comes of having grown up in a magical place. And having had a magical father. There was really never any way to escape it.

A specific example of this is how I view men and the way I relate to them. My own father was a king of a man, and always very good to me. The boys I knew growing up were respectful and kind. My ex husband was a loving and generous partner. All of the men I’ve ever had anything to do with have been respectful and solicitous, as far as I remember. The only time I can remember encountering some shocking male behavior was when I became single and all these married men started hitting on me. I didn’t expect that. Well, and I guess I’ve written a couple funny posts about men behaving badly, but most of that I found funny or even endearing. I’m never bitter toward men, not in any but the most superficial way.

So, I’m sure I see men as being much better than they really are. My girl friends definitely think so. But I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself. And I know some people are reading this right now thinking, Wha? Because I’ve complained to them about men. Sometimes I complain, but it never changes my fundamental, deep-down belief that men are always good to me and I luvs them. In fact, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m a total flopper. I’m the Danny Ainge of the dating world.

Sometimes a guy will do something I find mildly annoying, or maybe I just want to manipulate a tad. So I say things like, “Ohhh you are so bad to me! You’ve made me feel soooo terrible!” when really I feel fine. I found myself overusing this tactic because it was so incredibly affective. And then of course it loses its power. I don’t recommend it. In fact, if I’m revealing this on the blog it’s because it’s something I think I should probably stop doing.

The point is, I realize that my way of seeing men is not the norm. I realize it possibly makes me vulnerable to being taken advantage of. I suppose I probably have been taken advantage of and I never even noticed! So. What? I don’t know. Does that make me stupid? What I think is that a big reason men treat me so well is that they can feel that I’m predisposed to thinking well of them. They can tell that I luvs them. And it has that Pygmalion effect on them, just like the rats in Rosenthal’s study.

make yourself the interesting

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Because men in the kitchen are sexeh. And I’m in love with Jack Lemmon.

There is this phrase in Spanish, “hacerse el interesante,” which means playing hard to get. It’s one of those concepts that come up a lot in my talks with friends about dating. There is an entire book dedicated to teaching women who want to land a husband how to play this little game. It’s called The Rules. The book boasts that you may even be able to land “a player” if you play by these rules. Because, you know. It’s every woman’s dream to marry a womanizer.

Making yourself the interesting absolutely works. I’ve seen it in action many times. Before my very eyes, a handsome, intelligent, and talented guy friend of mine was lassoed by an uptight, marginally attractive, insanely jealous woman. She did that Rules crap on him and he’s been with her for three years. I recently mentioned to him an incident in which she was disrespectful to me and he replied that he didn’t think it was nice of me to say such things to him, because after all, she’s the woman he’s with right now. He was right that I shouldn’t have said anything and I regretted it. But… the woman he’s with right now? Wow. They live together and everything. If I made that type of commitment to someone he’d better be referring to me as the love of his life! And that’s the thing with doing The Rules. The guy doesn’t know the real you until it’s “too late.” He’s already made some kind of commitment and if he’s a decent guy who doesn’t like his boat rocked too much, he’ll honor it.

I read The Rules a few months ago and it did have an effect on me, though not the intended. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I have a contrary streak a mile wide. If someone tells me that this is the only correct way then I immediately have to prove the opposite. So after reading The Rules, I decided that I was no longer going to passively sit back and let men chase after me. No. *I* was going to do the chasing. So I started chasing. I started making very direct propositions of the sort that were made to me from guys, somewhat modified to be more feminine. I found that guys loved it. They responded immediately and intensely. The only problem was… then I was no longer interested. I couldn’t follow through! I found that when I was doing the talking, I was all talk and no action. How disappointing! Because really, I think sometimes men just get tired of always being the assertive ones. When a girl makes the first move it must be a breath of fresh air. So it works for them. Sadly, it doesn’t work for me. It seems deep down I prefer to be chased.

Instead of making yourself the interesting, you could always just be interesting. That works. Instead of playing hard to get, you could actually be hard to get, in the sense that you have boundaries and a good sense of self worth, so not just anyone has access to you. This works for both genders. It turns me off when I myself am too assertive, but also when guys are to me. I like them to keep me wondering. I love enigmatic men, even if I sort of hate them, too. I think I do play hard to get, but not intentionally. I do it because it’s fun. It’s part of the little dance.

Is it possible that spring is in the air? I think I’m getting over my pickle face toward potential suitors. Suddenly men seem very nice indeed.

amor fati style

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Valentine’s Day is coming up in just a few days. Hooray! I have a little too much to celebrate this year, as I recently started two affairs. One is with myself. The other is with my fate.

It seems it was Nietzsche who coined the term amor fati, though the idea of living in harmony with whatever life sends your way is an ancient philosophy. Nietzche said,

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it–all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary–but love it.

I am a recovering idealist. Not only can idealism be insincere in the face of reality as Nietzsche says, but it can also be greedy, contrary to nature, and painful. I’m reading Donald Robertson’s Stoicism and the Art of Happiness in which he says,

Whether we realize it or not, we are all living out the lives fated for us, either willingly or reluctantly. Zeno illustrated this with a striking metaphor: the wise man is like a dog tethered to a cart, running alongside and smoothly keeping pace with it, whereas a foolish man is like a dog that struggles against the leash but finds himself dragged alongside the cart anyway.

What does loving your fate look like?

In a day-to-day way, maybe like this. A couple weeks ago my son took my house keys with him to school. He did this because he knew it was a day I wouldn’t be home when he arrived in the afternoon, he had misplaced his own keys, and he didn’t want to be stuck outside waiting until I got home. When I realized what he’d done I had to go to the school to get the keys, highly annoyed because I was short on time. While I waited at the school’s front desk, a woman I’d been trying to reach for days appeared with paperwork to fill out for my daughter’s visa to go to India, including some extra requirements that would have me sitting in Immigration for the next two mornings. That put me in an even worse mood. However, the second morning waiting in Immigration, I had an amor fati moment: I realized that if my son hadn’t taken my keys, I probably wouldn’t have run into that woman at the school, thus I wouldn’t have known about this extra paperwork and would likely not have been able to complete it on time.

Maybe that seems insignificant. I could tell you about how amor fati has helped me come to terms with enormous life difficulties like my divorce and business failure. This philosophy has helped me realize that I am thriving now largely due to what I learned from those failures. However, I think it’s in the small everyday matters where amor fati can have the most impact. I find that now I live a more joyful existence because I’m always looking for a way to love whatever is going on in my life. I’m no longer rushing through boring chores as a means to an end, but finding ways to enjoy those moments. Last Monday morning I decided I wanted to move, by that evening I had found a house, I signed the papers on Friday, and now I’m packing. I thought I hated moving, but it turns out I love it. I love going through all my stuff. I’m finding so many things I had forgotten I had. I’m coming across little reminders here and there of suffering I went though a couple years ago that I have moved far past now.

Amor fati is not only about not wanting anything different in your past, present, and future environments, but within yourself. Amor fati, besides cheerful acceptance of the moment, can also mean radical self acceptance. I just finished a wonderful Montaigne biography that I hope to write about soon. Montaigne was all about amor fati, and it is in the specific way he applied it to his view of himself that I am working on now in myself. Montaigne would look back on essays he had written ten years previously and realize that his views had changed. Did that make him want to heavily edit or completely rewrite the essays when he published subsequent collections? Especially since leaving them as is would mean the reader would find significant contradictions between his earlier vs. later essays. Well, it seems honey badger didn’t care. Biographer Sarah Bakewell says,

The spirit of repentance was alien to him in writing, just as it was in life, where he remained firmly wedded to amor fati: the cheerful acceptance of whatever happens.

And later:

Montaigne knew that some of the things he had done in the past no longer made sense to him, but he was content to presume that he must have been a different person at the time, and leave it at that. His past selves were as diverse as a group of people at a party. Just as he would not think of passing judgment on a roomful of acquaintances, all of whom had their own reasons and points of view to explain what they had done, so he would not think of judging previous versions of Montaigne. ‘We are all patchwork,’ he wrote, ‘and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game.’

And that is where I join with my two new loves: me, myself, and my fate. A glorious threesome! That is quite possibly the cheesiest thing ever. We’ll blame it on the approaching 14th.

Should I get an amor fati tattoo? Where and in what script?

don’t be that guy

womanizer

My sisters and friends have encouraged me to write a book listing all the idiotic things guys have said to me when trying to win my heart, affection, or whatever it is they were after. I don’t think I have quite enough for a book yet, but at this rate, I soon will. The following was said to me all within the same year, early 2013 to early 2014, or thereabouts. I’ve been keeping a list.

1. “Because not only can I facilitate you with that bank account, but with many other things as well.” Sleazy Bank Teller Guy who was trying to get me to open an additional bank account, AND go with him to the feria.

2. “After seeing you yesterday I thought a lot about it, and I decided that I just don’t want to complicate my life right now. You completely fit the profile for the type of girl I always fall in love with: your looks, your gentle voice, your intelligence and sense of humor… But I’ve decided I don’t want to fall in love. I just want to have sex with you.” Text from a guy who’d been utterly charming and with whom I felt a lot of chemistry on a first date.

3. “I am married, but probably not for long. Two years ago my wife cheated on me and then she tricked me into getting her pregnant. Now that we have our son I’m not sure what I should do. It would be a shame for him to grow up without a father. Anyway, what I can offer you is lots of sex and companionship and support. I can help you with your business because I’m really good at those things.” A man I met through Instagram who casually invited me for coffee, supposedly to show me cool editing techniques on my iphone.

4. “When can we get together so I can give you some real kisses in person?” Facebook message from prominent married man in our community who, after I pretended this overture was just a joke, unfriended me on Facebook. (I had signed a message to him “muchos besos,” and that was his reply.)

5. “I realize that I am like most guys in Spain. I want a girl that I’m sure of, but with the freedom to look for a nicer one who will be better for me.” [slight pause.] “And I’d still love to go out with you some time if you’re interested.” A guy that I cannot reveal details about because if his boss found out, he would be fired from his job for hitting on me. He tried to get me to go out with him for months. When he said the above, he had just been telling me about the annoying girl he was dating.

6. “Yes, I have a girlfriend, and I’m proud to say that I have been faithful to her for an entire year.” Reply from a guy who friended me on Facebook. When I saw pictures of him with a girl, I asked if that was his girlfriend. He had been inviting me to take a siesta with him almost every day for the past two months since I met him. My answer was always negative, thus, his admirable fidelity.

7. “No, I don’t have a girlfriend. I have an ex girlfriend.” Found out later the “ex” part was not true.

8. “So, when are we going to get together?” This and other flirtatious texts from a guy, I was later informed, was simultaneously trying to convince the guy I was seeing at the time that I was completely nuts. Actually, believe it or not, this guy and I are good friends now and all is forgiven.

9. “Yeah, I’ve got a girlfriend and for now everything is going just right because I have her in line. She knows that the day that she starts up with any nonsense I am gone. No explanations, no negotiations, because that’s how I roll. Because see, it’s like this, Lindsay. If you are with me, one minute you could be here and the next we’re in Thailand alone, with the jungle all around us, but you feel safe because I am by your side. You know you have a man sleeping next to you. And you know? There are few of us left, I’m talking about real men who are strong and know how to take care of you. That is what you need, Lindsay, is a real man. This blonde knows that I don’t need her. If she gets out of line she is out of my life in a heartbeat, and the woman always has to know that. The minute she knows she is indispensible in your life, you are done. You are toast, because she starts calling the shots. If you are with me, I have to know that you would die for me. It’s not about me being first in your life, it’s about me being first, first, first, second, third, fourth… you know? But what you have in exchange is a man, and that is worth a lot.” Only a small part of what my physical therapist, who had previously made it clear to me that he liked me, said to me one day while he worked on my back. 

10. “But that guy doesn’t care about you. He only wants to use you for sex. I’m not like that, but other guys are.” Almost every guy who has tried something.

And this list does not even include quotes from the notorious El Higiénico. He deserves his own post.

Update: See follow-up post, Be This Guy.

Mr. Turner

MR-TURNER_STILL-05I think it’s one of the best biopics I’ve seen in a long time. It was understated. I appreciated that I wasn’t hit over the head with explanations for why Turner was how he was. He was merely presented with all of his massive contradictions for us to take him or leave him, just as he presented his paintings to the Academy, to be taken or left as is.

Today I listened to the Fresh Air interview with Timothy Spall, the actor who portrays J.M.W. Turner in the movie Mr. Turner. Terry Gross asks Spall if he thinks Turner was “somewhere on the Autism spectrum” because the artist was “completely lacking in social skills,” was obsessed with his work, at times sexually exploited his housekeeper, and did not show love or affection to his adult daughters. I was amazed that Gross perceived Spall’s portrayal of Turner as someone who could possibly be on the autism spectrum! While the man obviously struggled with expressing his emotions in words, we are talking about one of the greatest Romantic artists. Romanticism was all about expressing emotion and it is impossible to look at one of Turner’s landscapes without being bowled over by it. I thought Spall’s performance portrayed a man with a great deal of powerful and deep emotion beneath the surface. Turner was implosive, as Spall said, though he pointed out various scenes in the movie where Turner’s strong feelings were obvious. Turner also had a close and loving relationship with a woman in his later life. The fact that he sexually exploited his housekeeper, who was in love with him, does not mean that he was incapable of love. Nor does it mean, as Spall pointed out, that there was not some element of love in that relationship. This is evident in a scene between them when the housekeeper remarks that she may as well not change the sheets because he so seldom sleeps at his house anymore. You can see in Turner’s reaction that does understand social cues and that he empathizes with her. He tells her nothing of Mrs. Booth because he knows it would hurt her.

So have we reached the point where we have to diagnose everyone who is obsessed with their work and doesn’t talk glibly about their feelings as being “on the spectrum?”

Spall’s performance was masterful. He never ceased to be fascinating to watch and listen to, even with all the grunting and growling. (Actually, I think we should bring grunting back.) As unpleasant as Spall made Turner at times, I think he also made him lovable. Sometimes he was downright adorable, like when he sings along with “Dido’s Lament.” I was interested to learn that Spall took fine art lessons for over two years to prepare for the roll. From his Fresh Air interview he seems amusing and smart. I smiled at his definitions of the Sublime and Romantic movements in art as not having to do with describing a piece of cheesecake or “if you’re lucky, a weekend in Paris,” respectively. I was touched by the affection he expressed for his friend, who died the day before the interview.

Every scene in the movie was gorgeous and appealing to the senses. It made my fingers ache with desire to touch things, like that lovely yellow paint the elder Mr. Turner was mixing. If I were to make a movie, I hope it would be highly tactile.

Cannes 2014: Mr Turner

While I was in London last month I went to the Tate Britain’s Late Turner–Painting Set Free exhibition, focusing on the work the painter did after age 60, when everyone thought he was going senile. It’s sad how we judge older people. Now, seventy years later, we can look back and say that Turner was not senile, he was just moving toward modernism. He was being more hip than the youngsters who dismissed him. I don’t care for some of his paintings, but I don’t blame that on the painter being old.

Some of  the paintings I really loved, like “Peace, Burial at Sea:” 

Who knows why “The Fighting Temeriare,” once voted as the painting best-loved by the British people, was not at the exhibition. Turner painted it at age 64. There is a marvelous scene in Mr. Turner based on that painting.