The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, August 23, 2007

the back of your eyelids

I was having lunch with a friend who has a “friendly” abusive relationship with his wife. He insults her a lot. He can’t help it. When she’s in a good mood, feeling strong, she insults him right back. But…frankly, he’s faster and sharper than she is, and she can’t always do it. And I’ve watched her eyes surreptitiously. She adores him, and his comments sting.

So after one of his verbal sallies, I turned to him and said: “yeah, and you know the sad thing? She is absolutely, totally, the best you can do. What does that say about you?”

Well, THAT hit the reset button at the table, and he spent the next hour trying to get under MY skin. The funny thing was that he was trying to attack my basic sunny nature. It was obvious that he can’t quite believe that I really love people as much as I do, that I love life as much as I do, that the world I inhabit really has as much light as I see, even in my darkest moments. He can’t really believe it, and thought he was jabbing pins into some deep dark ugly secret inside me. I thought it was cute.

I mean, when we argued about whether Jews are white people (My position is that there are no absolute standards for what is what. So I tend to lump people into large groups that help me understand sociological reactions. From this point of view, I consider Jews to be a sub-set of “white” in the same way Zulus or pigmies are a sub-set of “black”, not a separate racial group.) or whether my career has been helped or hindered by my race (I think this one is hysterical, and contains a soupcon of unconscious racism. If blacks are as underrepresented in the field as we are, blacks MUST be different from whites, either in their ambitions, interests, or capacities--or so I believe their unconscious preassumptions indicate), that there must be a deep dark cloud down there.

Well, anyone reading this blog knows that I regularly tap a sea of emotional oil, and some of it is negative. But you just can’t ruin my day by pointing it out, as if I’m not aware, or think it’s a big secret that I’m not a perfect angel. Zowie! What a revelation!

But a conversation a few days ago with a lady who had recently broken up with a friend of mine, as well as another conversation with a lady I’ve known for some years, linked odd connections in the back of my head.

The lady who broke up with my friend (let’s call her Sheila) is an energetic, intelligent lass who is hurting right now. She clearly wonders what it will take to find a healthy relationship, and blames him for all that went wrong. She believes that he cheated on her, big-time. You know? She may be right. My own hackles raised a little bit when I met one of his “friends.” Or she may be wrong. I don’t know. But only one thing is true beyond doubt—her future happiness is based on her ability to see clearly. In other words, don’t trust people, ever. Instead, rely upon them to do whatever it is they believe to be in their own self-interest, and then improve your ability to determine what that is.

(Here’s an interesting game: flip around the web, and visit web sites dedicated to different political persuasions. Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, whatever. No matter what their arguments, assume that what you are seeing is naked self-interest disguised as political theory. What dishonesty and distortion do you see? What projecting of their guilt and greed and fear onto the “other” do you see? Each political polarity plays a somewhat different game, but they all play. Even better, each of them uses different tactics to sway their “faithful” into believing that it’s the OTHER guys who are actually the dishonest, inhumane ones. It’s pretty damned funny once you get the joke)

So what Sheila has to do is heal the part of herself that is balanced by a domineering, cheating man. What is that? I really don’t want to speculate, but the answer is written on the back of her eyelids. If she’ll just slow down and quietly contemplate her own Self, the answer will come within a hundred hours. Guaranteed.
Then there was the conversation with the lady I’ve known for some time. She was criticizing my sense of racial isolation in the SF field, saying that my comment that I was “alone” (ethnically and genderically speaking) was only justified if I was incredibly selective in my categories. That she could use the same filters to seem completely “alone” in her field, because she is the only woman in her technical specialization in the small town she lives in.

Fair enough. I disagreed, but kept my disagreement to myself. In my mind, the parallels would be valid if she was the only woman in her specialty in the WORLD, not just in East Nowhere, population five thousand. After all, she can pick up the phone and talk to another woman in her field any time she wants to.

In my entire career, I have NEVER been to a Science Fiction convention (and I’ve been to hundreds) where there was even one, single black male writer other than myself. Never. Ever. Frankly, I doubt she can even really wrap her mind around the implications of that.

That’s not the point. The point is that in other conversation, she went on and on about her spiritual beliefs, and how men, and male energy, have dominated women throughout history. On and on she went about “The Patriarchy” and its damage to the planet and our spiritual essence. And she expected me to agree and consider this all self-evident.

Fact is, I DO see ways that the Feminine energy needs to drive more of this planet’s action, and that men have been repressive. And I’m sure that there are things I don’t understand here, that would make me even more sympathetic.

The point is that she just couldn’t see my issues. Couldn’t see them. Thought I was whining to believe that there were problems related to ethnicity. And implied that an intelligent, aware person doesn’t do that. And then she immediately launched into her own beliefs that women are being kept down by men.

Hmmm. Would I suspect that my friend has a bit of problem projecting her own “inwardness” into others? Seeing their humanity as clearly as she feels her own? Or might it be that, yes, she grasps that groups who hold power will tend to use that power to hold others back…but when the criticism is of HER group, she shuts her mind down?

Now, both these women have recently ended relationships. In speaking of the “why,” both completely externalized the reasons: it was “him.” And in both cases, the problem involved other women. In both cases (in my opinion) unless they figure out where THEY fit in the equation, the mistakes THEY made, they’re going to run right out and repeat the pattern. And continue to repeat it until either they simply believe that “Men are dogs” or they wake up and grasp that, in both relationships, they were absolutely doing the best they could do. And if they want better relationships, they have to be better, stronger, clearer, more centered people.

THERE’S NOBODY OUT THERE. There is no black or white, male or female, Christian or Muslim, Conservative or Liberal. There is just you. And the degree to which you dehumanize the “other” and believe them “evil” in comparison to you says nothing except to reveal what you think of your own secret self. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

And when you fall short, what do you do? Think you are an evil, twisted thing? Or a being of light, struggling against darkness? Or a little piece of protoplasm, doing the best you can?

How do you represent reality? I promise that what you say about others is the secret language your heart uses to represent your own failings and foibles. If you tend to call others “idiots” when they make mistakes, what in the hell do you think you call yourself?

Be very very careful, people.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who, despite his genius and accomplishment, is not a happy man. He feels that the external world has not given him the opportunity he deserves. And that if it only would, he would be happy. No. He has it exactly, precisely backwards. FIRST be happy. THEN you will attract other happy, healthy people, who will enjoy being with you, want to play with you, create opportunities for you. The external world can NEVER make you happy. Happiness, love, contentment must come from within you.

The tabloids are filled with stories of people with money and power who are miserable. They thought that external accomplishment would change their internal states. It’s so sad.

Sit quietly. Find the essence within. Connect it with whatever concept of an external divinity that works for you. Be very very still, and listen to the conversation.

I promise it is miles different from the “he-said she-said, they-suck, all-is-lost” crap you hear on the radio, in bars, at the water cooler.

You deserve better than that. And the answer is written on the back of your own eyelids.