I'm at a very strange place in my life. On the one hand, I feel like I'm making progress. I've had "flashes of insight," understanding truths and concepts I never had before. On the other hand, a lot of these insights involve areas of weakness on my part. The most vivid was an incident in which I realized for the first time that I habitually behave in the exact same way as one of the most difficult people in my life. That was humbling, to say the least. And lately, I bounce back and forth between trying not to feel smug about my good qualities and beating myself up about my bad ones. The problem is a self-centeredness which I can see theoretically, but it's a hard thought pattern to rewrite.
Today in one of my classes, we talked about how zombies illustrate some of the basic fears of humanity, like the idea that the body is just a prison for the brain, and the body doesn't really matter, or it simply gets in the way. I've seen this thinking in myself and the way I treat my body. When I was in junior high or so, I used to legitimately wish I could exist as a mind without a body - partly because I was physically awkward in daily life, not to mention having no aptitude for anything that could be called a sport. Now, I tend to view my body as a weight pulling me down from higher levels of, well, success. I look on my hunger, pain, and other physical longings and aversions as a reflection of weakness. Because if I were free of these selfish and utterly mundane desires, obviously I would choose the moral high ground every single time. Obviously.
And tonight, I realized how harshly I judge elements of myself that are simply personality tendencies. I was describing to my dad how guilty I feel when I have such a hard time buckling down to do homework. But he reminded me that for a creative personality, this is the norm. Being unable to contentedly churn out productivity the way some of my friends and acquaintances can does not mean I'm inherently lazier than they are; I'm just wired differently. I have a harder time doing things I don't enjoy. And that's okay. I've discovered that I can't stay motivated and creative and energized without regular interaction with people, and when I'm doing something uncomfortable or monotonous, what is torture in solitude becomes fun and memorable with other people.
In the past, I've tried to pretend I don't need people. I've also lived in isolation even after acknowledging that people keep me sane. But at long last, I'm realizing that all of this is simply who I am, the way I'm made. It doesn't make me weaker than anyone else. I don't need to try to change myself to be a "better person." If I truly believe I'm designed for the path and purpose my life will take, all of this will be important. It will equip me for the job(s) ahead.
One of my top five books is Great Expectations. It was the first book I ever "lived." I journeyed through half a lifetime of fictional experiences in the mind and body of Pip. What he saw, I saw; what he said, I said; what he felt, I felt. Though separated by time, gender, and the actual historicity of our existence, psychologically, we were one. We were both idealists, growing up in an imperfect world with imperfect people, and learning to reconcile ourselves to truths that went against our preferred grain.
The title "Great Expectations" is appropriate in multiple senses. Not only is Pip given a guarantee of a wonderful inheritance, known in contemporary vernacular as "great expectations," but he himself holds great expectations for the world around him and his place in it. Being a "gentleman" represents the ideal, the greatest status he could achieve in life. This is the life he never knew he wanted until he learned that a blacksmith's apprentice was considered too common by the young lady whose affections he longed for. Heaven and earth, I love this book.
In his pursuit of Estella's affections, Pip embraces his destiny of a gentleman and becomes embarrassed or ashamed of everything that could tarnish his identity. He shows Joe, his guardian and true friend, the cold shoulder for his awkward homespun kindness. He does everything possible to forget the convict he fed on the marshes. But in a drastic twist of fate, the convict turns out to be the mysterious benefactor of Pip's expectations. All the careful construction of a spotless identity falls apart, and Pip eventually faces who he really is, and how all his ideal categories for people break down. The convict who was given a life of exile and a death sentence for violating it ended up being a true friend to Pip, and Pip finds himself standing by the convict in trial and in death, reconciled to his love. When Pip falls deathly ill, Joe comes unasked and takes care of him, showing the same love he always had despite the way Pip had ignored and rejected him. Reconciliation and acceptance follow, and Pip now appreciates the faithful love the simple blacksmith had shown him all his life.
Wow. I don't know if going through all that was a good idea. I'm having emotions. In millennial terms, I'm "feeling all the feels." I need to reread this book. But the point follows: I have great expectations for myself and my life. And I'm learning that in some cases, those expectations are blown way out of proportion. I'm my own harshest critic, my own most merciless judge. In trying to meet an ideal I convinced myself other people would require before accepting me, I got in the habit of second-guessing myself at every turn, criticizing myself first before they got a chance. And now I spend my days terrified of messing up. And trying to figure out all the ways I could be messing up and not know it. And worrying about how I might mess up and cause myself permanent grief.
I need to Cut. Myself. Some. Slack. I need to stop evaluating my "performance" - life isn't some stupid piano recital with an audience of stressed kids, bored parents, and judgmental teachers (I always hated those). I need to cut everybody else some slack too while I'm at it. Seriously, love doesn't always come in the most dignified of packages. And I need to be okay with being a blacksmith's apprentice for the rest of my life, and not worry that I'm not successful because I couldn't be a gentleman (metaphorically speaking, of course).
I don't know if I've actually said what I was meaning to say. When writing for a stated purpose, I usually organize my thoughts more clearly, but when blogging, I just kind of wait to see how the spirit moves - and boy, does it move! Even while writing this post, I've given myself some more food for thought. And I've touched base again with my literary roots. I really need to read that book again.
Flyngirl, thanks again for your thoughtful, thought-provoking reply. I'm going to keep watching Netflix, guilt-free. Besides, I still have three and a half seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise waiting to be watched...