Not an apology

I was reading an amazing blog post today by someone who’s dealing with anxiety. The post discusses the role of honesty in helping her to surmount her difficulties. She says that in the end, she has always been rewarded for her honesty, and then she writes:

Honesty is not some muttering of sins in dark corners, harshly demanded penit[e]nce or guilt-extracted confessions. It’s being clear as still water, so all the stones are visible and loved despite their stoniness, or maybe for it. Being gentle with one another, accepting one another, these things clamber like vines over a foundation of honesty.

If we make it about appearances, about trying to be a certain way for each other, never showing what’s going on inside, we are in terrible danger. This is how deep deception comes about, how leaders crash into the rocks, how whole ships sink. And it’s no fun at all.

I remember a dear friend of mine asking me about [her book]. “It’s obvious in your book that you write about anxiety from a place of really knowing it personally,” he said. “Are you ever afraid of people knowing that about you?”

I stared at him. What I wanted to say (I can’t remember what I did say) is that if I don’t tell the story, it will kill me. Anxiety loses its power in the light, because there is love in light and softness, and things can grow other than the mold and fungus that will eat away at your insides. … But love is bigger, love is stronger. Love covers a multitude of sins, covers it like a blanket of flowers.

Don’t ever let anybody tell you anything different.

When I write here, it’s not the desire for you to know me that motivates me, so much as the fear of what will happen, what I will do to myself, if I don’t let you see what is going on. I would never say there’s no “appearance” here — that’s an inevitable consequence of writing. But at the same time, I try to point out to you when I notice one.

I am as honest as I can be when I blog, now, ahead of the coming storm, so that if you think of me as your voice, you can never say I lied to you about what I was, inside, all the conflicted, frustrated, dirty, nasty, joyful, euphoric, confused, diverse pieces. Because you know all that stuff, I can never disappoint you. I will never be worse than what you already think of me.

But the reality is: I can’t be your voice, either as a fan of Richard Armitage, or as a human. I can only be mine, as I even figure out what that is. And only you can be yours.

***

For some reason, the blogger’s account above calls to mind a story that a friend of mine from graduate school, a Mennonite, tells about his father, who was a Mennonite conscientious objector during World War II, and who was imprisoned for his beliefs. My friend told me that his father, whenever he was questioned about his convictions by prosecutors, said simply, “My G-d says: thou shalt not kill.”

I think about this story a lot because of all of the qualifications we make about violence or really about any moral stance. Just vs. unjust wars; destroying a village to save it; and so on. Wouldn’t you kill Nazis? What if your partner were about to be raped? Stalin? Wouldn’t you, shouldn’t you, kill to prevent killing?

And I wonder about its discursive applications. Shouldn’t we speak to prevent objectionable speech?

What I want to say on this blog, akin to the statements of this Mennonite conscientious objector, though much more trivial: this is what I am learning, this is what I know. What you do with that — what the world does with that — needs to be immaterial to my writing. Otherwise, what I share is no kind of knowledge.

***

What I often think about honesty, and why it’s difficult: because being honest in front of you forces me to lose control. And when I lose control, I don’t get to decide. I don’t get to decide what it would be better or worse for people to know about the unsavory moments of my inner life. When I signal, with my writing, “I firmly believe these two things that are not rationally consistent,” or “I have this very inconvenient feeling,” or “In these words I’m giving up control of a desire I can no longer hold hostage,” I cede the control provided by silence, which I often experience as a kind of dishonesty.

And when I write, I put my reputation in the hands of people who may not be especially charitable. I don’t get to decide how you feel about me. That’s one outcome of honesty.

***

But there are other outcomes.

Armitagemania involved a fundamental loss of control for me. It was apparently the only thing that could reach a level of tempestuousness to get through to a woman leading a life that was shipwrecking because of the iron control she insisted on maintaining. I was killing myself, slowly, with my own need for control.

Before Armitagemania, a series of things were eating me up inside. They had made both my career and personal life untenable. They were eroding my personality so badly that they had paralyzed all expression. And they were all things that could not be spoken of, that one should not talk about. Because they were shameful. Because I should have figured out a way to control them. Because I failed.

That is my failure; I own it. I should have figured out how to control those things. I should have figured out how to be a professor, a lover, a daughter, a human. You would think I would have, but I didn’t.

Armitagemania for me meant, in at least one corner of my life, rejecting silence; it meant ceasing to self-censor in ways that gouged at my soul. It meant acknowledging shame; it meant admitting all the ways that I have failed, that I fail, every single day. It’s been a gradual process, as learning how to give up one piece of control led to learning how to give up another.

Do you think I would be doing this if I thought there were an alternative?

This chose me. But I am learning to choose it. I will not look away.

***

For a different approach, hear the words of Elizabeth Bishop, regarding losing:

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

To be said about this: Bishop was not a confessional poet. I fear that I am.

Also to be said about this: what looks like disaster is a letting go that one grows to accept as one grows older. In this blog, I try to let go. Maybe you cannot bear to witness the things I let go of. But that will not prevent me from letting go of them.

Practice losing farther, losing faster.

***

You may read this blog and not accept me. But if I lied to you about who I was, about what I feel, would you really be accepting me? As the blogger above states, acceptance is a vine that grows over honesty. I believe that goes both ways. Only by acknowledging what I am and all the “stoniness” in my personality can I start to try to love you. I can only do that through honesty.

***

May I suggest, gently, that if you desperately hate or even just mildly despise or quietly regret what this blog does, that the best way to erase its reputation is probably not to revile it? That your spite actually increases people’s interest?

May I suggest, gently, that if you revile it, that your attitude is as much about your needs as it as it is about my failures to live up to them?

May I suggest, gently, that if you think this is the wrong way to write about “me + richard armitage,” that you provide the growing audiences for news and commentary about Mr. Armitage with an alternative? That you find your own original, affirmative voice?

And finally, may I suggest, gently, that in six months, all of us will be so drowning in media, pictures, impressions, and fans, that none of this will matter in the least?

That in six months, all of us will have lost control?

That in six months, honesty will be the only thing left? For any of us?

***

To return to the beginning of this post: I am a very “stony” person. There’s a lot not to like about me, a lot of pieces that from the perspective of others shouldn’t or don’t fit.

But in the end, this is a blog about self-respect. If I tell the story, it will no longer have the power to kill me. If I shine the light on all the pieces, I hope, it will be acceptable for them to be visible, finally. The light will take away the shame. It’s the only thing I’ve thought of, in all these months of blogging, that does any good.

~ by Servetus on July 24, 2012.

35 Responses to “Not an apology”

  1. Allow me to be selfish: I’m glad this chose you. You have the writing chops for it.

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  2. Here’s to honesty! Without it, doing anything doesn’t make much sense! Very beautifully put, Servetus!

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  3. I say, thank God for people like you! I know exactly what you mean. At this point in my life I have realized that the most difficult thing people have to learn is that there are times when we must put ourselves in another person’s hands and relinquish control: of a situation, of our bodies, of a person we love, etc. It is part of our nature to want to be in control. Thus, giving it up – even for a moment – can be terrifying because it means we have to trust somebody else. Imagine that. Our instinct is to flee or fight, not to stay and concede. Sometimes, it sure seems like life is asking too much, doesn’t it? But there is no way around it. None of us can make it through this life alone, no matter how smart, talented, rich, beautiful, educated, wealthy or wise we are. Human beings need each other because life is hard and achieving anything worthwhile takes work! My parents taught me to be honest, by word and by example, and that is how I strive to live my life. So far, it has never failed me. I have a clear conscience…and all the power in the world cannot get you that peace.

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    • it’s interesting, the point about how much one has to trust in general — and in particular, to write.

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  4. Woke up; couldn’t sleep. Servetus gives me food for thought. As always. And honesty. Thank you for your willingness to be honest, even when it’s “unpopular.”

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    • Yes, what she said. We need your honest voice. It helps us be honest about ourselves, to question and not flinch from the answers, even when they’re not pretty.

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      • it’s amazing how much ugliness there is in the world — I’d never have guessed. Hanging onto honesty is also hanging onto the idea that in the end we can find beauty in lots of places we’re not expecting, either.

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    • My skin is getting tougher, I guess. Bit by bit.

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  5. It is possible that I’m reading your blog to get to know myself better…you say that you write for yourself, nevertheless I feel thankful for your sharing thoughts in a public space.
    Letting go seems to be the onliest concept to keep control over a content MOOD during life or better: times of change. I guess that’s the paradox of control: when I let go control of situations and let unavoidable changes happen, I suddenly find myself at ease and therefore in control of my emotions because all my sorrows about the world are gone. I can’t imagine living a happy life not feeling in control, since hopelessness is not my inner drive. I have exchanged my area of control: instead of becoming frustrated about my limited power over happenings I increase my ability to stay calm, content and at peace no matter what, since I know about the sustainable benefit: a clear mind that is able to see the roots of emotional struggles (from me and others) and can make best use of opportunities in life thanks to the foundation of understanding emotional needs. I don’t know if there are mistakes in my logic, so think for yourself please. But if I have understood the mechanisms of control, it’s not a paradox anymore…
    Thank you Servetus for being the stumbling block that induces my musing. Self-respect must have a lot to do with philosophy or otherwise your blog wouldn’t send my thoughts in this direction that often :).

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    • yeah, nice comment — points out the different between the attempt to assert control over others / events / external matters and the attempt to create self-control, which is a piece of what I am doing here.

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  6. I’m not sure what prompted this post. But if people are intimidated or offended by or contemptuous of your honesty, I suspect it means they can’t allow themselves to be honest, or vulnerable. I look for your posts every day, to help me understand my own journey as much as another human being’s. You don’t owe any reader an apology. Thanks, as always, for posting with honesty, grace and honour.

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    • The usual manipulative crap, which was highly in evidence the last two weeks. Thanks for your kind words and support.

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  7. God bless you, Servetus.

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  8. Your blog helped me change my world view and discover that there is more to it than the adjusted getting on everywhere around me. You helped me to find myself in all the pretense and attempts of fitting in where I don’t and to take myself with more patience. Thank you for your honesty, Servetus !!!

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  9. I adore you Servetus, it’s all I wanted (or I can;) to say.Thank you!

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  10. You have such high expectations of yourself that it must be very hard to relinquish control. But it is so true that it is freeing to accept that most of us have very little control — over the Big Picture at least. I am privileged to go on this journey with you. Try not to be so hard on yourself and if others are, please know that there are many more who appreciate you just as you are.

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  11. Thank you for the courage to write so honestly despite what ‘people might think’…you give us all food for thought…thank you

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    • Thanks for the support lesleyann. These comments have all really helped me see my audience a bit more broadly.

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  12. This is a community where people with different personalities and talents contribute in different ways. And you invigorate the community in so many unexpected ways including your honesty. Although you blog to process and explore personal issues, your writing resonates with others on a lot of levels and that’s one of the reasons I keep reading what you write – not to mention it’s beautifully written. I think you’re an ideal voice for this community along with all the other vibrant voices. Anybody visiting this blog would have to leave with the impression that it’s extraordinary. I admire you for some of the same reasons I admire RA — what you’re doing is phenomenal.

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    • I’m not worldly, sophisticated or educated but I know a good thing when I see it (in the picker business, it’s called a good eye.) RA is one of them and so are you — being stony just adds dimension.

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    • Yes, we need *all* the voices. I sometimes wonder if that was what this was about. The more voices, the stronger the song.

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  13. Amen. G-d bless.

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  14. That was deep. I liked it. 🙂

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  15. Thanks for the gentle reminder. Its an oldie but a goodie …. we have to reveal to heal…

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