Love and Reality

From the movie Her

From the movie Her

I recently saw the movie Her with Joquin Phoenix and it really got me thinking.  Rough cut of the movie line: it’s a love story, about a man and a Operating System (OS).  But past that simple description, it asks us to take a look at how we narrowly define love and on a deeper level, what is ‘real’.  Culture seems to have the job of creating norms and rules about things that aren’t always easily definable.  Love can be simply defined, but it also has intangible qualities that are much more difficult to quantify.  It requires us to put language to feelings.  Reality is equally as hard to nail down.

love [luhv] noun

– a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
– a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
– sexual passion or desire.
– a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
(used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like): Would you like to see a movie, my love?

reality [ree-al-i-tee] noun

– the state or quality of being real.
– resemblance to what is real, a real thing or fact.
– real things, facts, or events taken as a whole; state of affairs: the reality of the business world; vacationing to escape reality.
Philosophy of Reality
– something that exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive.

These are probably good definitions, but are these definitions really the totality of these complex words?  What does love feel like?  Does love happen in reality or is it a construct of our minds?  How do you know it’s a “true love,” rather than a superficial “I’m so in love with ice cream” kind of love?  And who am I to judge if you’re not really so in love with ice cream?  In turn, what is Reality?  What does it mean that Reality exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive?  What are the nuances of a feeling real?  Is there a better way to love?  Or a worse way?  Do we attempt to make these deep philosophical ideas into black and white issues, easily defined, to fit in the boxes we like, so we can be comfortable?  While I understand that our cultural perspective does define these concepts, under what perimeters should love or reality be defined for anyone, given that few of us are from the same exact culture?

In Her, a man falls in love with a computer operating system (OS).  The OS is a learning, thinking, questioning, and growing being.  It has a great personality, but for most of us, it’s not what we think of as a “real person,” and therefore we might wonder, is he having a real relationship?  There were several places in the movie that I felt myself cringe when he talked about his girlfriend, and then explained she was an OS.  Yet the love felt real, at least to the man, and for me, the movie stretches the idea of what constitutes real love anyway?  At what point is love “real,” or valid?  Do we limit other peoples emotional lives when we foist our cultural judgements, our contextual thinking, and perceptions of reality of right or wrong doing, onto their reality?  Who gets to decide for everyone anyway?  Given that so many people are lonely and learning to love is powerful to our lives, why would we stop love from existing in any form that doesn’t harm anyone?

The movie also explores the idea of what make any of us real.  Is the OS real?  As in a sentient personhood sort of real? Is the OS more real than say a Corporation, which in the US we have given personhood and now Corporations have the rights of a real person, even though I’m pretty sure that Corporations don’t have souls. This is a similar question that was asked in the movie Blade Runner, At what point is something ‘real’?  More human than human was the sales pitch for the Replicants.  We could create ‘people’ but they had no rights, no souls, they weren’t real independently from our need or use of them, the Replicants were commodities.  Yet they evolved over time to have feelings, physical and emotional, and memories, and relationships, and they wanted ‘more life’ and to be considered real.  And, even today it’s amazing how many people have cyber relationships going on in virtual worlds?  Real people are behind the avatars, but they often haven’t met in the reality we call meeting ‘in person’, yet they can really know each other and they talk, have friendships, and dare one say even fall in love sometimes.

What if love and reality are big things, so big that we can only ever see a tiny bit and we think we’re seeing the whole thing, but the whole thing is so vast that there is no way from our small place in the universe to see it all?  What about that?  From this perspective of vastness, it may just be that we probably know next to nothing.  And, we create cultural constructs of our knowledge and try and make the whole vast infinite universe fit in our tiny little boxes.  I am reminded of a line from the movie Lion in Winter, “I know, You know that I know, and I know that you know that I know, we are a very knowledgeable family…”  But, the line might have been more true if we just said, “I don’t know, you don’t know, I don’t know what you know and you don’t know what I know, and we are all just making stuff up all the time pretending to be knowledgeable, it’s what our family does.”  That would have been funny.  In fact that’s the only thing I know is true… really.

Relationships and the closing of circles

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Adam Greenfield’s “Breathe Deep and Let Go of Things”

Relationships truly are the sum of our lives.  We create circles of friends, neighbors, family, strangers, pets, nature, ideas, and ultimately ourselves.  With all the practice that we have with relationships throughout our lives, you would think that we would be experts at having them and doing them well, handling issues and avoiding problems.  Yet, we all seem to have some people and situations in our lives that we find difficult.  This is not to say we are never difficult. I have had many opportunities to muddle through turmoil.  I have experienced and created as much as the next person and, so far, have been able to trundle my way through the ups and downs of this life I have been tending.  So along the way I have learned that relationships, as in life, don’t always turn out just the way I want.

Recently, I have been experiencing a situation in which I don’t see a friendly way through.  I see myself as someone willing to work things out, look for the win win, find compromises, etc.  I don’t just think of myself this way, I have also asked trusted people close to me, how they see me, because I know I have my one-sided perspective and I don’t always see myself fully.  And while my trusted people are happy to point out my flaws, they also tell me that they see me as someone who sincerely tries to find the middle ground in relationship situations.

What I also know, is that there are people in the world who will only feel good about you, as long as you bend to their perspective.  They are not interested in seeing how they contribute to an issue.  They really want you to know that they are mad at you, and it’s your fault, and unless you admit to this, and ‘show’ them that you understand their ‘rightness,’ the situation won’t ever get to a place where it feels emotionally comfortable. And, even that might not be enough.  In most situations I have been able to acknowledge my own part, and apologize when my intentions were quite different from my impact.  Unintentional impact can still hurt another person.  I am truly sorry for hurting someones feelings, even though I was trying to do something quite different.  Still, in some situations you cannot own your own issues or your part in the disagreement enough for the other person, they want more, they want it to be one-sided, all your fault. They point to things that were said, using contexts that weren’t intended, often rigid, black and white ideas of right and wrong.  And, no matter how much you try to hear them, and share your perspective, they are not interested in hearing you, just in being heard. Often even when you are trying hard to hear them, they still say you are not listening. It’s hard work, exhausting.

For most of us, this is a bit of a ‘crazy maker.’  If we care, even a little, about the relationship, we want to find the middle ground. We want to hear and be heard.  We want some sort of closure that feels like we can walk away with respect or kindness, agree to disagree and still have a friendliness.  Yet, this is not always possible.  And, when we find ourselves in one of these endings, we often struggle with self doubt, and hopefulness that we can find a way to resolve the situation.  Sometimes we have to instead learn to ‘let go.’  In some belief systems they say, “Let Go and Let God,” or we see powerful quotes by great orators who mimic our struggle, such as Frank Herbert’s, “There are no endings, just places where you stop the story,” and one of my favorites, “It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past, those moments in life that are over.” by Paulo Coelho.

Even if it doesn’t feel finished, sometimes we have to just let go and close the circle.  Allowing someone to see you in the worst light, and still let go with love, let go with forgiveness for our part, let go with forgiveness for the other parties part.  I believe that the process of letting go is a powerful way through the sad feelings or angry ones.  Letting go of the attachment about how people see us.  Letting go of what they say about us.  Letting go of the ‘crazy maker’ so that we can continue with our story.  For me the big take away, and I have learned this lesson a few times in my life so it feels easier this time, is that there are places when my sense of self is so different from someone else’s sense of me that the two ideas of me are too incompatible to continue in any sort of close proximity.  If I’ve been honest with myself, gotten feedback from those I trust, looked at my part of the situation, attempted to repair the hurts, but still been met with rigid, angry judgement, then I have to let go for my own sanity.  Grieve the loss, but let go of the idea that I can influence a more realistic idea of me, one that is a little closer to my own.  And, really, what is lost when people don’t want the same thing?  The only thing lost is an idea of the relationship, an idea that might have existed once, but needs to be released, because that old idea of the relationship is gone.

For my part, if I can do this, then I let go of the spinning of my mind.  The wrangling to make reasonable, or rationalize, or over process my thoughts and feelings.  I learn to just ‘be’ in this moment, uncomfortable though it is, until the next moment shows up.  I do this over and over, through this moment and the next and the next.  Until the moment that I am in, absorbs me fully, and my life circles on.

When you love someone…


Dreaming 2

“When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”
Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I am not sure exactly why this quote has so captured me.  Especially in the hindsight that Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s husband, Charles Lindbergh, had three other families (wives and kids) in Europe. It’s unclear if she knew this or not. I would find it a little hard to imagine such a smart woman being completely ignorant of who her husband was, and what he was capable of, even if she didn’t know the specifics. So, maybe she did know that he had affairs, and maybe she understood that love is complicated and messy sometimes. That often we are hurt, not by another’s actions, but rather by the idea that we have of who they are and how they should act, instead of loving them in spite of the fact that we feel failed by them, for not being what we want them to be.

There are boundaries that may be healthy for us, for me affairs cross a boundary in a marriage. Would I love my husband less if he had an affair? No, don’t think so, the love can remain. I’m not sure if I would stay in the relationship, certainly if I stayed it wouldn’t be in the same way. I don’t know what the relationship would look like, but it would change as I changed my thoughts about myself, my husband and the new “now” of our marriage. Love can bind us to people and places, it can give us purpose to learn and to move through the fear of vulnerability and stay true to love that is just for love.

Change through time is true in all relationships, family, friends, and lovers, even without traumas and dramas. We are constantly shifting how we feel about other people.  How we think about them, changes how we feel about them.  We do this all the time.  Think about the myriad of ways that we get angry or annoyed with people, even people we love, for much less concerning issues; the kids leave lights on everywhere they go, you ask nicely, you ask sharply, you ask and ask and ask, and still, no matter where in the house you walk, the lights are on. You scream, you rant, you threaten, and in these moments you don’t love in a loving way. Because your love has stories and expectations woven into the core of it. If you loved me, you would turn off the lights because you know and care what that means to me… Or, you would turn off the lights because it’s the responsible thing to do, or it saves money, whatever. Unspoken stories, I love you when you… do what I want?  The weft and weave as I sit in my justified nagging and yelling place, not showing love, because you didn’t meet my expectations. Is this conceivably true? Can I possibly be so self centered and demanding? Having unrealistic expectations of others and then wondering why the relationship feels distant or hurtful. This is the way of severing and ending relationships, this is not loving.

Just where is my responsibility for my needs, my feelings, and my expectations? Why don’t I turn off lights as I come to them instead of being unloving? Tell myself new stories that don’t connect my love for you, or your love for me, to my expectations? This simple shift is probably the hardest thing to do. The fine line between a healthy boundary and an unrealistic expectation. This shift takes courage, because like life, it’s fragile and filled with the longing of wanting to be loved in return, and we cannot control that. It takes the strength and flexibility of a dancer walking on a tightrope with no safety net and also dancing with a partner navigating the same dangerous ground.

Not many of us do this balance well. We may have areas where we sit in Buddha like calm over a topic while the world around us loses it’s collective mind. Yet, there are always chinks in our perceptions, places where we lose our own minds, often to issues or ideas that someone else has no problem with. It keeps us humble, we aren’t so perfect ourselves.  We are all creatures of light, but also of shadow. When we recognize our imperfection, do we then withhold love from ourselves?  Often the answer is “yes.” If this is true, how can you truly love another, with all their messy imperfections, if we can’t love our own self, with all of our messy imperfections? We hide and hate our shortcomings, we drown them and pretend they don’t exist, instead focusing on the shortcomings of others.  Isn’t the idea “to love others as we love ourself” at the core of all world religions? I think “yes.” My very purpose in this life is to recognize the places in myself that need to be challenged, tweaked and tuned, to learn to love myself through the process, and learn to love others in spite of my (mis)perceptions and (mis)expectations of them. Allowing for the ebb and flow, the here and now. Being present to the tide as it dances by my shore.

Potty Mouth… Intent and Impact

*Disclaimer: Again, if curse words continue to offend you, please do not read this blog posting. In fact you should shut your eyes right now and back slowly off the page.  This goes for you if you’re under 18.  Back away slowly, and then run.  Of course if you’re 18, you could probably teach me some creative curses.  But, scoot on off this page before you turn to salt.

David Sedaris Quote

We’ve all met them, you know, the people you drop fuck into every other word in any and all sentences.  They say things like, “I haven’t seen you in fucking forever, fuck me, how have you fucking been?” or “One fucking time at fucking band camp…” or even “Fuck you, you fucking fuck!” which was a personal favorite of mine in my 20’s, because fuck got to be the verb, noun, and adjective.  In fact, my favorite potty mouth is Deb Morgan from Dexter.  She gets stars for her ability to also use cures words creatively, which I will bring up in the next installment of the Potty Mouth series.

There are several reasons why people over use curse words in regular talk.  They are trying to assert their right to speak however they want to and it becomes a habit.  Maybe it’s how they differentiated as a kid into an adult, see you can’t fucking boss me around so fuck you.  Cursing is a form of expression that little kids aren’t really or readily allowed, so I am an adult, hear me swear like a sailor!  I personally chose the higher art form of differentiation and got a tattoo… except I still curse, so I think maybe it’s worse for me, I have tattoos and curse… sigh.  Maybe they’re surrounded by friends who support the shit talk, and so they bond with all their friends, and it becomes a habit.  Or, it makes them laugh because it ‘offends’ someone, thus gaining them a sense of power or superiority.  But, it really doesn’t matter why specifically, over time, even a good thing can wear people out.  Even those of us who enjoy a curse or two or twelve.  What starts off with real power, or at least shock and awe. in the rarity of its use, looses that pop when that’s all that is said.  Plus, what are we really saying when we continually curse in simple sentences?  That we speak with a lot of blue adjectives?  That we’re flamboyant?  That we’re tough?  That we really feel intense about the subject?  Maybe ‘yes’ to all that.  But, whether we like it or not, we live in a bigger culture, and we have to look at what our goal is, when we talk with people.  It’s a little communication issue called, Intent versus Impact.  If my intent is to be funny (which it normally is, at least to funny to myself), and I say something, and no one laughs, I missed my intent.  The impact was, no one thought I was funny.  Wow, that hurt just writing it.  Deborah Tannen speaks to the intent of the words.  Two people may use the same curse, and mean two very different things.  She states that people need words to convey emotion, and for those that use them, curse words are linked to emotion in a visceral way. [1]  Overuse may just dissipate the emotional impact, it basically bleeds the feeling out of the words, because no one keeps listening after awhile.

As young adults, we often want to push buttons, cursing is an easy button to push.  It’s a great way to maximize offense, or a great method to strengthen our opinions, or find our tribe.  But, it’s the easy button of language.  It doesn’t require much creativity or intellect to pop off with a *#&@^%$@ (insert your favorite curse here).  And, sometimes, just on the occasion, others words might work better to make a point or communicate your position.

It is also true that cursing holds a different value than it did in the Victorian age, or even up to the 1950’s.  Since the 1960’s there has been a steady acceptance of cursing in Western culture, and American culture at the very least.  Our politicians get caught cursing on microphones, most of our music, movies and books, have people saying all sorts of things that might have curled my grandma’s hair.  In fact check out Why Educated People Curse.[2]  The whole use of what once was considered ‘strong language’ is now sort of passé.

But, again, too much of a good thing is still probably too much.  And, we each have to find that balance in how we speak and to whom we say what.   Which leads me along to the next blog, creative cursing and committing.


[2] The Editors, “Why Do Educated People Use Bad Words?,” April 12, 2010, The New York Times Opinion Pages.  http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/12/why-do-educated-people-use-bad-words/?_r=0

Writing Our Lives

This is a repost from another blog I wrote a few years ago.  It seems to fit again for me, so I am posting it again.

Some of the joys of traveling  and/or moving are, getting to go to new places, see new things, meet new people, and for me, to have time to read something I might not have had time to.  I was browsing through the Airline magazine in the back of the seat in front of me, I was stuck in the seat for the next few hours, so I leafed through the glossy pages, looking at fantastic restaurants in cities that I wasn’t going to, and sparkly jewelry that I could see myself wearing, when I came across a little snippet on the actor Forest Whitaker.  Now, first I have to say that I have always like this actor, which is probably why I stopped upon seeing him on the page.  But, as I read the article, I was impressed by the sort of person he sounded like he was.  The quote from the article that most captured me was: “My work is a way to explore and connect and grow as a human being.  Each new character is a new life; it’s a reincarnate moment over and over again, a chance to live a different lifetime and, hopefully, become more centered.”

I love that idea, creating the character of my life.  And, wasn’t I sort of doing that superficially as I thought of myself in other places, wearing sparkly things as I looked through the magazine?  Obviously, most of us don’t have the opportunity to be actors, taking on new roles and trying them on for size, and getting paid to do it.  It does beg the question however, how can we take on the role of ourselves more fully?  If you were playing the character of your life, what sort of responses and reactions would be important for you to grow as a human being?  What goals would you want for this character?  How might you look objectively at your characters past, and then how would you use this information to make your character stronger?  These are rich ideas.  And, maybe a little shift in perspective might help us to be better people, writing a story of our lives, one that we actually want to live.

It’s time to Pump You Up

There is a movie called, The Lady in the Water, by M. Night Shamalon. I enjoyed it, but that’s not really the point. There was a character, in the movie, who had worked out only one side of his body; half his body looked like a body builder and the other half was a normal guy size. This does have a point… really!

I have been talking with people in the last few weeks, a lot, about their negative versus positive focus. We humans are hardwired for survival, and noticing what is odd, dangerous, out of place, etc, is a survival strategy. As we scan the world with our senses, we can notice the tiger in the tall grass, and it helps us survive. But, in some people this wiring is very strong and very deep. All the focus gets turned on what isn’t working, how bad we feel, where the problems are, what’s wrong. There is an imbalance toward the negative. And, that isn’t realistic, any more than only seeing the positive is realistic. This week when I was walking out to my car, I tripped. Not a big splatter type of trip, but a drop all my stuff and end up on my knees type of trip. “I am so clumsy!” “I am the clumsiest person!” In that moment I probably wasn’t thinking, “I take about 5000 steps a day, over the average month I take 150,000 steps, and I tripped once.” People rarely focus on the 150,000 good steps, but will instead create a laser focus on the one bad step. Does that really make sense? I am not saying go to some perfect pollyanna extreme the other direction, what I am saying is that we need to work on using the muscles on both sides of the situation.

I think, that much of our sense of self-esteem and our internal conversations, are created with this same negative laser focus. It is really hard, to shift our focus to something neutral, when we’re in the middle of something that’s maybe painful. As we’re in the middle of whatever the painful process is, we chew it around and around, knawing at all the bad parts. If I’ve gotten into an argument, say with my husband, and he did something that hurt my feelings, it’s very easy to focus on that, solely. What that focus doesn’t remind me of, is all the times if he didn’t hurt my feelings. It doesn’t remind me of the times he’s done really nice things for me, in fact it doesn’t remind me of anything good at all. And well, that isn’t the whole truth. At that point my focus is lasered on something negative, I’m missing out on the whole other side of the truth. So, in order to challenge the negative focus I have a couple of ideas to share with you:

First – take time before responding, wait to see how you feel in about 2-24 hours. Not every situation is a crisis just because we feel the pressure to try and resolve it. So this first step is really about doing no harm until you can have a good conversation.

Second – while you’re waiting, to do no harm, start remembering all the positive things the person has done for you. Really create a list of all the things you like about that person. You don’t need to make up anything, just really notice an honest reflection of who they are and what you like. It’s an interesting thing, but we treat people differently based on how we think of them, friend or foe, makes all the difference.

Third – when you’re ready to actually talk to the person, try to come from a place of only talking about your feelings. Feelings are very difficult to argue with, because they’re yours. If you only focus on what their behavior was that you didn’t like, you run the risk of shutting them down. We tend to be masters at triggering other peoples defenses, especially in long relationships. Acknowledging what you like about the other person, along with what you need to address, may soften the conversation and keep them listening.

Fourth – make sure to hear their side of the story. Listening is a two way street. If you have something to say, make sure you are also doing what you ask of them, Listen. You don’t have to agree with their side of the story, but try and put yourself in their shoes, if only for a moment. Look for what their intention was, if their intention was not to hurt your feelings, remember that.

Fifth – Pay attention, your feelings may offer you a place to address issues in the relationship. If you find yourself feeling a negative feeling with your partner or friend regularly, you may need to pay attention to what that feeling is trying to tell you. But, if it’s something that only happens very rarely, don’t go overreacting.

One of the super secrets in life is that emotions are not good or bad, but rather they are roadsigns, they tell you something, and our job is to learn how to read our own map. I will be talking more about this in a future blog. So, before I leave you, don’t be the character in The Lady in the Water, instead practice working out both sides if your perspective.

Writing Our Lives

Some of the joys of traveling are, getting to go to new places, see new things, meet new people, and for me, to have time to read something I might not have had time to.  I was browsing through the Airline magazine in the back of the seat in front of me, I was stuck in the seat for the next few hours, so I leafed through the glossy pages, looking at fantastic restaurants in cities that I wasn’t going to, and sparkly jewelry that I could see myself wearing, when I came across a little snippet on the actor Forest Whitaker.  Now, first I have to say that I have always like this actor, which is probably why I stopped upon seeing him on the page.  But, as I read the article, I was impressed by the sort of person he sounded like he was.  The quote from the article that most captured me was: “My work is a way to explore and connect and grow as a human being.  Each new character is a new life; it’s a reincarnate moment over and over again, a chance to live a different lifetime and, hopefully, become more centered.”

I love that idea, creating the character of my life.  And, wasn’t I sort of doing that superficially as I thought of myself in other places, wearing sparkly things as I looked through the magazine?  Obviously, most of us don’t have the opportunity to be actors, taking on new roles and trying them on for size, and getting paid to do it.  It does beg the question however, how can we take on the role of ourselves more fully?  If you were playing the character of your life, what sort of responses and reactions would be important for you to grow as a human being?  What goals would you want for this character?  How might you look objectively at your characters past, and then how would you use this information to make your character stronger?  These are rich ideas.  And, maybe a little shift in perspective might help us to be better people, writing a story of our lives, one that we actually want to live.