This is an essay working out from recent experiences, and knit carefully with a lot of old experience, juxtaposing how to handle life's hard parts and soft parts. Should we be hard or soft? Can we be both? How?
Hard and Soft
Bones are hard. Blood is soft. The muscles in alteration are soft or hard, flexible or flexed, and, along with the nerves, are the purpose of blood and bones – which are mere supporters for what life is: experience and action. We emerge in the world at just the right time, are something larval in our first 9 months of gestation, something larval again in our first 2 years, something larval again in our first 18 years, and in fact continually ascend to be the flying imago beyond each stage, and the worm compared to the next. Flowing with life, yet often we stutter, soft as a child, yet childhood is trauma: nobody escapes youth uninjured, and if our bodies remain lithe and flowing as the caterpillar's back, yet the shock of the world must temper and evoke a fierce will to live within us. We are hard and we are soft; in life we meet hard experiences, and we also meet soft. The allistic view optimizes each for the best of all.
Growth brings growing pains; success is failing upwards. We mature by growing more complex, and as writers and musicians have long figured out, you grow by satirizing people more complex than you. A tennis player betters his sport by playing against superiors. Though envy is felt as a hard comparison, the experience is inescapable, we must compare, we must become aware of our own potential. This comes from within and this comes from without. We might well agree that Shakespeare can’t be made by studying Shakespeare, but the man had his rivals and paid them heed.
Hard traumas are closed off in shock, and slowly melted in time. Language, which is experience spoken, slowly unties the nots and knots of experience. We feel it primary in the music of language, the tone; mankind sang before they talked, moaned before they monotoned, and the magic of language—what is language but magic?—emerges most of all in the liquidity of speech, in the sheer fluid lubricity of the spoken word. The tongue is desire. By speech we bespeak, we make people want as we want them to want, we persuade, and having the correct turn of word, which is not mere tongue, but the full tongue of the whole body, centers a man in his world and sets him atop his task.
The two representative poets of America are Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. Walt Whitman was large and stood for multitudes, Emily Dickinson was small and stood for solitude, for nobody at all. The contrast of the broad-speaking Whitman, who must be read in large droughts, full of bravado and manly muscles, stands in sharp contrast to the miniaturist Emily, who, though equally egotistical as Walt, nevertheless focused her energy on a smaller world, who made a language, in fact, of her small backyard, and had no feeling for “the people" at all. Yet in her miniature masterpieces we see the same sort of “verbal knitting” that Kenneth Burke praised in Coleridge.
Burke noted adroitly that vocals such as “n” flow in to “d” and “th,” or into “t” and “th”-- as in the phrase, "and that tonight delights anon." That “m” flows into “b” and “v” or into “p” and “f.” Thus he could praise the line “the damsel with a dulcimer” as the most beautiful in the language, and stack up “dupes of deep delusion,” to the same intricacy of verbal knitting. We don’t expect the bravura of Walt to be so finely knit; he was always of vast tapestries; and alternatively, his entire Leaves of Grass could be looked at as a preface for his own work as a nurse in the civil war, in which he aided and helped thousands of soldiers, Northern and Southern, and so avoided the nastiest of Civil War problems: amputation. The North was sewn to the South, the union restored.
Dickinson was of a finer stitch, with more intricate, microscopic verse and touch. Solitary, recluse, she was soft. She was not self-promoting. She did not, as Walt, publish her own book and then write anonymous reviews of it for herself. She was not of such stuff.
Between these two coordinates stands an American trajectory: there is the extroverted nation of plainspoken people, who with Whitman praise simple direct speech. And there is the other kind, like Dickinson or Thoreau, invisible to most their contemporaries, delicate souls who nevertheless have a world to offer. It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak, it is the pride of the hard to conceal the soft. Austere, irreverent, boasting, cruel though we are, we must be soft as cloth and near as pulse to those few darlings put in our care: the virtue of commitment demands undivorcible marriage to those beautiful things, these weak and private ones, put under our care. The key value in the scheme is independence, or protecting the vulnerability of the private heart; and yet we achieve this not through isolation, but through joining with those of like-heart.
The hardness of life, the raw or destructive experiences, we shield from infants and children, and yet are at our heart something infantile and childlike, in the tender places of our heart. The tempering of the soft with the strong, the balancing of muscle and bone, growth with rest, makes life dangerous and yet worth living. Depression is effectively treated by both literal and figurative shock therapy – violence wakens. If Emily used her backyard as a lens on a metaphysical starkness deep as the void, she was able to traverse such worlds, being so calmly held. The soft gallops over the hard. We use hard terms to impose a morality, we say them in hard tones, which are based on hard images, inspiring hard bodies. Our attitude is in our stance: the character of our body, built on the actions we’ve committed, and the actions we’ve not committed, allows the soul of attitude to flow. The shape and feel of the muscles inform the nerves and give a sense of life. Those who see us by human sympathy know somewhat of us already.
If the music of Charles Ives is often hard, dissonant, and painful, it is yet optimistic, and Whitmanesque, whereas Dickinson’s is soft, with the wit of feminine sarcasm laid like pins in silk. Yet at the heart of Ives’ music was a fatherlove, which had to distance itself from any inflection of homosexuality – overcompensating perhaps in this. Not the music, but the undersense, the felt under the heard, gives the Ivesian experience. It is the wisdom of woman to intuit the tender of a man’s heart behind his angles and anger, the persistence of the feminine sympathy that exposes the vulnerability of the man’s heart.
Few things are off-turning as a masculine woman, but there is something of the masculine in woman, something feminine in man, that keeps us in mutual sympathy. We hold archetypal images of to orient us. Hard images determine all of us: the soft oracle of the daily voice comes from hard hidden images. We need an image, an image charged with “faith and belief,” or reverence and respect, to empower our words. Words flow from image. Ives said all music was program music, and Beethoven said he composed by first fostering an image. Images are visceral: to see a person, animal, or object, we feel an instant sympathy. We may immediately tense the body with a bit of anxiety to dispel the sympathy, but the potential is there. By degrees, and with gradual softening of tones, we arrive at a place of intimacy, in which the butterfly’s antenna are prepared to touch. Initiation may give both pain and pleasure, but initiation is a brutal first contact, not the voluptuousness of intimacy, which comes in a married commitment.
By reflecting on ourselves in our endeavors, by looking back on our past or spying ourselves as we go, we learn to see through ourselves. The boyfriend who cheats or is tempted watches himself lie, or covers his heart, and learns the signs by which he deceives others. When he sees analogous sign in his girlfriend, he has the wisdom that she must be using them the same way and is also untrue. Sometimes he is right: a liar knows a liar, a cheater knows a cheat. But often he is wrong, he reads too much into things, and uses her to personify his guilt, perhaps to justify to himself his mistreatment of her. How to truly mirror another person, how to intuit what he or she is actually experiencing, and not project our own experiences? It is a dialogue, a communication, a bit of playing, then a bit of revealing, a dance of mutual disclosure. We need the flexibility to mirror other's body's to feel their experience, and we need the hardness not to be destroyed by them.
As this one gives me silence, I am left bereft, a desert empty of that lush touch I’ve come to love. Bleeding out and depressed, I hold my wound back and freeze the bleed with anxiety. Anxiety is acute stress. Wouldn't I be better without anxiety? But the field of vision requires some excitement to keep things separate, and some things centered. Too much energy freezes the system, too little empties it. If I am to heal, I must let waves of anxiety come and go, while I knit the wound with words of self-confirmation to rebuild my resources.
A broken heart should dodge bravado. There is no shame in bleeding, only don’t boast it away. “New Atheism” attempts to out-Christian the Christians, to beat them at their values, but better to become something of yourself, not insist so hard you have the right to exist, but simply grow and flower and fructify. We are independent, in our heart -- that center abides. This one has left, and I do wonder for her. I breathe your words and at your withdrawal – asphyxiation. Such blank of ruin, your absence. I come to doubt myself, what I’ve said, with pretzelled heart, I’m anxiety, and feel your absence bleeding out. Just as a sense of greatness for some men comes only from a woman’s praise, I have lips that can only speak to ears like yours.
And so my Ama listens through my readers, and my readers have always had my best embrace. The soft of my heart, the stuttering tongue and the eagerness of my lips to express my full heart – I never withheld from you; would not be praised for what I truly was not, would not be known for anything but myself. I feel truest at such moments, as if we are alone together, and I were finally speaking what I wrested from the dark. Writing has given me my greatest moments with life, moments I am able to share with the students of life, those willing to take me on and return my embrace.
To fall so soft, to seek out literary lovers – only profound solitude plays at such love. A solitude that finds no answer in wife or lover, but is alone in its love and expression. Dependence is suffering. How to gain that independence of mind and heart that needs no other in particular, that is autonomous? Food is needed, by why be a slave to wages? Clothing is needed, by why slave for fashion? Ultimately, from life’s needs we build energies that are expressed into the world. These energies are differentiated according to their purpose. Fantasies, both conscious and unconscious, are the chemical converters that differentiate an energy. The distance between need and fulfillment is frustration, and a long well-punctuated frustration can lead to an exact and sublime fulfillment. To hold our system strong, we build a character, a set of muscle tensions, that predispose us to action. Tensions hold and control anxieties, expressing them into direction. Muscles are built by resistance, and so our character is in all the muscles over our body, and predisposes us to action. In this, our body mirrors our situation. We take on our problems and make them a part of our being. We must be strong, stubborn, and rigid with some problems, flexible, nuanced, and supple with others, all according to our purpose. Fluidity is a fine ideal to have, but fluidity is not enough, or we would be jellyfish. There is a time to be rigid and stiff-necked and uptight: the physiological possibility points to incipient necessity. We need to work with the solid and the dynamic.
Habitual problems are not dynamic. They comfort. We accept them, work with them, build upon them. A wife can count on her husband’s indolence, for instance, and predict it, use it to her advantage, use it as blackmail for her own shortcomings—whatever. Being predictable, we can build upon it. Dynamic problems are trickier to use, their novelty and shiftiness allows no interpretation and hence no encrusted meaning.
The unbearable pain is a feeling of no control. That lack of control exhausts the will, which panics. As panic is the one great pain, every other form of pain is an attempt to control it. Anxiety is put into tension and stress, and so we take on more responsibilities than we need, we take on external stress which qualifies and changes our spontaneous inner stress. Matching the outer with the inner is the strategy of life: if I produce this energy, I need a world situation to take this energy. We often complain of our lot, but we chose it. Had we freedom to escape, we would recreate the situation at our next perch. Lovers hardly look at each other at times, but make baseless accusations just to open up gates of intimacy, under conditions, to create the central experience, that one basic situation each of us feels at home in. The terms, as coordinates of our situation, are the lover’s accusations, by which she gains power. Truth doesn’t matter here, only power; a trope is insisted on, it will be made to fit.
We are too into love to see clearly. Literary criticism is the closest we get to understanding ourselves. Anything can be read. Cartoons, for instance, amuse us by deflating our lives: by making problems seem comic. Art simplifies. Cartoons lack intimacy – as caricatures they give distance. The exaggerated voices and situations lend themselves to laughter, the distance of laughter.
We see ourselves through art. We have strategically blinded ourselves from seeing our own real faults, from seeing the real faults of our lovers, we would not recognize the truth if it is pointed out, for such ignorance is empowering: only so much truth is digestible in any given moment, much truth is too much, and to have somebody point out all your faults would only dispirit you, not encourage or enable you. We see what we are ready to see, but the inlets are usually indirect, something we see in a friend or a fictional character before we see it in ourselves. This is why Lissidy as the mirror girl winks at us, is able to stand in our blind spot and scare us with a mask. She is master of our blind spots.
Those blind spots could be called knots of not. Allism as a whole says yes, but at any point in the system it says not. I am here, not there; I believe this, not that. Physiologically, nots block expression, they hold an impulse back. They are tone controls, their tone freezes the body and stops us from acting out a fantasy. A system of nots makes a character. Moving around them, through such limitations, is the only empowerment. Otherwise, a man would bleed out in every direction. We can do a thing because we are doing only that, and nothing else.
A book also has character. An anxiety is a knot. A book has its character in its nots, where it freezes out possibility, makes a thing unthinkable. Islam in this regard is an especially negative religion in all it says not to: Hinduism has gifts to offer, Islam has something to prove. But all religions have a character of nots. The tensions implicit in a notted system lead to violent outbursts. The inner streaming if ideas materialize in dreams and voices: an undercurrent revealed, spirit materialized, and zealousy achieved. What could not be owned intimately comes as a revelation from angels.
Reading is meditation, a religious exercise. We feel its character in what it denies. We require, to read, space to think. Meditation is a squandering, a change of tempo. Many things can work as meditation. For Emerson, Thoreau, and Dickinson, nature is meditation. Equally, art is meditation. Negations make the character, but the equations of word with word is the belief system of a book, of a person.
A panic is made into an anxiety, an anxiety is made into a tension, a tension is made into an apathy, and an apathy is made into a lifeless expression – spontaneity is closed, first by anxiety, then by apathy. The system ceases to suffer, and hence, ceases to grow. Maturity is emotional independence, having the patience and the fortitude to discharge frustrations, or, when the energy is lacking, when one is uncharged and depressed, having the courage to find the shocks and intellectual violence to bring the system back into progress. Contact with a livelier individual can be energizing, or alienating, too intimidating to take in. Anxiety in such a sense freezes up aggression, aggressive competiveness, and leads to bitterness and resentment, which lacks proportion to fight with grace, and so becomes cruel and sporadic.
The unbearable breaks everything – a bare itch can undo the best – and the worst experience is the uncontrollable. To make up for that, we build panics into anxieties, anxieties into tensions, tensions into balances, and balances into cycles. Should the mind and body be fluid? Equally must they at times be hard, the heart hardest of all, when our purpose calls for this. In deciding between static and dynamic, remember that all sorts of paradoxical relationships exist between opposites, but the paradoxes as always resolve to common sense when adequately formulated. Paradox is structural, a rhetorical device. And so the dynamic requires static grounding, as muscles requires a skeletal framework. Having assumed your truths, you can build upon them. Hard and soft integrate, all falls into place.
There are two feet to progress, conservatism the grounding foot, progressivism the stepping foot. The past is assumed into the future. Coming into this tradition we are mere resenters to criticize the past and the great names of renowned. The calculus of a country is in the coordinates of its types, based upon the representative men – those people it managed to produce and who made themselves out of the national substance. Their spine and shoulders are the grid of possibility. We must contend with our predecessors, and it is the allist who converts all gods and alters to his own. In the choice between principle versus personality, grasp and embody the principles, know and love the personalities. Great men shine you back on yourself, not your petty egoism, but your full egoism, your divinity.
With all the processing our culture is capable of, with television shows and book deals to make the lives of the celebrities digestible, and that interesting only because they’ve sipped a bit from the teat of greatness – and ultimately gained a bit of the fountain of youth from the few great geniuses in history – our culture gives us fragments of the All. Nursed from our culture, hard the childhood strong the adult, like the monarch butterfly that dines on poison as a larva. We are primed, our culture has given us a thousandfold hints.
Priming means arriving at the correct level of frustration – satiated in hunger, temperature askew, sexually frustrated, speech blocked, somewhat anxious. A set of images and words prime the subject, tone the muscles, make the music of the dance. A man can do anything with correct preparation.
What is necessary for greatness is having that phallic ego able to swell with love and pride. The greater the pride, the better, and pride is naturally balanced, as Whitman taught, by sympathy, so that the man of greatest pride is also the man of widest sympathy with what is great in others. The poet settles a world on your soul, is able to deliver the all to you. “The cleanest expression is that which finds no sphere worthy of itself and makes one.” The divine in us is neither hard nor soft, but a passion of creative fire, our soul, growing from the plethorabyss of eternal increase – our centermost self. Sympathy balances pride.
This is why in our heightened sensitivity, in the eternal softness of our vulnerability, we prefer solitude. Make space to create. Whitman spoke of the poet's love as having leisure and expanse. He leaves room ahead of himself. Even Dickinson’s miniatures required solitude and anonymity to produce. Carl Roger said because of the critiques of his ideas, he required solitude, space alone to think, away from the many who objected to even his humble tones. I in my family, servant to them all, have nevertheless always selfishly insisted on keeping my Aria, my space, my creative time in my study to love Ama through my Idius. If I learned anything from decorating cakes for a living, it was my boss’s mocking words that I decorated cakes cramped in a corner with no space to create. America is sprawling, and great works can only be made by great nations. Give yourself time, be lazy, give yourself space.
When your energy wanes, attempt smaller projects. To invest a trifle with such dread, it balloons into an omen of doom, and to then vanquish it with one swell foop, is a way to keep your nerves alert, a way to always kick the stone forward to await you as you walk your journey. A thousand keys are kept behind one lock: it is the same with this Idius, which I adore in the night. When I am with, and in my with-ness, I am able to create and love, and expand my world. When I feel fragile and accusatory and hate the world, I compartmentalize a task to exploit more limited resources. My social metabolism can stomach only so much contact in a day. I must work with my energies, cultivate them.
Education begins after the university. What a man comes to know in life is something from his own experience. Life is hard, life is soft. We learn from each. Hard experiences cannot be talked away, and no friend's advice can make them disappear. Universities socialize individuals, bring them to accept community values, conform. Dulled on such education, we need trauma. A dulled mind needs irregularity, surprise. To be your full self, to come into your own, and be self-contradictory, is to trust your process. Nobody can grade you on this. Lovers and friends will dissuade you. Trust your process. If you are depressed, trust the depression, be what you are, struggle with it, not against it, express it. It's alright to suffer, you don’t have to be always smiling, always grateful.
We process facts – wounds – through conversing with sympathetic people. Those who feel the same, have been through the same, they help us create an attitude, which is built into our muscles and nerves, keeps us lithe yet strong. By allowing ourselves to feel angry, selfish, lazy, lustful, the more we let those feelings come out, the more they fall into place. Be your uniqueness.
Yet in all these lessons, which are taught by Carl Rogers, we must remember that though he became a “midwife to new personalities” he was raised in a “very strict and uncompromising religious and ethical atmosphere, with what amounted to a worship of the virtue of hard work.” Though he raised his kids differently, none of them was a Carl Roger. The hard lessons of life are necessary, the poison milk necessary to make us a monarch.
With his appreciation of World War I, he had a pivot point. The French and the German differences became an analogy for his own difference from his parents. A changed environment, some classes overseas, let him identify with the hard image, to assume it, to make it his pivoting point.
We owe our best to our worst experiences, we owe our power to our moments of softness. And yet in our heart, in the intimacy of our inner pride, that independence of self, is our greatest sympathy, not with the suffering with others – suffering is a preliminary, what is deepest in us doesn’t suffer – but with the greatness of others. To have a living experience of one’s own greatness, a genuine and honest pride, allows one to appreciate and admire greatness in others.
That expansive sex of gained territory, the soul in love with the world of beauty, feels the joy of expanding, of a world worth expanding into. Constrictive editing comes later. The austere simplicity of laying out one’s instruments in a line, the simplicity of Thoreau owning little more than a sack of chickpeas, comes later. Simple order may be our head virtue, but love is generous, and when one is expanding, manic in love, then is the time to open the heart in a fire that melts all that is hard and makes it soft and vital and dynamic as itself.
We must alternate betwixt the two. Punctuation, pauses, reflections, summaries, and expectations make the writing of living thought, make the cadence of the thinking self that lives alongside the feeling self, speaking self, and acting self.
Getting to the writing point – all the day exists to finally arrive. All the sufferings and grievances are justified and ennobled in that. I am divine. Whatever happens to me happens to God. This principle of dignification expands us beyond any possible disappointment or humiliation. Nothing in life is hard enough to knock the tooth out of experience. My teeth are diamond crushers, and the acid of my digestion dissolves all pain.
I am I, at last, and must stand on my own two feet. The lessons of life are hard, but possible. We exist for greatness, for the eternal expansion of the soul, for apotheosis, for exultation. In this, the chalked mouth of depression is merely a chapter, merely a stanza, but ever life expands, and is worth all our efforts.