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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

relationships and taking on other people's personalities

What is the nature of empathy? How do we relate to other people?
In listening to these tapes (maybe I will tell the story of these tapes some time) I think about relationships. One of the dichotomies set up is between brief connections between people and longer relationships that grow and build. One woman in the group gave the figure of 6 years. This is how long she says it takes her to really feel like she knows where someone is coming from. This elicited anger from a man in the group- he had recently met some woman and had been really enjoying spending time with her. "Our relationship is meaningful NOW", he insisted. So maybe there is some difference between these two people, different styles, and they are also looking for different things. Different kind of meaning?

A different woman relates a story of how she is friends with a guy who is studying biochemistry and he is extremely excited about it. She doesn't understand biochemistry and he knows she doesn't, but he still loves talking to her about it because she can feel his excitement. Here is empathy to some extent. The two of them take on similar feelings. Someone else in the group responds by saying that if she understood biochemistry, it would be a deeper level of communication, a deeper connection. Not everyone is so sure of this, or thinks its particularly important.

I was going to say that this got me thinking about the question of how we can take on qualities of other people. But I'm no longer sure of the connection between these two lines of thought. I guess I see empathy and mutual understanding as the healthy good aspect to relationships, whereas the taking of someone else's personality without giving of your own is unhealthy, bad. But maybe this is just how we learn. This is how we grow up. We have weaknesses, and fill them up with other people's approaches. We can see it in a positive way. I'm reminded of the videogame Megaman. You run around destroying the different enemies and after killing them, you get their power- maybe you can now lift and hurl boulders, or throw lightning bolts or cast fireballs. In the real world, we don't need to destroy someone to use their abilities. But until we work that ability into our self, there is something questionable about it. I guess its the detachability. If our personality contains detachable elements then how can someone trust us? How can you build something if the ground is always shifting out from under you?

So, yes, there are worries. But I like having Megaman's abilities. How else am I going to defeat Dr. Wily?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

quality of arrogance

Here's a line from some tapes I've been listening to that are recordings of a "personal encounter group" from 1961:

"The one positive thing about you is how concerned you are with the quality of arrogance you have towards people."

In context, its not quite as harsh as this.

Monday, August 29, 2005


I went up to the Legion of Honor Sunday to finally see what this museum had to offer.
Unfortunately it was closed. So instead, I listened to some guitar music which was entertaining the guests for a Jewish wedding taking place in front of the museum. I looked briefly at the holocaust memorial and then headed off to the golf course and onto the paths through the Juniper trees that led to the trails on the cliffs.
I'm always annoyed by "trail closed" signs. I don't like the idea that one can open and close a trail like one can a convenience store or museum. The one I saw was particularly intriguing: "Trail closed- Warning, People have fallen to their death". So of course I had to go check it out. There were plenty of footprints, so clearly I wasn't the only one who didn't think much of disobeying these signs. I climbed up a small trail on a hill and saw the Golden Gate Bridge, and there was another sign at the cliff edge naming the area Dead Man's Cliff or something like that, again warning that people had fallen to their death.
All in all, its satisfying to find myself amongst these signs. Not that I actually come that close to the edge of the cliffs, but its like finding a mystery. I saw a crumpled bicycle several hundred feet down probably that someone had pushed over the edge.

Why do I wander? (And I do it a lot.) While driving down 280 today, I was looking longingly into the distant hills. What do I think I'll find there? I pictured myself more concretely walking or sitting in the dirt amongst the bushes and realized that the mystery probably wouldn't be there. Like the pot of gold at the base of the rainbow.
My dad once said about me that I like being lost. Its true, but mainly just means dissatisfaction- in getting lost is the possibility of finding something better.

Driving home after my somewhat satisfying wanderings, I stopped by a European grocery store and bought some candies and bread. I accidentally left the bread behind and was almost going to drive home without it, feeling tired and ready to stop walking and driving. Then I thought of the cashier (maybe the owner, was she German, Russian- I can't remember) and how hot and fresh the bread was and that they probably take pride in their bread. I didn't want to be a wasteful American, so I went back. And I was right- I was thanked very warmly for coming back for the bread.

So I was happy about some of the things I'd found. Part of the wandering lifestyle means being in the desert at times, being stuck in far off places, being uncomfortable, being lonely.
I'd like to say that its all worth it, but I think its better not to glamorize one's defects. You use them and live with them and make the most of them and maybe they can offer something to someone else, but one shouldn't forget how personal and specific to you they are.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

opening night

Line from "Opening Night" by Cassavettes:

If I had known what a boring man you were when I married you, I wouldn't have gone through all those emotional crises.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

taking advantage of Sheehan?

Along the lines I was talking about in my last post, I came across
article, which has the quote
She [Sheehan] has made it OK to have these conversations, as they're now about her," Tuman said. "She's given people a way to talk about the war again."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Old friends

Went to Santa Cruz to John's party tonight. I went with two other friends and I didn't know if they'd have a good time.
Ping pong and karaoke. They did have a somewhat good time I think. It was a little weird, mixing these different groups together. But actually over time it becomes less weird. One makes new friends and eventually you have the history of old friends. But still, finding out what everyone's up to- James, always with a crude joke, showed his 3-D ultrasound of his future baby proclaiming "there it is" when its penis was in sight, hearing that Natalie is giving dog massages in Montana, Ruthie back in town, Peter in Thailand, his mom Eloise leaving the country for the second time ever, nervously, being escorted by Linnaea. John heading off to Las Vegas to pharmacy school, Zach starting school in Irvine- I missed playing ping pong with him. Linnaea's description of Joe's new girlfriend. Taj is reportedly smitten with his new baby.
Playing ping pong, listening to 80's music. (I sang "Guantanamera" to karaoke) It feels so good to be recognized and to have history with people. I feel invincible and wonder where that ease is in the rest of my life. Why all this separation and compartmentalization? This is always the feeling I have when I visit Santa Cruz friends. Here is a place where I feel fully present, my social brain is fully turned on. Its always therapeutic. The afterglow lasts a few days- a template for wholeness. But it goes away as I slip back into research mode and accept the smaller, more carefully measured, crafted life that accompanies work.
Linnaea introduced me to her friend as a "One man think tank". It was flattering, but its a difficult self image to live with.
Too bad Peter wasn't around, I guess he'll be back in a few months. And the other John wasn't there. I'll have to visit him soon and go out on the reservoir. Wonder how Josh is doing in Davis. I should visit Joe when I go to Chicago.

Yes, all these people. Each one makes me feel alive. The mutual excitement of watching others go through their lives and just feel so good to know each other.

Friday, August 05, 2005


This was a worthy succesor to Bergman's original "Scenes from a Marriage". It is intense and slow at the same time.
I could identify with Marriane's position. She inserts herself into this complex situation through her relationship with Johan. She listens to everyone, absorbing their concerns and sometimes their hatred. This role of the listener seems neutral, but it is also ambiguous because one then has a lot of information which can put one in a powerful position.

I watched the movie in a theater with three other people- a mother and daughter and a guy about my age with long blondish brown hair who left and came back to his seat about 4 times before the movie started. He sat about 8 rows in front of the mother and daughter and apologised in case he was blocking their view- "You're tall, but not that tall," the mother said and they all laughed. They were talking to each other, but then were self conscious and promised that they wouldn't be so loud during the movie. I said not to worry about it. None of us did say anything during the movie- except the daughter let out a gasp of "ooh, gross!" at the scene where the father and daughter give each other a brief tongue kiss.

I ate a hot dog and watermelon sour patch kids before the movie, since I hadn't had dinner that night.