recognition – prayer – franny and zooey revisited – “be specific” – love is evil

A sister of a friend killed herself this morning.  I did not know her, though I knew of her.  Her brother, my friend, had been coming down from Bellingham for the past few weeks to help her.  After many years she was finally getting help.  She was on medication, in therapy I think, getting ECT.  It had only been recently that she had gotten back in touch with her brother after years of silence.  The only way he had known that she was still alive was her name on prestigious research papers in her field.

Her family has a history of bipolar disorder.  I’m not sure if that is necessarily what she had.  Her brother had been cleaning out her apartment when he was in town over the weekends.  She kept everything.

It’s never not a shock.

I have not directly known anyone who committed suicide.  Yet because I have a handful of times in my life sat in that doorway, unable to comprehend continuing for another 5 minutes, let alone another day… I feel a sense of terrible recognition.  Perhaps that is presumptuous of me.  I remember the few times I have been so far gone that I knew if I continued I would hurt everyone that I knew horribly and I still couldn’t see any other option, any way of avoiding that, and yet was lucky enough that the cat would come and sniff me, or I lifted the thousand-pound phone to call a friend.  I remember how disappointed in myself I felt in those moments before I would be called back by life, disappointed in how I would hurt others.  But in a strange way it was a disappointment of something that had already happened and was unchangeable.

I feel guilty when I hear of someone committing suicide out of depression, because I recognize it.

I found out about her suicide this morning coming into work and thought about my friend.  I do not believe in God anymore exactly and yet there was something like prayer happening.  Carefully holding a hollowness in my heart, as gingerly as a bird, of focus, of breathing sadness, of thoughts of… please have mercy on us.  An appeal to something I didn’t know for something that I couldn’t name.  Please.  Please.

A friend was giving away books last weekend.  One of them was a very battered copy of Franny and Zooey.  I first read it the summer before going to college, recommended by my boyfriend at the time, and I was interested in seeing it from another angle.

There is something so very young about it.  Reading it now I’m 25 instead of 18.  I am Zooey’s age instead of Franny’s.  Salinger is perfect in capturing the paralysis of adolescence, of so clearly seeing all of the shortcomings in those around you but also yourself, of scrabbling so hard against the limits of your ego, desperate to break out and only digging yourself deeper.  Tunnel vision.

This is the passage that P copied for me:

If God had wanted somebody with St Francis’s consistently winning personality, he’d’ve picked him, you can be sure.  As it was, he picked the best, the smartest, the most loving, the least sentimental, the most unimitative master he could possibly have picked.  And when you miss seeing that, I swear to you, you’re missing the whole point of the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer that Franny has picked up is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”  A prayer that you can say continuously, a mantra with every inhale and exhale.

Zooey accuses her of what I think a lot of students of comparative religion or general spirituality (myself included) tend to do, which is to create something homogeneous and inoffensive.

You can say your prayer here and roll Jesus and St Francis and Seymour and Heidi’s grandfather all in one. … Can’t you see that?  Can’t you see how unclearly, how sloppily, you’re looking at things?

To believe in something, for your belief to have any meaning, it must be specific.  By being so it may become unpalatable and harsh and prickly, full of contradictions and challenges.  I admire those who truly believe, by which I mean who truly acknowledge and embrace the strangeness and difficulty and beauty in their belief, who are rigorous in their constant re-evaluation and study, who don’t let themselves get comfortable.  (Copying down Salinger is bringing out my own urge to italicize.)  God if it exists is not a comfortable concept.  The universe, if it exists, is not a comfortable concept, and science is about the continued skepticism and prodding and establishing the veracity of every footstep before continuing on.

So to pray to a deity you must be brave enough to be specific about to whom you are praying.  If you are being general, you are only praying to yourself.

I don’t know who I pray to.

Be specific.

I just finished an acting class.  The philosophy of acting is “living truthfully in imaginary circumstances.”

The first and last and always part of acting is learning how to live truthfully in factual circumstances.  It is not easy.  It is much easier to be banal and general and gloss things over.  But to be powerful you must be specific.  You must notice and you must respond, specifically; your every action is a vector, as in physics – something with not only magnitude but direction.

As a writer you are sometimes allowed to be unspecific.  The reader will fill in the texture of the character, the grain of the wood of the table at which your protagonist sits.  For an actor, you must find the character’s heartbeat, and it must pulse within your own ribs.  A heart does not beat ambivalently.

Love is worthless if it is not specific.  Zizek, the eternal troll that he is, tells us love is evil because it is specific, because we value some things above others and create an imbalance in the universe.  The catalyst that causes things to happen, and things that happen are things that will end.  Which to him is evil.

Words, words, words.

I don’t have any ending.

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