A fragment of something
much bigger than itself
until it can’t break any more.
Now, it’s as Strong as it is
& has something to teach us all.
A fragment of something
much bigger than itself
until it can’t break any more.
Now, it’s as Strong as it is
& has something to teach us all.
Nobody’s subjective point of view, no one person’s humanity, is more “right” or valid than another’s.
I’m at the Gorgeous Latter Library on St. Charles Avenue, writing a post called Why Yoga Part One. Quickly, I realized that the answer to “why yoga” should be a series of posts. An hour later, I realized that the first part of this series (just on the physical benefits!) is worth spending a few days to compose.
Fret not, angel. Dig deep into your hard-drive. You know you have something quick and revolutionary to share with the world! See? Look:
Years ago, while reading an old grad-school textbook for fun (yes, really; why would anybody lie about that -_- ?), I read a passage that compelled me to look up the citation in the textbook’s index. There I saw the most attractive book title I’d ever seen: The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination, by Dr. J. Benjamin (1988). My life was already changed. I searched the public library catalog, and I knew that this book and I were meant to be together.
It was big, and old, but not crusty: just how I like ’em!* We spent weeks together; I probably renewed it the maximum number of times before I decided to just copy down the parts that resonated with me the most so I could share Dr. Benjamin’s insights with my friends, at least! I don’t think I ever planned to post them publicly, but I’m not getting paid for any of this and it’s cited everywhere, so… not plagiarism!
If you can keep up with the academic writing style, I highly suggest purchasing a copy of this book. If you can afford two, can I have one? Or find it for free at your public or Local University library. For now, I’ll share what I’ve saved, and my thoughts on the material, one chapter at a time. Remember, these are just the parts that I thought were mostly-self-explanatory out of context! If you have any questions that aren’t answered in my discussion, please ask in the comments. I’d love to have a public dialogue about this stuff.
The Bonds of Love examines interpersonal relationships from a psychoanalytic perspective. “Analytic” may sound like a synonym for “judgmental” ~ and I’d be lying if I didn’t give a shout-out to all the “analysts” who agree ~ but psychoanalysis is a science that was originally designed, like organic/physical medicine, to be as impersonal and universal as possible. Psychologists are just people who observe and record their observations about human emotions and behaviors the way botanists study plants. This is some of what Dr. Benjamin has observed. Enjoy!
(from) CHAPTER 1: THE FIRST BOND
The reciprocal relationship between self and other can be compared with the optical illusion in which the figure and ground are constantly changing their relation even as their outlines remain clearly distinct — as in Escher’s birds, which appear to fly in both directions. What makes his drawings visually difficult is a parallel to what makes the idea of self-other reciprocity conceptually difficult: the drawing asks us to look two ways simultaneously, quite in opposition to our usual sequential orientation. Since it is more difficult to think in terms of simultaneity than in terms of sequence, we begin to conceptualize the movement in terms of a directional trajectory. Then we must try to correct this inaccurate rendering of what we have seen by putting the parts back together in a conceptual whole which encompasses both directions. Although this requires a rather laborious intellectual reconstruction, intuitively, the paradoxical tension of this way and that way “feels right” (p. 25).
Psychoanalysts begin their study of behavior from when we are very young ~ like Rugrats™-young, or even Muppet Babies™-young. Even in infancy, you’re still a human being, with the same natural range of emotions and needs as an adult. For a while, your range of expression is limited to: you feel discomfort, and you cry about it. If you cry because you’re hungry, and if you’re fortunate enough to have attentive caregivers,** someone will eventually feed you. As a baby, psychoanalysts theorize, you assume this happens because you created the source of food.
Everybody knows babies are selfish assholes (literally! All they do is poop and inconvenience everyone around them and poop some more!), but do you ever think about their point of view? To be fair, they haven’t been alive long enough to know that there is a distinction between themselves and the world around them. When they cry, and somebody comes along to wipe their but, babies think “ahh, I did such a good job wiping my butt just now,” because they don’t yet understand that they share the world with other conscious beings.
This is the axis of Bonds of Love, which analyzes interpersonal relationships from infancy through adulthood. Relationships are “interpersonal” because they involve two-or-more people, whether they acknowledge each-other’s person-hood (like you and your friends) or not (like you and your newborn or my ex and me, loljknr). If you’ve ever felt invisible or dehumanized during an interaction, it might be because the other person or people do not see you as your own distinct-but-equally-human self.
Sadly, this is not uncommon. Many people, often without realizing it, never feel a “close” connection to others because, like infants, they only see other people as extensions of themselves that carry out their wishes, not as fellow conscious, autonomous human beings. We all know people like that. Heck, one of them is the president of These United States of America! Unfortunately, a deep, unconscious belief that other people are things can be as lucrative as it is lonely. Remember slavery? I digress, but only a little.
How do people get this way? Well, according to Dr. Benjamin, these profoundly isolated individuals (imagine for just a moment that you were the only “real” person in the world!) do not experience what she calls “self-other reciprocity.” Benjamin uses the image of MC Escher’s Two Birds (No. 18) to describe how challenging, yet rewarding it can be to place equal emphasis on two perspectives at once.
The painting shows two interlocking flocks of birds, flying in opposite directions. Like much of Escher’s work, the piece invites our eyes to dance. Our focus hops from blue-to-white-to-left-to-right until we get comfortable seeing both flocks at once. It’s like changing one’s mind from “only one of these is the right answer” to “these are just two different answers,” much like the drawing where the picture is both a duck and a rabbit. To me, “self-other reciprocity” just means seeing the whole picture for what it is: nobody’s subjective point of view, no one person’s humanity, is more valid than another’s.
Unfortunately, a deep, unconscious belief that other people are things can be as lucrative as it is lonely. Remember slavery?
As the book goes on, Dr. Benjamin and I will go into how this truth, which I like to call intersubjectivity, is learned, partially-learned, or missed in early childhood. Intersubjectivity just means that every story has more than one main character. To be subjective means to have your own point of view; to be intersubjective is to acknowledge that everyone else does, too. There really is room on the planet for multiple POVs, people. Diversity only becomes a “problem” when some folks’ perspective is devalued or ignored in favor of someone else’s.
As The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (Benjamin, 1988) continues, we’ll discuss how men are traditionally raised (not necessarily on purpose) to value their subjectivity and not others’ (not even other men’s, really), while women are traditionally raised to place others’ subjectivity over their own. It’s gonna be good, y’all! Thanks for reading all of this, Truly. The intro will be shorter in the future, but the passages might be longer. What do you think? Please share below; I’d love to read your thoughts! Namaste, y’all.
* I like crusty books, too. And new books. And skinny books and long books. And short books and fat books. And fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, historical-fiction, novellas, short-stories, autobiographies, graphic-novels, how-to-do-stuff books, how-to-talk-to-people books, psychology books (lol, ya think?), yoga books, racial books, art books, picture books, poetry books, Spanish poetry books, children’s books, young-adult fiction, folk tales, bell hooks, Sandra Cisneros, Haruki Murakami, Chuck Palahniuk, Toni Morrisson, Audre Lorde, PHEW! Okay I should stop now…. But the old ones do smell the best ^_^
If you’ve read this far and you have any book recommendations, whether they fit into the far-from-exhausted list above or not, please share them below!
** For other babies, there are several outcomes. One is that the absence of someone to meet their needs is still initially interpreted as the baby’s own failure. Another is that these babies understand too soon that their existence depends on entities outside of themselves. The scarcity or unreliability of care makes “ANXIOUS” the poor child’s “default” setting, which explains why trust issues may persist into adulthood.
If you forget everything else, and never visit my website again, please know this: every person is unique, and there is no “A + B = C” formula for how any of us turn out. More importantly, if you don’t like the way you’ve turned out, you have the power and the opportunity to change with every breath you take. Try listening to love songs as if you wrote them to yourself, see how that feels. Let me know how it works, or doesn’t, for you. Peace!
This song is actually LESS creepy now, lol! They won’t all work out that way, trust me.
I love my mother so much I can’t stand it.
Name this movie in the comments & win my utmost respect!
I love her completely, in many, completely different ways. First of all, she did SO right by me as a mom. Not everybody can say that about their mother, so I want to say that first. As my only parent, I love her the way I used to wish I had a father for ~ it was my idea for us to celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in 2006, and we still do. Today, while drafting a post about chronic, pervasive loneliness, I realized that she’s also like the older and younger and twin sister (and brother) I also used to pine for. How lucky and convenient for me! It’s also rather yogic, now that I think about it.
Yoga means union and integration, remember? What if it’s okay to have all your familiar needs integrated and satiated by one primary caregiver? Or two: your mother and your grandmother? What if I only even wanted a father &/or siblings because someone or something told me that was normal. The expectation for a family to look a certain way wasn’t something I learned until I already loved my family the way it was. Even then, what folks considered a “typical American nuclear family” was rapidly changing and continues to change from year to year.
Growing up, people (especially other kids) would get a little confused, then horrified when they found out my mother didn’t have the same last name as I. After their assumption that she was married was busted, I had to shatter their assumption that she was divorced. I was mostly amused by this, more so when it felt like they expected me to be ashamed. In fact I always thought it was cool that my mom denied my father’s request for marriage. Wait till you see how she did it!
Greg: Let’s get married.
Mom: Why do you want to marry me?
Greg: Uh… because you’re pregnant with my** child? I wanna do the right thing, you know? Blah-blah-blah, basic-basic-basic… I’ll probably stop cheating on you and everything… I mean, probably. We are sailors in our early-20s, ya dig?***
Mom: Nah, I’m good.
Turns out, he didn’t want to be a father anyway (tell that to my possibly-more-than-two-at-this-point younger half-siblings, whydontcha?), and I’ll have a whole ‘nother category for #daddy issues, don’t you fret. Long story short, NOT marrying him was the best decision my mother ever made for me. My grandmother made the opposite decision. Nobody. Ever talks about her husband, but sometimes you could taste the bitterness just by being in the same room with her. Another story for another day.
After my grandmother’s generation, marriage in my family became the exception, not the rule. Fathers were largely absent from their children’s lives as if it were a matter of course, even my mother’s own brothers. Sometimes while living in the same city! The only married uncle, Uncle J, almost got a pass… until I met my cousin D, who was raised by a single mother around the corner from his younger half-brother without even knowing it. Does that even make sense? I’ll make y’all a chart if I bring this up again in a post about #daddyissues.
The only explanation for this I gleaned was that, in the words of their mother, my beloved Granma: “they ain’t shit, they ain’t never gonna be shit, and they daddy wa’nt shit, neither.” Apparently she’s not the only African American woman to say this (literally those same words) about her own children and/or their fathers. By the way, in case you don’t have the words memorized from your own childhood, “wa’nt” is how you’re supposed to pronounce “wasn’t.” Don’t worry, #notallmen guys. My mom had a few good men in her life, so I don’t think all men are trash because of my childhood. I think most men are trash from my late-adolescence-through-adulthood.
Back to my Dearest Mumsy. No, I don’t really call her that. But the things she calls me would have you in tears ~ from laughter, confusion, horror, pick one! They all come out of a mother’s love and a Gemini’s creativity. I call her mom, but the point of this post is to try and articulate how much more she is to me. If you go by the already-dead-in-the-ground-and-rotting Traditional American Family Structure, you could say I “lacked” a father and siblings. But if you start with nothing ~ and all of us come into this world naked, alone, and screaming ~ if you start there, it’s easy to see I had a lot with “just” her. So did she with me.
Don’t worry…. I don’t think all men are trash because of my childhood. I think most men are trash from my late-adolescence-through-adulthood.
*I grew up in the ’90s, when whyte people were just getting into “non-traditional” &/or “blended” families. There were stories on TV and in children’s movies about how the rise in divorce and remarriage is making single-parenthood and step-parenting “normal for the first time in western history!” Because nothing is normal until whyte people start doing it (see also, New Kids on the Block, Eminem, big butts (thanks? Vogue?), and hair weaves, just to name a few).
**If you think my relationship with my mom is all Gilmore Girls and Sunshine, wait till you find out how I found out Greg might not be my father! #itgotbetter but it wasn’t pretty for a while.
*** Ok, I paraphrased this part, but they did meet in the navy. The rest is the story I grew up hearing from my mom, word-for-word. MY momma is a BAWSE! She always gon’ BE a bawse. And HER momma was a bawse, too!
Any other survivors of single-parenthood out there have something to say? I’m talking to parents AND children, by the way. Absent moms & dads have a voice here, too. Let’s talk in the comments section, unless you’re afraid to 🙂