Darling darling darling,
Published over the weekend, this New York Times article (written by 2004 graduate, Cal Newport) explores the cultural orthodoxy of “follow our passion,” drawing from Cal’s post-graduate experiences, life lessons and well-earned wisdom.
Our generation has been told – since birth – that we are winners, that we are special, and that we can “do whatever we want.” We can do anything. The world is our oyster. The possibilities are endless. While this sentiment has been, in many ways, liberating, reassuring and even emboldening, it has also transformed our understanding and perception of “a career,” as well as what it is we “want.”
Few of us were steeped in – and many never heard – “you should find a job you like that pays the bills.” “Like” and “pay the bills” have become the dreaded, telltale characteristics of a mundane career (and life, for that matter). Instead, we were raised to embrace the intangibles: personal fulfillment, creativity, ambition, imagination, giving back. We aren’t looking for careers we like. We aren’t looking for careers that pay the bills. We quest to find professions that make our insides churn with excitement, pride and purpose. We search for the intangibles. We search for our career soul mate.
We are a lucky bunch. We live in a nation, which affords us freedom, equality, opportunity, and the right to pursue our own unique and individual interests. We graduated from colleges and universities that broadened our minds, our identities, our worlds, and our horizons. We have grown up with statistics telling us that we will hold multiple jobs throughout our lives – many of which we will create. We will try on many hats. We will be able, many times over, to “do whatever and be whomever we want.” “You can do anything” has quickly transformed into “you can and will do many things.” This only serves to heighten our yearning for the right thing.
We were raised in the 90s and early 2000s, when the economy was relatively stable, employment opportunities were abundant, and the Internet was quickly reshaping and rescaling our world. As the economy flourished, our parents raised us with confidence that, when the time came, we would slide seamlessly into the work force. Not to mention the keyword of the 90s: technological innovation – another intangible. Many of our parents believed we would someday enter into professions they couldn’t possibly prepare us for. Parenting shifted. We were given time and space to decide and map our own destinies. Suddenly, the best way to prepare children for the world was to anchor them in a multi-disciplinary education. Why liberal arts? Because you can “do anything with it!”
We all deserve to want a career soul mate and, with time, honesty and hard work, we all deserve to find one. Unfortunately, this task isn’t easy. Times are different now. Our parents worry. We worry. After all, doesn’t the majesty of a soul mate lie in her rarity and elusiveness? If we can’t find her, we feel as though we have failed; we haven’t lived up to our potential. We somehow didn’t understand or fully embrace or take advantage of the invitation to “be whatever we want.” But mostly, we don’t even know where to start. "Do whatever you want" embraces a lack of boundaries. So where is the entry point?
In the wake of Lena Dunham and Emma Koenig, iconic figures who have characterized (and capitalized upon) the struggles of twenty-something-year-olds, many people write off our generation’s “inner-strife” as a privilege only white, upper-middle-class kids can afford. In the wake of the Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” some may claim our generation asks too much. Isn’t it enough to simply like your job? Can’t love and fulfillment come from other areas of life? There are many difficulties rooted in our generational vantage point, not to shy away from it being a – perhaps – entitled, and – definitely – upper-middle-class one.
But there is beauty in this vantage point too. "Be whatever you want" has brought us together. It has incited collective and individual soul searching. It has forced us to examine, identify, prioritize and harness our ‘wants.’ It allows our wants to transform and bend – and it enables our wants to transform and bend the world around us. Tracy Breslin of Eileen Fisher writes, “Millennials… [have] a refreshing sense of confidence. They don’t just do the work. They change the work” (“Passing the Torch,” the Atlantic). The call to “follow your dreams” has forced us to contemplate our own complexity; we have many passions, many strengths, and many dreams. Often they don’t translate easily into careers. “You can do anything” has forced us to make decisions. It has enabled us to confront these decisions not only with logic and reason, but also with soul and spirit; the term career ‘soul mate’ ought not be used lightly. Most of all, it is forcing us, right now, to reckon with how we weigh the tangible and intangible. It is in this balancing act that the Brilliant Animal emerges – a visionary yet humble creature, a dreamer and a pragmatist, a thinker and a feeler, head in the heavens and feet in the dirt.
– The Editors
Breslin, Tracy. “Passing the Torch.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Mag., 28 June 2012. Web. 1 September 2012.
Our good friend Caitlin found time to write these reflections for us on moving to a new place and the uncertainties that arise in the sunset of graduation…
More and more, I find myself avoiding silences. Instead, when I walk in the heat down pretty side streets, I look at the tops of palm trees lining the road. They offer no real shade. And when I should worry about this or that thing (where to go, what to do), I worry instead that a road crew has patched up an unsteady palm with cement. It seems cruel to cement in a living tree.
On some days, I am certain these are the thoughts that should concern me. They are immediate and keep me grounded in the present. On other days, the white walls of my bedroom become filled with crushing silences. I pull my comforter over my head and try to remember something beautiful to wrap around my shoulders. Water has always helped. A cold shower, a warm bath, these are helpful things in a desert, where one doesn’t have a river. Rivers are my favorite comfort; without the numbing vastness of the ocean, they move.
When I went to Paris a few summers ago, I spent days walking up and down the Seine. My favorite roads went past the houseboats docked on the riverbank. Many of the houseboats were bustling with movement; people climbed in and out of doorways with their hands full of food or books or water for their plants. Other boats were still, their potted red flowers shifting silently, if at all, in the hot air. I remember very clearly one boat that had a table and chairs on it’s roof. The table was set for dinner with a white linen tablecloth and tall water glasses.
I want my life to be like those houseboats. I want both the capacity for movement and the security of home. Up until now, my life has been like that. College has a similar sense of semi-permanence, of passing through leisurely with others like ourselves. But as I get older, it becomes harder to leave people and places. I miss them more. I start looking for familiar faces in a crowd. It’s awfully lonesome without the people that give a place it’s purpose and meaning. Without them, my life starts to have holes in it, through which I can see a happier life, one that I am not leading. It’s not smart to start looking in holes.
Still, most days I can reason myself out of one. It’s common sense really… If I can dig this big of a hole, I certainly have enough tenacity to build a ladder. But there are days when I cannot. And it is on those days that I am grateful for I path I’ve chosen, even if it’s more of a raft than a houseboat.
There are nights when I cannot sleep, nights when I miss everyone and everything I cannot have. My mind hurts from holding so tightly to memories that were once substance, as though it were reaching for a hand that no longer reached back. I remember the boyfriends I loved and left carelessly, doors never fully shut, others that left me, never knowing what lives we’ll miss seeing because we’re no longer there.
Yet, the next morning, I get up, because when I pull the comforter over my head and try to think of one beautiful thing to wrap around my shoulders, I am able to — once, when I was sick, a friend picked out all of the marshmallows in my favorite sugary cereal. I only like the marshmallows, and she wanted me to have a special treat, an incentive to get better. Once a boy took me on “night walks” for a month before he tried to kiss me. He wanted to know my stories. He wanted to know everything about me, what I dreamed of, what I was afraid of when I was a little girl.
I’ll tell you what I told him… When I was a little girl, I was afraid of shadows. And as a grown-up (although that word reveals the vestiges of childhood), I am still afraid of shadows. I suppose it’s a common fear - that we will never fully become the substance of what we should be. But like I said, I get up, and that is a good start.
-Caitlin Johnson, Phoenix AZ
Thanks to our favorite new-age, shamanistic blog Spirit of Spider, we have discovered inspiring new articles like ‘Becoming Conscious’, ‘Art Is Magic’, ‘The Wilderness’, ‘You Are The Cosmos’, ‘Back To The Land’, and, the holy grail of hippiedom, an instructional piece on building teepees. Below is our good friend Jeff Bausemer’s own homage to life off the grid.
He was turning 25, but not because he was aging. More like just because he needed to be able to legally rent cars for getaways, etc.… Escape artists are like a particular brand of 25-year-old waywards, and the only reason it’s not the other way around is because some of these 25-year-olds are escaping as ungracefully as you can imagine. But I’ve been contacted by swans and their necks are long enough to take hold of. No, your average 25-year-old wayward does not look good most of the time. If at all, if ever! They’ve been sweating from the dance that took place between the sillies at the beginning of the universes’ last coffee date with Hollywood.
The dance took place over the Hollywood star of David Duchoveny, directly anterior to the door of the coffee shop facing west, and there were hundreds of these waywards who remarked, with tiny, rock hard sand-like tears forming far from their eyes, “the truth is out there.” But Hollywood is large and the scene was dying because the 90’s were over and the paradigm was shifting under their feet. They drove everywhere. They just drove and drove and drove and bought coolers and some camping gear and made a home amongst the other animals under the red magnetic moon.
They constructed totems to the animals, heralding the return of sexy serpents, playful puppies, Eden’s eagles and the truthful tiger. Meek, perky, outrageous and inscrutable were the keywords of the wayward warriors. But they lost their voices when their bodies forgot the proper poisons and the proper medicine to store for later use under extreme duress. They too lost the way. The end approached and radical expression tried to steal itself away like an elephant escape artist. You fat, ugly, bumpy lumps, how beautiful you are forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever. When my hair greys it will do so under the influence of the silver moon mine, whose metal roots reach into the gold and tourmaline and diamond spheres, which are as crystalline as the moon is magnetic and the waywards are discolored.
There is a truth that you can’t see until you know how to look. Talk with one person, whose eyes reflect fear and shine with love, for a minimum of an hour or a maximum of however long it was that Odysseus and Penelope spoke the night they reunited – the night Athena and her bird held off daybreak, because it’s only in the sun that clay will crack of it’s own accord. Eyes like orbs that feel too full of light, or too dark, or perhaps just bloodied with chuchuhuasi or pau d’arco or Peruvian cat’s claw used to invigorate their sexual energy. It comes in many forms; the dance of Shiva Shakti first took place over a desert of stone and sand somewhere distant enough from these windows. The roads back are many and almost entirely equidistant, though it’s still possible that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line since we are finally returning to our sources, under this red rock.
The elephants then were pink, did you know that? Add white to this red rock or this red magnetic moon and you’ll find their shade. And there was most certainly a sphinx, whose riddle awaited an escape artist. There may only be one who can rewrite the histories, restore order to the elephants, and release the sphinx, who asks questions only because he seeks the answer, the knowledge. Of course nothing and everything was at stake in the kingdom of shits and giggles, where babies were grey and large and 40-years-old and totally heartbreaking and finally born. This might be their story, because there might finally be one to tell, unlike so many mirages in our sordid history.
But the sub-sub bookkeeper of prefaces-past does indeed look worried. Pink is perhaps not his color, but neither is it mine. I’m just here to listen in silence. I must be feeble for this reason. Cloaks are heavy when soaking wet.
– Jeff Bausemer, San Diego
“I wake up in the morning with a dream in my eyes.”
– Allen Ginsberg
Hush Child, Center Yourself
When solving problems, making decisions or addressing concerns, we are accustomed to following social convention or protocol: thinking something through, consulting a friend or advisor, making a list of pro’s and con’s. We use our rational thinking process; logic provides the foundation and key. But what if we also learned to examine our dream life? What if we began to have a relationship with our nighttime (and also daytime) internal landscape? And what if we weighed this landscape as logic’s equal – and essential – counterpart? As a student of Carl Jung, I believe that listening to the voice of the conscious self in conjunction with the voice of the unconscious self enables the deepest, fullest, and most complex understanding of our being. For young people, whose lives are filled with and heightened by large, often daunting decisions, such an understanding can prove particularly insightful – and even imperative.
Carl Jung, preeminent 20th century visionary and psychologist, once said, “an unexamined dream is like an unopened letter,” perhaps rephrasing the Talmud, which states, “an unexamined dream is like an unopened letter from God.” Jungian analysis – with its emphasis upon examined dream life, spontaneous waking images, fantasies, and creative exploration – encourages a direct and ongoing relationship with the unconscious. This can be done through a relationship with an analyst or, as Jungians also believe, through willful, individual effort to listen to the unconscious. Jung said, “One would do well to treat every dream as though it were a totally unknown object. Look at it from all sides, take it in your hand, carry it about with you, let your imagination play round it, and talk about it with other people.” Parsing through unconscious information can be playful, inventive, artistic, spiritual, and done on one’s own time and terms.
This begs the question, if dream exploration is so important and instructive, why don’t we all do it? Why does the study of dreams seem esoteric and highbrow – limited to few and scorned by those who deem themselves ‘rational’? In our recent history, dreams and their portent were considered invaluable guides to the lives of and livelihoods of many. Perhaps we wish to distinguish ourselves from our more “primitive” forefathers and foremothers who took dreams to be omens or signs from the divine. In addition, examining the unconscious takes conscious effort – a choice to acknowledge and tune into the pieces of ourselves, which lie beyond our frame of reference and sense of control. It can be difficult to acknowledge the unconscious because it’s existence implies an inherent lack of total knowledge and power. In addition to being labor intensive, dream exploration can often be painful and disorienting, as it requires concentrated examination of the forgotten, overlooked, hidden or suppressed. For many, the fruits of this examination are often ambiguous and unclear… at least at first.
For this reason, it may be clear why Jungian analysis is an academic profession, as well as why Jungian analysts often hesitate to endorse unaided dream exploration. First of all, it is important to understand that dream analysis is not mindlessly obeying what unconscious material may suggest or indicate. Rather, it is allowing unconscious derivatives to challenge your conscious, known stance and inform you of unrealized potential, direction, perspective or content. This requires a dialogue of sorts between your conscious, waking self and your unconscious, deeper self. It is a pas de deux that knows when to yield and when to lead.
Secondly, dream language is symbolic and should be experienced like poetry or any artistic event. You roam through the experience much like an Avant-garde movie: let it wash over you, experience it on multiple levels, take it in with all of your senses. Our dreams are filled with disjointedness, fragmentation, lapses in time, space and narrative, vivid, varied feeling states, and inexplicable, otherworldly aspects. Sensually and intuitively, experience a dream in its entirety. Allow a different language – a new, sixth sense – to enter your means of comprehension and expression. Let it enlarge how you envision and express yourself in the world. As is clear, this is not a usual means of operating and requires patience, practice and commitment.
Perhaps you are asking the question, what can a dream do for me? And does the unconscious really matter? I believe that dreams (or other unconscious derivatives, such as fantasies or daydreams) are like hidden doors into the innermost recesses of the soul. These recesses guide and direct us in powerful ways we are often not aware of. Throughout my life and career as a psychotherapist, I have heard countless times, “I just knew that was my path.” I have heard, “something in me told me it was the right thing to do” and “I don’t know how or why, but I knew he was the right man for me.” By making conscious what is unconscious, you can access valuable information – information that may help you capture something as mild as a vague yearning or something as poignant as a life-long dream. I hear “I just knew” from clients more frequently after meaningful time spent working in my office and unlocking the unconscious self.
Jung says, “What would be more natural, when we have lost ourselves amid the endless particulars and isolated details of the world’s surface, than to knock at the door of dreams and inquire of them the bearings which would bring us closer to the basic facts of human existence?” If you knock at the door of your dreams and inquire, what is there?
Our dreams always have a “who, what, when, where” aspect. Identifying discernable elements, such as time, space, characters, themes or narrative thread, often provides an entryway into dream exploration. Notice the specificity of each image in the dream and allow yourself to muse. Is it a domestic housecat or an alley cat? What qualities does this animal possess? Is there a feeling tone to the dream or to your experience in the dream? Are the characters known or unknown? Who are you in your dreams? What is your age, stance, persona or orientation? What other characters, animals, images or situations people your dreams? Where does it take place? Are there themes or ideas that are familiar or recognizable? How do you feel in the dream, and also when you awake?
Further, I may ask, is there anything in this dream that has a parallel to your waking life? Is there an aspect of yourself or your life that could be represented here and perhaps needs to be seen by you? And, when you see that person, object, situation or animal in your dream, what comes to mind? Keep a dream journal and record your dreams as soon as you wake. Write your dreams down. Draw, sketch or paint images from your dreams. These elements assist in opening up previously unconscious territory, which enables us to explore a dimension far beyond our daily, waking experience. These and many others are questions I ask or directions I take when I explore dream life with my clients. Because each person is distinctly individual, and each dream is a small universe unto itself, exploration is potentially endless and always fruitful.
In addition to dream analysis, therapy and quiet, individual contemplation, there are many possibilities for active exploration of your inner self. These possibilities include painting, drawing or doodling, free writing, listening to music, or daydreaming. The necessary ingredients are time and an open, non-judgmental mind. However, you can also learn to ‘tune in’ on a daily, moment-to-moment basis. This does not require the creation of free time for unconscious exploration, but rather a constant ‘checking in’ with the unconscious throughout your daily routine. What or whom do you think about while showering, on the subway, walking down the street? Where do you go when your thoughts are not ‘directed’? Further, what does the ‘fabric’ of your inner landscape look like? Is it images or pictures? Words or thoughts? A narrative? Feeling states? How do you access your intuition? When do you listen to your ‘gut’ and how do you know it’s talking? The possibilities presented here, as well as many other thoughts and questions, can guide and direct you as you journey into a deeper, potentially richer part of yourself. It may give you access to your libido, life force, a future direction or an unknown, unfulfilled potential. A dream (or fantasy or daydream) is a gift, an opportunity, an important marker and a possible alternative path. French philosopher Gaston Bachelard once wrote, ”The unconscious is ceaselessly murmuring, and it is by listening to these murmurs that one hears the truth. “ As you set out on your long and winding paths, listen, cultivate your inner eye and ear, give breath to your murmurs and let them sing.
- Sarah Berry-Tschinkel, LCSW and Jungian-Trained Psychotherapist, New York
Once, in a dry season, I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. Although now, some years later, I marvel that a mind on the outs with itself should have nonetheless made painstaking record of its every tremor, I recall with embarrassing clarity the flavor of those particular ashes. It was a matter of misplaced self-respect.
I had not been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. This failure could scarcely have been more predictable or less ambiguous (I simply did not have the grades), but I was unnerved by it; I had somehow thought myself a kind of academic Raskolnikov, curiously exempt from the cause-effect relationships which hampered others. Although even the humorless nineteen-year-old that I was must have recognized that the situation lacked real tragic stature, the day that I did not make Phi Beta Kappa nonetheless marked the end of something, and innocence may well be the word for it. I lost the conviction that lights would always turn green for me, the pleasant certainty that those rather passive virtues which had won me approval as a child automatically guaranteed me not only Phi Beta Kappa keys but happiness, honor, and the love of a good man; lost a certain touching faith in the totem power of good manners, clean hair, and proved competence on the Stanford-Binet scale. To such doubtful amulets had my self-respect been pinned, and I faced myself that day with the nonplussed apprehension of someone who has come across a vampire and has no crucifix at hand.
Although to be driven back upon oneself is an uneasy affair at best, rather like trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials, it seems to me now the one condition necessary to the beginnings of real self-respect. Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The tricks that work on others count for nothing in that well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself; no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions. One shuffles flashily but in vain through ones’ marked cards the kindness done for the wrong reason, the apparent triumph which involved no real effort, the seemingly heroic act into which one had been shamed. The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others – who we are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without.
To do without self-respect, on the other hand, is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that deals one’s failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening. There’s the glass you broke in anger, there’s the hurt on X’s face; watch now, this next scene, the night Y came back from Houston, see how you muff this one. To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, the Phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice, or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.
To protest that some fairly improbably people, some people who could not possibly respect themselves, seem to sleep easily enough is to miss the point entirely, as surely as those people miss it who think that self-respect has necessarily to do with not having safety pins in one’s underwear. There is a common superstition that “self-respect” is a kind of charm against snakes, something that keeps those who have it locked in some unblighted Eden, out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general. It does not at all. It has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation. Although the careless, suicidal Julian English in Appointment in Samara and the careless, incurably dishonest Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby seem equally improbably candidates for self-respect, Jordan Baker had it, Julian English did not. With that genius for accommodation more often seen in women than men, Jordan took her own measure, made her own peace, avoided threats to that peace: “I hate careless people,” she told Nick Carraway. “It takes two to make an accident.”
Like Jordan Baker, people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things. If they choose to commit adultery, they do not then go running, in an access of bad conscience, to receive absolution from the wronged parties; nor do they complain unduly of the unfairness, the undeserved embarrassment, of being named co-respondent. In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of mortal nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues. The measure of its slipping prestige is that one tends to think of it only in connection with homely children and United States senators who have been defeated, preferably in the primary, for reelection. Nonetheless, character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs.
Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts. It seemed to the nineteenth century admirable, but not remarkable, that Chinese Gordon put on a clean white suit and held Khartoum against the Mahdi; it did not seem unjust that the way to free land in California involved death and difficulty and dirt. In a diary kept during the winter of 1846, an emigrating twelve-yaer-old named Narcissa Cornwall noted coolly: “Father was busy reading and did not notice that the house was being filled with strange Indians until Mother spoke out about it.” Even lacking any clue as to what Mother said, one can scarcely fail to be impressed by the entire incident: the father reading, the Indians filing in, the mother choosing the words that would not alarm, the child duly recording the event and noting further that those particular Indians were not, “fortunately for us,” hostile. Indians were simply part of the donnee.
In one guise or another, Indians always are. Again, it is a question of recognizing that anything worth having has its price. People who respect themselves are willing to accept the risk that the Indians will be hostile, that the venture will go bankrupt, that the liaison may not turn out to be one in which every day is a holiday because you’re married to me. They are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds.
That kind of self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth. It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag. As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that, but the psychological effect alone is incalculable: it is difficult bin the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with ones head in a Food Fair bag. There is a similar case for all the small disciplines, unimportant in themselves; imagine maintaining any kind of swoon, commiserative or carnal, in a cold shower.
But those small disciplines are valuable only insofar as they represent larger ones. To say that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton is not to say that Napoleon might have been saved by a crash program in cricket; to give formal dinners in the rain forest would be pointless did not the candlelight flickering on the liana call forth deeper, stronger disciplines, values instilled long before. It is a kind of ritual, helping us to remember who and what we are. In order to remember it, one must have known it.
To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out – since our self-image is untenable – their false notion of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan; no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.
It is the phenomenon sometimes called “alienation from self.” In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.
First published 1961 in Vogue; reprinted 1968 in Slouching Toward Bethlehem, included in Didion, Collected Works (Norton, 2006).
The reason people work is the pursuit of significance, not making money. It’s the higher interest in all of us.