Posted in Novels

When Stream Meets Stream…

I recently watched a fictional movie about one of my favorite composers: Frederic Chopin. The movie introduced me to George Sand, the French authoress/colorful character. I decided to read one of her novels to discover if she was only the 19th century version of a celebrity, or if she actually had some grit.

The book was “The Master Pipers.” I was pleasantly surprised at her talent, especially at her piercing insights on human nature. Sand presents us with beautiful young people, falling in love and finding their passion in life. We follow the adventures of the shepherdess-type Brulette and the mule-driver Huriel as they fall in love, then we meet the musical genius Joseph, whose ambitious drive prevents him from being able to connect with anyone on a non-egotist level.

As I followed Brulette and Huriel maturing in order to be worthy of each other’s love and contrasting that with Joseph’s eventual fate, not only could I not put the story down, but I also ran face first into an interesting conundrum:

How do we become better people? What makes us give up the egocentric worldview of our youth and transform to empathetic, productive adults who can sustain satisfying relationships?

How about my story for an example?

It was only after I fell in love that I was introduced to myself.

The memories return to comfort and amuse and astound me eight years later. I felt a connection with another human being and it made me realize my own existence. I remember him through that old fog of non-living. I walked pass him every day and I watched him perk up when I came around and I experienced my own heart palpitations, my own grounded mood lifting. It was astounding because before that I felt absolutely nothing. Week after week passed. Month after month. And I wondered why I couldn’t speak to him. “I must be shy,” I concluded. I had never considered myself as shy before, but it was deeply accurate. In fact, it went even deeper than that. 

I realize now that after people live through emotional trauma, years of unconscious emotional numbing can plague them. Sadly, it can become so pervasive that it turns into a way of life. It is as if they have shut down. During that period, they can unthinkingly harm themselves and other people repeatedly, because they had been injured and had not dealt with it properly.

And I was one of those people. My life had been painful and I had shut down. Then, I met a man and I woke up. I saw myself. I experienced myself as a person. I told myself: “I must be shy.” So, I went to the bookstore and grabbed a book about shyness. I was determined to overcome it so that I could talk to a man I loved. 

If you are rolling your eyes right now, I ask you to stick with me. I am the first to concede that romantic love should not (and probably cannot) be a permanent stimulus to sustain real change. For example, that particular romance did not survive for several hilarious reasons. Yet, I was determined to learn about myself and heal myself, until I had worked through my grievous issues. Now, eight years later, I like to think that I am an emotionally healthier person than I was back then. Even now, the goal of making my life and the lives of those around me better influences the personality changes that I decide to work on.

So, it leads to a pertinent truth about humans: Love makes us want to change, want to be a better version of ourselves, in order to retain and please our love objects.   

Eye-rollers, this love does not have to be romantic; it can be love for your family or your friends. Many people contribute their growth to the desire not to hurt their loved ones anymore. Many people credit their improvement with the support of family or friends who wanted better for them, who expected more from them.

What I loved about Sand’s book was that the two main characters were not previously bad people who went through a complete transformation to become angels. They were regular people who battled a bit selfishness, vanity, and immaturity. Yet, through the help of good friends and the power motivating force of mutual love, they were able to grow up and be what each other needed.

It’s a fundamental truth that relationships help us to grow as individuals.  When a stream meets a stream, a flowing river appears. At least, that’s the ideal…

Either way, I highly recommend George Sand’s novel. I eagerly await reading more from her.

Posted in Poetry

The Undesired “Truth”

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Why is it so hard to change?

A couple of months ago, I was so confused about the stubborn, destructive behavior of a friend—and even my own self-destructive tendencies—that I honestly wondered if it would make a difference trying to improve. As in the case with many things, I took my wonder to Google. I asked, “Do people ever really change?”

By the way, it seems I never learn not to use Google for such existential questions: billions of results appear (more so than usual), each contradicting what the last one says. Why? Because every situation is different. People search because of  a misbehaving romantic partner or a family member with a debilitating addiction. Or they are trying to lose weight or become more socially outgoing. Perhaps they’ve failed in trying to change themselves or a significant other. Yet, there was one underlying theme that I managed to tape together from the hubbub.

Change is possible, but it’s extremely hard work and it gets harder as you get older. Also, be prepared for many failures, setbacks, genuine instances of “you-know-what?-I-give-up.”

The last one is the most confusing, because by that time, you’ve convinced yourself of the rightness of the change and you’ve been assiduously working hard to make your life better, yet you find yourself prepared to throw it all away for a moment’s peace. Your determination melts into “Hey, things can stay like they are. After all, they aren’t that bad.”

Why do we do that? One word: Fear. It prompts us to remain just where we are, even when we know that where we are is detrimental to our well-being.

No one wrote it better than Gwendolyn Brooks in her poem “truth.”

I’ve always admired her for the simple music of her poetry. Though she sings about such issues with piercing depth, her poems always allow a certain accessibility. In this one, in particular, she compares the truth to the returning sun and she asks a question (in fact, most of the poem is a series of questions; no room for dogmatism here). ‘When the sun comes back, the good life that we’ve always wanted appears, do we really want it, now that we’ve gotten so used to the darkness?’

That’s the million dollar question. It’s what stops a recovering somebody dead in their tracks when they are faced with the enormity of their task to change, to be better, to do things differently.

After all, we complain, don’t we? We might not like how we treat others or our stubborn adherence to bad habits. We all dream of having happy, peaceful lives. Yes, with amazing alacrity on human nature, the poem continues: “we have wept for (the sun)…we have prayed all through the night-years.” Still, we have lived in what Brooks calls a “lengthy session with shade.” We have learned to live with our afflictions; we rationalize them until they’re whittled down to nothing…yet still managing to bruise our unconscious minds, but hey, we reason away why they are there.

The emotion behind this stance is fear. In her succinct lingo, Brooks proposes that we would “dread”, “fear”, “shudder”, and “flee” when the sun returns with all of its’ light and goodness. The poem asks if we would not rather seek to hide in the “familiar” darkness.

Would we?

We rage against evil, darkness, resignation, and despair, yet we are frightened by the light, rescue, hope, and change. We would rather swim in the mire because of its familiarity than bask in goodness just because it’s uncertain. No doubt our inner resistance to positive change may be our biggest obstacle.

Gwendolyn Brooks did not give an answer in the poem. It’s not a poet’s job to do so; their task is only to raise the questions. We determine our own answers to the conundrums poets uncover. With this poem, I would like to think that change is possible, that humans have the power to choose to fight for what’s good and right, and that ultimately it is worth it to resist the temptation to hide in the comfortable darkness.

What do you think? Find a copy of Brooks’ poem ‘truth’ and tell me your answer to the puzzle she raises.