Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life


 Aesthetic Realism seminar:
The Fight between Boredom and Awareness

in a Woman's Mind
By Lynette Abel

It was 1933 and America was in the midst of the Great Depression--over 13 million people were unemployed, families had lost their homes.  There were hundreds of thousands of men roaming the country for work, people standing on long bread lines. President elect Franklin Roosevelt had asked Frances Perkins to be his Secretary of Labor, the first woman to hold a cabinet post. She said yes, but only if he agreed to all the legislation she wanted, which was to become the basis for Roosevelt’s New Deal program, including federal aid to states for unemployment relief, public works to provide jobs, abolition of child labor, establishing maximum hours of work, minimum wages, and social security.  Frances Perkins had a great awareness of what was needed to bring immediate relief to hopeless Americans, and what would protect their future. 

          Tonight I'll comment on aspects of her life, and what I learned about "The Fight between Boredom and Awareness in a Woman's Mind."

1. Where Does This Fight Begin?

In his preface to Self and World, Eli Siegel explains:

To be bored by the world is wearisome, but…it is a victory for the individual.  We are in a fight between being bored and being aroused.  Being bored is a victory for ubiquitous contempt.  Interest is on the side of respect as one’s bloodstream.
 This fight corresponds to what Aesthetic Realism shows is the large fight in everyone: between our desire to like the world, see meaning in it, and another desire which dulls and weakens our minds, to have contempt, to look down on other people.

          As a child, I was excited about taking dance lessons, and because I couldn’t decide which interested me more, I got to take both tap and ballet.  I loved listening to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, and each time I heard it, I became aware of new things--how violins and oboes could produce sounds enabling you to visualize a duck, a wolf, a boy, and his grandfather.  But I remember too, often feeling painfully bored with everything, asking my mother over and over, “What can I do?” and quickly dismissing suggestion, after suggestion.

          Growing up with 3 brothers and 2 sisters, I was competitive with them as to most everything: who got to ride in the front seat of the car, who got to see their television show, who got the remains of the fudge pan, etc. feeling the big thing was what was coming to me.  I was making choices between wanting to have a keen awareness of things and what they deserved, and wanting to dull things over and see myself as the only thing of consequence.

          In the 6th grade before a holiday, each student exchanged names with another and was to buy a $2 gift. I bought a box of 8 rolls of lifesavers for Joan—something I thought she would love. Joan could not afford to buy me anything, and gave me her beloved baton. I soon became aware she felt awful about parting with it, and I insisted she take it back.  I hadn’t really known before then, that some people were so poor they couldn’t even afford $2.  This experience made me deeper, more thoughtful.

          But I also could be contemptuously unaware of the feelings of others. "There is a mix-up, because we want to see things and we want to protect ourselves from seeing,” Mr. Siegel said in his lecture on awareness, “People do use awareness not to be aware: that is, they watch out not to see too much.”  When I'd drive through an impoverished area of Alexandria, Virginia, and see dilapidated shacks, instead of feeling compassion for the people living in them, and outrage at this injustice, I callous-ly thought, "Why don't they get a job." My desire "not to see too much," to be superior to others, had big repercussions.  I became increasingly immured in myself, and fearful around other people.   Once, while at the Mt. Vernon Swim Club, I wanted everyone to be aware of me.  Wearing a colorful, Hawaiian moo moo over my bathing suit, I thought it would be charming to spring off the diving board with it on.  But after jumping in, the moo moo enveloped my head and I couldn’t breathe. Frantically struggling with it, I finally ripped it off gasping for air—I almost drowned. Embarrassed and shook up, I hadn't been aware of this consequence.

         In High School, though I liked French, when I found I needed to study it--my interest waned.  And just weeks after I began taking chemistry, I felt “What could I possibly need it for?” More and more things I thought I’d like, I was deciding I didn’t need.  In an Aesthetic Realism class years later, Eli Siegel explained:

Every person has a terrific desire to be bored.  Being bored is the same thing as trying to prove nothing has done one any good.  To be bored is to be a conqueror….Contempt has been the key to many a dreary door. 

  Lynette Abel
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