Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life


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 Aesthetic Realism seminar:
What's the Big Thing Women Need
to Know about Power?
By Lynette Abel

In the summer when I was 15 and began to work as a lifeguard at an Army Officer's club in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, I was aware of being looked at by boys in a new way, and I felt a rush of power.  In my mind I was the center of things, the most alluring being, surrounded by an audience of approving males.  In years that followed, I thought that my greatest power was my ability to affect men through my body.  And it was during these years that, without understanding why, I increasingly disliked myself.  "There [are] two kinds of power," Eli Siegel explained in an issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known
the first that makes us more important and the meaning of reality less; and the second that makes the world or reality seem greater and ourselves greater because we see the world as greater. [TRO 261]
This is the big thing women need to know about power!   I'll tell tonight what I learned from Aesthetic Realism about the fight in me between these two kinds of power, and how it is described in an important novel by the 19th century author Jane Austen.

Early Decisions about Good and Bad Power

Growing up, music was a big thing in our home.  My parents cared for singing, and they encouraged this in me and my five brothers and sisters.  I loved, for instance, on a Friday evening, singing songs with my sister Terry, while my other sister, Sherry, played the piano.  Sometimes we would sing through the entire Rodgers and Hart Songbook, such songs as "Where or When," "With a Song in My Heart," and one particular favorite, "I Didn't Know What Time It Was."  As the three of us worked to have our voices and the notes of the piano blend well, we had a sense of pleasure and power that had us feel very good!  But we weren't always singing together, and I often went after another kind of power, battling with them tooth and nail, insisting, for instance, on seeing my television show, and throwing a tantrum until I got my way.

      I spent a lot of time with my best friend, Heather Chandler,  whose parents owned a large Criss Craft Cabin Cruiser, and often was invited to go on boating trips with them.  Heather and I would water ski behind their boat for miles up the Potomac River on our way to Piney Point, a resort on the coast.  Though I felt excited being introduced to new vistas of wide water and lush landscapes, I also liked looking down on Heather's family, thinking my family was more cultured and refined.  The Chandlers were in the construction business, and I saw them as coarse and unsophisticated.  I was becoming a snob.  "They probably never listened to a piece of classical music," I thought--something we did all the time.  Going after power through making "the meaning of [people and] reality less," I was to learn years later, was the reason I felt so unsure of myself, and often had an empty, aching feeling inside.  "The most important thing," Mr. Siegel said to me in an early class I attended, "is whether we feel it is wise to be fair to [other people]."  And he explained:

"The danger of having contempt is 5-alarm....Don't get any importance from having contempt.  Once you do, [you should be worried], because contempt that makes for one's importance is the one poison that is attractive as anything." 
     When I got older, I felt, as many women do, that I would finally be sure of myself through having a big effect on a man.  And this began with how I saw my father.  In my first Aesthetic Realism consultation, I was asked: "[Through] your impression of your parents, do you think you came to any decisions as to how to be?"  "Well, I pretty well had it figured out how to be," I replied.  "I knew if my mother criticized me, my father would side with me....It gave me power..."
Consultants.   Did you feel your father was weak about 
    you?
LA.  Yes! Yes!
Consultants.  Did you feel all men would be?
I did. And I began to see, how I had come to associate power for myself, with other people being weak.  Once at a party, I flirted with Lance Loftman, who was very handsome, and also my best friend's date.  When he briefly stole a kiss, and whispered he'd call me, I had a sense of power--he preferred me to her; I was walking on air!  But later at home, I felt awful.  I couldn't understand why I was on top of the world at one moment, and in the bottom of a pit at another.  When Lance called the next day to ask me out, I was embarrassed and stumbled out some excuse.  I never went out with him.  In Self and World, Mr. Siegel explained:
"We want to be praised, to have power, but we also want to deserve this.  There is such a thing as the ethical unconscious.  Well, if we praise ourselves and we know we have been unfair to outside reality in doing so, there is a troubling conflict in us...." (p. 267)
      As time went on, I was becoming increasingly bitter about my life, and worried that I didn't have the ability to really love someone.  "Does a certain kind of power," Mr. Siegel once asked a student in a class, interfere with a power you want more?"  Yes! 

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