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,
What's the Big Thing Women Need
to Know about Power?
By Lynette Abel
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
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
you feel your father was weak about
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
World, Mr. Siegel explained:
LA. Yes! Yes!
Consultants. Did you feel all
men would be?
"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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