A Woman's Dissatisfaction:
Can It Be Beautiful?
By Lynette Abel
Dissatisfaction is something everyone
has every day simply by being alive. And I have learned from Aesthetic
Realism this crucial thing: there are two kinds of dissatisfaction: one
that is beautiful; the other that is ugly. All the finest things
mankind has gotten to in science and art, in communication-- arose from
beautiful dissatisfaction: a quest for greater expression, fairness and
respect for people and the world.
is ugly arises from the feeling--one I had cultivated—that nothing is good
enough for us, that we are surrounded by inferior people in a cold, insensitive
world. This is contempt, and while it can seem to satisfy the self
as superior, Aesthetic Realism shows it is poison, the most hurtful, debilitating
thing in us, and makes us loathe ourselves. In his lecture Aesthetic
Realism and Dissatisfaction, of 1949, Eli Siegel explains:
"The temptation to be satisfied with nothing
and to forget what we have been satisfied with is around all the time,
because if we can feel that we are dissatisfied with everything, we become
the Robinson Crusoes of our own glorious big island, and small island."
This describes what I felt often in the years
before I knew Aesthetic Realism; I also felt lonely, and that life was
passing me by.
in a Girl between Two Kinds of Dissatisfaction
Growing up in the 1950s, I loved to explore
the beautiful woods behind our house. One day I saw a newly hatched
bird fall from its nest; and the motion of its little heart showed through
its transparent body. I couldn't bear to leave it and brought it
home. There was much I didn't know but I felt compelled to learn
all I could to take care of it. The first thing I found out was that
contrary to what I had thought, that birds ate very little, I learned that
they eat about 3 times their body weight a day! Each day the children
in our neighborhood would bring us worms they had found for this little
bird. I felt a deep, happy satisfaction as it grew all it's feathers
in about three weeks, and thrived.
I also loved
the tap dance lessons I began taking. Years later, I would learn
from Aesthetic Realism that tap dancing is so satisfying because it puts
together opposites: order and freedom, precision and wildness are given
beautiful form, opposites I was looking to make sense of, growing up amid
much commotion in our home of 6 very active children. But I became
dissatisfied with tap, as I did with ballet, piano lessons, and clarinet.
If things didn't come easy, I soon became dissatisfied, and would just
up and quit. In his lecture Mr. Siegel writes of the fight in every
"We want to think that things have
meaning, but something also wants us to think that nothing matters at all....As
soon as we have pleasure in finding things wrong, we are really in the
dull devil's camp, and many people do that. If they kept on being satisfied
they would lose their own importance, so they arrange, unconsciously, to
Though I felt ashamed,
I preferred the contemptuous "pleasure in finding things wrong," thinking
the more I didn't like, the more distinguished I was--from removing every
onion, green pepper, and mushroom from the spaghetti sauce my mother had
prepared, to being displeased with most every person I knew. Other
people, I thought, were so easily satisfied, I had better taste,
was harder to please, and therefore was more sensitive. Meanwhile,
I was not sensitive to the feelings of my parents or my five brothers and
sisters. I was selfish and sulky a lot of the time. But
this unjust dissatisfaction with things, I have seen, packs a wallop.
As a young woman others might have thought was fortunate, this was not
what I felt. These are lines I wrote in high school, like many I
wrote years after, in which I saw myself as good and as hurt in cruel,
In using that word never, I was changing
a possibly true dissatisfaction—not being known--into a dull victory for
myself. How I needed to know what Aesthetic Realism shows with clarity
and logic: that my happiness depended on my being beautifully dissatisfied
with my own injustice to people and to the world. What Mr.
Siegel writes in the lecture describes and criticizes the hurtful choice
I was making:
Rejection from the beginning
Plagued the child's destined life.
. . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
. . . . .
Sadness and misery were characteristic
Although goodness bloomed from this
. . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
. . .
This child is not tolerated,
But completely alone in his world.
. . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . .
Society is ignorant of this child.
There will never be a point of understanding....
"Persons would rather be dissatisfied
with the world than unconsciously dissatisfied with what they take to be
themselves. In a choice between changing something in themselves
and therefore thinking they have done something wrong, or finding misery
from the world--there is a tendency to say, "I'd rather have myself and
be miserable than change what I am and find more accurate pleasure in the
Like many women, I thought the greatest satisfaction
in life would come from the admiration and love of a man. Through
these, all my unhappiness, complaints I had about other people and my own
self-doubt would melt away. It was the late 60s and I envisioned
living up in the mountains somewhere with a nice vegetable garden and a
man devoted to making me happy. When at age 20 I met Mark Statler,
I hoped he would be the one. Mark was good-looking and very flattering.
This was love: two people seeing each other as wonderful, more important
than anything else. On a birthday card he sent me were these words:
"Once in a lifetime, you find someone special; I've found that once in
a lifetime with you." And he added:
"You always cut yourself down, saying that
you're not that good of a person and have a lot of short comings....This
isn't true. You have so much going for you....Anything you want babe
is yours for the asking."
This was what I had wanted to hear from a man!
But I did have some qualms. On the one hand I felt set up, thrilled,
but on the other, I felt Mark was foolish--the person he wrote this to
was hardly me. But instead of trying to be honest about what I felt,
I had contempt for him—I pretended to be pleased and flattered him in return,
But I became increasingly dissatisfied as days went on. "Why?" I
thought, "hadn't Mark asked me to marry him, if he finds me "so special?"
At college, I decided to date other men secretly. Part of me thought
this was the greatest satisfaction—having several men desirous of me at
the same time, but my whole self was intensely dissatisfied. I felt
so low I could hardly drag myself through classes. Meanwhile, though
I tried to convince myself Mark would be the answer to all my pain, distrust
and anger grew between us, and our relationship ended bitterly.
here for Part 2