Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

 Aesthetic Realism seminar:
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. 

     Dissatisfaction that 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. 

The Fight 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 person: 

"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 be dissatisfied." 
     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, unfeeling world: 
      Rejection from the beginning 
      Plagued the child's destined life. 
      .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 
      Sadness and misery were characteristic 
      Although goodness bloomed from this 
           child's heart. 
       .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 
       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.... 
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: 
"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 world." 

Dissatisfaction in Love

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. 

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