Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

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Lynette Abel


Part 1, How Can Men and Women Be Sure of Themselves?
Part 2, Is It Smart to Look At Our Self-Doubt?
Part 3, Good Will Is What Will Have a Woman Truly Confident
How Can Men and Women
Be Sure of Themselves?
From an Aesthetic Realism public seminar
by Lynette Abel

In The Right of  Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Eli Siegel describes the fight that goes on in every person between a real means to confidence and a fake one: 

 According to Aesthetic Realism, there are two ways of building up a belief in oneself.  The first is how much one likes the way one sees people and the world itself....The second is diminish as much as possible, give as little meaning to things as we can; and feel the less we have given meaning to other things, the more the edifice of ourselves is substantial.... [TRO 1103, 225]
     Studying what is in these sentences changed my life deeply.   And I learned too, that self-doubt can be our friend because, as Mr. Siegel said in a lecture, "When you know you're not sure, you have a wonderful chance to be a better person." 

Two Ways a Girl Builds Up Confidence

 Growing up in Syracuse, NY there were things I likedthe large, flowering lilac tree on our street with its sweet fragrance and its branches hanging over the sidewalk.  And I liked learning to read and would bring home lots of books from the library.  I liked in particular the Nancy Drew mysteries of Carolyn Keene, which included The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase.  My girlfriend and I spent whole weekends on the sofa reading them.  Nancy Drew was a teenage detective who was keen and thoughtful as she went after the factsyou knew she would always solve the mystery and people would be better off. 

     But I also felt important thinking I was superior to other  people, feeling this would make me confident.  I liked thinking that the Abelsall eight of us--were better than other familiesmore musically talented, better educated, and cool.  As I compared "us" to others, I made a mental note about where our neighbors were inferior, dull, and crude.  For instance, the Thomas family was in the construction business and watched boxing on televisionsomething we would never do.  And I felt particularly "special," when my father praised me, saying I was the youngest child he had ever known who could carry a tune!  Boy, did I use that for years, meanwhile, my conceit stopped me from feeling I needed to learn even the very basics of musical training.  I didn't know then that it was this false confidence I was cultivating--building myself up by looking down on others--that was the reason I felt so nervous around people, and as years went on felt tremendous uncertainty about myself, love, and the future. 

     In high school, as a member of the Pep team and a cheer-leader, I tried to appear self-assured, but was extremely shy and ill-at-ease.  Just a simple thing as being introduced to another person was a crisis--I was so little interested in other people that after the initial hello, I had no idea what else to say.  How I needed to know what Aesthetic Realism teaches, that shyness is a way a person punishes herself for having contempt, for thinking she is better than other people. 

 Self-Doubt Is a Friend in Love 

In Self and World, an Explanation of Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel explains:

 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]
     I learned that it is not other people or society that make us feel guilty or uncertain, but that we question ourselves on an ethical basis; there is something in us insisting we be fair.   Meanwhile, the growing unsureness I had as years went on, I saw as confusing and humiliating, something I should just try to hide. On dates with men, increasingly, I looked forward to having a few drinks so I would not be so tongue-tied.  By the time I was 19, I felt weary of life and worried about how cold I had become. 

      Like many women, I thought what I really needed to feel sure was to meet a man who would think I was wonderful and be utterly devoted.  I thought Mark Statler was that man.  He was good-looking and seemed captivated by me.  He was in the Naval Reserves and was worried about being sent to Vietnam.  But I didn't think too much about that; I was just glad he was stationed not too far from FSU, and would visit me often and we spent entire weekends together in a motel room.  What was happening in the rest of the worldthat there was a war raging and men, women, and children were being maimed and killed by napalm and U.S bombs couldn't have been further from my mind.  I was after an "ecstatic" time where I was getting the praise I thought I wanted.  But I didn't feel ecstatic, and after one of these weekends, I felt like hell, tearful, anxious, and unable to focus on my studies.  In The Right Of Ellen Reiss explains: 

    "At this moment, people want things from other people,... achingly, drivingly, intensely, terrifically.  But only Aesthetic Realism asks, for instance, this of a woman: As you want this man to take you in his arms, is what you are after good for him....As you insist on something,...are you fighting just for yourselfor are you fighting for the beauty, the justice, of the world?"
     I love these questions.  But at that time, I wasn't "fighting for the beauty, the justice, of the world," I was fighting just for myself.  When Mark was to be stationed in the Pacific Islands I was eager for him to propose marriage, but he had hesitations and wanted to wait.  I was angry, told myself I wasn't going to wait around, and began secretly dating other men, while writing to Mark as if he were the only one.  With all my acting confident, these were the lowest years of my life; I felt bitter and incapable of love.  And I worried about how well my mind worked, about my ability to support myself in the future: thinking I couldn't even learn how to ring up a cash register. 

      Several years later, I met Aesthetic Realism, the knowledge I needed to make sense of my life.  In the first class I attended with Eli Siegel he asked me: "Are you disappointed with love? 

Lynette Abel.  Yes, I'm disappointed.... 
 Eli Siegel.   The thing looked for has not occurred....Do you like your motive in love?

 Lynette Abel.   No. 

 Eli Siegel.    What is it, to have a good effect or to have distinction? 

 Lynette Abel.    It's been to have distinction. 

And Mr. Siegel asked me: "Is something in you sick and tired of old motives?"  "Yes," I said, and I felt hopeful and so relieved.  He asked: 
Do you believe you can be happy without seeing your doubts about yourself and your confidence? ...You're studying how to be modest and confident at once.  Every person is a mingling of distrust of self and the desire to manage everything....Would you say you are interested in understanding men?
No, I wasn't, and Mr. Siegel explained: 
 ES  [Do you say] "I understood for 2 hours--now what are the returns?" [or] "I thought about my friend,   I tried to understand him, and I was living!"  If you're not happy understanding, it is not understanding.  The understanding itself has to be happiness. [And he said:] Understanding a person is already an expression of oneself.
I thank Eli Siegel.  In these years I have seen--and the seeing goes on--the important meaning of these sentences in my marriage to Michael Palmer. 

Click here for Part 2

1998, 2002 Lynette Abel