Can Men and Women
Aesthetic Realism public seminar
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 contempt...to 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
Ways a Girl Builds Up Confidence
Growing up in Syracuse, NY there were
things I liked—the 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
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 facts—you 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 Abels—all
eight of us--were better than other families—more
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 television— something
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.
Is a Friend in Love
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 world—that
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 yourself—or
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.
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
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:
The thing looked for has not occurred....Do you like your motive in love?
Lynette Abel. No.
What is it, to have a good effect or to have distinction?
It's been to have distinction.
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.
here for Part 2