PS. If you are feeling helpless and sad about America today, I recommend Sara Benincasa’s thread on Charlottesville-area nonprofits to donate to. The only way to combat hopelessness is by taking a small action to make your community and world what you think they should be.
Day: August 12, 2017
Portrait of horror manga writer and artist Junji Ito with his cat Tenmaru, Japan, 2013, photographer unknown.
the man and the legend
i didn’t need it anyway
why you bake me
this is exactly the type of news i need in my life
Evening fog bands drift out over San Francisco Bay
more ‘painted + real shells’ snails and the two from 2 days ago – I think nobody got that they were painted? :’D
Achatina fulica, normal colours and white jade colour variation (albinotic body) and Helix pomatia
Acrylics on stone, real snail shells I found or bought (the fulica shells I found years ago on ebay, have about 20 of them)
Finding Neither: Possibly the most important thing you can ever do.
[For background information, read Introduction: A Conversation Where I Couldn’t Say Neither.]
Neither is the most important word I have ever learned.
Neither is not just a word, it’s a concept. It’s a revolutionary concept, and most people don’t even know it.
It’s the concept that someone can hand you all the options for a situation.
And you can sit there and you can look at those options.
You can write circles on the ground, one for each option. You can stand in each circle, one by one, testing your footing, feeling for whether it’s right.
And then you can take a walk, walking around outside of the circles. You can walk as far as you want, as long as you want. Feeling the ground, smelling the air, waving your fingertips around to feel tiny variations in the air currents around you, being as alert to your environment as humanly possible.
And then you come to a place. Sometimes — the best times — it’s the perfect place. It’s a place where everything feels right. Where everything in the world seems to come together at a point, with you at the focus of that point.
And you know.
You know you’re in the right spot.
And there’s no circle drawn there. You found it by yourself, using your own senses to guide you, your own ethics, your own intuition, your own sense of the world around you.
That’s Neither at its best. Neither can be powerful. Neither can be earth-shattering. Neither can change your life and the lives of those around you like nothing else can.
There’s a bully out there who has spent a surprising amount of time since the last time I’ve seen her, trying to ruin my life. And yet she is the one who taught me about Neither. She sure didn’t do it on purpose, she’d never have done anything on purpose that helped me so much. But one of the wonderful things about the world is how sometimes people try to do evil and the world turns it into something good, in spite of itself. I wrote about her in my last post — I didn’t want to clutter up this post with that story again.
My entire adult life has been built upon Neither, on both a personal and professional level.
I have spent an extremely long time learning how to put words to things that nobody is putting words to. This is harder for me than it is for the average person, because my entire communication system is based on echolalia from the lowest levels up. It’s hard to do Neither with echolalia, but I learned how, because I was determined like hell, and because I had just enough of the right abilities to do so.
Neither has played a strong role in my self-descriptions, starting with that first determination to describe what my thoughts were really like — not words, not pictures, not the options I’d been given by others, but really. I’ve tried as hard as I can to describe my experience of the world as well as I can. Because I’d spent my entire life with people telling me who I was and not allowing me the possibility to tell them who I was. And because I knew that others like me would see it and be able to relate, which is an amazing thing when it happens. And because I knew that people who knew people like me, would understand them a little better.
Neither has played an equally strong role in my ethics. I have learned when possible, never to settle for the ethical options that others give me.
If I choose an option that I have been given by others, it’s one of two things:
- I walked all over the place, feeling out the lay of the land, and the best ethical choice really did turn out to be right in one of those circles someone had drawn on the ground for me.
- I’m too tired to do all that walking. Which is always valid. Nobody can always do Neither. Sometimes you can just stand in the circles you’ve been given and figure out which one is best. But you still know Neither is out there.
Neither has given me the power to resist echo chambers. To stand outside of them and hand people packages full of Neitherness. Full of experiences that are outside of the experiences everyone tells you you’re allowed to have.
Neither has given me the ability to really explore what I believe is the right thing to do. Ethics is one of the biggest concerns in my life. Right and wrong. What is the right thing to do in each situation? I do believe that ethical situations are different each time. There is rarely an answer that will fit every situation. No ideology will ever show you what to do, well enough to handle the amount of different situations the world will throw at you. Neither allows you to get outside of ideologies.
When I start to feel trapped. When I start to feel hemmed in. When I start to feel like my choices are not my own, like something is steering me around against my will. Then I know that I have been trapped in an Either/Or again.
And I quiet down my mind.
And I draw the circles on the ground, so I know exactly where Either is, and exactly where Or is, and everything is in my conscious awareness rather than unconsciously steering me.
And then I walk around, looking for my Neither.
And Neither doesn’t always mean you don’t choose the options you’re given. Sometimes it means that you look around, and one of the options you’ve been given really is the best choice. But you still spent all this time exploring Neither, to get to that point. You didn’t take it for granted that these circles on the ground were the only choices.
Learning this skill is hard.
It’s also possibly one of the most important things you can ever learn.
My friend used to be involved with a political organization. I don’t know a lot about them, and it doesn’t matter really. But she said that they had a saying, “The freedom to say neither/nor.” Meaning, when offered a political choice, and given the two sides, they frequently represented another side entirely, a side that wasn’t on the menu.
Pretty much everything worthwhile I do involves Neither.
This is true in my personal life. Neither gives me tremendous freedom to make choices that I could never make for my entire childhood and the beginning of my adulthood.
This is true in what I’d almost call my professional life: Blogger, activist, ethicist, writer, artist, whatever people are calling me, I don’t have a word for it. Everything important that I do in blogging about ethical issues stems from Neither. Everything.
Neither was one of the big, big turning points in my life. One that slowly transformed my life from hell on earth, to bearable, to wonderful. One that made me feel like somebody instead of nobody. One that stopped the horrible trapped feeling that had lasted my entire childhood. One that made me able to think for myself, communicate for myself, come up with my own ideas, make my own friends, make my own decisions.
And it all starts with this:
When facing a decision, find out what options you have been given. Become conscious of them. Make sure you know very well, what options you have been handed as possibilities. This is important, because often the Either/Or we have been handed is unconscious, and guides our decisions without us even being aware of it. And then we feel trapped into a decision and we don’t know why.
Then the harder part is learning to explore outside of the lines. Learning to look for other ideas, other possibilities, to actively evaluate those possibilities, and to then decide about them.
That part you can only get by practice and experience. At first, it feels like stepping into a void. The more you do it, the more familiar you’ll get with the lay of the land.
One thing that can help at first, also, is exploring the options other people have chosen in those situations. That can seem like more Either/Or, but if it’s you actively seeking it out, then what you’re actually doing is exploring. You’re looking for as many ideas as possible about what can be done, and you’re evaluating them consciously.
Be aware that it’s not just other people that can hand you Either/Or options. You can start doing it to yourself, too. And that can be just as confining as when other people do it to you.
But Neither is where everything is. And if you work really hard, you can probably start to find it. And even starting to find it is utterly amazing and can transform your life completely. And really finding it, finding the perfect Neither for any particular situation, is a feeling like no other.
I’m not quite to the point of needing to take a complete break today, but it’s fast approaching. Some of the great rhetoric flying around seriously has my eye twitching right now, and nobody has even been inflicting it on me directly. So far 😩
Probably an excellent time for a nice cup of something and a book. Maybe a movie. Something with little or no overt political content, in any case.
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