Lately I have been writing an hour or more a day. Not the kind of writing that fulfills an obligation outside of myself, like responding to emails, sending thanks to contributors, or reporting on progress for a grant. I am writing for the intellectual pleasure it gives me. If feels like taking an hour or so to walk on a fall day or like extending lunch to catch up with a friend. It feels like my dog looks when he is napping with his eyes open. However, unlike these other examples of somewhat guilty pleasures, the writing seems to require some discipline. Still, they all have this in common: they require that I like myself enough to indulge.
Liking one’s self gets right to the heart of disillusionment, perhaps even to the heart of community. It can be hard to face a dream that may not come true. It can be really disappointing to fail that attempt, miss that mark, or have to start over. But it seems to me that it is particularly crushing – maybe even traumatic – when we have to face that something really critical to how we understand ourselves proves to be false. When we experience betrayal, for example, or humiliation, we may struggle for some time to like ourselves again.
Kirstie Alley tells a hilarious story about driving to a dry cleaners and seeing a group of people ogling her. She knew she was feeling particularly cute that day in a new designer skirt and a lovely sweater. As she was getting back into her car, she looked over her shoulder to see once again her group of admirers. Then she saw the real attraction as she spied her reflection in a window: the back of her skirt was caught in her panty hose and her butt was showing. Not an easy episode from which to spring back.
Finding out that we have been duped can have a similar effect. Believing we are liked by others who have taken politeness to an art form, but learning we have been excluded or the object of ridicule will be challenging personally and in terms of community building. Not only do we experience the shock of lost trust in others, but we are left not trusting our own ability to assess ourselves and others. In the end, we are duped and dupes. We do not like either.
So how does one get up, dust one’s self off, and start all over again with any semblance of liking one’s self? I believe it is useful to risk even more in times like these. I believe that we can assess the situation with understanding and affection.
“Gosh, it looks like I really want to love and be loved!”
“It seems like there is plenty of hurt to go around. I wonder where these folks learned their meanness. It must have been hard on them, too.”
“Whenever two people like each other, I’d prefer to be the one who likes more. While it’s nice to be liked, being liked will not grow my emotional muscles as much as liking will.”
“At the end of the day, one of us likes himself more.”
As I reflect on this week of writing about disillusionment I am struck by my own feelings about big dreams. To say I am ambivalent about them would put it mildly. I frequently tell people I do not dream, but that is not literally true. It would be much more accurate to say that I don’t remember my dreams when I awake. Yet, for months and months I will operate in my day to day life like something has happened that literally did not occur. When I realize that I was mistaken, I often privately realize that this reality under which I was operating was in fact a dream that I had been carrying around, not remembered so much as believed.
Again this week, reflecting on the dare to dream, I talked with my pal, Josh Feyen. His intense listening and our years of friendship allowed me to access even more of my challenges with dreaming. These feelings are bound up in the 1963 world-famous speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It strikes me that he does not talk about our dream, but his. He is careful to state again and again that this dream belongs to him. While reading his words today, I can feel encouraged, but it is more his voice in my head — the voice identical to the recordings of Dr. King — that compels me to take that dream as my own. Making that dream mine requires more than the encouragement of his words, it takes the courage of his voice.
Maybe it is this that I am trying to reach: Disillusionment is a luxury for those whose dreams were too small, too limited, too personal. The biggest, greatest, most communal dreams stay alive even though they may not be made real in our life times. But, like my habit of operating as though my night time dreams that vanush in the morning are real, the biggest dreams require the courage to be viewed as naive. And seen as liking ourselves.