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April 15, 2008

The will to won’t

A ‘habit’ is a peculiar thing; you never realize when you start on it and yet soon enough it becomes a thing-you-always-do. Then there’s the bit about how it’s much harder to keep up/ start on a ‘good’ habit and how it’s tougher to let go of a bad habit. WHY is it so difficult giving up a habit we picked up in the first place? It’s not as if we were born with it or would die if we don’t do it. Why is it so tough to have the will power to decide and stick by “I won’t”?

Have you ever realized that the more self-destructive a habit, the easier it is to pick it up? Whether it’s smoking 20 cigarettes a day or constant self-analysis that only leaves you with guilt for being a certain way or not being another… I do both: Smoke like a shit-brained maniac and analyse to a point where I begin to bore myself (and then worry as to why I am so boring…). Self-analysis only shows you what you lack or what you are doing wrong, with no solutions on how to stop it. Of course you could let another analyze you; it usually involves paying big bucks. You analyze day in and day out, even when you are asleep (they call it the subconscious) and only end up realizing that you are on a suicide mission of self-destruction.


“I am not a man, I am dynamite,” wrote Nietzsche. I would agree. Human beings are genetically wired to self-destruct in 60-70 years and medical science at best manages to push that limit or delay the inevitable for some decades. Don’t quote the number of humans who touch their 90s or beyond, like every other program, they are an anomaly. If left to our own devices, most of us would kill ourselves much earlier in life. Why do you think kids need watching all the time?

Infants will willingly crawl off their beds/cots, toddlers will happily run on roads and get under cars, or stand under windows and other pointed stuff that can pierce their skulls (have done both as a kid), five-year-olds are adept at throwing things at each other meant to seriously injure… I know of a three-year-old who managed to climb atop the kitchen slab, SIT on the hot plate and turn it on and was saved from toasting his balls by the timely appearance of his mother. Please notice that babies have to be TAUGHT how to kiss, but slapping comes naturally to them. “Give Aunty JB a kitchie, not like THAT, that’s slobbering over her cheek, be a good baby, give her a chweet kitchie now…” And THWACK. Have you ever been slapped by a baby? They slap REAL hard and it hurts real bad. Who taught them?


Post infancy and er, toddler-hood, we become adolescents; if you survive that unscathed, you reach adulthood… Growing up is NOT fun. For one you have to start paying taxes. Two, you cannot get away with half the things you did as a child (try slapping someone). The whole point of being ‘an individual’ is lost because you are supposed to behave in a prescribed manner, which is basically like everyone else. And you realize you have to unlearn every goddamn thing you were taught as a child. Like perhaps the fact that love is not enough, love is never enough. “The idea that love is not enough is a particularly painful one”.

Of course you can make this entire Journey of Realization a fun one, but you usually need a lot of money to make it fun. Depending on varying degrees of individual resistance to all these disturbing truths, we all end up being ticking time bombs; some go off early, some voluntarily, some are forced into it but eventually, we all meet the same fate. Some of us expedite the process by smoking out our lungs, or snorting coke, poking needles into us. Some do it indirectly through constant poisoning of the mind with negative thoughts, comparisons, refusal to give up the past and constant self-analysis that just makes matters worse... “I am not a man, I am dynamite.”


As author Richard Flanagan says in The Unknown Terrorist, “Everyday now somebody somewhere is a dynamite. They are not an image. They are the walking dead, and so are the people who are standing round them. Reality was never made by realists, but by dreamers…” Flanagan then goes on to define realism as, “the embrace of disappointment, in order no longer to be disappointed.” IF reality disappoints, what do humans live for? Why do they teach good things, why do they tell fairy tales to children? If reality disappoints, what makes us go forward without hanging from the ceiling the moment the first pimple appears? That's the reason I don't read Virginia Woolf and nor have I ever read Nietzsche: I don’t know how I will react to what they say. The Nietzsche quote is from the book I am supposedly reading except that I’m stuck on Page 86 because of a BAD HABIT.

I don’t even remember when I started on it or why. What I do know is that it’s completely taking away the satisfaction of reading books. Earlier I could go without food, water or conversation and finish a 500-pager in three hours straight. Now if I like the book, I tend to sit and mull over a line or a paragraph until I come to my own conclusion regarding whatever’s caught my attention and I just cannot read further. So a ‘good’ book now takes days to finish or hangs in the middle, unread, because there’s something I don’t agree with. Or consider the second habit: If it’s a thriller, I being trying to outguess the author and HAVE to turn to the last page to see if I was right… I do the same if it’s a particularly bad book and I can’t be bothered reading the whole thing.

So despite really liking the way Flanagan writes, I am stuck on certain lines and a particular chapter. Am typing out those for you all… Let me know what you think. Meanwhile, I will try and break some habits that are threatening to destroy some very precious, beautiful things I have and need to nurture.

PS: Perhaps the only answer to read peacefully and perhaps live peacefully too (till the Eventual) lies in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Lobotomy. No brain, no pain, hmm?

Choosing some bits of this excerpt from The Unknown Terrorist... these 'spoke' to me, am nicknaming this passage, The Death Of A Lie… And it’s the closest I’ve come to reading anything that describes the end of togetherness so perfectly, so sadly…


Nick Loukakis had had an affair. Maybe he meant something by it, maybe he didn’t. Maybe he’d wanted a way out of his marriage. Or maybe he just wasn’t thinking. Maybe the affair ended the marriage. Or maybe the marriage was over when the affair began. His wife never found out. She always knew, but her knowing grew from a vague awareness easily put away, to a bitter knowledge she could still deny, to an enraged desolation when she one day told him she knew, that she had always known, did he think she was such a fool? And he felt his world collapse into a terrifying white hole into which he fell and into which he was still falling.

They stayed together and watched each other slowly become strangers, watched their love die as you watch a great old gum tree succumb to dieback. The affair was over for him but it was just the beginning for her. She never found out then, but it was as if each day now she lived another day of those years of lies and deceit; and his punishment was to witness her suffering. First just the leaf tips in the distant crown brown a little at the edges, then whole leaves, then a branch here and there. Still the tree lives, and everyone says it will be fine… But when his marriage began dying back, Nick Loukakis discovered nothing is fine,

Each day some small thing – a joke, a shared intimacy, a sweet memory – he found to have withered and died. Caresses fell like dead leaves. Conversations cracked and then broke. And in the end what remained, Nick Loukakis discovered, was nothing; nothing to keep it going, just a large thing still standing erect and proud, only everything about it had withered and died.

Nick Loukakis realized that for a long time there had been something about his life that he now saw as innocence… But then this thing happened – something broke and he came to realize he had broken it and that it could not be put back together, not his family nor his life.

And yet he knew his wife loved him and he lover her. But something had happened, something had broken and he knew neither how to fix it nor end it. The sex was absurd, pointless; an affirmation only of what they didn’t have – the affection, tenderness, hope and dreams that had once been theirs. It was a dismal affair of penetration and her body moving only where it was shoved by his thrusts… But the absence of sex he could adjust to as a price, a penance, perhaps. It was the absence of touch, of warmth, of animal connection… And yet he knew she loved him and would always love him.

How was it possible to live with another human being so closely, to eat with them, sleep with them, smell their breath, and yet be so unspeakably alone?

16 comments:

fingerchips said...

This is your best in recent times..keep going.

Maxine said...

Why were you standing under pointed things!Now praise the lord nothing happened and you can think n write!!

Kids have slapped and oh yea it pains but doesn't hurt and everyone around just laugh it off...I guess my cheeks are nice n slappable.

(Btween, ever heard someone ask, hello please judge me?haha)

I also like the bit from the book.The bad habit of getting used to a person who cause emotional harm and ignoring the hurt and maybe enjoying the loneliness?
If we can say goodbye to a person who we dont like or who can or have caused harm to our very own existence, why is it more difficult to say no to 'things',for example, a cigaret?

Habits.I think we need a higher,heartfelt reason to finally say no to something and stick to it.I've seen pregnant ladies smoking off at ease, even when they know how much harm it can cause the baby inside.Which is ,letting habits invade our feelings too.

Nice n smooth.I like how you think.

Abhi said...

Fairy tales, like the one where Snowhite finally wins against the wicked queen, help children dream certainties in a scary uncertain real world. No marks for knowing as an adult that reality disappoints. Bad or not, perhaps habits - or sticking to them - gives us a sense (maybe a false one) of certainty in an uncertain world. Maybe one is born with an inclination towards some things and aversion towards some others. And then, in a world where there are fundamentally no rules that help us define good (or bad), habits may turn out to be a source of certainty. Relationships may start on the ideals of love, compassion, consideration etc. but I suppose that over the years it is the habit of living together that enable us to "know" the significant other from the "inside". Can it be presumed that arranged relationships work when they survive a long enough period more due to the "certainty" of habits? I do feel so.

Habits remove the need to "compute" for our brains by hardwiring certain actions and free them up for something else; we "just do it". Maybe that's why habits are difficult to give up. Having got into the habit of living together, an affair may break the bond but not the habit leaving us in a vegetative state. Also, perhaps above average brains finish off the usual "thinking stuff" fast, and have more spare time. And then habits like smoking or self analysis help to kill time. You see, I just can't rid of the habit to "analyse" :). I sure overdo it. It's too firmly "hardwired" (just as that puff) to give up :).

This indeed is a well written piece. Raised some interesting questions and tough ones at that. I know my "analysis" falls short. Keep it, and keep it up :).

Anonymous said...

I like the discussion on hand about habits...especially when they carry over to relationships and i hope to read the post again and comments too and maybe contribute something...

now about the piece, can i be honest and tell you the piece irritated me. yes well written and i hope to read the book some time but the content.
if it is not making you actively happy, if it is empty, there seems to be nothing more than habit of living together then why call it LOVE at all..why does the writer keep on saying but they were in love...

i hope it is not grossly irrelevant but reminds me of when i was 20 and had just broken off with my first boyfriend 'D'. and a friend of his 'A' (more on the lines of 'abe, ladki ne ladke ko kaise dump kiya' lines and not a sane friend) asked me why i had broken up. so i said , I don't have anything to say to D, he finds me uninspiring company too, we suspect each other's intentions all the time, we speak in different languages (literally and figuratively), we are not friends and i don't want to get married (at the age of 20 ONLY brave or idiot people marry)and we are so vile and cruel to each other...
'A' listened to me patiently and then said, 'all that is fine but you still love each other.'
At that time i was just stumped and now 10 years later, after 7 assosrted men who meant nothing or very little to me, when I think of this conversation it gives me the creeps. what the fuck is love. what does it mean...and why is it necessary in a relationship. ummmm that makes me sound neurotic or obtuse, I mean i understand lust (you want to make out/sleep with someone) and i understand friendship (you really care for the other person and like his/her company) so where does love figure?

have i taken the conversation in another direction :(


'N'

Eve* aka jb said...

Ah, the piece is in reference to the character... And I suppose they continue living together for the sake of the children. The author also says that Nick Loukakis was in love with the woman who he had an affair with. Interesting isn't it? He loved the other woman and he loves his wife. And she hates what he did to her but loves him?

Love is perhaps tenderness, a sense of peace and belonging, knowing that the 'lust' wouldn't be over after you have "had" another, that you would still want to sleep together even though after some years you dont necessarily cuddle as much, perhaps love is when you dont need daily assurances... somewhere knowing that you dont always have to be on your guard or wonder whether you are being taken for granted or are taking another for granted, and perhaps also knowing that not everything is a my-way-highway issue.

A whole lot if you look at it and perhaps nothing and an overrated word if you dont...

As for veering from the topic, there's no rule yet on this blog. Speak about what's on your mind and we can discuss... Though its always better if you dont suddenly start talking about government stopping steel exports! Or discuss a two year old post here... You are doing neither; feel free to speak out your mind and thoughts.
luv

Anonymous said...

I really really like your definition- of letting your guard down and not worrying about being taken for granted and where every issue is NOT my way or highway.
very precious insight.
so now we know why love is eluding me, i have such a warped image and definition and expectation from the phenomena called love...sigh
i thought age makes people wiser and all that.

i am just more cynical and distrusting about relationships today...and for NO APPARENT reason...and i know that i MIGHT be wrong but it's just one of those days, when you know how your though process is wrong but you can't wish it away...
it's just so exhausting.

thanks for allowing me to ramble. and i know NOTHING about steel exports. so when you do a post about that, i will be forced to be lurker :D

'N'

Crimson Feet said...

@ N

i really like what you said!


@ eve ... no wonder you are pondering over this so much. any sensible sane person would, because these are the things that end up questioning the idea of sanity. your answer, according to me, is hidden in your question.. its a habit!!...
what remains at the "end of togetherness" is the habit of staying together.

one must get rid of these one way or the other!

Lucifer said...

I'm troubled by the government's decision to stop steel exports...okay, no, I couldn't really give a damn.
But love is an interesting one. Strange word, love. Have you noticed we usually use the word "lover" to mean some one we are sleeping with but NOT in love with.
Is love a habit, even an addiction? There have been strange scientific findings about love. Neurologists, or endocrinologists or some such found that when you fall in love, much the same thing happens in the brain as happens in people who suffer from clinical depression: there is a massive drop in levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. And love can have many of the same features as depression: obsessive self-destructive thinking about the same subject, over and over again, an inability to move on, loss of appetite, loss of energy, bad habits.
But can it all be explained away so easily? I doubt it. Interesting questions you raise as ever, Eve. As for getting stuck on a good passage of writing, well, forget dynamite: well-chosen words punch harder than 20 billion megatonnes of plutonium. As I can see you know, Eve.
Mahalo

Abhinav said...

You said it... i guess... love is to let your guards fall... times when without saying any thing you get that support you want. A shoulder to cry on. A soul you can connect to. A person you feel complete with.

Yet I have seen some friends destroying themselves but yet staying faithful to the person who destroyed/are destroying their heart and when confronted say “I love her.”

LOVE a word that has so many definitions. But unfortunately we don’t know the true meaning, even worst we are disillusioned about it. Guess just like cigarette, we know it’s wrong and still …. Doesn’t that make love a bad habit we fall for… or is it the reason why they call it falling in love. And not rising in love…..

cipher said...

whatever happened to Quit Smoking. You proudly claimed you had quit it!!

Shruti said...

Reality was never made by realists, but by dreamers…”

Absolutely adored this line.also the paragraph you quoted was so melancholic.i think affairs hurt a lot not because of the betrayal.its because they insult your intelligence, make you look like a fool.nothing hurts more than a shattered ego.you are quite philosophical.loved this post....and also abt the bad habits part, i believe in this theory that death is anyway inevitable, so have fun till the time comes!eat all you want and smoke all you want, 10 out of 10 ppl in this world die!!c ya!
-shruti

Maxine said...

and in India 1 out of 5 die from smoking.

The idea of having fun differs from person to person.Like...some have fun by smoking,some by quitting ,some by discouraging or encouraging people who wants to quit.

Anonymous said...

And Maxine, has fun by putting everything in such fine perspective :D

'N'

Pointblank said...

Well... its possible I guess.. being with another person all the time n yet feel lonely. Cuz physical proximity is one thing, emotional closeness totally different. Well... mebbe tatz the reason why married couples feel the need to have kids. They realize they need someone mote than their partner. Thatz again the reason why when the kids grow up a lil u hunt down ur old friends and keep in touch. So yeah... we yearn!

Meg said...

Hi,
I think I love your blog, and I'm sure numerous women would have told you this on equally numerous occasions that you have written what I think, most of it anyways.

I am married for last 10 years, I met my husband when I was 15, married him when I was 21, and now have two children.

Funnily, I relate totally to your post, more-so becuase the relation is completely dead for me and exactly the same for him. Probably he did not encounter much during his 27-37 years whereas I grew from a girl of 15 to a woman of 31

I have come to not believe in love and agree to the lines I read..love is perhaps the most misused word standing next to only God.

I do not know what makes me not walk out of this marriage...habit would be too lame, nor the children..I am actually not that self sacrificing types. Its more of indifference or perhaps tolerance to the fact that two pwoplw starting out together may not grow together; nfact they may turn and grow in very different directions. I still go ahead and live my life as I want ( most of the times anyways)

Anyways keep writing...its wonderful to read your own thoughts mirrored with such a flair.

Love
Meg

Meg said...

Hi,
I think I love your blog, and I'm sure numerous women would have told you this on equally numerous occasions that you have written what I think, most of it anyways.

I am married for last 10 years, I met my husband when I was 15, married him when I was 21, and now have two children.

Funnily, I relate totally to your post, more-so becuase the relation is completely dead for me and exactly the same for him. Probably he did not encounter much during his 27-37 years whereas I grew from a girl of 15 to a woman of 31

I have come to not believe in love and agree to the lines I read..love is perhaps the most misused word standing next to only God.

I do not know what makes me not walk out of this marriage...habit would be too lame, nor the children..I am actually not that self sacrificing types. Its more of indifference or perhaps tolerance to the fact that two pwoplw starting out together may not grow together; nfact they may turn and grow in very different directions. I still go ahead and live my life as I want ( most of the times anyways)

Anyways keep writing...its wonderful to read your own thoughts mirrored with such a flair.

Love
Meg