Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Sermonette: suburbanites of the soul and the substrate of evil

The short of it: I suffered emotional trauma a couple of years ago, and one of the ways I've worked through it is by writing poetry about it.

Was the trauma sufficient to warrant writing poetry? Is there justification for writing poetry about it for two years?


Why? Because I say so. It's my trauma, it's my working-through, so I'll say how long it takes me to work through it. You can call it an obsession if you want, but unless you were my personal therapist, you would not be in a position to make that call.

But suburbanites of the soul, as I like to call them, are crass busybodies who police the tangled hedges and overgrown lawns of other people's emotional lives - even or perhaps especially - the emotional lives of people they've never met, or met once, briefly.

The person I have in mind sent "poetry" about me to Andrew Bellware. Bellware has a grudge against me over my blogging about his casting call being included in the blog "Nudity Required, No Pay."

My poetry has nothing to do with Bellware, but that doesn't matter. The issue of whether or not Bellware exploits actors doesn't concern her. Her motive is to attack me, for any reason. This just gave her an opening.

I don't know this woman. But mocking me on behalf of other people seems to be what she loves to do. Although her poetry on Bellware's site is published anonymously, I recognize her style - she's mocked me through poetry before. Here's one of the recent ones - this and the others are available on Bellware's site.

DIL the dale of love
To show the hilarity
Of obsession keen

Here's the prior poem she published (under her own Facebook identity) to mock me, back in June:

____ is beyond the pale
Our love tale the great white whale
Of unrequited.

You can see the similarity of style. Web statistics also indicate that it was she who sent these poems.

The blank line of the second example is for somebody's name - she wrote his name in the original, but I won't here. I assume the unnamed person knows about all of this, and it doesn't bother him - maybe he thinks it's hilarious too. The fact that so many of his friends are vicious soulless thugs (as I gradually discovered) leads me to believe that he is one too, in spite of every atom of my being refusing to believe it. But really, the case in favor of vicious soulless thuggery has become overwhelming, atoms be damned.

I should mention that my emotional trauma was much more complex than simply unrequited love - but vicious soulless thugs don't really get complexity.

In any case, I fell in unrequited love with this person before I was clued into the thuggery. But love can be a goddamn tenacious, illogical emotion, injecting you with endorphins while it sucks the life out of you. It can co-exist even with hatred. So in desperation I wrote about it, about my conflicted feelings for him.

This is certainly not any new discovery on my part. People have been working through emotional trauma through poetry since there was poetry. Shakespeare's sonnets about the "dark lady" clearly indicate that that relationship was rough weather all the way - if it's good enough for big bad Bill, it's good enough for me.

My poems are on my blog, and I mostly put them on separate pages so you have to make an effort to see them by clicking a link to them - you are not suddenly accosted by them out of the blue.

So nobody has to read my poetry, and it's not hurting anybody - certainly not the man in question. So why does this woman feel the need to mock me and my poetry, on at least two separate occasions?

I think that partly it's a group-bonding thing - apparently the group she is part of thinks it is a huge laughable deal that I write poetry out of a search for solace.

It so happens that I know that one of the members of this group was left at the altar and wrote songs about it. Although I might possibly dislike him and some of his work I would never in a million years laugh at him for writing about his emotional trauma in a song. In fact, I empathize with him over his songs, knowing he went through rejection too, and dealt with it in a similar way.

In any case, there are some things you don't attack, even about your enemies.

Not everybody believes this, obviously.

Hannah Arendt is famous for the phrase "the banality of evil" and it's so well-known because she's onto something. She was talking about the humdrum everyday evil of the millions of "good" people who participated in Nazi atrocities as part of their daily routine. But the Nazis didn't create the banal evil - they merely tapped into something that I believe exists in all human societies. A kind of molten substrate of evil, that is mostly dormant, but sends up little reminder plumes of ash every so often.

Unrequited love is common - probably the most common form of romantic love. Surely this woman has experienced it herself and knows how bad it can make you feel. This woman is also involved in the arts as a theater director - the arts are about emotions, especially deep emotions. Things like unrequited love. Why would she think it was such an objectionable, mock-able thing for me to express my deep feelings through an artistic outlet?

But that's the key to the whole thing - a lack of empathy. Lacking empathy does not help you be a good artist. But it does make you the perfect good soldier, taking instructions from others on whom to hate and whom to hurt.

She does not need to know me, does not need to know anything about me other than this - her friends hate me and they see my expressing my feelings in a public (if fairly obscure) way as a vulnerability, and a way to hurt me. And she will happily comply if it means that her group will approve of it. It's something they can all have a good laugh over and that joins them together and makes them feel less alone in the universe.

But it isn't only about being in a group - the most important part of the substrate of evil isn't the desire to be approved of by your group - it's the need to exclude others from the group and to identify them as the outsider - and if conditions are right as the enemy - and if conditions are really extreme, the enemy on whom all bad things can be blamed. Like the Jews. It's the scapegoat syndrome, basically.

Not that I think this group is going to try to cart me off to a concentration camp. So far they've been content to try to hurt me where they think I am most vulnerable.

But they don't know enough about me to identify my true vulnerabilities - I don't care who knows that I was in unrequited love, and I don't care who knows the identity of the man, and I don't care if they think it's funny I've written poetry about him.

And to a certain extent, I confess I find it rather flattering that my poetry matters so much to them. Any poet likes an audience and god knows poets have a harder time finding an audience than virtually any other artists. And my type of poetry, sonnets, is currently very unfashionable - I've been told as much by several other poets. The real in-thing these days seems to be to write in prose but then just format it in a poet-y looking way. Katha Pollitt, the feminist writer whose prose I adore writes poetry that way. I don't adore her poetry.

Ultimately though, I think maybe the suburbanite poetess lacks empathy because she could never do what I've done, couldn't even imagine it - express emotional vulnerabilities through art. What if somebody laughs? As she and her group have demonstrated, they sometimes will. What if somebody uses it against her - and they sometimes will try. But if you feel something strongly enough that you have to get it out, you will find a way. Ideally you will, to use the Freudian term, sublimate the feeling by expressing it through art. But if you don't, it might come out in other ways, more violent ways, ways that actually cause physical damage. If more people wrote poetry, perhaps there would be fewer stories along the lines of man shoots wife, children, self.

So it's better to express it through art. But that doesn't mean you'll necessarily be praised for it, and it's certainly no guarantee that people will like your art. But you have to try. Otherwise you'll be just one more suburbanite of the soul, too busy taking up the cause of other peoples' emotions to deal with your own. You do that and you'll become a tool for evil, Satan's very own Swiss Army Knife.

You have to mind your own business - including your own emotional business. Being a full human being is a dirty, difficult, thankless job sometimes. But go for it - even if somebody calls you a narcissist - you can be a narcissist, and you can be self-absorbed about your own emotional life. It IS your life, not some insignificant or inconvenient appendix of your life.

Just remember the immortal words of Patty Smith: "I am an American artist and I have no guilt."

I addressed the sublimation thing in a poem, and I don't think anybody but my one loyal reader, the only person who has read every single one of my poems, has ever seen this one, so I'll repost it here - if you've read this far, you might as well read it, too.

Why this inability to hate you?
I've said so before, but astonishes
Still - you are not worthy, you are not due
Any fond-feelings, any well-wishes.
You cannot comprehend deep emotion,
Can't imagine the point of soul-searching,
Cannot give nor receive true devotion.
And your pestilent clique keeps besmirching
All the poor weak shreds of integrity
You have ever had. Onto this blank slate
Have I written down all my poetry
Extracting love from well-justified hate.
Senamensing wrung from my heart of hearts,
Oh there's value yet in the liberal arts.