I meant to write this post last week after seeing the latest (and supposedly last) Harry Potter movie at an IMAX no less. But the past few weeks have just been a basket full of bizarre. I mean, really – even for my standards the universe has been a bit freehanded with me. There is a part of me that wonders, as I look forward into what is coming in the next few months if it is actually trying to do me a favor by getting all the strange out of the way before I start running my mad race which is called ‘the Fall.’
Now, I am not a fan of Harry Potter. I neither like nor dislike the series. I tried reading one of the books but it was just not my cup of tea and didn’t get past the second chapter. I did see the second movie but only because I was chaperoning a group of 12 year old boys. Harry Potter is not my first choice for a cinematic experience. However, a friend had a groupon special for two for one and on Tuesdays, all the shows were $6. Combine that with my gift coupon to a local restaurant and we managed to celebrate her 40th birthday for about $8 (ignoring the $5 bottle of water I had to buy because of my coughing fit at the beginning of the film).
The film was fun. It was in no way 3D, or if that is what 3D has become now I don’t think I will bother with it anymore. The story was broad, sloppy, ridiculous at times with its attempts to solve all the doubt in humanity with simple solutions and an absolute hoot. The makeup and prosthetic work was surprisingly bad, some of the effects were spot on and others looked like they were just an excuse to have an effect on the screen but – this is not cinema, this is Harry Potter. And if you let go of all the expectations of film craft and narrative, it was a great way to spend an evening. Particularly if you were there with a die-hard Potter fan.
But…(you knew that was coming)
Sitting in a theater of die-hard Potter fans, all of them over the age of 30, I had this vastly uncomfortable sensation caused by my having just begun to read another Baumeister book. This one is called “Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights from the Burden of Selfhood (Basic Books, 1991). Even though I am only half way through it, it was hard not to sit in that theater and question what exactly was going on in the people who sought…not sought…but craved each Potter release. Then my mind spun out to think about the youthful demographic that has seized on Twilight and I made a mental note to rent those films.
Baumeister talks about the self in terms of a modern definition of the concept. Much of how we discuss the concept of self is based in centuries old hypotheses, a kind of idolization of a historical self that Baumeister says no longer really exists. The core nature does, of course, but what the self is and how it is expressed has radically changed. Not necessarily in a bad way.
He writes that as we grow and mature into an adulthood separate from being cared for by parents and institutions we have to create a self that holds our identity. In a way, it is as if we create a public mirror of our inner perception of ourselves. It is the actuation of the inner self. With the advent of the Internet, social media and a loss of geographic boundaries – our public selves have become much larger and more demanding of our time than our inner one. The inner self, the core, is pretty much still back in rocks and sticks time as far as its needs to be nurtured and maintained. Our public self has begun to demand a constant stream of external evidence to maintain its life outside of our individuality.
This is, he says, beyond stressful and tiring, so we seek ways to escape the burdens of having a self. Even without a modern, public self – there has always been this need to escape because it is within the self that we form our self-awareness and from there the constant stress of making moral judgments and choices. The most stressful thing about having a developed self is that you are in constant awareness that you must choose and act without the knowledge that what you are choosing and doing is the right and good thing. You could hurt someone you love. You could hurt yourself. You could do something thinking it will bring joy and freedom to the world and instead, it will close doors and set the world on fire. To have a mature self is to be aware of this lack of surety at all times and yet still chose to do, to be and to act.
In its healthy state, our very humanity needs to escape the burden of self in order not to be overwhelmed by this despair. The paradox is that it is a choice of the self to forget itself and therefore, never really can. Healthy escape can include anything from the nightly cocktail, meditation practices, exercise, prayer, hobbies, fantasy, creative enterprises, sexual masochism/sadism and acts of charity. These are all momentary practices in which we are freed of our selves but always accept that we must return to them and accept the responsibility and accountability of being in life. Being in life requires the motivation of the self to make choices and to interact with life without surety. It is, in a way, the ultimate act of being present. Note also that love is not considered an escape, if anything it demands our presence the most in life.
In its unhealthy state, escape seeks to annihilate the self. To remove the self completely and to render the person incapable of choice, action, participation and a return to being.. A person without self cannot be present because they cannot interact and make choices, which would lead to acts of compassion, empathy and innovation. Unhealthy escapes include obsession, fanaticism, nationalism, masochistic/sadistic lifestyles, an overt demand of the denial of self by any means – physical, mental or spiritual. Unhealthy escapes also include an insistence of anonymity at all times, the ultimate in the prevention of accountability and responsibility. It is very much characterized by orthogonal thinking.
It was funny to sit in the theater and have my thoughts slide in and out of the absolute fun mayhem on the screen and thinking through my own life and habits. That brought me to thinking through some of the changes I have been making and going through this past year and given me a new understanding into what I have been doing and where I have been going. It is through recognizing your escapes that one begins to understand the burden that your self carries and then can go on to make better choices in both the expression of self and the means of escaping it from time to time.
Food for thought.
Food for thought.
My writer’s group is gearing up to start meeting again, which is exciting but I have to get my act together today and submit the next part of the City.
Yesterday, I went looking for the Mad Kitten and could not find her anywhere. I searched and searched and then finally saw her paw kind of waving at me from beneath the ground. I went over and saw she had found a perfect Mad Kitten sized hole in the yard, in the sun, and had crammed herself in- on her back – and was sunning herself just below ground level, hidden from the eyes of the world.
Sometimes I look at her and worry. They say people’s pets are very similar to them.
c.2011. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.