Little jewelry with little sayings: this is the fashion trend and gift item of the season. “Be Yourself. You are amazing. Look for the silver lining. Draw the line. Believe.” You can have your own name or role engraved: “Karen. Mom. Sister.” These are phrases we apparently need strapped to our bodies in case of mental emergencies.
Oh my, what we all must be repeating in our own heads – to have such cravings for tiny bromide accessories. This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes by prolific British author and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. He points out:
“The vocabulary of one’s self-criticism is so impoverished and clichéd. We are at our most stupid in our self-hatred.”
Self-criticism, anxiety, stress, longing, the constant need for acknowledgement and comfort of some sort; there should be a word for that. Oh yeah, how about “today?”
Adam Phillips does not have a doctorate in Wiseassery as I do (it says so on my bracelet) and he describes the condition with empathy while also connecting it to our experience of art:
“ Everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves…
One of the reasons we admire or like art, if we do, is that it reopens us in some sense — as Kafka wrote in a letter, art breaks the sea that’s frozen inside us. It reminds us of sensitivities that we might have lost at some cost.”
This experience with art is the something I want so badly sometimes, like a baby with a one-word vocabulary I can only cry, “That!” Conversation is a curative, especially a conversation about art, even if we can only manage a few moments using the communication methods of babbling, grasping babies, “That, Ya, That!”
Phillips contemplates how inarticulate we seem to be in this area:
“The emotional impact of music is so incommensurate with what people can say about it, and that seems to be very illustrative of something fundamental—that very powerful emotional effects often can’t be articulated. You know something’s happened to you but you don’t know what it is. You’ll find yourself going back to certain poems again and again. After all, they are only words on a page, but you go back because something that really matters to you is evoked in you by the words. And if somebody said to you, Well, what is it? or What do your favorite poems mean?, you may well be able to answer it, if you’ve been educated in a certain way, but I think you’ll feel the gap between what you are able to say and why you go on reading.”
The mind pushes our words forward and they may hang in the air like speeding railroad cars suddenly losing their bridge over the chasm, yet in the attempt we remind each other of something important, something inexplicable, something we have in common.
May you enjoy a good conversation during the holidays.