I have been mulling the subject of this next blog post over for a while now, since only a few days after writing the last one. There are several threads of thought tangled together in my mind at the moment and I have finally decided that I need to separate them a little if I am to write about them. I am aiming to draw them back together in to something a little more comprehensible after I have written about them separately, but I make no promises. Having time to adjust to my life after the MA has given me some much needed time for reflection and digestion. Intellectually chaotic as my life has been since starting the MA, there has been emotional chaos for much longer. It is about time I devoted a little more energy to tidying it away. That is precisely what I have been doing.
The point about the subject of my last post, dressing and clothes, is that I very much use it as a means of self expression. Obviously this is a means of expressing things to other people, but it is also a way of expressing things to myself and it took me longer to appreciate the importance of the latter. It has come to me in fragments and bits of thought. I am just starting to get an appreciation of a whole that makes some kind of sense.
I watched Closet Land with Alan Rickman and Madeleine Stowe a couple of weeks ago. I was deeply moved by watching the film and was, in fact, quite shaken after seeing it. I remember needing to jump in the car and go somewhere else (at 9pm) to clear my head and give myself some thinking space. Somehow staying in the house just wouldn’t do it. Without wishing to completely spoil the film for any one who might like to watch it, it is a political thriller that explores issues of torture and abuse of citizens by the state. It was exploration of abusive interactions between people that so permeated my consciousness as to leave me unable to find peace for a short while. Two things that stuck immovably in my head, playing around and around, were the references to the heroine’s ability to escape in to an imaginary world and the strength of endurance this gave her. The other was a section of dialogue that centred around the notion of people whose suffering is not acknowledged by those around them being/becoming invisible.
Simply by failing to notice (acknowledge) someone it is possible to remove their power, since power is intimately linked with social ties and influence. Of course it is rare for a human being to fail completely to acknowledge another human being whose existence they are aware of. What we tend to do far more frequently and readily is to refuse to acknowledge those aspects of other people’s behaviour or expression that we would prefer not to encounter or don’t really like all that much. Or perhaps more accurately, those where we don’t really like the responses or reactions they arouse in us all that much.
Clearly this is an important function within social life and I would never argue that it is a Bad Thing. It is a crucial tool of socialsing children (and also I might add adults). However, it is also a force capable of devestating effect on a person given the right context and reinforcement. On the level of one person refusing to acknowledge elements of another’s expression and experience, it is often hurtful. The likely possible implication of the repetition of this behaviour is a refutation of the legitimacy of the expression in question. As adaptive animals we tend to question the way the world responds to what we do and repeatedly finding ourselves unacknowledged tends to prompt us to doubt any entitlement we may have thought we had to be acknowledged in this way. On the level of private experience the motivation to block out the offending expression/feeling/thought increases, sometimes until it is far more bearable to deny self expression in this way. It is often a sign of great strength of character to be able to make this choice and deny self expression to deal with a difficult situation. It is a sign of maturity to be able to deal with a difficult situation in this way. I do not argue with this view point, but I would hasten to note that it is rarely a matter of a simple choice and the waters are clouded somewhat by elements of self preservation and social responsibility that are likely to spill into the mix.
Given enough experiences of refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of someone’s own thoughts and feelings from appropriately significantly influential people, the message will become internalised. It may well become considerably more bearable to block out the offending desires/wishes/thoughts and chastise oneself for having them. I am aware there are situations where this kind of social training is invaluable, necessary even. It can be less constructive in the context of persuading a sentient being that the majority of what they think and feel is undesirable and wrong.
I happen to know from experience that routinely pushing aside one’s feelings, useful as the skill it involves is to acquire, is a difficult habit to break. It is something I struggle with more than I generally care to acknowledge. It is, on the other hand, also something that pays dividends in terms of my ability to get things done. One of my quests over the last few years without me quite realising it, has been to find ways of reconnecting with my emotional experience of the world before it becomes so pressing a need that I am wholly at the mercy of it. Daft as it may sound spending so much time and thought on what I wear in the morning is one relatively simple way of gauging my emotional state and is phenonmenally good practice at tuning in to my emotional experience in the context of every day occurrences and affirming to myself that it is okay to do so. Plus it is fun, obviously 😉
It stops me from being invisible and, further, the poetic resonance of the various connotations of that word with expression, dressing and play delight me no end.