Monday, November 24, 2008

Since I haven't been able to do as much travel, recently, I prefer to experience my alienation in malls, box stores, and domestic airports.

I started to respond to one of Ryan's comments on my recent brief comment on alienation, but it got too long and too rambling, so I'm making it a separate post.

I think confusion is often a kind of lazy alienation. What Ryan describes reminds me of a kind of sadness I've often felt, and sometimes see in my friends and students--a dissatisfaction without really knowing the source. Or maybe not even dissatisfaction, since that's rather precise. General malaise. Vague sadness.

Vague sadness is irritating. It's irritating to experience and it's a drag to hang out with someone who is vaguely sad. If you're sad or confused, then why not try to figure out why you are sad or confused. And if you're not trying to figure it out, then that sadness or confusion must be serving you in some psychological way. I'm not against perverse neurotic insistence on one's own sadness. Oh, maybe I am.

I'm a jerk. On the train back from LA yesterday, Mark and I sat behind two women. One was perhaps in her late 30s and the other maybe in her 60s. They spoke very energetically and happily with each other about everything from the Iraq war to gay marriage to Christianity to their favorite craft stores to how wonderful children are. Their conversation was amazing for several reasons, but mostly it was amazing because each topic eventually turned in to a joyous affirmation of Jesus, children, and family values. They were at times completing, in that yoga class way I've talked about, with each other to be happy. They did not seem estranged from the traditional communities of which they are a part. They were high-spirited.

Doesn't Buck Downs have a line that goes something like "alienated but not insulated" ? I'm often attracted to alienated people who understand and accept the sources of their alienation. Such people are often confident and fun at parties. I'm attracted to the people, not their alienation. I suppose you could identify alienation as a lifestyle choice, but then you would be, well, confused. You can't choose to have feelings of estrangement. If you have them, you have them; but you can decide how you're going to respond to them.

One reason why I used to move around a lot and spend as much time in foreign countries as possible was because the way that being a foreigner or being distinctly different creates a very specific source of alienation is a relief. When you literally are a stranger, then being estranged is not so mysterious. That's not to say that it feels better, but I'd rather feel alienated in a foreign country than alienated in my own country. My love of Jane and Paul Bowles cannot be underestimated.


Buck said...

The parable of the four horses has helped me with the question of alienation and mood. Pema C. writes of it well in a little book called Awakening Loving Kindness.

mark wallace said...

I support the right of perverse neuroticism to insist on its own sadness. Nonetheless I do not wish to hang out with it at the party.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

@Buck: Thanks for the book recommendation.

@Mark: Agreed!