what ever happened to her?
This is not a work of fiction. But that is not to say that it is an autobiography.
The dates, as they appear under each subsection, represent points in time.
Each subsection represents a shift in perspective in the context of one individual life.
Could these be the made-up memories of a fictional character?
Of course they could be. But I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not that matters.
This message is for everyone, but especially for 20-somethings. What I will tell you will be both obvious and not as obvious as you might think. I am a person who has existed on this planet for about 10-15 years longer than you, and now that I am older, I can see a few things that weren’t in focus before. I can see that you are stressed about getting good grades and, ultimately, not disappointing your parents. I know that you are stressed about looking good, being fit, attracting the right friends and being good enough in bed. I still know how it feels to be stressed about all of that stuff too—but I can also see to the other side.
When you are my age, and you are a woman, you will not be as envious of other women. I’m not saying you won’t care at all—of course not. It’s more like: you see other beautiful women out in the world, you appreciate that they exist and that they are just like you. I do not claim to always follow my own advice. Nevertheless, I have now reached the age where I can look back and think: “Well, that was unnecessary!”
Then again, I don’t think that you should do anything with this information. You need to stress out and do unnecessary things. But I want you to know that all of these things become less of an issue. Maybe you can look forward to it and not fear the future as much. Nothing is as bad as it seems after a while. You will become more confident.
I don’t say any of this with condescension. Even as I write this, I am in state of constant vulnerability; a state in which everything seems new and exciting but also precarious.*
My message to you only works if everyone agrees to do it and no one lies. Sounds impossible, right? Probably, But that is for you—and everyone else—to decide. There’s no harm in reminding ourselves of the way things could be.
You might think that I am just one person, one woman, who has gone through life, experiencing it in my own subjective way.
Maybe you don’t know yourself, you could say.
You’re fooling yourself by failing to accept the reality of you situation. Didn’t you say something about not wanting to be Rousseau?
It is true that my words reflect my own personal experience, but that is a given when anyone speaks or reflects on oneself. Not only that; it is a given for all beings who are fully conscious. I don't view this as a weakness.
But what about people who are egotistical? Or psychopaths…or people who don’t reflect much on their actions? Isn’t there harm in allowing these people to deceive (or fail to see) themselves?
Possibly, yes. But for the most part, I take it for granted that a desire for self-understanding is normal, and worthwhile in many cases. Just think of the opposite: is it better if we all failed to question our actions, look back on our past mistakes, or learn from our experiences? Despite the fact that my thoughts on the subject are personal, I also know that my experience is universal. I would not feel the urgency to express anything to you at all if that were not the case.
Intelligent people often think about their own intelligence and wonder if they would be better off stupider. They worry that they overanalyze even minor occurrences and wonder if they would be happier if they didn’t think about things so much. If you have ever had those types of thoughts, then you have already answered your own question.
You wouldn’t be happier because you wouldn’t know that you were supposed to be happy about your ignorance. Someone who would never have that thought would not have had it. And you don’t know what that would be like. But you are intelligent, so you do. Despite the burden of too much self-criticism, I like my ability to think about things. Of course, there is no way for me to think otherwise.
I am not saying that everything one sees is somehow mediated and distorted through the lens of our subjective perspectives. I am saying, rather, that our experiences are equivalent to knowledge in the context of art, stories, and our own lives.
The same phenomenon occurs when we stare at a painting and have no idea what we are looking at or how we are supposed to feel about it. We may rush to the conclusion that all art is subjective, and anyone’s opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. But that conclusion is far too extreme. One must me careful. This idea appears to function as an all-inclusive hug to the world; as a gesture of acceptance for all people. But look deeper and you will see that this idea implies that we must lose our ability to differentiate between right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, truth and lies. Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable in that world.
If you think of your life as one long movie, either you’re going to have to start finding a production crew, or you will have to take on all of those roles at once. If you choose the latter, you have chosen to write your autobiography. You’ll also have to narrate, and well, sit back and watch. Most films are shot from the point of view of no one because the cameraman remains outside the frame. Unless we are watching a self-reflexive film about filmmaking, the camera isn’t meant to represent any one character’s perspective.
When one speaks for oneself, it does not follow that one’s subsequent utterances do not reflect truth. In the case of facts, either they do or they do not. In the case of our beliefs about ourselves, on the other hand, truth is best translated as sincerity or authenticity. We are all born with the ability to sense situations that seem “off”. We shouldn’t need a way to gage sincerity, because we form intuitions based on our experiences on our shared planet. If something or someone doesn’t “feel” sincere to us, we run the other way.
This is the main point of this message: honesty, as opposed to non-honesty, will always make you look better in the end. Furthermore, you will end up with the types of relationships that you want with all the right people. Though you might hope that honesty is a part of relationships by default, then I doubt that you have been in many relationships.
Reflect, for a moment, on your past relationships. If they are in the past, then something probably went wrong. Let’s say that you were the honest one in the pair. If you had known about the “honesty trick”, you would have come out ahead. You will always come out ahead. Think of honesty as a tactic that just happens to be ethical. If I do not tell my partner that I have an STD because I just want to have sex, and that person contracts my disease, then I have done doubly wrong.
Now imagine that you tell your partner about your STD right away, even though you worry that he or she will be grossed out or, in a woman’s case, slut shame you. Let’s say that your partner does get angry and never speaks to you again. He or she ghosts you forever because you slept with “too many men/women”. Meanwhile, you never knew how many women/men he or she had on the back burner at any given time because neither or you talked about it honestly. Despite the fact that you will never hear from him or her again, you will have the knowledge—for your entire life—that you did the right thing in that situation. And that should make you prouder; the knowledge that you handled the situation maturely and your partner did not. In all likelihood, your partner will realize it too at some point.
That is my message to you. Now, you could write me off as a pretentious bitch that likes to see her own thoughts appear on a screen in front of her mascara covered eyes. And you are welcome to do so. But your belief would be false, regardless of the fact that you believe it.
In his Rhetoric of Fiction, Wayne Booth argues convincingly that in order to appreciate any given work of literature, one should be curious about its author. It’s not as if this aspect of the work is more important than other aspects, but it matters. By itself, the claim doesn’t sound particularly noteworthy, but imagine that you are standing in front of two paintings and your friend asks you to choose the one you prefer. You examine each painting for a few minutes, and you decide on the one on the right. Let’s say that your friend then reveals to you that the one on the right was painted by Watson (the robot on Jeopardy) and the one on the left is a Van Gogh. Do you change your answer? If you do change, you end up looking like a poseur, and if you don’t, you risk looking like a philistine or a fool.
You, the reader, need to imagine me just as authors need to imagine their readers. Art is a human endeavor and that element of humanity and communication are essential to the enterprise. When we cry while watching a sad film, it is because we are experiencing that shared humanity, a universal feeling, alongside the artist. When authors create characters, they create particulars that are at the same time universals. The artist, like the connoisseur, takes risks, seeks knowledge and makes pronouncements, when no one else will. I have my words. When everything else fails me, my writing will prove my humanity.
I’m not scared anymore
(June ?, 2016)
I’m not scared anymore, about whether or not you love me too. It sounds odd, I know. Somehow, I think that love is different for me. I wish I could explain what I mean because often times I’m not sure that any of it makes sense.
It began in stages. Unlike the others, I knew you. It was like I already knew you. That was the difference. And it was all the difference in the world to me.
If and when it turns out that you don’t love me, or you think you don’t love me, or you decide that you don’t, or don’t want to love me, then I have lost nothing. It doesn’t scare me because I already expect it. Now, in the state that I am in, I can only be pleasantly surprised. What sense does it make for me to pretend that I am someone that I am not — someone “sane”, without baggage, someone who isn’t ever needy or lonely, somewhat without weird quirks, a few unhealthy habits; someone who isn’t disgusting occasionally, someone who doesn’t enjoy cleaning, someone who isn’t perfectly organized, someone who can’t imagine doing anything other than teaching and writing about ideas.
Do I wish that I was ignorant and didn’t have to think so much? No. Then again, the question has always been nonsensical to me. If I didn’t think so much I wouldn’t be me, by definition. By my own definition at least. The only reason that I can know that there are other options is because I see both sides. I see what it is to be happy and I see what it is to be miserable. The miserable times make the good times better. If I was ignorant and only had good times, those good times would not be as good as they are if I did not feel the pain, the emptiness of despair at other times. It is a choice, perhaps, between: feeling intensely good occasionally and intensely bad much of the time versus feeling ok most of the time and not-so-ok at other times.
Between these choices I choose the first. But maybe I choose the first because I have never felt what it is to live a life like the second. We justify the things that we already have. Even if I realize this, so what? I shouldn’t regret something that cannot be changed and couldn’t have been changed to begin with. Regret is nonsensical.
* * * * *
Why do I love toxic people? My friend asked me. Maybe it’s because I don’t actually rely on those people for love — maybe it’s because I rely on the idea that they love me so that I can love myself. Am I a narcissist or do I have low self-esteem? Can it be both?
Maybe my love for you is a projection; I want to love someone, so I imagine that you love me, so that, in return, I love myself more. This allows me to view myself from someone else’s perspective, but of course, that perspective is my own projection of what I would want someone else’s perspective to be of me, if that person loved me. That projection is my ideal of me — the things that I love about myself. If the person that I want to love me doesn’t love me in return, I know that they didn’t see me in the way that I see me, and that person is no longer the person that I love now, by definition. It works out well, you see.
They write a story together.
(June 26, 2016)
This story was written by the two of them. He wrote parts 1 and 2. She wrote part 3. In other words, she finished the story.
“I didn’t delete it. I promise. Why are you watching me type this while I’m on coke,” he said to her.
“You type like you fuck.”
“Ill take that as a compliment.” That smile she flashes him makes his day.
“This is way too romantic. So lets add some drama,” he whispers.
He pulls out a .45 caliber chrome desert eagle and shoots her in the face. As she falls he regrets his decision. Will he ever be able to shoot anyone again? Most likely.
Who am I? I’m the writer of all life. I’m the one who manipulates history. If you live on Earth you might have heard of God. I wrote that. Clever story isn’t it. Tommy over here is gonna go to jail. He shot his girl in the face. If you want to know more you’re going to have to wait and see what I write next.
While Tommy prepares another line of cocaine he wonders about his process. What did he learn from her? And her brain full of a myriad of ideas that she tried to communicate to the world. She always doubted that word and how Tommy used it. She always needed to be right, and in a way, she was.
You see, she knew that Tommy was going to kill her. She even bought the gun for him. What she didn’t know was why he would do it. Was it the wetness of her breath against his skin? Was it the fact that she never slept? Or was it the incessant cocaine problem. She would never know, her last dying sight being of the gun she had bought him.
She can’t do it. Her head hurts, weary from the previous day. She shuts up, and watches me, carefully, curiously. The song blasts in the background, a mixture of their pasts. The neighbor knocks on the door, axe in hand.
“Howdy neighbor, I found your axe in the garbage two days ago.”
“It’s not even mine.” She slams the door in his face.
As she turns around, she smells a rotting corpse. It is her father. His head chopped off, barely hanging to his neck.
The dead man stands up, facing her. Even in death he is a nuisance. She can’t picture it. Finishing him off. She looks at me, begging me to help her. I know how the story ends.
I know she will finish him off. I can’t help her do it. And I’ve become bored now, and I’m somewhere else anyway. Guess she’ll have to figure it out on her own.
“…in media res. You know what that is, right?” Her know-it-all tone of voice was starting to piss him off.
“Yes of course,” he muttered, “Frankenstein.”
“What? I can never hear you! Why do you always mutter under your breath? It’s like you’re plotting to murder me or something. Sheesh!”
She looks at him. Nothing. He isn’t moving, isn’t speaking. Feeling suddenly uncomfortable, she gets up and heads to the fridge.
“What’s been up with you recently?” The instant she felt the final syllable of that final word vibrating off her lips, she regretted taking the conversation in this direction. It had nowhere to go but down.
She looked at him again. His body was rigid and unmoving. His eyes were glazed over, and for a moment she thought he was stoned. But then she remembered that they had run out of weed yesterday around this time. She remembered because they had made a joke of it.
“Ha, ha, it’s 4:20. Shouldn’t we be packing another bowl, right about now?”
He looked at the digital clock on the oven.
“Maybe. But don’t you think that would be kinda predictable? I mean, if someone were watching us right now, I feel like they would be bored if all they got to do was watch our lazy asses smoke weed all day.”
Her expression changed slightly. I noticed a subtle glimpse of sadness; so subtle that it might have been nearly imperceptible to most other people. But I was different from other people. I knew what to expect. Tommy didn’t.
“That’s funny,” she busied herself in the fridge. “I was thinking the exact opposite.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…” Her mild sense of unease quickly transformed into a full-blown case of embarrassment. “I was thinking that this was one of the most interesting days of my life.”
Her entire body shuddered as she sensed a shift in his demeanor. It wasn’t a good shudder, like the kind she had felt only twenty minutes ago when they were fucking. The shudder was unnerving; it caused the hair on her arms to stand on end. Something in the pit of her stomach groaned.
She quickly glanced in his direction — hesitantly. She didn’t want to see the expression on his face. She didn’t want her intuitions confirmed.
Better to be ignorant than hurt.
But she didn’t believe that. That was what Tommy always said.
Her romanticism — that resistance to realism and pragmatism at any cost — was finally beginning to catch up with her. She thought of that Noah Baumbach movie she’d watched recently. All her life, she had been made to feel that her writing wasn’t good enough. That she was somehow lesser than a bunch of bitchy feminists.
All of her dreams, her ambitions from earlier points in her life flooded into her consciousness for a moment, then receded just as quickly into the nooks and crannies of her brain. This is just like that passage in that famous French psychological novel, she thought, …something about a cookie and tea…a swan? She gave up trying to remember.
But it wasn’t all bad. That was the crazy part. She knew that in recent months, she had been happy. Each new day was more beautiful, more horrifying than the last. She knew that without horror there was no beauty, but this wasn’t a fact that she held consistently in her mind. As if every time the thought crossed her mind, she had to re-discover it, even though she knew that she had already seen it a million times before.
Tommy was waving his arms at her, trying to get her attention. He looks like a fucking gorilla, she thought to herself. She laughed.
Her mind arrived in the moment. She looked up.
“Yo! What the fuck is wrong with you?”
The addition of the word “fuck” seemed unnecessarily harsh to her. She felt angry, then sad, then angry again. And then…a twinge of dread.
“What’s the problem Tommy? I was just getting a glass of — ”
But just as she turned to leave the kitchen, she caught a glimpse of the thing that would end her life. And no, I don’t mean the thing that would literally end her life (the gun, duh.) It was the thing that she had always suspected. The thing that had irked her every day for the seven years that they had been together…
Every night, for those past seven years, she would lie in bed, close her eyes, and her mind would wander. Every night, she would walk down the same dark corridor, toward nothing, in no direction. But the corridor didn’t bother her much. It was the feeling underneath all of it. The feeling that accompanied the dream was always far worse than the setting. No one’s entertained by run-of-the-mill clichés like dark corridors, foggy alleyways, or Dracula’s castles anymore. Or maybe she was just bored by her own dreams.
Yes, she fancied herself a writer, but she was tired of pretending to herself that one day, in the indeterminate future, all of her life’s work would be celebrated, she would receive the recognition and money that she deserved for her hard work, clever determination, creative energy… the sentence trailed off, already fatigued by the weight of its own façade of motivation.
The worst thing about it was that once the sentence trailed off, nothing arose out of the silence to keep the momentum of the story going. Behind all of that wordiness, that carefully calculated veneer of optimism, she knew that in the end, that image of herself would win out over everything else. She knew that despite — no, because — of those nagging yet well-meaning voices of family and friends telling her to do otherwise, she had already chosen her tragic flaw. Like the tragic love sick space-traveller, at Orly, who falls to his death in the final scene of that lovely Chris Marker film, she had chosen the means of her own death. She had chosen the nostalgia of the past, the excitement of the present, over the uncertainty of the future. And she knew that it was because of that very choice, not despite it, that she would thrive.
The corridor in her dream was the goal. That uneasy feeling at the pit of her stomach, the tossing and turning — every single fucking night of every single fucking day for seven goddam years of her life.
Whatever the case, none of that mattered anymore. She squinted, quickly catching herself. She would need to keep her facial muscles in check. Couldn’t look for more than a millisecond. Tommy always noticed everything, even the slightest curled lip, pupil dilation, bead of sweat.
He eyed her suspiciously. She wouldn’t stop staring at an empty space to his right, and it was beginning to irritate him. Once again, he inspected her twisted face, glanced at her pathetic skinny body. Once again, he came to the same conclusion.
It was only a few feet behind and to the right of Tommy’s stupid face. And he was none the wiser. She knew better than the rest of them. Tommy had always called it her “persnickety” side, but she could never understand what he meant by that. She suspected that he meant to say “pretentious”, but got stuck with “persnickety” because he was just the kind of person who would never admit to any errors.
As she continued to stare longingly at the shiny barrel of the pistol poking out of the closet, she felt the anxiety melt away. So beautiful, and yet so dangerous. She felt a momentary urge to fuck it, but the thought quickly faded away when she realized that there were so many preparations — so many errands to run, items to check off, people to fuck over, before all of her preparations would go as planned.
All of these thoughts crossed her mind…and evaporated. She knew that in spite — or perhaps, because — of the complexity of her plans, she was already immobilized. She felt the cold inevitability of it all. And it was beautiful. She knew it as clearly as if I had told her the answer before I had even begun to write this story.
She would be the one to go. Tommy would survive. That was the price she would pay for attempting to eliminate patriarchy from all of corners of the earth. The patricide was only supposed to be the first step.
But by now, everything had changed into what it had always been. Now she knew that her project would remain incomplete. But none of that mattered, because that was the way that it would have always been. We can’t regret anything once the idea of regret becomes meaningless; once we realize that nothing could have been otherwise.
This idea, both thrilling and terrifying, allowed her to continue, and it allowed her to accept her fate. It was in this moment that I fell in love with her. And now so do you.
Something terrible happens.
(December 29, 2016)
Statement – 1st Draft
Confidential – do not submit to police
Allow me to be perfectly clear. I consider myself a victim, and I in no way condone the perpetrator’s actions. The perpetrator is responsible for his own actions--regardless of whether or not that person was stoned out of his mind, semi-conscious, mentally unstable, or what have you. The act was committed and that is certain. Violence, against women or against men, is always wrong—unless one is defending oneself from severe or imminent danger. Nonetheless, I do not wish to criminally prosecute the perpetrator, even if the police feel that they have enough evidence to tie him to the assault. My reasons are many, and they are my own. I urge you to take this statement seriously and to consider my wishes as a victim into account as you decide how to proceed with this case.
What follows are the facts as I remember them. L.O. and I have been seeing each other casually since April. I have never had any reason to be frightened of L.O., and I have never seen him act aggressively or violently. I enjoy his company.
Though it is only an occasional indulgence, I like staying in nice hotels. Sometimes, on weekends, I find deals on nice hotels in the area and invite friends over to hang out. On the night of December 2, I had done just this. I was alone in my apartment and decided, with L.O.’s input, to get a room in West Hollywood.
As always, I was excited to see L.O. and to meet his brother and his friend. We all got along well; we were enjoying ourselves. After a few hours, the brother and friend left. Things were still going well. The last thing that I remember is sitting on the toilet in the bathroom. At a certain point, probably between 4-5 am, I shifted between semi-consciousness and total unconsciousness.
I have no image in my mind of L.O. engaging in violence.
I do remember feeling the sensation of being hit in the head a few times. I did not see a fist or a face or anything because my world was black. I could only feel. I could not see anything, I did not hear anything.
I must not have been aware enough to comprehend that I was in danger because I did not resist. I guess I had lost touch with reality by that point. My brain, not knowing how to process the information, integrated the blows into a dream that I was having. At the time, I thought that the blows were occurring in this dream. I was not aware that I was in imminent danger, and I know this because I did not attempt to fight back or flee until the morning.
At around 9:30 am, I awoke. My brain came into a fuller—though not complete—consciousness. It felt as if I could not compute the scene. It was too much like a movie. I couldn’t believe it so it didn’t seem real. From what I could see, the hotel room was trashed; there were glass shards all over the floor, and blood. The morning sunlight beamed harshly through the window. I looked at my watch and saw blood on my arm. (That watch later disappeared at the hospital). I vomited as I sat next to the bed. I remember looking towards L.O., and I did not perceive his stance or facial expression as threatening,
Nevertheless, after I vomited, I suddenly felt a strong, almost instinctive pressure to get myself out of the room and look for help. That’s when I went out into the hallway and texted “help” to my friend J.D., who was staying with me in my apartment at the time. I did not understand what happened to L.O.. After a few long minutes, I was found by the police and the paramedics.
She tries to sort through her thoughts. Her mind races.
Imitation of fiction
(January 4, 2017)
When we find ourselves in unbelievable situations, the need to justify our feelings of uneasiness can be soothed through depersonalization.
When I say to myself, for example: I feel like I am living in a movie, I am actually saying, more precisely:
I feel as if my experiences have been crafted and contrived by someone other than myself, for entertainment purposes. The events in my life could entertain an audience.
Why then, do we justify the same unbelievable situations with an apparently contradictory statement:
The truth is often stranger than fiction.
This trite phrase can be flipped around to the similar (but by no means semantically equivalent) sentiment:
If I read this in a book, I wouldn’t believe it.
This one is an odd statement indeed, but it can be translated as follows:
If an author had concocted this bizarre series of events from her twisted brain and written it out in story form, the work wouldn’t sell because no audience would find it believable. It would feel too contrived.
What does it even mean for an author to come up with a story that does not even sound like a story? Further, what does it mean to say that an audience would not find a made-up story believable? And finally, how could a real life event be too bizarre for reality? Though these questions are daunting at first, the answer is not so complex. We look to fiction to take us out of — but also to reflect — our everyday lives. We care a great deal about the believability of stories. For any author, that’s a tall order, to be sure.
Of course, if audiences are so demanding, we may wonder how anyone knows how to write good stories in the first place. This consideration leads us to another important question:
How do we determine which stories are lively enough to entertain yet believable enough to engage an audience?
In real life, after a disruption occurs, things begin to fade back to normal. Time passes. We adapt ourselves to the best of our abilities, we return to our old routines and habits, life continues.
Memories are notoriously inaccurate, and so we may deceive ourselves, or selectively forget, in an effort regain a sense of control.
But we never forget entirely. We may reflect now and then about our crazy experience that had a “one-in-a-million” chance of happening. We may wonder how our experience changed us, or taught us something, or made us into a better person. Our thoughts might go something like this:
Gee that really was a once in a lifetime experience. If only X hadn’t happened, and Y hadn’t been there at precisely that moment, Z1 could have happened instead of Z!
We often fail (or choose not) to realize that things could not have been otherwise — or at least, we might as well assume that they couldn’t because, in point of fact, X did happen, and Y was there, which caused Z and not Z1 (or the infinite set of possibilities that comprises not-Z). At the same time, most of us don’t want to view our lives in this way, and for an important reason: we like the idea of free will and choice. Luck and chance — all of the external circumstances that cause us to fail or to succeed — are conveniently swept under the rug.
Sometimes, we choose to act in ways consistent with a belief in free will because that very belief empowers us and allows us to make positive changes in our lives and in the lives of others. If we all walked around believing that the world was ending and nothing that anyone did could change that, or that we only existed in order to die, then no one would produce art or care about mountain views, or bother with much of anything that makes life so worthwhile — so human — in the first place.
Call this motivation to “perform humanity” what you will. If you are living an interesting, productive and helpful life (as in, you are not walking around killing people for fun and you mostly get along with others) then the reasons that you have for living your life as you do are yours. Who cares what you need to believe in order to do that?
Unfortunately, an unwavering dedication to the idea of free will may lead us down a path toward a conclusion that is far too extreme; namely, that the beliefs we hold should not matter as long as we live a positive, healthy life (whatever that may be).
I’m a good person, you might think, I help others in my community, my friends and colleagues seem to like me well enough, I love my family, I don’t harm anyone.
You continue to justify your way of life:
As long as I continue this way, it’s nobody’s business what my beliefs are. Nothing rides on the question of my beliefs because they are personal and confidential.
The only thing that matters are my actions, you conclude. It’s best if others view me favorably, and it’s an added bonus if I like myself more or less.
Here is where this line of thinking goes awry. Our beliefs can be harmful, both to ourselves and to others. It is dangerous to assume that we are responsible for everything that goes right, or wrong, in our lives. Our failure to acknowledge the influence of outside circumstances beyond our control — some call it luck, some call it fate — disallows us from forgiving ourselves and avoiding regret. At this point, the infinite black hole of regret opens beneath our feet. There’s no turning back. We fall for the tragic illusion that every event could have unfolded differently from how it actually did.
An inordinate amount of movies, it seems, are premised on this idea. The premise is effective with audiences because it elicits a special kind of sadness that can only come from regret. Those of us who are fans of the Back to the Future trilogy have all cringed at the idea that we could fall for our opposite- sex parent if we had the ability to travel into the past before we were born. We accept the misleading idea that if things aren’t perfect now, we could have or should have done something differently in the past.
In the recent movie La La Land, toward the end of the film, Ryan Gosling plays a piano solo for Emma Stone. As he is playing, Stone’s character reflects on the turning points in the history of her relationship with Gosling’s character — and she changes every outcome in her mind. For example, at the beginning of the film, when she first encounters Gosling’s character at the hole-in-the-wall bar, he rudely ignores her. Now, in her imagination, he pulls her close and and kisses her passionately.
The sequence ends where it began: Stone’s character and her “alternate universe” husband have stumbled into her old flame’s piano bar by accident. Or, to put it another way: her fantasy carries her back to the beginning of the movie and ends up where it began: at her old flame’s piano bar. The entire sequence is incredibly sad. Heartbreaking even. Even a cold-hearted determinist might have to grab a Kleenex.
But how could this be? Why should anyone be saddened by such an obvious cinematic manipulation? We do not personally know these people. We’ve never met them because they are fictional. Not only do we know perfectly well that these characters do not and never did exist, we also know that even if they did, they couldn’t change their own pasts. What’s the point of getting sad over a couple of fictional people lamenting their own fictionally fictional pasts? It’s one thing to wonder why we care about fictional lives at all, and quite another to care about a story that exists within the mind of a character of a story. This scenario represents a double departure from reality and forward jump into a mise en abyme of possible fictional worlds.
These questions quickly become less mysterious when we take a step back and clarify our usage of the verb to know. We do not know these people, in the sense that we have never met — nor will we ever meet — fictional characters. We are not familiar with them through our own experiences in the real world. We also know that these people do not exist in the real world and never will.
The definition of knowledge as justified true belief (JTF) dates back to Plato. But the traditional account of knowledge has two fatal problems:
1. It does not capture the relationship between to know and to believe and
2. It does not make the necessary distinction between the two meanings of to know (familiarity versus fact).
Let’s look at the first problem, the relationship between knowing and believing. From the syntax and semantics of this definition, it appears that “belief” is an ingredient in the overall recipe that leads to knowledge. Further, the question “what is knowledge?” assumes that knowledge, broadly conceived, is the ultimate object of knowledge. But why should this be so?
Further, how do we answer the question: “what is belief?” Do we believe things because we know them or do we believe things based on intuition (or induction, which is a loaded term) and then come to know them when they are confirmed? If the latter, how do we come to hold beliefs in the first place? One can see already that the direction of the inquiry is easily reversible.
Over the course of our lives we hold a large number of beliefs, some of them turn out to be true, some turn out to be false. Some of these beliefs are based on real world facts, and those mistakes are easy to reverse.
Oh, so Mary’s not in the garden? She’s in the kitchen. Got it.
This false belief transforms into a new belief — aka knowledge. We are justified in believing things that we know to be true.
Some of our beliefs, however, are less easy to reverse. In particular, those pertaining to attitudes and notions of the self. When we are shown that our attitude about something is not justified, we may understand it, we may think that we accept it, but there is no way to know for sure that we believe it — especially if we were not prone to believe it before. Psychologically, it is difficult to extricate ourselves from false beliefs when we already have a script in place.
As it turns out, we do not tend to assess stories in terms of truth or falsity. We know that certain details of stories can be true or false, of course. Either the events within the story occurred, or they did not. This can be verified. But “believability” is not the same as “true”. Either the events within the story ring true for an audience, or they do not. This takes time to assess.
If a fictional story does not ring true for us, we can simply leave the theater or close the book. If a true story does not ring true for us, well then it may be time to reassess our beliefs.
She is sad, so she writes a poem.
Beginning to end
(February 14, 2017)
It ended where it began.
The metaphor was also real
And vice versa.
She forgot, sometimes, that he had really almost killed her
In real life. In her real life.
By “forget”, she means “pretends to ignore.”
He was killing her in two ways
And for her the idea that he had seized upon her mind and her body like
A parasite was worse than any physical killing could ever be.
When he nearly killed her before
She was only half-conscious.
Awake enough to feel the blows to her head
Still too stupid to realize that it was her head
And even so, why that would make a difference.
Like reality occurring in the dark
Where emotions aren’t matched with images and
The brain does not help the eyes to turn on
Not because it can’t but because it doesn’t want to see.
We wrote a story but did not read it like Paolo and Francesca
That would have been romantic, heroic, or epic somehow, like in a story.
The story that we wrote was disjointed, non-collaborative, and angry.
The female’s character’s first words are “You type better than you fuck”
An idea conjured up by him not her.
In the first scene the man chops the woman’s head off. It is so manly she thinks.
He thinks he’s hardcore and violent and shocking.
She takes it as a challenge and when he leaves she stays awake all night until
The story is finished.
And then it’s not that she kills him or anything but instead
She’s ok with her fate. She sees herself caught in the web of time and she knows,
She knows that there is only one way, only one way to go.
And that can be comfortable. That alone can be comforting.
Maybe in the end he kills her.
What’s clear is that she doesn’t kill him.
She freezes. And in that frozen moment she accepts her fate, because
How could the cause of it matter when it’s the life that comes before,
That life which is always the same life.
This thought of fate frightens and comforts together because it can do that.
She told him she felt like a spider that had been caught and injured but not finished off.
He replied: “What do you mean.” She didn’t know how to reply.
She agrees to see him again. She knows that it is a mistake.
(March 9, 2017)
This is why we are fortunate to die
Take mercy on me.
Hell and heaven are on earth.
Real death extinguishes consciousness within moments.
Real death is merciful.
Two bodies exist, concurrently,
On the same earth
In the same moments of history
For those two bodies
Death injects itself into thoughts of the future.
We still have time left,
Until he overtakes us.
Two bodies exist on the same earth
At the same moment, more or less.
One starves its soul for the other
The other merely looks away
For those two bodies.
Real death is living.
Her friend, J.D.
No one likes you.
You’re a failure.
As you want.
I wish I could fall in love.
Walk your dog.
Would you bring home some water? Thanks.
No one listens to you.
What did I tell you about leaving the lights on?
Did you need to waste all of that paper?
How can you be so cruel to your dog?
How can you be so stupid?
Why do you still put that shit on you when I keep telling you not to?
I don’t care.
Just go on Tinder.
I won’t do that.
I’m leaving. That’s it.
Attractive guy, huh.
I’ve never been anxious.
Stop acting crazy.
Get a job.
Why don’t you go to the library and apply for some jobs.
You’re still in bed?
Why are you so lazy?
It’s been over a year and you still haven’t changed.
You think I care if you’re loyal?
I’m meeting a friend.
I need to go to work.
You’re a terrible person.
I’ll see you later, ok?
Go back to your husband.
How many times have you cried in your life? Not many times.
Do you remember the last time you did? No.
I don’t care.
I’m going out.
Aw, you’re going to miss me.
You’re makeup is all fucked up.
You look like a crazy person.
Why bother to try if you can’t do it correctly?
You’ll never get a job looking like that.
You’re so stupid.
You’re a freak.
I don’t want to hear your shit anymore.
I may need to borrow your car to go to work later.
How can someone who went to school for so long be so stupid?
Will you translate this?
Let’s work on my CV later.
We’ll go to the grocery store later.
We’ll eat at the Thai restaurant near my old place.
I’m sick of listening to your nonsense.
Why don’t you go do the laundry.
I have to go meet the wine guy.
I’ll pay you with pleasure when I can.
I have to get up early tomorrow.
You wouldn’t wish me on your worst enemy. True.
You have an ok voice. Why don’t you go sing in the metro?
Why don’t you eat the food in your refrigerator?
You waste everything.
Stop making so much noise I’m trying to sleep.
You were spying on me.
What did I tell you about…?
Be quiet! I’m trying to sleep.
Piange come la mamma.
I wish I knew what it was like to fall in love.
If you are near a drugstore, could you get me some cream, please?
On the brink
All those words, those words, too many words. Too many thoughts. It’s too much.
Photography will make him love me. Photography will make me love me.
Use art whenever you can to your greatest advantage. Life is more beautiful this way.
No more restless thoughts. Only peace.
I am peace. Now you are peace because I made you that way.
Letter to Martha Nussbaum
The other day, the following exchange occurred between my ex-husband and I:
“I think I’m Martha Nussbaum if she had not been successful.”
Interestingly, he never asked me what I meant by this statement. I took that as a complement. You see, he knows when I first found your work.
I have imagined myself writing to you for some time. But, like many other things nowadays, I have simply not felt up to the challenge. Or, perhaps more accurately: for a brief moment, I have the energy. Then, a few minutes later, my mind is engaged in something else. I want to make a good impression, but I’m a perfectionist, so I worried that if I started this letter, I might not ever get around to finishing it.
Now that I think about it, this same worry is the central theme of my life right now.
I guess this letter is silly; just one more overly ambitious time-waster that leads me, yet again, away from the “real work” of life that I should be engaging in right now (even though it is midnight on a Sunday). If I were a “normal” human being who was concerned with her health, I would probably be trying to sleep. At this point, however, my existence is not healthy according to any conventional meaning of the term. I stay up all night, almost every night, even though every night I tell myself that I will not.
But no one is around to check whether or not I keep to my word, so I cheat myself. I rebel against my own common sense, because I want nothing less than to listen to any voice of reason whatsoever. If I go to sleep, I worry, I will lose another day. Another day of opportunity will have passed. Another day in which I could have found a job, or a boyfriend, finished my book proposal, bought my plane tickets for Brazil. I could have figured out how to transform my situation into something other than what it is now. If I am not able to do any of it, then I believe that I have failed myself. I know that this is irrational. It doesn’t matter.
“Proust once said his novel was kind of a magnifying lens through which people could look at their own emotions—that’s basically my goal. By making myself quite ridiculous, I urge people to see the comedy in their own daily interactions.”
-Recent interview in the Atlantic
I know that if I were to receive this email from a stranger, I would think it was silly. But from my point of view, writing this letter is not any sillier than any of the other projects that I’ve started recently: a conference paper on “Belief and Fiction”, a book proposal on “Adaptation and the Ethics of Storytelling”, and my online journal: Humanities in Transition.
In that recent New Yorker article, (“Captain of her Soul: The Philosopher of Feelings”) you are quoted as having said:
What I am calling for…is a society of citizens who admit that they are needy and vulnerable. 
When I first read that, I felt myself nodding in agreement. Since then, I'm not so sure how to justify this thought to myself. If everyone were vulnerable, then vulnerability would no longer be a "unique" quality. Or perhaps you are saying that we are all the same and we are all equally vulnerable. While I do believe that this is the case (after all, no one knows the "secret of life"), I am not certain how vulnerability could exist in the absence of any alternative. Perhaps I am confusing "sincerity" (a loaded term in many ways) or "the inability to tell a lie" with vulnerability.
People are afraid of vulnerable women. Not only men. Other women are as well. When I say "vulnerable" here, I mean vulnerable in the sense that she does not hide her emotions, she says what she feels when asked (and often when not asked) and she cannot hide her emotions behind pleasantries. Sometimes this inability to "play politics" harms her. It harms her ability to gather supporters. It harms her ability to convince others. They all want to know, and for good cause:
How can I be convinced by this woman who is so full of doubt?
It is because we are all so frightened that the doubters find comfort in those who have the ability to conceal doubt. But perhaps we should not seek comfort in the first place because, in the end, there is nowhere to hide. At this stage in life, I am deeply conflicted. Must I struggle to my wits end so that I can learn to fly on my own? Is there a reward somewhere down the road? Or perhaps the struggle is a punishment that I have chosen to inflict on myself because I am restless. Perhaps the entire struggle itself is needlessly exhausting. Why do I need to prime myself for an isolated, lonely existence, if that is not the sort of life that I want to live?
The problem, in the end, is that I know where I stand. Maybe this isn't a problem at all, but rather, a conclusion. Not all conclusions can be satisfying. I may not appear to know much, to certain people, but I know how I want to live my life. I want to learn to do things for myself and I want to learn those things with someone else. Not for someone else. But I am motivated when there is another body beside me. I am a social being. I am independent. These two facts are difficult to reconcile. I struggle. But the struggle is necessary. The truth is that these two facts are not actually opposed. They just seem that way.
Martha, do you know more than me? Tell me. I am lost. I am in love with a man who does not love me. It seems impossible. It seems unsurprising. How could it be that others are so different? How could it be that someone can stare into your eyes, and looking back you see something that looks to you like love, but in the end it is cold blankness? How can these other creatures that call themselves human be capable of this utter lie? Or do I deceive myself every time I look into his eyes and think that I see love? Life is not a love story and this is not a romantic comedy. In the end there is nothing. Sometimes people won't love you. But you cannot know until you ask, until you become vulnerable, until you tell them that you love them, even if they do not return the feeling.
Or perhaps I am utterly wrong. After all, no one would advise such a thing. No one encourages me to make a fool out of myself, again and again, until the shame piles so high that I cannot escape from it. Others tell me that they cannot bear to watch such behavior. It pains them. It is cringeworthy. How, then, does vulnerability--my vulnerability--help the world to become a better place?
Sometimes I've thought that I could solve the puzzle. Quite simply, the idea of love doesn't make sense. When I think of love in this way, other things fall into place. What if love is just a temporary feeling--the most wonderful temporary feeling in the world--but nothing more? Most people take it for granted that the extremity of the feeling fades little by little. It seems to me foolish, then, that we should be content in that slow fade. Why should we expect it to be anything but ephemeral? That ephemerality is precisely what makes it beautiful. Do we not love people because we know that they will go? And so happiness, it seems to me, cannot be an aim in itself. One is happy and one is sad. One cannot know happiness without sadness and one cannot know sadness without happiness. For those who say that there are many stages in between, well, perhaps. But without vulnerability, without sincerity, I fail to see how one can ever know either extreme. To know happiness, it seems to me, is to know sadness. How can it be any other way?
In Upheavals of Thought, you write: "Emotions are...in effect, acknowledgements of neediness and lack of self-sufficiency" (22). The people who do not acknowledge neediness seem to be in the majority. It seems as if the rest of the world got together without me and came to an agreement. They decided that it would be better to hide all of that messy human vulnerability behind layers and layers of prescribed rules. Once those rules had been sufficiently internalized, all necessary external manifestations of that internal state came naturally.
It is better not to make others uncomfortable, is the prevailing thought.
My discomfort makes other uncomfortable, and it is rude to make others uncomfortable.
Perhaps. In some ways, one might certainly view an outwardly emotional person as selfish, for this person is unable to hide her problems in the company of fellow humans with their own problems. But in another sense, do we not all face similar problems?
Might it not be easier if everyone acknowledged, and then behaved as if every individual's problems were universal problems? Because surely there is no problem that is unique to one individual and one individual alone in the history of the world. It is for this reason, in fact, that we tell stories. It is for this reason that art is enjoyable.
In speaking for ourselves we speak for everyone, says the artist.
Yes, the details change, and yes, the stories that we tell are unrealistically condensed and stripped of extraneous detail. But without all of the editing, the story would be just another story, and no one would care to listen. Perhaps this is why truth is so often couched in stories and hidden in everyday life. The creative storyteller writes about particular pain in order to prove that no pain is so particular that it is not also universal.
It should be no surprise that others are afraid, that others cannot bear to sit by and observe the destruction, as they see it, as it occurs before their eyes. But unfortunately, without those others, in the midst of that destruction, we sink deeper into alienation. We separate further from them because we do not want them to see. It is nearly too difficult to bear, even for ourselves. The intensity rises and becomes nearly impossible to bear when it feels as if a chorus from a Greek tragedy stands in judgment on the sidelines.
“…emotions are forms of judgment…it is something close to this thesis that I shall defend.”
-Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (2001)
Do we need others in order to feel human or do we need only ourselves? How do we find ourselves if we need others to be ourselves? Apparently, or so they say, we must learn to love ourselves before others will love us. This stupid pleasantry is supposed to mean something, but it does nothing to reverse the destruction. We do not live in a world filled with solitary, isolated humans. Isolation, in fact, is a form of torture. Without human contact, we go in reverse. We turn away from the selves that makes us who we are. With others we are ourselves, without others we cannot possibly know who we are.
“…we encounter hardships and come to need something that only another can provide; our sense of value, because even when we do not need the help of friends and loved ones, love and friendship still matter to us for their own sake.”
-The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (1986)
This is why I sometimes fear that I have become Rousseau. I worry that I should not write about myself in this way; that it would be better if I hid it behind an alter ego and then called it fiction. No one wants to hear someone else bitch for too long; even our best friends shouldn't have to put up with it. We might say that we don't mind hearing about someone else's problems, but we all have our limits. We all have our own problems, our own ticking clocks, our own motivations and goals--as we should. And so we cannot live in a fantasy. At the same time, we do not want to live in a world stripped of imagination.
My sense of personal identity motivates me on a day to day basis, even though I know very well that others may view my notion of personal identity, or continuity, as an "illusion." In fact, I am likely to agree with them under certain conditions, or in light of a different sort of worldview. I acknowledge that my own sense of self may not be what others see, and in fact, likely is not, most of the time. I am even willing to acknowledge that I probably have a less than average ability to read certain types of situations, and that I should have learned better by now.
But should I have? In many ways, my raw emotional state is a liability-- an immature naiveté that pushes others away because, I suppose, it reeks of neediness. But I am not needy in the sense that I need others to make me who I am. I am needy only in the sense that I need others in order to care about myself in the first place. And I would think that the reverse would be true. When my friends and family tell me that I do not appear to be the "same person" that I was in some former time, I have nothing to say. How could I? To believe them would be to give up all further claims to my own sense of myself as a living being who is experiencing life.
When others tell me that I am a different person, and that the statements that come out of my mouth make no sense, then rationally I should stop talking because there should be nothing more for me to say. If I do respond, I should expect that everything I say from then on will be taken as incoherent ramblings. It's damned if you do, damned if you don't. If I said: "I am not a different person than before" you could say: "what does she know, she's a different person and only a changed person would say that." If I said, "You're right. I am a different person," then that would confirm what you already thought to be the case. No matter what I choose, my response will confirm your previously held belief.
I live my life on the assumption that I know myself best. Without that most basic assumption, I would have no personal identity and that person wouldn't be me as far as I'm concerned. It would mean that I would somehow have to move forward in a world that I would have no understanding of--a world in which I would know that everything and anything I thought about myself was wrong. I don't like that reality because it is far too unstable.
Of course, you might very well say that I will simply justify everything that I do; that I might as well be a murderer who justifies killing people. But, in fact, I am not a murderer (at least not yet) in the sense that I would not be able to kill an innocent person without reason.
How do I know that I wouldn't be able to carry it out? you might ask. I know only because I have watched myself trying to carry through with certain activities that might have helped me in the short term, but that would have hurt me more in the long run. Or perhaps I simply was not comfortable in the situation so I knew that I had to refuse. There was no choice about it because to choose otherwise wouldn't have been me.
Specifically, I'm thinking about a recent experience that I had on an online dating site. This particular fellow liked my profile pictures, which is fair enough, given that I selected them for this very reason. But then he asked if I would be willing to provide him with further "materials."
I'll provide you with cash right now, he added.
In fact, I am currently in need of some extra cash.
Nope, I said.
After a few more questions, he asked:
If you won't do this, and you won't do that...what do you do?
I'm a professor, I said. I teach people things.
In that case, he responded, I think I'll put my wallet away.
He logged off.
It was both depressing and amusing at the same time. Overall, I don't think it's worth getting too bent out of shape over instances such as this. The point of this story is not that I did the right thing by refusing to strip or send naked pictures to the guy. I would not judge other women for doing so, especially considering that I have contemplated the idea very seriously in my most desperate moments. If I could have gone through with it, I could have made some money, after all. The story reaffirms my sense of how ethics work in real life situations. If we are characters in our own stories, then we are truthful insofar as we stick to our emotional barometers in any given situation. One part of truthfulness is sincerity, if I understand Bernard Williams correctly.
For the same reasons that we may want to avoid terms like "slut", we might also want to avoid terms like "murderer". All murderers are not the same. In fact, the term “murderer” is ambiguous in an important way. It is a label for someone, for a certain type of person—the type of person, I suppose, whose business in life is murdering people. But I don’t really believe that a person’s motivations and actions can be neatly tucked behind one noun.
Do I think that it is wrong to murder innocent people without cause? Or course I do. But we should be clear that the sentence:
Murderers are evil
is not equivalent to
Murdering innocent people is wrong
It is the action itself that must be judged. Given certain circumstances, almost anyone could become a murderer. If a murderer is killing me, and I have no other options, would I be justified in killing my murderer? If I am incapable of murdering in this instance, then I am incapable of saving myself. If I do save myself, I may well find it tough living with myself—not to mention living in society—with the knowledge that I am now a murderer when I was not one before. Because I have learned to believe that murderers are evil, I believe that I am now evil as well.
A less extreme example is the "alcoholic" or the drug addict; the person who is high on a day to day basis and cannot get a job. Why can't this person get a job? First, we should scrutinize cause and effect. Is this person unable to get a job because of the alcohol or drugs alone? That is, if we took the drugs away would all employment problems be resolved? Surely not. Surely many more factors are involved.
When we feel as if others are expecting us to “buck up”-- when we feel pressured to "show everyone" that things are going A-ok-- or whatever-- it begins to no longer feel like a choice and we resent the pressure. As a result, we tend to melt under pressure, which leads to others feeling worse about our capabilities. When we sense that others doubt us, we begin to doubt ourselves, and the cycle continues.
I view myself as independent, but at the same time, I function best when I maintain close social relationships. I get lonely easily. Encouragement (as opposed to blind complimenting) motivates me, whereas unrelenting criticism (when it feels unjustified based on my own experiences) and shaming make me angry, or sad, and hinders me.
The other thing that distinguishes me from others, I think, is my inability to feel uncomfortable for too long. I'm not really capable of lying, which is both a detriment--but it's also something that I like about myself. Making others feel better about my existence is not a forte. This trait often comes across as selfish because emotionality is associated with narcissism and lack of empathy. Maybe I am selfish. It's hard to know. I often fear that I’m falling backwards into Rousseau’s autobiographical trap and that I will be lost to the external perspective.
"…I am made unlike any one I have ever met; I will even venture to say that I am like no one in the whole world. I may be no better, but at least I am different.”
-The Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Fundamentally, however, I know that I won't. Ethical conflict stems from a lack of understanding between people rather than any true difference in moral character, most of the time. I'd also like to think that a lack of complicity helps the process along. In other words, as long as we remain open to the possibility of changing ourselves, we are not lost. As long as we continue to believe that we can improve and learn and experience—that there is more to come—then we do not have to be stuck. We do not have to accept any labels that others may throw at us. An ethical life, in my view, requires the combination of the following traits: the willingness to resist any status quo that harms and an unwavering trust in the future, in the world, and in humanity.
 See: Aviv, Rachel. The New Yorker July 25, 2016.