Thursday, May 11, 2006

Aunt B's readers' survey

Aunt B is asking her readers a few questions, and rather than answer them in the comments, I thought I'd answer them here.

1. What do you hope for? I hope to be a powerfully strong and fast cyclist. I'd like to hike the entire Appalachian Trail before I die, although I'm not stuck on this one. I hope to get a job I genuinely like. I'm not sure what that is though. I hope to always have plenty of time to read and I hope to get some wisdom from that reading. And to get some wisdom from life, period.

2. What makes a "good" person? Someone who can stay open to life and to other people. By "open" I mean someone who genuinely tries to understand other people and where they are coming from. With that kind of openness, can a person be a "bad" person? There's nothing more depressing for me than seeing people disagree and then refuse to consider what the other person is saying -- to be stuck in a rigid opinion.

3. Are you a good person? My answer depends on the day, or even the time of day you ask me. Right now, I'd say yes. I've had plenty of moments when I'd say no though. I do think I'm good at trying to understand other people, so according to my above definition, I'm a good person, but that definition is obviously incomplete and biased towards my own strengths. Mostly my feeling is that I'm such a changeable person -- we all are so changeable actually -- that pinning down if we're good or not is impossible.

4. The Shill once told me (and it's funny that Sarcastro should bring up something similar) that some people, when they meet someone, start that person out at zero and that other person has to earn their way into esteem, and other people, when they meet someone, start that person out at 100, and the person has to disappoint them into lower standing. If you had to say, which would you say that you are? To be perfectly honest, although this isn't pretty, I'd have to say that I make a snap judgment of someone based on their appearance and way of dressing and whatever other clues I've got about them, and then I decide where they start, say between 20 and 80 based on what I know about them and then I revise as necessary. I just don't see how we can start everyone at zero or at 100, since we're bound to have some preconceptions that shape our reactions to them immediately. I guess the important thing is to be willing to make some major revisions to our initial estimation (it's that openness thing again). The more I think about it, though, the more I think I'm a beginning at 100 person. Or maybe 80. I'm pretty likely to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I really don't like being suspicious of people all the time. This means, I'm afraid, that I can be a dupe.

5. Do you hold yourself to that same standard? Hmmm. Again, this varies according to the day and mood. Sometimes I'm willing to start myself at 100 and work my way down if necessary. Others, the opposite, or somewhere in the middle. These days I think I'm more likely to be generous to myself. I criticize myself for plenty of things all the time, but I think I have a deep down loyalty to myself (sometimes very deep down) that keeps me sane.

6. Whatever your religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) was there one defining moment when you said, "Holy shit. This is how the universe works. This is why I believe what I believe."? Or do you do whatever religious things you do out of habit or to appease loved ones? I don't have a moment, but I have a year: the year I began graduate school, right after graduating from college. That was the year I "lost my faith," although looking back it was clear what was coming. Lots of things in college prepared me for it. I finally recognized all those things that troubled my about my childhood Christianity, fully looked them in the face, and said to myself, it's a choice between being true to my feelings here or being true to what my parents and the church have taught me. I chose my feelings. I've kept a vague sort of spirituality ever since but haven't returned to regular religious practice. My mother asked for a while if I was attending church, but she's stopped asking in the last few years. I think she'd prefer not to know. So I don't do any religious things to appease others, but it's easy for me because I live pretty far from my family -- the only people who would be concerned at my apostasy. And they don't pry.

7. Define "art." This is the sort of question I might ask my students to write about, and then realize that if I had to write about it, I'd have no idea what to say. If I were a better person, I'd do all those assignments I ask my students to do myself. Anyway, ultimately, I think there is no real definition of art. Any definition is going to be flawed and incomplete. My students would say something about art being personal expression, and that's what I think of first, and to a certain degree it's true, but it's so bourgeois! That definition privileges the artist, the "one who expresses" above all else. I want to mention beauty too, but some people set out to create art that is ugly or somehow aesthetically neutral. I guess art is something human-made, where the artist pays attention to how the thing is made.