I’m visiting E in Minnesota. Yesterday we drove an hour and a quarter to a soccer game T was playing in. This game was part of the state finals. T’s team is doing very well and actually has a chance of being state champions.
The drive out through the countryside of Minnesota was such a change to our little peace of paradise in the Bay Area. Mostly flat, it was real Midwest farm country. I saw millions of stalks of corn, field after field after endless field with an occasional farmhouse or agricultural equipment supply company. We went through a small town that had some very wonderful large houses. Why did this town exist, out here amidst these farms? How did the people have enough wealth to built these homes? No one knew.
As you know, I couldn’t give a shit about soccer or any sport but I am interested in watching T and J play. They are both excellent athletes. This particular game, played while the sun slowly, slowly set was quite a spectacular one for T, who is a goalie. The other team had a very good offense and shot many goals. T managed to block almost all of them with a skill that was really stunning. Clearly his team would have lost if he wasn’t their goalie and everyone knew it. At one point he jumped so high I exclaimed, “God DAMN!”
I wonder what is like to be 17 years old and feel like a rockstar? I wonder how they affects your life? I suppose it depends on the successes you experience in the years to come. It must be a particularly glorious feeling though.
Then we drove back as the twilight changed into night. I could no longer see the cornfields but could dimly see the woods and some meadow. Unlike our Northern California landscape that make me feel like lying down on the grass and living there, these scenes did not invoke a desire for the wild in me. They seemed lonely. And somehow I could feel that the ocean was very far away.
E had decided that she is going to play hookey tomorrow so I supposed this week will be a real vacation as there will be minimal productivity. As I lay dozing on the beach yesterday there was part of me that thought about all I could be accomplishing, art-wise, if I had stayed home instead. Then I thought, what the fuck, and we got ice cream cones.
I’ve been noticing for a while that the vast majority of people I know who gravitate towards New Age thinking (also known derisively as “Woo”, “Woo-Woo”, “Crunchy”, “Granola”) in the U.S., besides being mostly white, tend to be women. I hardly ever come across a guy who wants to know my sign, although apparently this was a popular pick-up line several decades ago, as in “Hey baby, what’s your sign?” Many women I know feel that astrology is a legitimate science and it is of great interest to them in quickly understanding the people around them.
There’s this idea that women are more intuitive and touchy-feely then men, and believing in things like astrology, affirmations, visualizations are seen as proof of this idea. Like most ideas about gender, the behavior is an taken as an indicator of what’s innate rather than what is taught or what behaviors develop as an adaptation. Women, who continue to be second-class citizens in our society, need to use more tools than men to navigate a world that seeks to disempower them. Astrology is a tool that women use to decipher potential relationships. Can I date them? Can I be friends with them? Can I work with them? If you don’t have a good natural radar for these things, using a tool like astrology may help a woman feel more confident going forward with potential relationships. In reality astrology may be shoring up any feelings someone is having about a new person, such as “I really like this person, but I’m not sure about them. Maybe their sign will give me more information.”
In my experience, astrology is highly mutable. I have never felt that anything that I have heard or read about me reflected who I was in any way (other than one book a friend insisted on showing me saying that I had a strong affinity for animals). Yet when I tell women this, they say “Oh, that’s because you have to know your rising sign/ moon sign / have your chart done.” And even of those details of my chart have long ago been given to me (I was more open to this when I was in my teens and twenties), and I still say it doesn’t reflect me, I am told that the problem is me, not the “data”.
I no longer get annoyed about this type of thing. Well, not much. I know these women are just trying to survive in a world that limits them. To me it’s not science but pseudo-science; to me, it’s grossly inaccurate. To other people, it makes life comprehensible
I have similar experiences with affirmations/visualizations. The U.S. corporate-focused system is not conducive to any creative people. In my experience (yes, this is all anecdotal) creative men are more likely to throw everything they’ve got into succeeding at their art early on. If they don’t succeed to the point of being able to make a livelihood, they put it aside. There’s more pressure on men to be the breadwinner and make a living, which is tied to their identity as a man. If pursuing their art isn’t going to work financially, they can take solace in their identity as the good provider. In reality, many women are the breadwinner and often the sole provider, but I don’t see them taking this on as an identity of strength as men do.
In my experience, I and women I know tend to pussyfoot around (no pun intended) in a less black & white way, but end up feeling dissatisfied anyway. This is what I’ve done and seen other women do. It’s less likely we will only do our art and risk starvation; it’s just too damn risky as a women to leave ourselves with no income. Yet if we give up our art there isn’t another identity such as breadwinner to encourage us to conform. We waffle around, working part-time, working on our art, never really getting to succeed greatly at either. We end up feeling frustrated. We feel we have a message to convey but no way to convey it.
Affirmations and other types of positive thought exercises are a way for a women to try to feel she has more control over her fate. And they certainly don’t hurt anything, right? Sort of. I’ve seen women go from posting them everywhere (on post-its) to complete nihilism. I think there is a backlash in believing too strongly in false systems or ideas, for when they fail, one can be plunged into despair. This happened to me in my youth, when I went to being a religious fanatic to atheist in short order. That is not such a bad thing, but I did have a spell of terrible depression before I got my footing again.
The Universe & the Goddess
Another aspect of women who subscribe to New Age thinking is that they want to distance themselves from the patriarchy but still have a desire to believe in a supreme being or some sort of consciousness ordering their lives. It’s too difficult and painful to believe that everything is random and chaos, for any of us. Well. Except Carl Sagan, perhaps. However, if you don’t want to believe in God, you can just change the gender and Voila! Now you have a deity who is not part of the patriarchy, the Goddess. We can point to historical and pre-historical goddess religions and symbols that indicate that Goddess beliefs preceded God by eons. But how does that make is more legit? People used to believe that the Sun revolved around Earth too. I’m not trying to oversimplify or ridicule people’s beliefs. I’m trying to say that it is fine to believe in deities in whatever form you wish. It’s when that very deity is held up as The Truth, and “facts” are used to show that it is “true”, that I begin to have a problem.
Life is hard, scary, chaotic, bewildering. I sincerely believe whatever gets you through the life, whatever beliefs or ideas ease the journey, are fine. I also believe in trying to face up to the doubts and fear behind creating these beliefs are very important.
*apologies to Carl Sagan for the title