The unity of nearness and remoteness involved in every human relation is organized, in the phenomenon of the stranger, in a way which may be most briefly formulated by saying that in relationship to him, distance means that he, who also is far, is actually near. For, to be a stranger is naturally a very positive relation: it is a specific form of interaction.
- Georg Simmel, The Stranger
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Ideas stick like burdock seeds to clothes: unintended, found in places you didn't know existed, hidden to you, but part of you. Should you become aware of them and try to pry them off fragments will still remain, a burr to remember your passage this way. The Stranger is one of those burrs, something I walked past years ago and somehow it became attached to me: sometimes silent, sometimes an irritant. Simmel wrote, clear-eyed, about the unique position of European Jews at the turn of the 20th century: part of the community, but not of it, a necessary intermediary, a necessary scapegoat, their economic mobility contrasted to the rootedness of the landed gentry. He was bedeviled and captivated by the near and far, the two elements of the stranger.
I am, too, and by very different means I, too, see this as a remarkable unity.
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To be fucked, as I use the term here, is to be disjointed, out of place, stuck, frozen up, lost and disconnected from the elemental forces of your life–forces that are known only to you in their specifics through your experience, but known to anyone and everyone who has felt the tug of life's tide pulling them into oceanic waters. To that I would add that to be fucked is to abandon or doubt the unity of your experience and instead choose either near or far, settling for once and for all which side you are on. Doing so is the very thing that fucks you. In order to be near and far, remote and present, requires but one thing from you: to be able to move (in space, in time, across thought, by desire). Fucked is stuck and it goes nowhere.
Now, take a look around. You can see the evidence of lives plopped on one side of that line or the other. The landed, the folk, the stable, the near live lives made stable by commerce and their ability to remain in place: home ownership, careers, nationalism, consensus, law, institutions. Their opposite, the remote ones, the distant others live lives completely foreign to the landed: esoteric, aloof, elite, or on the lower rungs, homeless, vagabond. To be so one or the other is to limit what is possible in life, is to choose a set of blinkers (for the unlanded are no less bound to their choice than the home owner) and only allow in that which comports with the choice one has made. Cogito ergo sum is now remade into, I think thus and thus it is: Puto ego tale et tale est.
And lives are lived happily here.
But you are reading something called Unfuck Your Life, so perhaps that happiness has eluded you. It has eluded me as well for many years. Yet, through slog and trial, the idea clung to me that it did not have to be this way. Predisposed to being unsettled, I tried to be settled and failed. But out of that failure came four children and that relationship settled me, in part, but also left me unsatisfied. It was as if I could not be gracious for the privilege of being their dad, for the lessons of the fire we all walked through. For an idea clung to me and I could not quite name it.
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Lives are lived on a continuum, a long stroke of possibility and the emphasis any life places on one point of that continuum, is different than the emphasis of the next life. We thrum and vibrate along lines of what is humanly possible. It is difficult to be outside the group, to feel unwanted or rejected, to reject others. It feels like we're missing out on the basics of human experience. It is difficult to stay put, to adventure this far and no further out of obligation or expectation. Depending on who you are, what you've seen by now you may wish for the opposite of what you have, you may be snug and smug with what you've got and in either case you're fucked. You are looking outside yourself for answers. Only other peoples' answers are out there, mate. Even this blog.
Now, the one person I haven't spoken of here is the artist, the creative and their place in all this. I must admit that I don't have much patience with defining "artist" as someone engaged in the fine arts alone. I define the artist as someone who is crafting their life using old forms and innovating from there. All of my writing is aimed at that audience. And it is in this conception of the artist that the long-ago encounter with Simmel's Stranger finds the expression I have been searching for.
To be near and far at the same time is to collapse all duality, all categories, all proscriptions written from within one camp or the other: religious, economic, political. Fluidity, participating in the joys and sorrows of your community while still retaining a longer sense of time, of objectivity that induces compassion. This is what the artist does, this is what art is made of: compassion. Artists own homes as easily as they own nothing. Artists represent their time and place as easily as they transcend it. The Stranger is no stranger. It is you, the positive relation to the whole, for the artist is both individual and specific to the days of her life, and the whole itself: foreground and field, the remarkable unity of a specific expression (your life) in the context of all lives.
Seen from this angle, what is there to be stuck by? What is there that can hold you in place, a partisan for one side or the other? Only one thing: fear. We fear we are not enough, that we won't know what to do, or that what we have to offer won't find acceptance. It is a pervasive thing and is the most powerful keeper on your life. In order to be an artist, of any stripe, to make your life an offering to those close beside you and to your time, to build out compassion through your works, you must first be compassionate with yourself. It is time, love, to let go of the anger and self-loathing for not knowing sooner, the regret that things took the time they did and the road and losses were long and great to get here. Forgive it all and keep moving. You have stories to tell, a life to live. And if there isn't as much light in the sky as there once was, if your days have slipped by and middle age or old age is upon you, no matter. You can begin now, for the only thing that does not end is now.
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I wish you well.