Subject to Perspective

While reading Emerson on a hot humid lawn, nature’s sounds orchestrated my musings of his essay on poets. Rich in language, Emerson attempted to give a verbally seductive argument that painted a variety of emotional responses to the bad poetry of his day. His rational descriptive arguments sliced point to point through essayed rhetoric, giving a clearer portrait not only of the poet, but of an artist.

I was astounded by a single line. After a long description of genius, Emerson captured the essential element necessary for the artist to be an artist. He claimed, that genius expresses itself not only in the prescriptive forms, but more so through an “insight which expresses itself by what is called Imagination … [which] does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees, by sharing the path, or circuit of things through forms, and so making them translucid to others.” This qualia of creative imagination, within any medium, provides the foundation for genius in all disciplines.

We entered the library for the lecture.

The Emerson lecture started well, but slowly digressed because of contradicting analyses of the professor. I stopped listening after two hours of general claims that provided no documentation to prove veracity. My attention then diverted to look within the faces of my peers to see their reactions to these undocumented interpretations, conflating theory on theory, imposed by professorial privilege.

The faces of my peers painted stern contemplations. I projected that these captive learners felt the same confusions I experienced. I noticed their eyes slowly buried themselves under furrowed brows, and downturned smiles that began to sleep with eyes wide opened. We sat what seemed like an eternity, battling out the artistic relevance of a single piece of text; debating whether Frederick Douglas’ narrative was a work of art, outside of its utility to argue against the harms of slavery within this certain place and time.

The questions went round and round for hours. Should we consider memoir art? Is autobiography art, history, philosophy? We compared one of notoriety versus the dulled exhortations of those less talented writers. Questions whirled on the meaning of language: When is a sentence art? How can we know the intention of the writer? If all literature is art (Iris Murdoch) is a manuscript art? The questioning seemed circular.

Electrified by the contradictions, my instincts engined utterances of metaphor upon metaphor that challenged the biased analysis whenever given the chance to speak. My underlying objection to the absence of historicism in the discussion grounded my critiques. IF we analyze a piece of literature, its very essence of being claims that this intellectual property has a history. The examination of form and function, and the choices the author makes is grounded in a person’s psychology and event context. People don’t write in a vacuum. They are motivated by forces that in many ways are cultivated by alliances, and the impact of tangible external events. Philosophers more easily consider historicism, but English teachers have greater difficulty, as the text in and of itself is the primary concern.

We all gave our conclusions with detailed examples that often derailed the initial point. In the end, most participants resisted moving outside their disciplines, and so discourse met dead ends. Conclusions were left to the eye of the beholder. After hours of moving through this single author’s writing, questions about its artistic relevance remained unanswered, and historicism was swept under the rug.

Sitting for long hours makes me uncomfortable. I couldn’t help obsessing about the professors contradicting assertions. My arrogance of rightness empowered my privilege of thinking, thus I felt justified in giving my two cents whenever the moment allowed. My impatient views empowered my ego. Later, upon reflection, I felt embarrassed by my assumptions, falling into self absorbed thinking that my exhortations were of a false humility. Like a monkey that sits silently on my back, the truth that my problematic early years failed to diligently read and write feeds a repeating low self-esteem about my academic abilities. This self deprecation feeds a self-preserving, perhaps self-righteous, desire to be right.

At the end of this day long session, mental exhaustion from sitting too long overtook my atrophying legs. Although I struggled to lift myself out of the chair, once standing, I briskly made my way back to the dorm. As the hot humid weather drenched me during this mile walk home, my inner dialogue spoke aloud to an invisable audience.

In these moments of reflection, I relived my actions like a memoir, making arguments – claims and warrants – that fleetingly questioned my process. Fear is such a cunning enemy of intellect. Through my self-imposed training to turn fearful thoughts over to positive self-affirmations, I looked to just what was before me – the rationality of my arguments.

Language too easily confounds perspective. One’s chosen word to define a point in time can be contrary to the definitions used in other disciplinary contexts. Discourse then serves to clarify the confusions, and helps to build a common ground. For the surviving self, these moments of learning nurture the intuitive perspective through open-mindedness to things unimagined by the naked eye.


So after searching the net for memoirs of persons with celiac disease, I found only a few articles, and one book, by sufferers that were half my age. Wondering where the women who diagnosed late in life were, I rationalized they had busy lives managing kids, or working long hours managing a career than to spend time writing.

The articles I did come across were light and focused on informing people about the disease – one book focused on the humor of new eating patterns. No one seemed to express the suffering that misdiagnosis can have on a person’s development.

My resentments against doctors reach all the way back to high school. The signs of a problem showed during adolescence, but since no one saw the cause as something other than give them iron for the anemia, they stopped there and did not link all the afflictions as a single whole –  the doctor’s looked no further when confronted with disparities.

The brain is a delicate muscle. Imagine a brain that doesn’t get enough water – a brain without the nutrients of food – the stress of growing up with a brain that makes thoughts come out sideways. Welcome to my world of a life of physical problems that could never be diagnosed. Auto-immune diseases have genetic dispositions. That means children, mis-diagnosed and growing up adjusting to the dis ease of their bodies trying to cope, never develop to their fullest potential.

I used to blame my parents for my fate in life. Now I blame the doctors.

When I was young, the feelings of being outside of the family circle certainly was part of my life process. Being third birth order of four girls in five years reinforced the feelings of inadequacies. My self-image – the physical comparisons to my early Barbie dolls, and the efforts of my mother to have perfect beautiful girls, which was not normal – clearly indicated that my distended stomach and anemia were greater problems that wasn’t my thyroid.

Doctors told my mother and father my condition was normal – just feed her more spinach! As the symptoms took more voracious turns, the variety of doctors defaulted to genetics – or an anomaly that would pass. They were right about the genetics, but the diseases only multiplied and did not desist. I had undiagnosed celiac disease, and by the time I hit high school, the mental and physical damages were done. Losing my hair should have been a clear indicator.

The doctors escaped culpability by reasoning their diagnoses were right. Eventually, this discomfort had to be quelled, and self medication seemed the logical course of action. I often wonder how many have followed this same course.

Got pushed.

The hardline stories of growing up always bring me to tears. Although my experiences reflect more of the mundane in middle class white suburbia to their urban decay, I feel the pain and powerlessness of those neglected children. These emotional images swell up inside me, and inevitably become tears.

The recreated stories of disenfranchised urban poor children, so diametrically different from me on the outside, seems all to familiar on the inside. Once told, I, all too well, feel their violation – their intuitive desire to shut the feelings out – to hide through fantasy in a different, more perfect life – to survive. Driven by an unending fear, the shame and loneliness overwhelms, stymying any forward actions the damage child may want to take.

After such reads, I try to comprehend my voice, but pull back, comparing and judging my less dramatic circumstances. I wonder if my aptitude of empathy and compassion is only driven by my affluent guilt. When I remove those judgements from my feelings, and just feel someone else’s life’s pain, I can more rationally tell the story that would need telling – see the story more objectively. The opportunity to advocate then opens up, and I can more confidently move forward with my job to tell the story.

Posited to offer a means by which those who have the power to change the world will listen, I attempt to consider classroom activities that hopefully provides students the opportunity to comprehend the exact nature of the wrongs these disenfranchised people experienced; to accept that such circumstances, despite 21st century progressiveness, exist; and to encourage participation in more compassionate and meaningful acts to change the system that has allowed such harms to exist. Perhaps, in some slight way, advanced high schools should be ethical think tanks for a more progressive society. These school’s influential students, who are on the path to become influential adults, would take part in the dialectic discourse that questions not only the ethics of the system they are working towards joining, but the validity of that system in and of itself.

Unadulterated competition destroys bonds of compassion and empathy because by its nature the weak must be obliterated by the strong to perpetuate its place of power. All are become subjects to the system, which has no moral obligation. In Darwinian social norms, the strong survive and prosper over the dispensable weak. This thinking does not account for any real application of equality of condition in accessing opportunity.  Although we have institutionally set out to undo the separate but equal mentality, we have not considered how defacto inequality persists. In fact, history clearly illustrates that defacto discrimination persists despite democratic legislative efforts to increase equal opportunities. Changing individual psychology is far more complex than changing and applying a law. Applying laws does not guarantee that practical reasoning will change.

Realism is a priori to the abstraction, and the abstraction applied is the best means to a broader utility. If we can know the problem of a minority disenfranchised group, then we can transform their parochial needs into a broader concept of societal needs, built upon compassionate, tempered competition, with more fair distribution of opportunity.

My life is fortunate, in that my journey has ventured to both spectrums of experience (privileged and disenfranchised). As I rose from the ashes of self-destruction, the rooms taught me to see how selflessness and empathy are the cornerstone of social interactions, and service to society, the central tenet of action. Here, usually, are misconceptions. I am not talking about service as giving a service based activity, but rather encompassing charity and fairness in all my actions, and always striving to bring out the best in any situation without increasing any disenfranchisement. Selflessness in one’s daily actions, whatever they may be, becomes primary, not institutional philanthropy.

So, I got pushed by the story, however contrived, that the sins of the father, are the sins essentially in society. So we must push forward, to undo harms, and find increasing compassionate efforts of inclusion.