Wednesday, March 05, 2008

On Self-Respect

I read this quote in September when is was published on Maud Newton from Joan Didion's Slouching Toward Bethlehem, told myself to buy the book (and I would have today had I not had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.) I've referenced it more than once in conversation and today I felt the need to bring it up again within the context of the conversation I had with a friend today. It revolved around a writers discipline and the art of saying no:
If we do not respect ourselves … we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out — since our self-image is untenable — their false notions of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Hellen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan: no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous…

It is the phenomenon sometimes called “alienation from self.” In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something so small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — their lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.

"And lead us not into temptation" as the scripture goes. I've got to have a little more self respect, when it comes to my writing, my friendships, my relationships. I've got to learn to say no and distance myself. I cannot be apart of it all and still give time to my writing.

Just my thoughts on today.

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At 12:17 PM, Blogger dqerwin said...

how is lack of self-respect related to a lack of self? What if - sometimes, or to some extent - this problem is caused by the fact that we don't perceive ourselves as well or as thoroughly as others percieve themselves? Then we overcompensate to try to demonstrate that we know what it's like to be human, that we can empathize and communicate.
The sad part is that it usually works - who would call us out? Who (especially there in NYC) is sufficiently unconcerned with him/herself that they'll see your behavior as your own madness, and not a reflection on them?


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