Inflated Pride 

On my bed are two balloons: one, blue, and the other green. I bought them a couple of years ago in one of those dollar store packages of balloons you get at the grocery store or Walmart. Most people buy balloons for some party giving occasion, but I bought them because I intended to use them for a photoshoot for a student design project for a book about clowning. In the end, although I took the pictures, I did not use them for the project. Instead, I took a picture of a classmate wearing the clown nose I had bought. She had an anxious, almost sad expression. The balloons came home to rest on the television nook for a year. I took them off about a week ago, intending to use them for a friends party. I was a guest, but even for all of my outward hilarity, I felt out of place. For one, I was among the very few attendees who did not have children. Most of my friends were distracted by their offspring for much of the visit and our conversations only occurred in brief half-minute exchanges that are difficult to piece together into an entire thread. Thought is broken up, and lacking words to fill the spaces between us, emotion fills in the cracks. This time, it was anxiety and embarrassment for having become this old without a clear direction in life, and a certain sadness for being middle-aged and not having a place entirely of my own or a career that marks me as a reasonably successful person who has the means to provide solely for himself and, perhaps, one or two others. The balloons came home in my jacket pocket, and somehow, through a series of small and unremarkable and forgettable daily actions, ended up on my bed next to my evening reading material.


I have had a couple of tormenting dreams. The most memorable of which was not the one in which I experienced the hell of being in a place or among people who I did not wish to be around and responding to their terrible actions. No, the most memorable and meaningful one centered on how my vision of myself, my self-concept, is opposed to reality and is mildly delusional in a mundane manner. However, please do not think that I mean to say "delusional" that I imagine myself as some character like "Napoleon," or think of myself special and unique, apart from every other human on the planet. Other than the experience of being human with human thoughts when we find ourselves by ourselves with moments for reflection, I do not live in a world separate from reality, nor do I have such a disconnection with reality that I cannot operate as a functional member in it.

The delusions that I mean are the ones that the generality of humanity has about itself in our era. We each think of ourselves as the heroic actors struggling in the movie or play of ourselves, and how we are being either shaped by tragedy or accomplishment, we thereby achieve the natural results of our endeavors, endeavors that most of us judge to be good.

And yet, this belief is nothing short of vanity.

As young people, this sort of vain thinking is so extreme in its improbability as to be utterly laughable if it was mentioned aloud. As adults who have mellowed (or tried to) in their years, the struggles we imagine lend to our shaping as beings of pure virtue surrounded by difficulty are much, much more mundane. No longer do we imagine ridiculous success filled with fame and fortune; instead, we find our "heroic" struggles in paying bills, dealing with co-workers or relatives, or some other life event. But, in its way, this sort of thinking is can be no less vain or laughable.

Which leads me to my dream. I cannot say what the images were that played in my head, who the "actors" were in this dream, or what I saw. Frankly, I have forgotten it; perhaps, if I try to recall as accurately as I can, I saw myself. The real meaning of the dream was in its impact. I realized that how I see myself in my daily actions, how I comport myself in my head and the thoughts I have about myself, can be in complete and utter conflict with how things really are. My thoughts, which I believed were a reflection of reality, a pilgrim's path of virtue, were in fact, imaginings that were vain to a such degree that it led me to blindness.

My attachments to how I want my life to go, to how I want to direct myself to this new heroism of virtue, lead me to think of myself as an heroic actor. And yet, to really be a decent man, I have to give up this stupid thought. I am not a mighty hero, standing tall with a sword of nobility against the gales of ungodly daily enemies. Enemies representing everything from my propensity for anger when a driver cuts me off, or my pride of intelligence and creativity I feel I receive an unfair criticism about my work. Yes, I do need to fight against those things, to give up anger and pride. But to imagine myself as the heroic actor in this play of myself? That is too much limited thinking. It makes me the center of a universe that disdains me for silly haughtiness and spits me out towards wretchedness.

I must strive to be a better person who can attain virtuous qualities and do a good deed or two a day, but I should also give up the idea that I am a better person for doing so, because that leads to pride, which causes blindness, and then people fall. And when they fall, the fall horribly hard and damage themselves. There is another thought here about seeing the end in the beginning, about how recognizing how this path of pride and vanity will lead to falls, and therefore, seeing danger ahead, one can avoid it. But I will leave that thought for another time, so that I may better try to hold on to the feeling of being exposed in my dream for my vain thinking which has led me to this wasted day and feelings of remorse for the stupid things I say and do in these occasions. I truly want to be a better person, I want to be virtuous, but life can really show me up sometimes, so I have to guard myself from too much stupidity on my part and recognize that, for how much I think I know, I really don't know anything.

28 February 2011
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