Feb 21, 2005

Character flaws:

Today on my way to school, I was thinking about mine. For example: I had to get to school early this morning so I could revise and print a term paper proposal that was due at 9:30 a.m. This is kind of poor planning, no? Especially since the proposal only had to be 600 words give or take 100 and aside from meticulous formatting according to the Chicago Style, my bibliography was pretty much done a week ago. This isn't for my African American history paper btw, this is a different one.

Then I was thinking about those folks who end up on the title page of the University web site... the ones who are meant to serve as a inspiration and only make me feel more inadequate and loserish. Like, there's the guy who was diagnosed with leukemia and whose wife gave birth to their second child when he was in his fourth year of ... I don't remember - physics or something. And he still made the Deans list in spite of chemotherapy and having a new-born. Or the chick who manages to work 30 hours / week, raise five kids on her own, and complete a PhD in half the regular amount of time. Okay, I made that last one up - but I bet there is someone out there who fits my fictional profile of courage.

I both admire and envy these people, and at the same time I know that kind of perseverance is completely out of my grasp. Which takes me back to the character flaws.

One of course is envy, as evidenced by the surges of inadequacy and irritation I feel when I hear about the incredible success of others. The other is deeply entrenched laziness. I used to think I was one of those people who works "smarter not harder" but strictly speaking this isn't true. I seldom work smart. I spend ridiculous amounts of time staring off into space and thinking up interesting project ideas that I have no time to undertake because I've spent so much time staring into space having ideas, that I've missed my self imposed deadlines for urgent school projects and end up making the actual deadlines only by pulling an all-nighter.

Another character flaw is the very notion that I should be able to compete with those spectacularly talented and hard working exceptional people. Especially since I am not spectacularly talented, hard working or exceptional myself. This is nothing but vanity. These people are exceptional precisely because they bear so little similarity to me.

Which reminds me of Notes from Underground:

About ten years ago I was working at a job I hated with a woman who was exceptional in her own unique way. She was undergoing some rather hideous cancer treatments, but she was no model of composure in the face of nausea and a potentially fatal illness. This young woman was a true misanthropist and we got along like gang-busters. My capacity for darkness sometimes surprises me. Anyway, the last time we worked together before she became too ill, she gave me her copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes From Underground. She said it was her favorite book, and I kept that in mind as I read it. I couldn't see her in it actually, but I saw something of myself from the first paragraph:

I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I
believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don't consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can't explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot "pay out" the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don't consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well let it get worse!

People are never as entirely good or as miserably bad as they think they are, including me. That absolutism is just another form of vanity. We all want to be exceptional. Still, there is something satisfying about peering into your own dark corners and finding them grimmer than you thought they could be...

I dislike people without dark corners. People with moral clarity. People who seem forever to find their path come alive with light.People who haven't yet been to the bottom of their own personal dark pit of despair and managed to claw their way out. This is also a character flaw. Not theirs, but mine. I used to think I envied them, but now I'm not so sure. There are those who have been to the darkest places in themselves and now find even twilight is full of sparkle in comparison. These people I have an abiding respect and admiration for, but why should I? The only people who do not have their own stories of survival are either lucky, crazy or dead. And for the lucky ones, you never know when the world will break open and try to swallow you whole, at which point you will, to use the standard cliche's, either sink or swim.

In the mean time, I will try not to judge too harshly. I don't wish to linger underground myself. After all, it is rather self indulgent (another character flaw).


The Head said...

I have clarity of vision, but I'm a lazy fucker.

darth said...

wait..self indulgence is a FLAW??? i thought it was a gift!

c said...

You sound pretty buoyant, not burrowing underground. I love your image of the sparkling twilight. The light never looks as good without the dark behind it.

Another term for the character flaw is the 'heroic' flaw - the element that the hero(ine) must overcome or learn to manage in order to succeed in a quest.

That's really about narrative, but it's the same in life. Some flaws are more easily identified and managed than others. Something like depression is one of the slipperiest.

All the things you mention - inadequacy, envy, feelings of laziness, guilt - are the same bag of rattlesnakes. Maybe depression is not a character flaw at all, but a mischieveous trickster spirit that's always trying to misdirect your quest.

This may sound a bit flaky. Just to say - I know exactly what you're talking about.

thephoenixnyc said...

C, are you a Joseph Campbell reader?

Bella, this may shock you, but everyone feels the way you do. In fact those superacheivers may feel all the more deeply and are overcompensating for it. They are trying to fill the void.

The void that we all have in our soul, the one that can be filled with the right things or the wrong things.

I reached my depths of despair and horror 6 years ago.

Then I embarked on my "Heros" journey and have filled the void.

The character flaws your refer to often are the manifestations of two things. 1. what grows in the void 2. wrong desire

Bella_by_Barlight said...

C: You're right, I'm fairly buoyant actually... I've gotten better at observing my darkness from the edges of the pit (most of the time) I already know what's down there :shudder:! You don't sound flaky at all. I agree. I suspect the trickster you mention is sometimes a phantom we manifest when in fact, we're simply afraid of going around the next corner.

Darth: that was just me making a virtue out of necessity ;)

Mister Head: Well at least you know yourself! :P

Phoenix: Hence your moniker? Rising from the ashes? There is not much that shocks me, I seldom think I'm anything other than perfectly average (hence my observation re: the vanity of believing yourself to be perfectly good/fully evolved, or horribly bad/ hopelessly un-evolved)

Campbell's hero’s journey is an excellent roadmap; we all still have to drive our own car. Sometimes my headlights burn out.

Arethusa said...

I'm fairly sure that I am more fucked up than I think I am, but not exceptionally bad. I don't know myself all that well yet but I'm beginning to realize that I see myself as woefully average and I hate that because damn it Sesame Street told me I was special. :P

I think I'll be blogging about this as well.

Madame D said...

"You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake" -Tyler Durden.

We all want to be special, different, magical.

The fact is, we are.

Maybe not to everyone.

Maybe not even to ourselves.

But for some people, we are the cream in their coffee.

And unfortunately, I've lost the rest of that lyric, but damn it, I've gotten my point across, and that's all that matters.

thephoenixnyc said...

Thus my moniker

Brian said...

Wish I could have jumped on this thread earlier, but I'll throw my 2 cents in now: I would consider depression the "belly of the beast" portion of the Hero's Journey. that dark, dangerous point of the story where all hope seems lost. Usually caracters are saved at the last minute by something out of nowhere (the ghost in the machine.)

So does that make therapy and antidepressants the Deus ex Machina of the modern age?

This post could not be more random and pretentious. Thank you!

Bella_by_Barlight said...

I wrote a term paper several years ago on the Heroes Journey and the American cowboy film narrative. Actually, what I found most revealing is the way the journey itself, in a symbolic way, didn’t change, but that the themes in the films spoke directly to contemporary issues in US social politics. Fascinating. It was especially odd since, as I didn’t know anything about cowboy movies, I pretty much randomly chose eight films that roughly covered four decades of American cinema.

Arethusa: You seem decidedly well adjusted. Therefore, I hate you. ;)

The rest of you are too smart for me.