Five Times

reach out to five different people for help and write about your experiences

  • @valor_zhang

Opposites come together like that, just like that. Don't you see? It's easy to deal with many things, in others and in yourself, but ambivalence is not one of them, that mixture of love and hate, approval and disapproval, a tendency toward X and a tendency toward not-X. Nancy McWilliams, in her magisterial tome Psychoanalytic Diagnoses, quotes this rather interesting passage by P. E. Slater, which I think is instructive to quote in its entirety.

"Generations of humanists have excited themselves and their readers by showing "contradictions" and "paradoxes" in some real or fictional person's character, simply because a trait and its opposite coexisted in the same person. But in fact traits and their opposites always coexist if the traits are of any intensity, and the whole tradition of cleverly ferreting out paradoxes of character depends upon the psychological naiveté of the reader for its impact."

When you ask someone for help, it places you in this particular situation that draws these paradoxes out of you. How? It's that curious position of being vulnerable and (in a relative sense) weak and trying to appeal to another person. You have to be careful with that - you could end up in a situation where you abrogate all your power and your agency, living on the whims of the help of someone else. But in light of what McWilliams said, I can't help but wonder if it has to do with the opposite tendency of not wanting to ask for help. You have to respect, the attitude of help, it seems.

Valerie asked me to write about my experiences of reaching out to five different people for help. I'm going to do a slight twist on that - not just five different people, but five classes of people I've asked for help, or to put it another way, five sorts of help that I have reached out for. Whatever it is in the letter of the prompt (though technically at least five people were involved!), I do hope that it's in the spirit of it.

Writing & Beta Readers

The creation of something is a careful, delicate process. There is something that is inside yourself that you try to put into something that's out there in the world. I might even call it a small part of your spirit, or your soul. You put that humanness into an object and offer it to the world as a gift. That's why rejection stings, I wonder because if someone rejects your art or your writing, it might as well be a rejection of what's inside you. I've collected my share of rejection slips, myself, for my writing. I don't like it, but after I look over the rejection and what I submitted, I can't in good conscience say that I didn't deserve that rejection. Because I didn't feel satisfied with it, on a deep level, before I sent it out to this or that magazine. Because it's easier to get something that you don't believe in to get rejected, than something that you really feel is a part of yourself. The former can be laughed off easily. You can't do that with that latter.

God knows I haven't been writing as much as I used to. There's so much good writing around, and there's the difficulty of putting words on a page, and feeling satisfied with it, to see the words flow and feeling happy with them. It's one thing if it's a bunch of notes or sketches jotted down in a hurry, but another when it's something that you want to believe in. Because you have that critic living in your head, shaking their head, scrutinizing this and that, offering no detailed criticism that at least might help you fix it - No, the only thing you get is this vague atmosphere of distaste, that you can't shake free off. You want to share it with people, to everyone you know, and yet you cannot, you can't share it, you can't let that embarrassment get out. It's good, very good, and it's also awful at the same time. The ambivalence forces you into paralysis. Forget asking someone for help - you can't even write.

I've got a short story lying around. The first that I've written in a long time. Is it good? I hope so. I hope that it's well-written, and I hope that it's thought-provoking, stimulating, and intelligently done. In my head, it feels like it's an expression of this image in my brain, and I hope that this particular image can come across, without being indulgent or cringe or poorly written. It's that private feeling that I suppose I want to keep safe, I wonder.

I've asked people to look it over - for help. To see what I should do next with it. The moments leading up to sending it to people are full of resistance, that anxiety, that it's going to fall flat and get embarrassing. So are the moments right after I send it over. Funnily, what helps here is more than the advice that I've gotten, and the reviews I've gotten, but putting myself out there, to reach out to someone with something that personal.

People I look up to

We want what we lack, we look up to those who have what we don't have, and we want to be able to do what we cannot do. "How does he do that?" The distinction between "winners" and "losers", is those who can act on their wants and desires and those who cannot. A tricky balance. Looking up to someone, seeing your own aspirations reflected in them. (It's not their fault, but mine.)

What do I want? To be able to act on my desires, and to work on my aspirations. To be more exact: competence and recognition. I would like to be more accomplished than I already am, but it's more than that. I guess I could list off some general characteristics, - that I would be better at mathematics and physics, that I'd be more social, online and offline, that I'd be a better writer, a published writer, that I'd have better interpersonal skills, that I'd be better of a philosopher. There's no shortage of role models, people to look up to work toward. People who offer you a path of what you can do. I've always been surrounded by competent people, I've found (though that's a position due to selection effects in my schooling.)

It seems that you have to be able to look up to them as people who are role models while giving up that feeling of inadequacy. Paradoxically you have to give up that looking-up-to-them so that you can ask them for help, and actually use that help, instead of being like, I don't know, "omg senpai noticed me, uwu!" You have to really go up to them, "Hi, I want to get better at this and that, how do I get around to doing that?" And then you have to, I don't know, burn that advice into your mind. To get over that embarrassment. I'm trying. It's not easy, especially if you know that you have to have more discipline, have more conscientiousness for that, not glaze over when reading mathematics textbooks and force yourself to put pen to paper, all of that. You have to be able to get that help, by letting yourself reach up to them, and at the same time, you have to let yourself take that advice as, I guess, an anchor, instead of validation, if that makes sense.

Friendship - Reaching Out & Loneliness

Every linguistic utterance is this request for recognition from the other - the other person. It's a call, that you also want to be recognised as this other person, who is this and that, and who does this and that, and who wants this and that. Desire is desire of the other. “Man’s desire is the desire of the Other.” Owen Hewitson glosses that statement in two ways. "Firstly, that desire is essentially a desire for recognition from this ‘Other’; secondly that desire is for the thing that we suppose the Other desires, which is to say, the thing that the Other lacks." [1]

It's the former that interests me more, that desire is a desire for recognition from this other. The other person. Aristotle famously defines the human as the zoon politikon, the political animal. You are produced as a subject when you're caught up in this web of recognitions and symbolic relations, to recognise others and to be recognised in turn. That is why loneliness hurts so much because you find yourself reflected by a gaping void. It's more than that, it turns out that the void originates in you, because in a sense, unless you have a rich inner life, full of traces of persons, there's almost no you out there, to define yourself with. In the absence of other people. And it makes it so hard to reach out to your friends, because you can't shake off the idea that they'll see the void, too. And yet you desire for this recognition from your friends, that you too are a person, that you too are a human being, that you too have a life.

I find it hard to maintain relationships, that is a fact. Making friends, keeping it stable, to have a circle of people around me. My friendships come and go in waves, it's so hard to hold on to someone, all I can do is hope that I can find them again in the next wave. When it comes to reaching out to someone when I feel that way, it's so scary because of how much hope I have in them. I don't know what to do with it. What scares me the most is not a negative response but rather a nothing, just crickets. Which I have been on the receiving end of, often.

I have been trying to keep it out of my mind, to actually do that, to reach out. It doesn't feel pretty, and it's still easy to feel wracked with insecurity - but you know what? When it works, when I can connect with someone again, like that, all that I can feel is this pure joy. Seeing a friend I hadn't seen in a long time, I remember realising that I was grinning so much that my cheeks were beginning to tire a little. It's almost - I'm asking them for help in a sense, sure, but the reverse too is happening, that I'm helping them too, that I'm bringing them joy, too. Fellow-feeling. I think can cherish all this, and I certainly do hope I can replicate it. It's what allows you to live.

Friendships - and Now For Something Completely Different

There's another sort of help, another sort of reaching out with friends, it's actually quite different, even if it might overlap somewhat in the former when it comes to the group of people. More existential, I suppose. "What am I doing wrong with my life?" You can only trust a certain sort of people with questions like this. "What am I doing wrong? Why am I so ...?" I recommend for this reason not only cultivating friends, people who like you but also people who dislike you because they can so easily point out what you're doing wrong.

It's not easy to ask for and it's not easy to receive that help that you've asked for, you have to, I suppose, make sure you aren't falling into the trap of reading what you want to hear into what they say. "Rather, they are always trying to find out what posture the subject could possibly take up, what find he could have made, in order to get himself into a position such that everything we might say to him will be ineffective." [2] You have to sieve out the truth of what is said, even if it hurts, or when the other person is in a less-than-friendly mood ie. harsh or even a touch sadistic. You have to believe in your friends, that they genuinely care for you on some level and want to help you, you have to be open to asking them what the hell is going on when you feel lost, not knowing what to do, not knowing what you are doing. And you have to be comfortable with opening yourself up to facts about yourself you aren't very comfortable with. You have to listen like really listen, it's not easy.

And yet - despite how difficult it has been, it has been good for me. It has been important, to map out where I've gone wrong, and what I should be doing. It's like bitter medicine, really.

The Banal

  • To unroll a hose that's uncoiled and messy
  • Asking for the time something begins or ends
  • Getting a short lift from someone's car so that I can carry my heavy bags out to the gate
  • The name of the song that's an absolute bop that's playing
  • "Hey, do you know where I can stream this?"
  • Borrowing tissues when I've run out of mine
  • "Do you know what's happening on the ...?"

There's no life without the banal, is there?


[2] "Resistance and the Defences", pg. 30 of Jacques Lacan, Seminar I, Les écrits techniques de Freud

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