Starring in Our Own Movie

Sophie Sheppard
Painting by painter-environmentalist Sophie Sheppard, auctioned in 1999 at the Authors United in Defense of Mother Earth festival.
No one’s in control. Not the government, not the giant corporatist oligopolies, not some superior being. Not even Gaia, even though she fights a mean battle against those who don’t know their place, and even though she always bats last.

In one sense this is bad news. We cannot expect the government or the market to fix the colossal mess we’ve made of this planet. And technology has always created more problems than it’s solved, and that’s not going to change. And if you believe in the Rapture, or any other salvationist cult, well, give your head a shake.

In another sense this is good news. We each star in our own movie, and no one writes the script for us, though many may refuse to play the part you write for them. And although we have a hand in the unfolding story, much of the plot is outside our conscious direction. We are, after all, figments of reality, and though we can fight our cultural conditioning we cannot overcome the storyline dictated by our body and our genes. We are who we are, and we do what we do for a reason, though that reason is often unfathomable. We do what we must. If we must, we can do anything. If there is no imperative, we do what’s easy, or what’s fun. What’s merely good, or right, or possible, doesn’t enter into it. There is no time for matters beyond the needs, the musts of the moment. If you want to change the world, make it world a better place, prepare to be unhappy with the world and with yourself. If you must change the world, and only if you must, if for you there is no other choice, then you will do it. I salute you for having the convictions of your courage.

In response to my recent post on “making love last” (Tom Robbins’ mantra) my insightful and perceptive friend Siona sent me a long article on rescuing failing marriages by psychologist David Schnarch. For the impatient, here are the key points (emphasis and square-bracketed comment mine):

Sexual boredom, low sexual desire and lack of intimacy are so common as to be one of the major complaints of couples who seek marital counseling, and are probably considered inevitable and incurable by the legions of other bored couples who don’t…

People complaining of a loss of the vital sense of connection they once knew often are deathly afraid of the very intimacy and eroticism they are craving. People have boring, monotonous sex because intense sex and intimacy (and change itself) are far more threatening and fearful than they can imagine, and require more adult autonomy and ego strength than they can muster…

The essence of sexual intimacy lies not in mastering specific sexual skills or reducing performance anxiety or having regular orgasms, but in the ability to allow oneself to deeply know and to be deeply known by one’s partner. So simple to articulate, so difficult to achieve, this ability of couples to really see each other, to see inside each other during sex, requires the courage, integrity and maturity to face oneself and, even more frightening, convey that self–all that one is capable of feeling and expressing–to the partner…

Most…marriages are constructed on the basis of what might be called mutual-validation pacts, in which each spouse implicitly promises and requires in turn the good opinion and emotional acceptance of the other for a fundamental sense of identity and self-worth [what I call the universal longing for attention and appreciation]. Generally, these couples do not really want increased emotional contact during sex, not because their relationship matters too little to them, but because it matters too much.

He goes on to tell the story of one couple: After a long, supposedly intimate marriage, he had lost interest in sex because he no longer found his wife’s aging body attractive, but didn’t say so for fear of hurting her feelings. Schnarch suggested to him “if she was so unaware of his emotional state now, maybe the sex hadn’t been so intimate after all. On the other hand, perhaps she did know how he felt, and just didn’t care–she was not nearly as interested in intimacy with him as she was in being serviced by him, and would put up with his distaste as long as he kept it to himself and performed the job adequately”.

When the patient, distraught at this possibility, later fights with his wife and confesses all, the tumultuous intimacy they then share leads to bouts of intense sex, yet at the same time “the greater the intimacy (which they claimed they wanted), the greater the anger, distress and anxiety” — having to face the risk of being individual, separate selves, fear of loving and wanting more than the other, and hiding behind the pretense of not caring very much about the other so it isn’t so terrible to lose that love.

These two people are each trying to write each other out of their movies. And while Schnarch’s counsel may be illuminating, my guess would be that, for most, it changes nothing. Realizing you’re afraid of intimacy doesn’t lessen your fear. Your fear has a reason, probably long-standing and well-founded. It’s the same among those who go through 12-step programs to overcome addictions. Addicts are who they are, for a reason, physical or emotional, a reason that is likely deep-seated. We are all addicted to something.

That’s not to say that our fears and addictions and personal failings are impossible to overcome, just that therapy and counseling and self-help books and good intentions won’t get you there. You will overcome them only if and when you must. That decision rests with ‘you’, the script-writer of your movie, but it is not entirely in your control. ‘You’ are who ‘you’ are, and, as the authors of Figments of Reality explain, ‘you’ are the emergent properties of your body’s semi-autonomous processes — You are a complicity of the separately-evolved creatures in your body organized for their mutual benefit i.e. you are an organism. And your brain, your intelligence, awareness, consciousness and free-will, are nothing more than an evolved, shared, feature-detection system jointly developed to advise these creatures’ actions for their mutual benefit. Your brain, and your mind (the processes that our neurons, senses and motility organs carry out collectively) are their information-processing system, not ‘yours’. You are a collective of creatures, all banded together, complicit for mutual benefit, with ‘your’ brain their humble servant.

So while there is no larger power preventing us from having free reign in writing our own movie, there are many tiny powers fighting with us (usually successfully) for control of the script. You are therefore just one of the directors, but if the movie of your life turns out to be a miserable tragedy, a critical flop, you have no one but ‘yourself’ to blame.

You just have to laugh at this. Such a paradox, responsibility without authority. And what alesson for each of us on what has to be done! On what we, you, must do.

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