I’ve been thinking. I need to do something about my life. It’s in a state of unacceptableness. That’s the worst state. I’m not joking. And I know this, because my mind is in such an unprecedented, acceptable state!

What am I doing, writing yet one more post on some darn moronic Steiner waldorf education topic? Really, what? You see, I’m at least considerate enough not to say that in some important thread, so that it not be ruined, but can be used productively.

But, actually, the question is relevant. Why do I do this? It’s not very likely to make any difference to me now, or is it? Waldorf education is so much a thing of the past, and if parents today want to throw their kids into that bottomless pit, as far as I’m concerned they’re welcome to go ahead. What do I care? I don’t.

It’s an honest question — how much of my life am I wasting? Not that I know what I’d be doing. After all, the blog (for example) is lovely (and so is the ethereal ice-cream and champagne, not to speak of the chandeliers), but it seems like it’s too much of a replacement for something else, that thing called real life, that thing other people have (I’ve heard). The writing is my parallel reality, but parallel to what? So, there in plain view it is. Failure. Because that’s what it is, right?

I guess the real question is why I had to throw myself into that bottomless pit (again, as an adult) to find out what things were about (finding that the pit was not, in fact, bottomless) and neglect (somewhat) to lead a life at the same time and thus creating for myself another pit that may very well be bottomless or at least impossible to get out of. Apparently neglecting life. That thing that happens to other people because they make it happen. Or perhaps it is their destiny, their karma, to be immersed in it. Life.

Frankly, I never knew how to. As a child I saw other children play, but I seem to be born the spectator, not the participant. Those are two different things. Two very different roles in life. And no matter what you want to be, you get stuck in one category. Some people are spectators; they keep looking at things, but keep their hands and their heads, their minds, away from humdrum reality or, for that matter, exciting reality. They watch, but don’t take part. They keep themselves confined to fantasy land. But the desire to be real keeps pressing on.

Ah, the agony. I feel suitably pessimistic, melodramatic and alien. I should go read some Pessoa. It’s not so bad. It never was. Perhaps I realize the stupidity and futility of my project (or projects) because I see I could have done better. Avoided regrets (of course, regret might be good, and am I really regretting anything?). And don’t tell me that what I’ve done and written was helpful or useful or whatever — I don’t give a damn. I did it for egoistic reasons. I just think that, perhaps, I should have been even more of an egoist — understanding myself better and predicting what I was going to want and need later. Not waking up at this old (oh, yes, old) age, thinking what the heck. But then again, I never really understood myself. Or mr Dog. Or the world.

35 thoughts on “life

  1. Lovely post Alicia. I think your intelligent mind may be telling you that no pit is truly bottomless… and perhaps your biography is telling you that you need to find the bottom of this particular pit. But… as you allow yourself to sink once more to the bottom, you may not realize you are bringing an amazing beautiful shining light with you this time. The creatures who live at the bottom of this particular pit don’t like light you’re bringing (these creatures go by initials like AWSNA and SWSF). They scatter when they see your light coming… but where do they scatter to? Where they feel most comfortable of course, down to the bottom of the pit. The more light that is thrown on them, the more creature-like they become in their deceitfulness and denial.

    The good news is, eventually, you will actually reach the bottom of this pit – and when you do, and the light shines there for a while… these poor miscreants will realize there’s only one way to escape now… UP! Eventually, one by one, as the light shines on them, these poor souls will come to understand the harm they have done. How their actions have been in complete opposition to their goals. They may someday understand that cult behavior is the exact opposite of being “individuals”… and that true “freedom” comes from the access to information not by the control of it. But that can only happen when somebody shines the light ALL the way to the bottom – where the very ugliest of these creatures reside.

    Now, having said this, nobody would fault you, of course, for having shined the light (this blog) as far as you can – even if you don’t reach the bottom of this pit. There are others (like me) who are headed to the bottom with you… (we’ve got lights too) and who knows, maybe with enough of us, we can make the trip not quite so dreary… ;)

  2. You know what I have wondered this for a while now. Close the blog open your door and step outside, there’s a whole world out there x

  3. Anon: er, no. What makes you think I do not want to keep writing? (Maybe that is an interpretation possible to make, based on my text, but it baffles me and I think it’s quite weird! — people who tend to write don’t stop writing because they also do other things, do they?) And who are you, since you say you’ve ‘wondered this for a while now’? Why have you wondered this for a while now?

    Pete: thanks! The miscreants are digging themselves into the mud at the bottom of the pit’s deepest, darkest, most unpleasant corners, no doubt ;-) Problem is, when they’ve got their heads stuck in the mud, their breathing is severely hampered.

    Dean: thanks!

  4. Ps. I have no intention of closing the blog or shutting down steiner/waldorf critical content. Even if it were to rest more, I’m certainly not closing it down. Just sayin’.

  5. HI Alicia,
    I think you are doing things, not just watching – your blog provides the focus for a debate on a subject that means a lot for lots of people, albeit in very different ways. So you’re not just a spectator. But it’s hard if you are drawn to campaign against something rather than for something – my job puts me into that situation quite often and it can be very draining. I actually just wrote a piece about it for my own website, here:

  6. Hello Joe, I love that elk sweater!! You have some points. Although I think also that sometimes whether you’re campaigning for or against something is a matter of interpretation — I’m sure many who try to debate the negative sides of steiner education are, in effect, campaigning for what they think is good (or better) education. If you see what I mean.

    Of course, I don’t campaign. It bores me. It would drain me, definitely. Blogging is pretty much all I’m doing re the Steiner issue, and as campaigning it certainly fails spectacularly (if campaigning were the intention) — I’m way too unstrategical… I definitely don’t try to rally people together or… I don’t even know. Organize things. Contact journalists. I don’t do anything like that, you know, the things I would count as campaigning. I generally say no to people who want to do things on Steiner stuff; not getting involved. If there’s going to be a Steiner campaign in Sweden (or elsewhere) it won’t be through me or with my help. I’ve written a few things, that’s all. I write this blog, but that is a melange of the oddest things…

  7. I don’t know how it’s possible to have such a strong feeling that life is over when you’re 35. I didn’t expect it. And I guess the phenomenon must seem like an affront to reason. But still. That’s what it is.

    I do feel that LIFE is OVER! If I don’t LIVE this month or the next it’s over!!

    You know what that anthroposophical doctor said when I was a kid? (I know you know because I’ve said it before.) That I wasn’t going to grow old. Or something like that. I’m not entirely sure what, but that was the gist of it. 35 is over-time, isn’t it? Oh, I know better than to listen to loons. But still.

  8. 35 is young! But I’ve noticed something in myself and in my friends – at some point around 35 or 40 you start feeling really old. Sometimes people even start looking a bit old, feeling tired, closing off a bit from things. Then a bit later on, maybe at 42 or 43, you mysteriously start getting younger again.
    I think for some of my friends it’s been to do with lifestyle – if you keep on drinking and going out a lot, by your mid thirties you start losing the resilience; at some later point you start living a healthier lifestyle so you start getting younger again. Or there again if you have children, when they’re young it takes it out of you but it gets easier as they grow up so you recover a bit. But I do think there’s also a kind of underlying pattern there.
    So hang in there – soon you’ll start getting younger again.
    I expect the anthroposophical doctor really meant that you will always remain young at heart, even as you live to a ripe old age. It’s all in the interpretation…

  9. No, he actually told the other kids to be ‘nice’ (which, given the circumstances, was pretty dumb) because I was not going to live (I meant, ‘not grow old’ as in not living to an older age, perhaps a language mess-up). They told me although they weren’t supposed to. It wasn’t a compliment, it was serious — a death sentence, more or less. I wasn’t told anything directly; I wasn’t supposed to know. Expecting that anthro doctors mean nice things is perhaps slightly naive. They work from an anthroposophical understanding of the human being — and it isn’t always nice, soft and attractive. It has elements of cruelty.

    I always felt out of place as far as age was concerned. Oddly. Maybe I’ve been reincarnated so many times (or so few?) before I’ve become confused ;-) Old and young simultaneously, things starting to mix. Of course, I’ve not been going out much, ever; I’ve not created that space for myself, and being old, all that stuff is over. Over over over.

    And — on the contrary, I’m not closing off, that’s the problem! It’s the first time I feel I can touch, or I would be able to touch, things that have to do with life. I’m very energetic, strangely. I think that’s what makes it so awful, so frustrating — knowing I’ve spent all these years not trying to have life and now that I’m this age, it’s over. There is nothing more there; the opportunities that you have and are supposed to take when you’re 20 simply don’t apply anymore. You have missed the train, as it were.

    Or, I don’t know… Maybe the problem is that I’m way too old, in years, for where my out-of-place mind is. At least, something is out of sync.

  10. Sorry – it’s none of my business.really… Your anthroposophical doctor sounds like a total knob and I’m not surprised that you are have very negative feelings about Steiner schools.
    This is one of my heroes of old age:

    I think he was in his eighties when this was filmed. He’s not good despite his age, he’s good because of it: totally at home after a lifetime of experience, filled with cunning and skill, wisdom and humour.

  11. no worries — I’ve just been unfocused, trying to cook and write and twitter at the same time ;-) Will get back to the thread later…!

  12. this is my favourite old man.

    He’d be over 110 now.

    I’m hoping that I’ll grow old the way he grew old and not like my miserable paternal relatives. (I should start smoking ;-))

    It’s all that human stuff. Or the stuff I imagine humans do. Maybe not all the Super Meaningful Fun I’d like, but… Being young, people have lots and lots and lots of friends and they DO things. Engage in things. Live. Make bad decisions, and good ones. Fall in love, et c. I went to the library. I had a typewriter. Then, of course, by 30-35 these people are all utterly boring and they’re changing diapers and making money to buy designer baby shoes. The stage I missed, and regret missing, out of ignorance or incompetence or being of the wrong mind or to misanthropic or just plain incapable, was that first stage. Being realistic and rational, and sufficiently self-hating, I was depressed most of my youth. You’re not crazy and young then, you’re dead to the world, you walk around like some strange hybrid between desperation and emotional zombie. Also, you’re struck by neurotic self-consciousness that can only hamper you — even your imagination for what fun could be like. It stops you from enjoying anything (except, occasionally, writing), and you don’t have a clue how to anyway or what joy was supposed to be like. It’s that black monster thing in your soul that makes think you must stay away from people for years, all your childhood and youth, because you’re so sure they’d hate you and be revolted by you and curse at your stupidity. Of course, being such a person, such a person with such fears, makes you no fun to be around at all (understandably), whether or not the fears themselves have anything to with reality is secondary. A person who feels s/he is not entitled to happiness is such a bore.

    I think that crippled soul state, that self-imposed confinement, fucked me up long into my twenties. Mind you, I’m not blaming anyone; I blame myself. Or, not even that, I merely state the facts. I think, by now, I know better than to blame.

    And, by the way, the notion of being young at heart would have struck everyone who saw me as a child as totally silly — I think ‘old at heart’ would have been more to the point. And perhaps that’s what he saw, that doctor, he saw a withering, dying old heart. (More likely, he saw my karma.) Anyway — I was a thoroughly unpleasant, unhappy and serious kid. The kid without much of a capacity for joy. That’s as far from ‘young at heart’ as you’ll ever get. Children like that are, I feel, children that people don’t want to know exist — they contradict the idyll of childhood, they invalidate everything people (in general) love about children. It’s a fact. People want happy-go-lucky, joyeous, smiling, laughing, jumping children. Not children who look at them with serious, indifferent, rejecting expressions on their faces.

    (Look at any website with children or geared towards marketing children’s activities or education or similar.)

    The curious thing, to return to that, is waking up when you’re past thirty and realizing you wanted some of these things you’ve thought you didn’t want to because you were too, sorry, fucked up to enjoy or even desire them. Like friendship or love or whatever. Here’s the thing: I could have gone, and perhaps to a certain tiny point did go (let’s leave other people out of the story), through the motions of some social demands and pastimes — but there would have been (was) no sparkle. My spirit (sorry) was not in there. I was too alienated from myself and from the ability to experience joy. That’s what gets to me, you know; it wasn’t about other people, it was about me. And, you see, here’s where I find something quite interesting in the anthroposophical incarnation ‘model’. I mean, you don’t need that one, in particular. But the idea, more in general.

    But you’re supposed to be wild and experience things and train your social abilities at 15. Then, at 25, settle down and become dull. You’re not supposed to somehow come alive at 30. It’s too late, then, to discover there’s a world out there you might have liked to belong to.

    Of course, this is mostly fiction. That’s what I do, if I can, I make things into fiction.

  13. I think you can come alive at whatever age it happens to come upon you, whether that’s 35 or 75. You can live many lives within one lifetime – a sad one then a happy one, perhaps?
    Anyway, I turn to the authority on the subject:
    “…such as are solitary by nature, great students, given to much contemplation, lead a life out of action, are most subject to melancholy. Of sexes both, but men more often; yet women misaffected are far more violently and greviously troubled… this malady is more frequent in such as are of a middle age. Some assign forty years, Gariopontus thirty.”
    Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy.

  14. One more piece from Burton:
    “Voluntary solitariness is that which is familiar with melancholy, and gently brings on like a siren, a shoeing-horn, or some sphinx to this irrevocable gulf; a primary cause, Piso calls it. Most pleasant it is at first, for such as are to melancholy given, to lie in bed whole days, and keep their chambers, to walk alone in some solitary grove, betwixt wood and water, by a brook side, to meditate upon some delightsome and pleasant subject… A most incomparable delight it is to melancholize, and build castles in the air, acting an infinite variety of parts…
    …until at last the scene is turned by some sudden bad object, and they, being now habituated to such solitary meditations, can endure no company, can ruminate of nothing but harsh and distasteful subjects. Fear, sorrow, suspicion, discontent, cares, and weariness of life surprise them in a moment, and they can think of nothing else; no sooner are their eyes open, but this infernal plague of melancholy seizes upon them…”

    Children are themselves, unique and unforseen, from the moment that they can first express themselves. Each child is like a new species. I think we see that and we try to find a way to understand it. I see a belief in reincarnation as an attempt to frame the world in a way that makes sense of our intuitions about children and about ourselves. It’s true in the way that a good story is true.
    I like the solitary ones myself, the melancholics, the dreamers the misfits, as children and as adults. I like the Moomintroll books more than any other children’s books because they express that melancholy. I really hope that the forthcoming film of Comet in Moominland does it justice – the book is one of the great works of 20th Century literature…

  15. Joe – ‘ I see a belief in reincarnation as an attempt to frame the world in a way that makes sense of our intuitions about children and about ourselves. It’s true in the way that a good story is true.’
    So on a scale of 1 to 10, how true would that be?

  16. Just briefly: I suppose the truth of a good story is wholly immaterial, and that is the point.

    Of course, one can view reincanation and karma as good stories. Or anything one wants.

    However, it’s worth keeping in mind, too, that in anthroposophy and steiner education, reincarnation is not a good story, to which truth is irrelevant. It’s a description of something real and true about human beings.

  17. It depends what ‘true’ means… Truth is a quality of words. Words are ‘true’ when they correlate to reality in a useful way. So if I say that the key is on the table, you go and look and there it is – true. But once we get out to the very fringes of the verifiable, language only has a very limited ability to be ‘true’. I don’t personally have an active belief or disbelief in anything that isn’t capable of being verified. How can we explain human consciousness? What happens after death? I’m not sure that these questions can be answered in a ‘key on the table’ kind of way – we can give it our best guess but we can’t go and have a look.
    So we’re back to the idea of usefulness. Some people find it useful to believe in reincarnation. It ties up a few loose ends and gives a structure to human life that explains a few otherwise difficult things, like the business about children seeming to emerge as fully-formed personalities from the first moments that they can express themselves. I don’t personally feel the need to tell people who have religious or spiritual beliefs that they are wrong, because I don’t know what the ‘truth’ is. Again, I can have a guess, but I don’t feel the need to – I’m ok with ambiguity.
    A bit long-winded… On a truth scale of one to ten, where 1 is ‘I do not have a head’ [I do, obviously, so this means both utterly and ridiculously wrong and very easy to prove wrong] ten is ‘night follows day follows night’ [known by all, questioned by none. immediately observable], I suppose reincarnation might be a six: there’s nothing to definitely prove that it’s false; there are a few things that could be taken to indicate that it might be true; and believing it to be true seems to offer a fair bit of utility to the believer.
    On that particular scale of one to ten, most people only really count the nines and tens as being ‘true’, which is fair enough; however, once you think about what a ‘one’ might be, it’s obvious that there’s a lot going on between there and ‘eight’…

  18. Alicia,
    I’m here as an individual; I came here first of all as a representative of my group and no doubt I’ll be posting again in that capacity, but this is just me today.
    It’s certainly true that in Steiner’s Anthroposophical writings, reincarnation is presented as an absolute truth. But people are complicated and the world is complicated – if you were to ask the Steiner parents, teachers and ex-pupils I know how they would rate reincarnation on Helen’s scale, I reckon you’d get a range of answers between 2 and 8 – no 1’s and no 10’s. I would guess that the answers would only be a bit further down the scale for a random selection of non-Steiner people. If you were to present the Steiner people with the whole body of Steiner’s work and ask them to rate it section by section you’d get a broad range from 1 to 10 – probably all ones for the dodgy racial theorizing, probably a good few tens for some of the more practical educational ideas.
    I’m here as an individual and my answer was somewhere in the grey area in the middle of the scale; I think most people’s honest answers for lots of things are in that grey area. The grey area is where most of human life takes place. I don’t really go with this idea of black and white, pure truth and evil lies. People are complicated. We get sad and lean on comforting ideas, or we get excited about things that later turn out not to be so good after all. People you thought were nice do things that upset you; people you hated turn out to be not so bad.
    My only answer is not to judge people too much, to be as kind as I can be and to be gentle with people who are vulnerable. All I can say is that I’ve found that the Steiner schools that I’ve known have, for whatever reason, generated a mild concentration of people who share those feelings.

  19. Yes, I do actually exist as a real-world person. Occasionally. I can’t believe you swam all the way to Sweden, Melanie! It was great fun, it really was.

    Kind of adds to the agony, in a way, because for my own peace of mind I should remain in — return to — the belief that human encounters in real life are pointless. The more people I meet, the more I’ve realized that’s not true. Dog, this is awful. Or, rather, what I realize is that humans are diverse, and that the decision to give up on them was premature. Bad idea.

  20. Yes, I am aware of that, Joe, defintely — I simply couldn’t help pointing it out…! For the individual, I’m fine with reincarnation being anything the individual needs it to be. Certain or uncertain. Black or white or grey… But in other contexts, the concept does have pretty specific boundaries. I tried to, sort of, acknowledge that side.

    I’ll return later… must run away for a while…

  21. Joe – ‘ I don’t really go with this idea of black and white, pure truth and evil lies.’
    Father Christmas and reincarnation are both evil lies.

  22. Just don’t question the Easter Bunny, Helen!!! Easter Bunny is Real and True and canineosophy says so.

    (Will be back later. Am hungry. Need food. Just needed to warn you about mr Dog’s dog-matic belief in the Easter Bunny.)

  23. Helen,
    Am I an evil liar, then? I told my children that Father Christmas was coming… And about a billion Indians and Chinese tell their children about reincarnation – are they all evil liars?

    Words are tricky little things. Earlier in this thread I used the statement ‘I have no head’ as an example of something that was as wrong as any statement could be. But if I was a teacher in a Steiner school, run by a College of Teachers instead of a head teacher, I could use that statement and it would be perfectly true…

    I’m not going to argue for the truth or otherwise of reincarnation because I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any point in arguing or even holding a strong opinion on something so self-evidently unknowable. I would argue that the real enemy of science and civilised society in general is dogmatism – an insistence on the rightness of one’s own opinions and an urgent inner need to make others accept those opinions. And that goes for those inside the Steiner education movement as well as those outside it.

  24. dogmatism can never be the enemy! Catmatism, however… GROWL! /mr Dog

    All right. I’ll stop now. I’m not over-tired, I’m just over-hungry and silly. Don’t mind me…

  25. Thank you Cathy!! (lovely little sun thing — I must learn to do this funny characters on the keyboard!)

    Well. I don’t think a good story is an evil lie even if it isn’t true. But Santa, well… We’re partial to the Easter Bunny, as I mentioned before. I guess some people need Santa. But I think, also, that there’s another point of children experiencing these stories — apart from entertaininment — and that is learning the art of questioning. With Santa, they start to ask themselves if it’s really possible, aren’t mum and dad acting funny, how could this whole operation be accomplished (Santa’s logistics, now, that’s a complete wonder), and so forth. Reaincarnation, that’s a different story, since it’s a belief held also by many adults. Of course, if they believe it, they aren’t technically lying — they tell their children what they think is true. Evil it may be — but parents teach their kids lots of things. Not all of them are good. Some ideas are pretty bad. But with fairytales and Santa and similar phenomena, children grow up and know that they were served stories — and this realisation must surely benefit their development. More so, even, than being super-reasonable with them, because the approach leaves it open for them to question and think for themselves. Or so I think. One difference is that a parent won’t beat a child up for questioning Santa — all parents realize that’s part of the deal — while questioning ‘god’ (in whichever version) might very well be an unpleasant affair. (Talking of evil.)

    As for what Joe wrote, the Steiner method (sorry — am getting back to that, even though I don’t want to confound your personal views with the doctrines that underpin Steiner education) does of course have a strong view, strong enough to build an education around this belief and other similarly suspicious beliefs. I say suspicious — from a scientific and rational viewpoint, because there’s nothing to back up these beliefs other than subjective feeling, subjective hope and, possibly, a good story. I agree with you that it can seem — and possibly is — pretty futile to argue the truth or otherwise of reincarnation (I guess my reason says no, my interest in multiple lives adventure says yes, splendid idea ;-)), but I’d also say it’s pretty futile, or worse, wrongheaded, to found a school on such an idea combined with a number of similarly unproven, disproven or far-out-there ideas. No matter how enjoyable the ideas are to ponder and speculate about and so forth, I’m not sure education has much to gain from them. Perhaps there are better ideas for that context.

    (Though, obviously, I must urge you to make sure that the children are properly taught the literal truth of the Easter Bunny.)

    Joe, by the way, I very much liked the Burton quotes. I also like the Moomintrolls. My grandparents spoke and my mother speaks a bit like Moomins. They were swedish speaking Finns, like Tove Jansson herself. Completely agree with you about the melancholic Moomin quality. Jansson also wrote and draw Moomin comic strips that were not for children (although the books aren’t exclusively children’s books either, of course), and they’re very very nice too. I fear that no modern productions will ever do the Moomins full justice… Here’s a lovely Moomin, made for television, 1973, it’s in Swedish so you won’t understand a thing, but the visual side of it is nice ;-)

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