Blogger’s Block/Back to bell hooks

“Did you really not blog yesterday?” my grandmother–one of my subscribers, bless her soul–asked me on the phone this morning. “You’re just really, really swamped with student papers, right?”

“Um,” I replied. “Actually I finished grading over the weekend. I guess I’ve been busy…”

Folks, I wasn’t sure what to tell her–or how to explain, to anyone, my two-day absence from writing. That I was able to write so regularly for so long suddenly seems as shocking to me as I know it did to some of you.

Honestly, I’m not much more occupied with school than I was before. But I do find myself, lord help us, without much to say.

I’d like to blame this predicament on external forces: on a suddenly heightened awareness of my self-exposure and its inherent risks, courtesy of my parents’ visit, or the fact that I am unable, for various, excellent reasons, to write openly about my Present Interest (new nickname: don’t look for it much).

But alas, I guess it was unrealistic to suppose that inspiration would always come so readily. Which leaves me with two choices: one, I could accept my shortage of material, focus on other things, and hope it comes back. Or, I could force it.

This is me attempting the latter.

So, no offense to bell hooks, but as I lay awake in bed last night–fretting about my sleeplessness as well as, among other things, my bloglessness–I decided that she would make for a good last resort. So I went back to that book “All About Love”–the one that my professor recommended to me a while back.

You may recall me gushing about the introduction and how it was going to change my life, and then not writing about it ever again. (Follow-through–along with patience, caution and hand-eye coordination–has always been a personal weakness.)

Which means that I still have not gotten through the whole book. But last night I picked it up with the object of re-reading one chapter that I’d already gone through. It’s called “Commitment: Let Love Be Love in Me” and deals with the subject of “self-love.”

hooks acknowledges that this chapter was the most difficult for her to write, because she found there to be so much anxiety about the notion. Basically, she argues, we confuse the idea that we need to love ourselves with narcissism. She urges us not to do this:

Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice. Without it our other efforts to love fail… Whenever we interact with others, the love we give and receive is always necessarily conditional. Although it is not impossible, it is very difficult and rare for us to be able to extend unconditional love to others, largely because we cannot exercise control over the behavior of someone else and we cannot predict or utterly control our responses to their actions. We can, however, exercise control over our own actions. We can give ourselves the unconditional love that is the grounding for sustained acceptance and affirmation. When we give this precious gift to ourselves, we are able to reach out to others from a place of fulfillment and not from a place of lack.

Which strikes me as really important. I think we do underestimate the rarity and the difficulty of loving other people, without condition. I think often we want to love others, and do so as best we can, but ultimately fall short. And often, as hooks says, it has to do with the fact that we simply can’t control their behavior or the circumstances around the relationship. It’s not because we’re selfish, or unable to love–it’s because it’s really, really hard.

I know it sounds horribly cheesy and New-Agey to say that we need to love ourselves in order to love others. But reading hooks does make me recognize that it’s not only rational but useful to think of it in those terms.

The only person we absolutely have to live with is ourselves. That’s not narcissistic, it’s just true. And I’m not sure that committing to self-love is enough to make us successful in loving others. But it does seem like a perfectly reasonable–and perhaps very necessary–place to begin.

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