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To Red Hook | 2011 | Applying Restraint


Climb up on some hill at sunrise. Everybody needs perspective once in a while, and you'll find it there.  

-Robb Sagendorph


Hierarchy of Need

This helps.

Amber and I go to Jacki's Die Hard Christmas party, which is to say that we go to Jacki's home and, in exchange for some tasty bread and a beverage, eat copiously of the potluck and watch Bruce Willis in his best role (aside from criminally underappreciated Unbreakable). We cannot stay long - this is the weekend we go from living in our respective homes to living together in Red Hook - but it is hardly an event we are wont to miss. Supposedly, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. By that metric, so is Rent in that it makes mention of the holiday. I am not about to indulge that level of foolishness. Unless Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, the Grinch, or Gizmo features in a supporting role, the film evades Christmas Movie classification.

The movie (and the fact it is not a Christmas movie) is not the cause for this entry. As we the partygoers chat and eat in the hours before the movie begins - which is almost always what happens at Jacki's parties and one of the reasons I love them - I feel strangely able to talk. More exactly, I feel capable of acknowledging I know things, that I have thoughts and opinions, that my expressing them improves the silence. It was not that I consciously repressed myself previously as that there was an unspoken and unrealized deficit in my ego that of late has seemingly been remedied.

Further, as I sit in the living room speaking with Jacki, I must cast a wistful glance toward Amber in the kitchen where she is participating in - not dominating, not silently judging, not counting the minutes until she can have me to herself again - her own conversations.

I turn back to Jacki, who has a grin. "What? I like her," I say.

"I can tell. I like her, too."

"She is... nice to be with. It's easy. We're both independent, but somehow independent together. She has herself figured out. I don't have to worry about keeping her entertained, but I trust she is. I don't remember the last time I was with someone where I did not feel like I was surmounting the odds." I don't say, because I don't feel I need to, that it has been as long since I felt my friends as a whole approved of my partner.

It was not until days later when I stumbled upon something for work - a bit of educational theory I had read and discussed a dozen times before without sufficient absorption - that it all came into focus via Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Need. According to this theory, one cannot consider higher needs until lower ones are sated. More plainly, someone who cannot trust they will have food, shelter, and clothing is unable to really care about safety. Once reliably fed and watered, one might then turn one's mind to this problem but then, until the need for safety is satisfied, one doesn't care about belonging (we are still a tribal species). Then comes ego satisfaction (liking oneself with good cause) and subsequently self-actualization (being the best one can be). Different levels have be slotted into the pyramid by various people throughout the years or the current ones were subdivided as adherents and detractors saw fit, but these are the five with which I am most familiar.

Suddenly, and for the first time in recent memory, I find myself articulate and whole, with sets of worries extinguished in a flash. I have the love of a good woman whose consistent moods are dictated primarily by reason, I have a job in my field at which I perform well. For several years, I knew that I was living from paycheck to paycheck or with the assistance of government programs. Should I catch some illness that sufficiently derailed my health - a distinct possibility as a high school substitute teacher and something that nearly occurred once - I would have found myself begging to family and friends for the means to continue to pay rent. A few times, I went without buying groceries for a few weeks so as to make sure I would be able to meet my financial obligations because a school holiday fell in the wrong place on my pay cycle. It whittled at me. Now, the background processes concerned with fretting have be freed up for more constructive cognitive uses.

With such an underlying and persistent threat to my security, there were parts of my life that remained in stasis or undeveloped, particularly my ego satisfaction. (And, for far too long, I struggled with attachment issues - belongingness - as the core of my self worth; if I was not someone's lover, then what was I for?) As friends and family will no doubt admit, I did not attach appropriate importance to getting published as it did not pay enough to supplant teaching as my means of making ends meet. When Melanie threatened the security of our relationship for over half a year, I took it particularly hard as it was one more aspect of my life that I could not seem to control despite my best efforts. I won't be so patronizing as to imply that I regressed to the mindset of one who lives on the streets, but I find it undeniable that I was not letting myself self-actualize. I could not provide for myself consistently despite my best efforts, therefore I was insufficient despite my stated accomplishments, even as I could intellectualize that my failings had more to do with the economic downturn.

The Hierarchy of Need is situational and not developmental. Just because one has in the past felt ego satisfaction or belongingness, it did not mean that the wrong jolt could not knock them down the pyramid a level or more. There is a saying that society is only a few missed meals from chaos. This is why. Our progress, our security, our very sense of self is predicated on external factors that can prove decidedly fragile. Most of us - myself indubitably included - have only so much psychological buttressing available to us before the external affects the internal in a way that can feel both dire and permanent. Then, we scrabble as best we can until our needs are met and we can again try for the summit.

Soon in Xenology: Moving.

last watched: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
reading: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
listening: Christmas music

To Red Hook | 2011 | Applying Restraint

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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