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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thanks for the compliment, but I left some stuff out...


So, evidently there’s more to say about my last blog piece titled “We ain’t no puppies (but thanks for the compliment.)".  It has been made known to me by my number one fan that it may not have been apparent enough to the reader that the title was meant to be ironic. I admit, had I thought of the title sooner than after I’d written the piece and was itching to post it, I may have spent some time further exploring the irony contained in the title.

What’s the nature of the irony I meant to capture in the title? Well -- and this won’t surprise you, probably -- but I have a bunch of questions to pose, rather than answers. 

For starters, why is it perceived as complimentary when one is told that one looks younger than one’s age, particularly when one is at one’s mid-life  (such as Happy and I happen to be)? How is a compliment about our surface – how we are perceived to look in relationship to our chronological age or life course stage – related to the our inside self, to a deeper vibe that has to do with our embodiment, our vital singular energy, and how we move through the world? Is the outside a proxy for the inside? Does the outside reveal something about the inside? What about when there's a disconnect between the outside and the inside? What about when an assumption is made based on the outside appearance rather than getting to know all aspects of the being in question, body/mind/spirit-in context? And why are certain qualities – curiosity, audacity, flexibility, openness, and innocence, a particular style of enthusiasm -- often associated with youthfulness, rather than humanness or creatureliness?  

Think about and honor your own experience and measure what I say against it, but no matter where we find ourselves in our travels through the life course, moving through the world with openness, curiosity, and vitality feels good to one’s self and is appealing, even irresistible, to others.  This vibrancy is attractive whenever and in whomever we encounter it, no matter their age, stage, or species.  But because this vibrant vibe gets conflated (that is, confused) with a socially constructed notion about age and stage, rather than being complimented for being the best creature we can be at present, we are complimented for looking younger than our age. (And as I've written in other essays, it is good to ask: what is age and where does it exist and what does it mean?) Such compliments, I believe, are well-meaning compliments, but they are compliments shrouded in layers of largely unexamined and unconscious ageism and sexism (and probably other forms of oppression as well). 

(And, I must ask: what happens when the compliments change to,  "For someone her age, she’s still doing pretty well." What happens when the complements stop altogether?)

Alas, it is hard for me to take such compliments straight, whomever the giver and whomever the receiver, though in the moment, before critical reflection kicks in, compliments meant well, especially given by a loved one, go down quite easy.

I just realized as I write this post that along with the tangle of meanings associated with such compliments, meanings about which we might be suspicious and about which we might think critically, there is also sweetness. I mean, what is as sweet as being beheld and appreciated by another creature? Not much.


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