Sunday, September 27, 2009

When Vanity Becomes Terror

When you see this image posted at the top of this post, you might imagine that I've lost it, given the fact that I don't usually snap photos of my clothing and use them as fodder for my blog. But here is what happened.

I received
this Cynthia Vincent dress in the mail a few days ago. I had ordered it, but had forgotten about it. On the day the package arrived, I recall hearing my doorbell and hiding in my bedroom because I don't like to answer phones or doorbells. I am overly suspicious of anyone at my door. Later, of course, I discovered the package waiting for me, and felt quite silly. Since that day, the dress has been hanging on the outside of my closet for two reasons: first, I am taking time to decide how I feel about it; second, I am too lazy to find space for it in my already overly crowded closet.

And, I
must admit, I like the dress. My mood is instantly better when I see it hanging there. It has become a bizarre source of pleasure and distraction.

problem--and, my problem in general--is that things often change shape in the dark, which is exactly what happened around 4:30 this morning, when I awoke to a night terror of an altogether different sort.

I opened my eyes and saw a man's long pale face, the space between the hanger and the bodice of the dress
. I saw his long arms dangling at his side. I saw his long dark coat, tattered and shredded at the bottom--the place where my dress became scrolls of embroidery. And I stared at him while he stared back at me, the hand my imagination had blessed him with slowly stretching toward me. I sat there, immovable, stationary with the knowledge that this was finally it.

And I began to scream
. And scream. And scream. This time, the terror was real, I said to myself as I screamed. This time, it is no hallucination. My screams did not cease until I heard a woman's voice, outside of my window, frantically asking me--or whoever she imagined was screaming--if I was okay. I was stunned into silence for a split second. I looked toward the window, and then back toward my closet door, watching as the ghoulish man's image began to dissipate into the form of a silk dress hanging on my closet door.

"Yes," I said
, weakly, to whomever had addressed me through my open window. I couldn't help but sob after that. And this morning, my throat still feels the screams.

I love to say--and do quite often--that darkness illuminates more brilliantly than light. Darkness reveals to
us the things that we cannot see when our vision is obscured by light. And so I can't help but wonder what, if anything, was revealed to me, as I witnessed my vanity become my terror. Perhpas there is a metaphor somewhere in here--something about how often we create our own terrors. We organize and arrange them, believing we can control them but never realizing that they control us.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I Don't Know

I recently helped a friend put together an online dating profile on With the exception of a brief exploration of JDate a number of years ago, I have had very little experience with such things, but I had this feeling that I would be the best one for the job--that I would know exactly how to craft such a profile.

It turns out that knowing, however, is a big problem when it comes to the online dating world. And I'm not
talking about knowing what one wants in a mate (or soulmate, as online daters like to say). What I found while scanning hundreds of profiles (both men and women) was that an insane number of people from their late twenties to early forties claim to be agnostic when asked about their religion. Although some would disagree, and argue for a more nuanced understanding of agnosticism, the term essentially means "I don't know." It suggests that the existence of deities is unknown, and that perhaps even ultimate knowledge and realities are unknown--unable to be known.

I found this interesting because
I don't really think I've met many people in person who have claimed to be agnostic. Most people I know either believe or they don't. They are either religious or they are not. They believe in God or they don't. In other words, coming from the world of academia, I have plenty of friends who say they are atheists. But because I am close to people in both the Jewish and Christian worlds, I also know many people who say they believe in God. I, myself, believe in God, though I don't always know exactly what that makes me. But rather than look for a term that encapsulates all of the textures of my spiritual impulses, I choose to say rather concretely that I believe in God, perhaps even that I love God. I would never call myself an agnostic.

So what
I want to know, is where are all the agnostics hiding? Are they only online? Is it somehow culturally hip to present oneself as the ultimate repository of "I don't know" when creating an online personna? Is it seen as somehow pretentious to presume to know one way or another?

I don't
mean to criticize people who call themselves agnostics. I mean, looking back on the twentieth century it's easy to find plenty of historical moments that call into question the existence of God. It's just that I find it curious--the fact that I never meet agnostics in person.

Are we
becoming more and more afraid to admit that we know anything (or that we think we know anything)? But I think the more important question is this: At what point is "I don't know" translated as "I don't care"? My sense is that many people who label themselves as agnostic simply don't care to know the answer, and for reasons I can't quite articulate, I find this most troubling.

I suppose I just want to know that someone cares about the answer to such a big question.

I used
to know a man who said he hated God. His eyes would tear up as he told me how angry he was at God. For some reason I found this compelling. I loved God, and he hated God, but somehow we were on the same page. I know another man who refuses to use the labels of atheist or agnostic, and when asked what religion he is, suggests that he is nothing in an effort to resist the labels. I can almost understand that impulse as well. It used to bother me that he didn't care enough to ask whether God exists, but now I appreciate the way he has shifted the question to something that has to do with how and why we use the labels we do in order to categorize our spirituality.

Here's what bothers me (I've just figured it out): I wonder if applying the label of "agnostic" to oneself is
really just a sneaky way out of being responsible for at least making a shot at figuring it out, for asking the right questions. If certain things are unknowable, then we are off the hook when it comes to trying to figure them out, right? If we will "never know," then we never have to think about it. So there's my conclusion, for now anyway: agnosticism is perhaps the antithesis to responsibility.