What's Real Security, Real Adventure? or,
The Danger in Playing It Safe
From an Aesthetic Realism Public Seminar
by Miriam Weiss
As a person whose life was once a confusing seesaw of hoping for adventure, and running back home scared, I am so grateful that this changed because I learned what makes for real security and real adventure. It is, Aesthetic Realism shows, the purpose we were born for--to be fair to the world in its width and multitudinousness. I came to see that "playing it safe” is really an aspect of contempt, which Eli Siegel described as "the greatest danger or temptation of man." We can be scornfully aloof from people, dull things and being untouched by them, but I know from my own life, we can never like ourselves for this, and end up feeling half alive, and anything but secure.
This fight between feeling that knowing things was an adventure, and wanting to lessen things as a means of feeling secure, was in me as a child. At sleep away camp I loved it when we camped out, feeling snug in my quilted sleeping bag under a sky full of stars, learning to recognize the big dipper and the little dipper. At these times I felt both composed and excited.
But for the most part, I used what I saw as most secure--my family--against venturing out too far or for too long. At camp I had bouts of homesickness when I would suddenly forget the fun I had or the ease I felt with new friends, and be struck by the pathetic and desperate picture of myself stranded in the wilderness among strangers, hundreds of miles from our comfortable Manhattan apartment. Yet, I spent a good deal of time in that apartment daydreaming about being away from what I saw as humdrum confinement. I looked forward to bedtime when I would go over adventures I made up--imagining an unlimited supply of candy in a compartment in the wall; and later I often dreamed about boys who unfailingly told me how wonderful I was. I felt why should I knock myself out over boys like other girls who I felt were silly, when it was so much easier to have a boyfriend in my mind.
Years later at an Aesthetic Realism lesson conducted by Eli Siegel, he asked me this crucial question: "Do you believe that you like to tell the truth? Do you think you respect it enough, or do you like to change things in your mind?"
I thought I was pretty smart having an inner world where I managed everything with no unpleasant facts or urprises getting in the way, but I began to have fear, of being stuck in the elevator, of going to sleep, and to my alarm, I started having thoughts, seemingly out of nowhere, that I would die at the age of 21. Later, as I began studying Japanese and had ambitions to live in the countryside of Japan making documentary films, I worried I wouldn't be able to be away from home. On several occasions--in a movie theatre, in a restaurant, and after two weeks of being away at college--I panicked and ran home to my parents. I didn't know why this was happening and I felt like a failure.