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Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
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Sunday
Oct052014

The Experience of Beauty

"The experience of beauty comes when we put our interests to one side, when we look on things, not in order to use them for our purposes or to explain how they work, or to satisfy some need or appetite but simply to absorb them and to endorse what they are." Roger Scruton

My mind is cracked open. A saw to the skull, a sound like the dentist's drill in your head and there it is; open mind. So much of my life has been judging people on bullshit. Welcoming them to the friendship team, judging them worthy of a relationship or discarding them based on ridiculousness. Learn a fact about someone that doesn't jive with my preconceived notions of what is good/bad cool/not cool moral/immoral and then create an entire story about their personality and whether or not I will like them based on said fact: He likes pop country music? Pop country makes my ears bleed and his musical tastes must be indicative of his idiocy across the board. Next! There's a Seinfeld episode where Jerry explains why he broke up with his latest girlfriend:

George: So, what's going on with you and Melanie? I mean, I know you're not getting married, but uh, things are happening?

Jerry: Well...actually, we kind of broke up.

George: You what?

Jerry: Well, you know, we were having dinner the other night, and she's got the strangest habit. She eats her peas one at a time. You've never seen anything like it. It takes her an hour to finish them. I mean, we've had dinner other times. I've seen her eat Corn Niblets. But she scooped them.

George: . . . she scooped her niblets?

Jerry: Yes. That's what was so vexing.


That's me. Someone exhibits a quirk, a notion, an opinion, a personality trait that differs from my thoughts and feelings about life and I internally express disdain, manufacture an entire universe in my mind about their personality and mentally write them off. I can't date someone who eats peas one at a time! Note to self: KNOCK THAT SHIT OFF.

I want to just observe people - family, friends, strangers - without judgement. To absorb them and endorse who and what they are. Conversely, I want to be who I am without tailoring myself to the expectations of others. I'm getting there. Had a conversation with a lovely man the other day that unexpectedly segued into his onetime solicitation of a hooker. Initial instinct; withdraw and write him off based on my previous notions of who hires a hooker and why. But I just observed and endorsed his experience and as the story unfolded I realized it wasn't so very awful at all. It made sense. By the end of his tale I was very nearly good for you-ing him over his hooker experience. I believe my exact response was "Hooker habit; unseemly. Once; not a huge deal." And I really feel that way. I withheld judgment, observed and made new realizations about myself and how I truly feel about certain things. It makes me wonder what else I've been missing all these years when interacting with others because I responded with judgment, particularly the moral judgment that was my birthright as a Mormon, instead of just absorbing and endorsing. Funny how I've spent so much time shouting about how angry I was over what I feel the Mormon church did to me as a person and yet I haven't recognized that it was still infecting so many of my interactions. That's how insidious religion was to me. It polluted my brain and your mind is all you have to guide you in life, so even when you think you've overcome the brainwashing and are as open-minded as possible, especially compared to so many people you grew up with, you realize yet a deeper level of religious infection. I suppose these realizations will continue happening until I die. I look forward to overcoming each one.

New mantra: observe, endorse, experience beauty.

I feel as if I've learned more about myself in the past year of my life than I have during the 36 that came before. And yet I'm just wise enough to understand the realizations I'm having now will give way to greater understanding as I keep aging. I'm excited for that. To continue becoming the me that feels right and true, sloughing off old perceptions and expectations like so much dead skin.

Talking to a different friend the other night who is so perceptive he seems to be in possession of extrasensory powers and he described me thusly: "A restless spirit. This insatiable auto-didact. Starving for things. Always hungry. Still get that. Just more measured, outwardly contained."

Ask me to describe myself a thousand times and I'd never come close to those words and sentences but they bitch-slapped me so hard I still feel the sting. As usual my friend was on point. I've been starving for things since way back when. Starving, needy. Searching for something or someone to not only fill me up but lend me the approval I couldn't muster for myself. I intellectually understand where all this comes from. Tired cliches about childhood issues involving abandonment/neglect/religion. Recipe for disaster for anyone with brain enough to escape that scene and spend the rest of their life attempting to fill the potholes left behind.

There is a seismic shift underway. I feel it taking place. I am experiencing the dirty beauty of others just as they are while starting to recognize that my story is also beautiful in all its fucked-upness. Yes. My fucked-upness is beautiful, that's what I'm saying. Because each messy experience is a stepping stone to greater understanding. Ironically, my hunger is also my sustenance. Being hungry feeds me, a survival mechanism all this time, it urges me to keep clawing forward. The hunger and the neediness inspire intense connections with those willing to reciprocate. I like those connections, they make life worth living.

I'll always be restless and hungry, probably, but I like it. I want to be. The opposite of restless - to me anyway - isn't necessarily fulfillment but complacency. I choose restless. I'm not trying to find the prescription anymore, not trying to fill the neediness, just embracing it, observing it, endorsing it and allowing it to propel me forward, ever forward.

Reader Comments (11)

And so your journey continues. Sounds like you're on your right path!

October 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

You had me, until your judgmental comments about religion, and the inevitable brainwashing that must entail. Newsflash. You're still judgmental.

October 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

@Amy - Work in progress. The irony of feeling judgmental about the very religion that instilled the judgment I'm trying to ditch isn't lost on me. However, I will likely always be suspect of the highly devout based on my experience in the church and the suffocating stranglehold it maintains on the lives of those I love. Yes, it works and is wonderful for some and more power to you if you're one of the few that can subscribe to the doctrine of a specific religion and manage to maintain a truly open mind.

October 6, 2014 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko

amy stole my thunder... i struggle with the idea of religion myself... but it is part of the numerous paths people have out there to choose from...
back to your (life) story... for someone who followed your trajectory since you were 28 or so, it is very interesting to witness your transformation into a more mature self... i know a few years back i was almost disappointed with your fall into the liberalism trap without leaving room for missteps.
in any case... thanks for continuing to share your journey... it can help many people and from many perspectives...
only best...

October 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterfahrenheit

The Liberalism Trap... that's a new one. I guess if one is to question things, one becomes entrapped! Help, I'm trapped in trying to live life as truthfully as possible. Ack, I'm in a snare! Help, I'm sure to be judgmental because I have opinons! Monica, obviously you live and you learn and it's been a pleasure to read about how much you've gleaned from being a hungry autodidact... I fancy myself a person with the same appetite.

October 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

This is so true and refreshing. I remember getting to this place in the days leading up to my own divorce, probably because I had given up trying to live up to what I thought was expected, the Stepford version of myself I was never meant to be....anyway I appreciate the metamorphous thing which occurs at these significant points in our lives, and I think people sense and appreciate your acceptance. I think it is part of maturity to be able to accept others in their messes as we wanted to be accepted in our own, to be able to live, learn, grow, and let live etc etc. after all, who are we to judge? No one is perfect. No one has arrived. My impression of a loving God is One who reaches out to love us first... as we were in our stinking messes. All the best to you.

October 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGina

"The dirty beauty of others" is such a perfect turn of phrase ...

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKatie Allison

right on. Maybe it's something about the 37th year? My whole life i've so often been told I'm too loud, laugh too much, am too happy naturally - I no longer give a FUCK and am embracing who I am instead of constantly taming myself. Loved this.

October 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

I think it will be hard to just observe people and be restless. The restlessness will indirectly or inadvertently force you to make opinions/judgments. I think there may be a balance between complacency and restlessness.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGuest

she rights:
"The dirty beauty of others" is such a perfect turn of phrase ...

October 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercafearoos.com

she rights:
"The dirty beauty of others" is such a perfect turn of phrase ...

October 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercafearoos.com

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