by Carol McCluer
Women today have more opportunities to be expressed and to have careers in addition to getting married and having children. Meanwhile, what it means to be successful in every aspect of our lives is something that has puzzled us. The big, new thing I learned from Aesthetic Realism–and it’s made for the real success of my life–is that my, and every person’s, deepest desire is to like the world through everything we meet and do.
Mr. Siegel defined Success as “the coming to be of one’s purpose.” And in his comment to the definition, he explains:
There are three general elements in true success: ourselves, all the specific things we meet, and the world generally.
Success: Fooling People or Knowing Them?
As women are doing right now, I went after what I wanted with avidity. As a child, I loved reading, and studied the piano and ballet. But I felt the suburban California community we lived in was beneath me and I thought all my troubles would be over if only I were out of the suburbs, and famous. By my late teens, I was pursuing a career as an actress and singer, and after moving to Los Angeles, got a job in a disco group that was well known in South America. When we toured there, I had a kind of “fame” experience I thought I was yearning for.
But much to my surprise, I still didn’t feel successful. I thought it must be because I didn’t have the right relationship with a man, so I went after finding him. By my mid-20’s, I was beginning to despair about the direction my life was going in. It felt like I was careening forward without knowing what the hell I was doing, and that I could do nothing to change the fact that I’d gone off-course.
Then, a friend told me about Aesthetic Realism. I had my first Aesthetic Realism consultation, and I began to learn what would change my life forever! I was asked, “What do you have most against yourself?” I said I thought I must be afraid of success because I got close to it but couldn’t go the whole distance. And I said I had an easy time with people, but was tired and empty. My consultants asked me, “Do you find you can charm people easily?”
CMc: Oh, definitely, definitely.
Consultants: Do you feel you’ve fooled people?
Consultants: What do you think of yourself for that?
CMc: I don’t like it.
Consultants: Do you think you’ve had contempt both for other people, and yourself?
CMc: Yes, I have.
Consultants: You think that’s enough to make a person feel quite bad?
And they told me what Aesthetic Realism explains–that we can succeed at certain things, and still feel pained, that we’re missing something big because through all the specific things we’ve met, we haven’t liked the world itself–which is our biggest, deepest purpose.
Hearing this, I felt so much of the pain of my life was explained, and it made me so hopeful. The exciting study I embarked on that day was the conscious asking: Is my deepest desire to know and like the world, or is it for the world to praise me while I remain cool and hidden, and look down on people and things? The second, I learned, is contempt, and it’s what had made me feel like a failure even as I had so many outward trappings of success.
In beautiful sentences in his definition of Success, Eli Siegel explains:
If a person doesn’t have this, he from the start is that much welcoming what isn’t success. He can be said to have reached China in a blaze of glory when he intended to get to Australia; he can be said to have shot a bird, when his purpose was to hear a bird sing.
I had wanted constant, lavish praise from men, like the kind I’d gotten from my teachers and parents, particularly my father. I had not wanted to know who he or anyone was deeply. My purpose was to shine, to be the best at everything in a way that was hard and competitive. In my first year of college, I wrote in a psychology class journal:
“Yes, I’m highly motivated–have been ever since I was little. I love a challenge and I love to win and when I don’t it makes me want to even more. I’m glad I’m that way.”
I didn’t see any connection between the way I boasted about how I could beat out other people, and my frequent feelings of despair and emptiness. Though I didn’t like myself, I felt I could arrange myself to impress people. And when I got a man to be all stirred up about me, I enjoyed being icily, scornfully superior. When the psychology professor wrote in the margin of my journal, “Excellent insight!” and “You are a special miraculous unrepeatable joy to behold,” I felt both terrifically triumphant and that he was a fool. I don’t remember anything else from that course, and unfortunately, that’s how I operated in life generally. The times when I was being praised was what stood out to me, and it hurt my mind very much.
Women urgently need to ask: is the specific thing I’m after on behalf of liking the world, seeing more meaning in it, having larger, warmer emotions; or is it on behalf of contempt, feeling superior, important at the expense of being fair to anyone or anything else? Asking this is what can enable a woman’s life to become increasingly successful, as it has mine.
As my study of Aesthetic Realism continued, I seriously reconsidered what purpose represented me. I did the Aesthetic Realism assignment to write one sentence every day about something in the world I liked. Once so melancholy and wrapped up in myself, I was now writing: “I liked the corner of 86th and Columbus, with people walking, buses, cars, wind blowing, neon signs, brown buildings, black pavement, familiar sights.” And I began consciously going after knowing people. One day I wrote: “I liked talking with a man in an elevator who told me he’d been selling cars and riding in the elevator of that building for 33 years.” My desire to know the world and people flourished. And I never had that empty feeling again.
The Track to Success: What Is It?
The 1987 film Baby Boom, written by Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, is a comment on what success really is–and a criticism of what is called the “corporate mentality,” the belief that money and power and superiority are the biggest aims in life. New York marketing executive J.C. Wiatt, acted wonderfully by Diane Keaton, is a useful character because she gives form to how ridiculous, mean, and also tormented a person is when she sees her success as having the world revolve around her, do her bidding, make her the biggest thing in it.
J.C. supposedly “has it all”: degrees from prestigious universities, a corner office in Manhattan, and a big salary. Her boyfriend Steven is an investment banker; they collect African art and have an impressive apartment. Known in her management-consulting firm as “The Tiger Lady,” we first see her in a chic suit striding down the hallway, giving rapid-fire instructions to three people trailing her:
J.C. (to secretary): Now Sheldrake moved up the deadline for Consolidated so don’t make any plans for the weekend.
Secty: This weekend?
J.C.: Is there a problem?
Secty: No, it’s just that I have tickets to the ballet that I’ve waited six months– No problem.
J.C.: Alright. Tell Steven 9 is fine for dinner and see if you can get us into Jam’s. If they don’t have a good table, try and get something else. Ken, I need the TNL’s on the Atlantic Overseas. I also need the latest VBD’s and TBD’s, and Robin, I want you to get me the CEO of IDC ASAP.
Another secty: Excuse me, Miss Wiatt. Mr. Curtis wants to know if you’re free for dinner tonight.
J.C. Absolutely! Cancel Steven. (she exits)
Secty: And good morning to you, too, Miss Wiatt.
The reality of other people’s lives–her secretary’s cherished plans to go to the ballet, her boyfriend who wanted to meet her for dinner, the co-workers around her–are wiped out by J.C. The film shows an important principle of Aesthetic Realism: that when we don’t go after fairness to other things and people, the deepest part of us objects, and this can show itself through ill nature, emptiness, and restlessness. In a later scene, we get a glimpse of J.C.’s misgivings about her life as she yearningly circles pictures in a newspaper of farmhouses for sale in Vermont.
In his comment to the definition of Success, Mr. Siegel explains:
And so we have to find out what we want to do. This is indispensable. To do something else than what we want to do, is to be off the track, even though the path we choose has banners on both sides of it.
J.C. is on a path “with banners on both sides of it” as her boss offers her a partnership in the firm, and she assures him she cares nothing about having a personal life–she will devote herself body and soul to the company.
It is just then that something happens to change her life. She receives a phone call telling her a cousin she didn’t know has died suddenly and bequeathed her something. Thinking it’s a fortune, she is giddy, riding high, feeling the world is at her feet. But the inheritance turns out to be a bewildered 1-year old girl, Elizabeth. At first incredulous, then furious, J.C. tells the social worker, “I can’t have a baby because I have a 12:30 lunch meeting!” She is relieved to find out there’s a clause in the will stating if she’s not able to raise the child, she can give her up for adoption.
But after great inward turmoil and soul-searching, J.C. makes the bold decision to keep Elizabeth and raise her as her daughter.
Motherhood and “The Simple Life”–Is That the Answer?
As J.C. frantically tries to juggle being a good mother to Elizabeth and continuing in her high-powered job, she gets demoted, and she’s so humiliated by it, she quits. Her boyfriend had moved out as soon as he learned a child would be in the picture. So now, on her own, J.C. buys a 62-acre farmhouse with an orchard in Vermont, packs up with Elizabeth and leaves New York.
In Self and World, I believe Mr. Siegel describes what is impelling J.C. as he writes about another young woman, Hilda Rawlins:
Sometimes, Hilda has yearned for what has been called the “simple life.” She also has wanted to be in a constant round of New York social complexities; wanted things to happen; wanted to be in a whirl of excitement. The problem of simplicity in the self won’t be dealt with sufficiently if Hilda decides to go to some farmhouse, eat cream, avoid complicated books. Our unity must come from a multitudinous welcoming.
This explains why J.C. makes essentially the same mistake in the country she did in the city. Even though she trades in her power suits for a flannel nightgown and wooly socks, her purpose with the world hasn’t changed. She still wants to manage things and people more than she wants to welcome and know them. So when reality presents her with obstacles, she gets furious. Her idyllic dream of the simple life turns into the nightmare of, first, a roof that needs mending, then a broken heating system and finally her well goes dry. Mr. Boone, the town plumber, tells her:
Lady, you’re out of water. You’re gonna have to tap into the county line. And that’s three miles down the road.
J.C. Look, I’m almost out of money, Mr. Boone. I don’t understand these technicalities. Just tell me one thing, OK? Is this going to be expensive?
Mr. B. E-e-e-e-yup.
J.C. Well, do you know, like, approximately how much this is going to cost me?
Mr. B. N-n-n-n-nope.
J.C. No, right, yeah! Well, JUST GUESS!
Mr. B. About five, six thousand dollars, maybe more.
J.C. Oh, well, that’s just fine! (screaming) SIX THOUSAND! I can’t make it here, OK? I am not Paul Bunyan, alright? I went to Harvard, I graduated at the top of my class, for what? To spend my life fixing up this dilapidated shack? Well, you can just forget it! Because I am going to get out of here! You see, I need to work, I need people, I need a social life, I need sex!
Mr. B. Please, please, I’m a married man.
At which point, she faints, collapsing in the snow; and wakes up looking into the eyes of a very attractive doctor–who turns out to be a veterinarian. She pours out her woes to him, tells him how lonely she is; meanwhile, it’s clear she’s not interested in who he actually is.
At a certain point in my life when I wasn’t seeing a man, and said that I “missed sex a lot” and was lonely, my consultants asked, to my surprise: “Would you like a man really to know you?” The answer was no. And they said:
Not wanting a man to know you is on behalf of loneliness. Even if you “have” a person, you can’t be affected by him. He becomes an extension of yourself. There’s something a woman misses a lot more than sex: it’s the ability to have respect. Do you think you were really close to the men you were with?
No, I hadn’t been. Today, I am married to a man I love and truly respect. His love for music and singing, his desire to have a good, strengthening effect on me and our daughter, his hearty humor, and his passion for justice to come to all people, makes me love him more every year. Aesthetic Realism beautifully criticized the contempt that made me feel empty and cold, and enabled me to have a life filled with rich meaning, large respect, real success.
The One Purpose Adequate to Our Selves
Chairman of Education, Ellen Reiss, with whom I’m so proud to be studying, writes in an issue of the periodical The Right Of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known:
A big part of liking the world is to be able to be in it as fully as possible, have ourselves come forth in it.
And she describes what a woman can feel so deeply, what I felt:
“There must be a way to have motherhood go along with taking part in the world in its fullness.”
In the film, snowed in during the long Vermont winter, J.C. spends her days making jar after jar of baby applesauce for Elizabeth, using the hundreds of apples she had picked from her orchard. She gives some to the town’s grocers and it becomes a local hit; then she excitedly does research and creates a home-based business called “Country Baby” where she makes gourmet baby food and sells it through a catalogue. Dr. Cooper–the veterinarian–both criticizes and encourages her, and she comes to love his straightforward, down-to-earth kindness. She gets warmer to people in general, and we feel she’s going in the direction of real success at last.
Then, her business gets so popular that a national company, –the account she had at her old job–wants to buy it; and she’s flown back to New York and offered lots of money and perks, but with her being simply a masthead figure, not making and selling the baby food any more. At first, she is ecstatic; we see her in the bathroom of her old office, saying gleefully and vengefully to herself in the mirror, “I’m back!” But as she returns to the conference room to give them her decision, she says: “I think I’m gonna have to pass.”
Client. Excuse me?
J.C. My answer is no.
Fritz. Which part no? No $350,000 base? No bonus tie-in?
J.C. No to all of it, Fritz. I mean, I was very excited about this offer, but you know, I don’t think I really thought about what it meant. I’m not the Tiger Lady anymore. I have a crib in my office, and there’s a mobile over my desk, and I really like that! Fritz, do you remember that night when you told me about the sacrifices I was gonna have to make? Well, I don’t want to make those sacrifices! And the bottom line is, nobody should have to! I just think the rat race is gonna have to survive with one less rat!
Fritz. Do you realize what you’re giving up?
Client. There’s nothing we can do to change your mind?
We cheer her on as J.C. finally realizes that what she’s been going after doesn’t represent what she really wants.
There is an ever-increasing feeling in America now that our economic system does not make for true success. Trying to amass huge sums of money from the labor of other people–along with being harder and harder to do–no longer looks like the great pinnacle of achievement it once did. Men and women want something better, deeper, and more honest. Describing “what Americans are asking for amid all the confusion of now,” Ms. Reiss writes:
Each of us wants to feel that our private self is good for other people; that through who we are, others will fare well; that as each of us in our individuality works at a job, we are truly being useful to our fellow humans….And we each want to feel that our fellow citizens, the public, is encouraging us to be all we can be; that our nation as a whole is encouraging the best possibilities of our individual mind to come forth.
This is the real success, the coming to be of our largest purpose–and it is why Aesthetic Realism needs to be studied the world over!