who are you without what you are without

By Daniel Boscaljon
Image by Melissa D. Johnston
rothko experiment B1.1.6

“who are you without what you are without” is the fourth letter in a series of posts called Letters to You written by Daniel Boscaljon with images by Melissa D. Johnston (from one of her ongoing projects). Letters to You began in July with “everytime i write i feel myself disintegrate.”

when asked what one would prefer to sacrifice–what one has, or what one does not–i would dare to wager that most would prefer to do anything BUT give up what one does not have. I would do this, and I wager that you would also. To have something is, at best, ambiguous. i know the strengths and weaknesses of what I have, what is good about it, what i dislike, and i can rest contentedly in my relationship with what is known. at the same time, this seems an insufficient explanation for why humans (and i’m including you and i within this discussion, as you can tell) refuse to give up what they do not have, despite the fact of not having it. we will sacrifice everything–but not nothing. is it to hurt ourselves? are we this twisted? am i? are you?
if i only want what i do not have–what happens when i receive what it is that i want? is it acceptable? will i spend my lifetime pushing away everything that i want, so that i can continue to have a desire? is there some happiness possible out of this conundrum? is there a way to resolve it, such that i can rest contentedly in what i have? is absence the necessary AND sufficient condition of desire?
can i desire what i have? can you? can you look at your life, as it is, and will it again, an eternal return of the same? would you will your past, were you to do it again? amor fati, if you will…more fate! i desire to desire what i have and who i am, but i find this desire to be impossible. at the same time, i can accept the reality of this situation.
the reason this troubles me is that i am now forced to watch you chasing rainbows and butterflies, attacking windmills, and allowing your heart to be broken. i can see you as a mirror for who i am, and it frightens me. are we really so similar? can i remember that there is a distance between us, or has the distance disappeared?
a dream deferred wastes away like a raisin in the sun, so they say. will your past, so they say. i refuse to sacrifice what i do not have. the treasure of my imagination, the secret jewels of my desire–these are more precious than reality. what quivers in your heart? is it what is present, or absent? what motivates you to get up in the morning? who are you, without what you are without? can you even conceive of such a sacrifice, a sacrifice of that which does not exist? do you realize the difficulty of depriving yourself of what you already are deprived of?
IF YOU HAVE READ THIS FAR, i will offer something by way of a consolation, perhaps, although it may be a far cry from a consolation of philosophy. there is a hope of a positive movement by which you can give up what you do not have without isolating yourself from time (past, present, future). There is a sacrifice that can be made in faith, NOT resignation. There is a perspective in which we are all paupers in the world, born with nothing and having pockets too small for any real gift of the soul. in giving up everything, we can learn to give up nothing. in sacrificing nothing, that hardest sacrifice, in giving up what we do not have, we MIGHT be able to learn to have everything–both what we have and do not have. to be able to gain what you do not have in such a way that you can accept its gift, you need first to be able to give up what you lack in order to be able to accept it joyfully. Let go of what is absent. Decrease its control over your life. Face who you are without what you already are without, and then you can be, perhaps, the success which you are terrified of becoming.
are these all problems which don’t exist, problems of nothing? perhaps. at the same time, i offer these truths to you for your examination and contemplation. i do not claim hold to a truth–absolute or relative. i pray if you find error in these words, that you offer up a correction. show me that this is untrue, pray that i can accept the truth.

Daniel Boscaljon has Ph.D.s in Modern Religious Thought and 19th-century American Literature, both from the University of Iowa. His interest is in the fragility and liminality of human experiences. His first book, Vigilant Faith: Passionate Agnosticism in the Secular World was published by the University of Virginia Press this past August.

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Categories: Writing


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2 Comments on “who are you without what you are without”

  1. November 29, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    I wouldn’t presume to find error in these words. Just doubt. Doubt that it’s possible to reach this (as any) ideal. It is human to desire and to counteract that impulse would seem to me to forever work against it, run away from it or suppress it. Should we keep an eye on it, exercise discipline, stem it, etc – that is another question, but erase it – I doubt that.



  1. Happy Birthday to Creative Thresholds! | Melissa D. Johnston - December 10, 2013

    […] Daniel Boscaljon’s series Letters to You continues with who are you without what you are without. […]


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