Thursday, December 13, 2018


Over time my mother would try to get me alone with her -- I don't know whether it was just the way things fell or whether she made a deliberate effort.  Did I want to go walk around the arboretum with her?  No  Would I go with her someplace, like a family event?  Maybe.  Once she had me trapped, she was pleasant for a while, but then would drift into demanding to know things that would explain why I was the way I was.  

I think she was tapping into a molten pool of deep resentment that I wasn't a certain way, which was actually a certain way she wanted for herself -- competent, attractive, and so on.  Neither one of us had insight into it at the time.  Once I got driven so crazy by the demands that I cracked the door of the moving car to jump out in traffic.  That scared her enough that she backed off for a long time.

But they were silly questions.  I was in grade school for some ceremony -- maybe 4-H and had to make some hand-upraised pledge with the group.  Parents were seated behind us.  She had seen that everyone held up their hand with their thumb parallel to their fingers, but my thumb stuck out perpendicular.  Why?  I had no idea.  It seemed to be crucial to her, as though the police might be involved.  I think in fact to her it was just another example of my nonconformity, and ought not to have mattered at all.

Another of her questions was prompted when I picked up a kitten and made a certain face, teeth gritted, jaw stuck out, intense, frowning.  This time it was the feeling I had concerned me, too.  "You're so cute I could just crush you!"  Maybe you can recognize it.  My mother was scared that I might be a repressed maniac, or so she sounded.  And so I picked up the idea.  It might have something to do with (ulp!) sex.

I had no idea that other countries were so open about this that they have a word to describe it.  I didn't know anyone but me felt like this until I recently found a paper on what is called "cute aggression" that used brain research to understand it.  (Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience)  

"Cute aggression is the overwhelming desire you get to crush, bite, or squeeze cute things, but without actually wanting to hurt it."  It can be taken to an extreme by a "kink" of sex wherein a small fluffy creature like a chick or hamster is crushed to death by a "woman's" foot in very high heels.  It's considered porn and vids of it are sold.

The following is from Wikipedia:  "The term "cute aggression" was published widely in 2013, after Rebecca Dyer presented research on the topic at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology on January 18 The term "playful aggression" was subsequently used in a 2015 paper by Oriana R. Arag√≥n and colleagues, and defined as follows:

"Playful aggression is in reference to the expressions that people show sometimes when interacting with babies. Sometimes we say things and appear to be more angry than happy, even though we are happy. For example some people grit their teeth, clench their hands, pinch cheeks, or say things like “I want to eat you up!” It would be difficult to ask about every possible behavior of playful aggression, so we ask generally about things of this kind—calling them playful aggressions.

"The concept of playful aggression is also captured in several non-English terms.[4] In Filipino, for example, the word gigil refers to "the gritting of teeth and the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute."

The next concept needed is that of the "baby schema" which is the automatic and unconscious response to a face with wide eyes, set low on a soft face, rosebud mouth -- think kittens, puppies and human infants. 

The third concept is "care response" which is triggered by such a face.  The response can be overwhelming, creating a "dimorphic" (two-in-one, paradoxical, conflicted) emotion.  These are in the brain, loops of response, not necessarily emotional or reflecting character.  We crucially need to understand because it is partly triggered by vulnerability and also partly comes from a need to take control by any means necessary.  Police and emergency workers need to know about their own inner setup.

That's the fourth concept: an emotion that is complex but not conscious or deliberate or rational.  It seems to involve being overwhelmed.  Maybe it is related to the tragic confusion of mothers who drown their babies in the bath or people who suffocate babies to stop their crying (or women to stop THEIR crying).  But cute aggression in a mild form is quite common and harmless, part of our animal heritage.  It is the edge of a great dangerous contradiction in the relationship between violence/pain and love/sex.

Except it never felt harmless or even well-intentioned to me.  All this essay is premises from first investigation and though it seems to involve organic and real brain systems, strongly evolved, we still don't know enough about what they are and how to manage them.

Towards the end of her life my mother's doctor gave her a slight overdose of chemotherapy for her blood cancer.  She was directed to go to a certain hospital on the other side of the West Hills for a transfusion, so she did.  Alone.  Then she seemed to disappear.  When I got back from work, I went by her house and my brother with the brain damage shrugged at my questions.  He didn't know which hospital.  He didn't know what time she left the doctor.  He didn't see why his dinner wasn't ready but he was happy to make a peanut butter sandwich and wait.  She hadn't asked him to drive her, which he could do.

I went crazy, picturing car wrecks, dying during the transfusion and so on.  I assumed she was at the nearest hospital and combed the streets for a car wreck.  I called the clinic, the hospitals, everyone.  

Finally she came home about 8PM.  Traffic from the West Hills back into Portland gets funnelled through one busy highway and there had been a terrible accident that blocked traffic.  She didn't carry an iphone.  A cop had come to her window to see if she were all right and she assured him she was.  He offered to loan her his phone or call the family for her, but she refused.  She just sat there until traffic was cleared enough to be safe.  It was all up to her.  I'm the same way.

So now she turned up, smug over her ability to cope with danger and entirely unconscious of causing distress.  Cute little old woman.  I came close to slapping her out of relief.  I was overwhelmed.

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