"Don't compare! All suffering is intolerable." (Elie Wiesel)
BMcC[18-11-46-503] SSS number: 18-11-46-503. I am always aware that the people around me can make things worse for me than they already are; Isn't it remarkable that the evolution of the universe since the Big Bang has led to them?
I have written a lot of things here that are individual but not personal. By this I mean they happened to a singular person, but that person could have been anybody. Item: Any white-collar employee could have a manager who wore socks decorated with machine stitched images of Mickey Mouse. Here I want to share some things that are personal to me, e.g., things not shared by anyone else who had said manager. I am not going to "tell all". But what I tell will hopefully be of interest to you, my reader, as well as to me. And, since I do not believe in surprise endings, let me clue you in that there will be no personal catastrophes here, but you will find reports of trench warfare on the psychological Western Front.
"I often need subtitles even when the movie is in English." (BMcC)
I may have had the highest I.Q. in my "prep" school class, although I can't be sure because those things were secrets and the only way I think I know is from a fellow student's having looked over one of our masters'(sic) shoulder one day while he had a certain register open in his hands. But I'm pretty sure I was in the bottom quartile for reading speed (words-per-minute). I have always been good at reading deep, but not at scanning large aggregations of characters from the latin alphabet, seasoned with punctuation marks. I would have flunked any course that had a long "reading list", so I avoided taking any. My slow reading speed was one of the reasons I majored in Philosophy, because there the reading assignments were generally short, and reading deep was valued.
When in Freshman English I, we were assigned to read Tolstoy's "War and Peace" over the Xmas vacation, it partly spoiled my holiday, and all I remember of that book today is that it is over 1,000 page long -- over 1,000 pages I had no interest in but had to push my eyes to register the words on. Dostoevsky? Forgetsky. One of the few books in prep school that I did like was Sophocles' "Œdipus cycle" ("Œdipus Rex", "Œdipus at Colonus" and "Antigone" -- poor Antigone and a--hole Creon...). I liked it because it was short and the words spoke to me. "He who, rising high above his place, mistakes what is not for what is, loses his place in the end" ("Antigone", "Ode to Man"), etc.
Any book I read except under duress has to earn the right for me to read it. The "cost" -- not economic but in terms of life time -- is just too high. Early, D.F. Fleming's "The Cold War and Its Origins" (2 vols.), and, much later, Elizabeth Eisenstein's "The Printing Press as an Agent of Change" (also 2 vols.) measured up. My slow reading speed is also a reason I always eschewed libraries (and classes that had long lists of titles in the "reserved book room"). One has to surrender a library book after a fixed time interval, and texts in the reserve book room circulate at most "overnight" if at all -- I did not like being chained to a library table. I have always been fortunate to have enough money to buy almost every book I read (but economic cost is also a reason a book has to be "worthwhile" for me to read, i.e., buy it). That included my doctoral dissertation, where I typed my text with a big pile of books at my feet, including psychoanalytic texts which, even then, were expensive. Writing this I had a thought: Is Everybook like Everyman (ref. the Medieval "morality play" by that name)?
My slow reading speed is also a reason I like "films", which are time-bounded. But cultural artifacts (books and films) also need to pass another test for me: They cannot have very many characters. In a film I get confused who is who ("Is [X] here the same person as [Y] was in [Z] previous scene"? If I have no interlocutor to ask about the past, it's frequently "rewind time"). Simplicity of "cast of characters" and plot is one reason I love Michelangelo Antonioni's "Monica Vitti" films. Having few words is also appealing to me; I like films with sub-titles and "silent films" with their "title cards", since in both cases I don't have to try to parse out individual words in a "stream" of talk. Luc Besson's "Le Derniere Combat" is great here (eloquent French "talkie" with zero words). Reading "Under new management" graffitied on the roof of a bombed out concrete bunker [is that the right word?] for a fighter plane, as the camera flies over it, in Werner Herzog's "Lessons of Darkness", was also a "delight". In reading a newspaper article I often try, with less or greater frustration, to trace a name I read later in the article back to its first reference. Neither do I seem to have generally very good "recall" -- although, when something "strikes me", I may remember it for decades. Yet more: I almost never read poetry because I cannot parse the sentences -- except for Haiku.
My slow reading speed and difficulty in retention eventually got the best of me. I only graduated from college by being able to "cash in", in my senior year, some unused credit hours I had been granted on admission. I collapsed over the finish line. And I dropped out of a relatively benign graduate program in philosophy at Pennsylvania State University after one semester. This was unfortunate, because, as Professor John Wild -- who was I think about as much an outcast as anybody could be and still be a Yale full professor and who was also "an existentialist" and who liked me -- said to me: If I got my Ph.D. I would be "a free man". One of the courses I signed up for but dropped in my senior year at Yale was Contemporary German Literature in Translation. I knew I was not going to make it through the reading list. The one book I did not return to the Yale Coop bookstore was one the cover of which somehow appealed to me. I did not know then that, some 10 years later, having kept that book would change my [mental] life (see immediately below).
In 1978, those 10 years later, newly arrived for employment at IBM Poughkeepsie South Road Lab, I decided to try to read Hermann Broch's "The Sleepwalkers". It was an almost -- but just almost! -- Sisyphean undertaking. I read -- snowplowed myself thru might be a better phrase here -- one or two pages each day. But the book kept my attention all the way to its magisterial and St. Paul redeeming end on page 648. [St. Paul's School for Boys is the name of the Episcopal prep school I attended, and where I became an atheist and sincerely wished Saul of Tarsus, aka St. Paul had fallen off his horse much harder on the Damascus road.] Broch's words "spoke to me", through the to-me-redemptive no surprises, the resurrection of a poor WWI soldier left for dead on the battlefield but brought back to life on a bet of a pack of cigarettes by two medics, "Huguenau" the (POTUS №45) Donald Trump + Jeffrey Skilling of WWI conscript military deserters who finally makes his escape to freedom by making himself be the only person whom a town's military commander gone mad will let take him [the commander, not Hugenau!] to the lunatic asylum, etc.
Years after that, at Teachers College, I would read many books that had a lot of words in them. I mastered
quantity by man-hours. The books earned it. But part of the reason I got through some of them, e.g.,
Rabelais' "Gargantua and Pantagruel" and Cervantes' "Don Quixote" [Sancho Panza: "There is
no memory which time does not efface and no suffering to which
death does not bring an end"] -- part of the reason I got through these books was the beacon of
Robbie and his recommendation of them.
Infants, like fresh computers, start with lots of uninitialized main memory. Uploading of code and data is required, in the case of a computer, perhaps from magnetic disk, in the case of child, from childrearing. The tables and scripts which were uploaded into me were banal character strings and low functionality applications, which I repeated them in my mind because they were all that had been uploaded there. My thoughts were not worthy of a sentient being, and not very interesting to me. So I was often bored, with good reason. What meaning was there in such a "life"? (Why not type in on the console: "Z EOD", to power the machine off? Maybe there was some auxiliary input from somewhere?)
Education (not perp school, where I had Masters who uploaded more of their tapes full of inanity into me, but later and then much later in my life). Now I can think about almost anything, and have an interesting thought, like perhaps how it should be bombed by the U.S.A.F. (Choose from: (1) Iron bombs, or (2) napalm or white phosphorus, or (3) one of those clever flying Ginsu, lawnmower blade 'ninja' R9X missiles, or (4) other? → if nothing better). Take laundry. Daughter makes prodigious quantities of it (not to mention her underwear which is so skimpy I am not quite amazed it doesn't get collected in the dryer's lint filter, so why wear it?). One only wears a piece of clothing once before dumping it on the floor in the dirty clothes pile (but, when clean, it was already in a pile on the floor, so I guess it could become dirty without even being worn once?). You mean you are so dirty that your clothes are soiled even after just having worn them for a few hours? On the other hand, if you are so clean that maybe they came out of the dryer already too dirty to wear, how could you wear them even once? Such unacceptable thoughts do now I think while loading the laundry into the washer or transferring it into the dryer, which leads to more thoughts about how the washer and dryer are not worthy to bear the herrlich German label: BOSCH on them (Made in Poland -- I'm 1/2 Polack). Such thoughts keep me from being bored even doing laundry, although my childrearing and pupilage never taught [uploaded into] me such things, nor, a fortiori, how to generate more of them, nor are they acceptable output character strings today.
☠ When I was a child, I had a large (9/16" x 5/16" x 3/16"?) raised mole on my upper-left chest. When I was a teenager it started to change, even with at least one piece falling out of it and some red (blood?). Satan get thee hence! My mother told me to not scratch it; a useless reprimand.
I was afraid of doctors and my parents did not take me to a dermatologist, even when, one time, I mustered the courage to ask. As a Freshman at Yale, I finally got it dealt with when, one Saturday, I hiked up Prospect Street to the old Yale Infirmary and 3 medical staff excised it along with two of its fellow travellers. The excision left a little crater on my chest which, many years later, has gone. Since I am still alive now over 50 years later, it is clear that they got it before it would likely have gotten me (melanoma).
But the damned/damning thing took its psychological toll. I still have a skin cancer phobia. For maybe 15 (more?) years after "it" was gone, I spent much time scrutinizing the moles on my body to see if they were changing. This was not a benign obsession: It took a lot of my time, resulting in a kind of psychological "splitting" between the time I was worrying about moles and living, e.g., thinking about philosophical subjects and studying. It is one of the reasons I almost didn't make it through my senior year in college and dropped out of graduate school soon thereafter. Beyond looking, I cut out small moles with nail clippers. Not good.
I finally resolved this problem due to having very good health insurance at IBM (they covered 80% of almost everything up to $250,000 per person), and doctors' fees at the time (ca. 1978) still being relatively modest. I did not solve the problem by psychological therapy. I solved it by brute force. Siege warfare. I found dermatologists (God bless Dr. Jeffrey Kezis inter aliis!) who removed every mole on my body on condition of biopsying it. Take them away! When they all were gone, my obsession and the pall it cast over my life, now lacking any object, also went dormant.
So, my reader, you can appreciate why I say there is no such thing as a beauty mark. Supermodel Cindy Crawford should have got herself to a dermatologist! I once worked with a woman who had a dark spherical mole next to her left eye; looking at her, I mostly saw the mole. More recently, my wife had a stealth melanoma: it was almost skin color and the only reason it didn't kill her was that a podiatrist's assistant told her there was something suspicious on her leg, which she had previously naively been occasionally scratching. In my wife's case, Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital "came through". An oncological dermatologist surgeon at the White Plains MSK branch medical center remarkably removed the mole (which had developed a "satellite", thus qualifying my wife as "stage 3a") in ambulatory surgery. So far, over a year later, it appears to be done and gone.
I once had a psychologist who had either a basal cell or a squamous cell carcinoma on his head (I forget which). My father in law also had one. My wife's aunt had Mohs surgery on an ear. And on and on.
You may appreciate that I
abominate sunbathing. As a child in the summer when "we" went "on vacation"
my parents forced me to go out in the
sun. I never liked either "the sun" or icky sun screen on my skin.
Once I got a mild case of "sun poisoning". The victims of Hiroshima had no choice. Farmers and
construction workers ditto.
Peacetime white-collar and up Western Europeans, including Americans, do have a choice.
Per the picture above, the sun dry roasted a sex-kitten into a raisin. To my thinking, there
is utterly no excuse for these crimes against humanity. Be and be proud to be a "paleface"!
If you can't kick the habit by yourself, ask a dermatologist for help. Leave the
sun to astronomers, power companies and beings that photosynthesize! From what I see in the
media, progress may slowly be being made against the enemy.
Another episode in this story: Ever since I was a teenager, now ca. 54 years ago, I have had a sebaceous cyst on my ethno-secular✟ circumcision scar which I was always able to squeeze to get the contents out of it because it had a drainage channel. As of 2020, it had been quiescent for a middling long time. Then it decided to get active again, but this time the drainage channel was blocked/gone. After what has been described above, the prospect of cutting my skin is like thinking of putting my fingers in a fire. But this was a problem that in "real time" was getting more swollen and hurting worse and I did not want to go to a dermatologist, especially since I had not seen the one dermatologist I really trust for maybe 35 years and his office was 35 miles away, and the cyst hurt enough that I wasn't going to be able to go to sleep that night much less wait for a doctor's appointment. Hospital emergency room? No way, especialy with pandemic. It was clearly not something that was going to go away.
I balked but unwillingy decided to try something. I locked a sewing needle in a pair of pliers, sterilized the needle over the gas stove, wavered in indecision for a few minutes, and then slowly but resolutely punched the needle into the cyst. Just a pinhole. It was like a couple seconds that I was not altogether "there", experientially, but the needle did go thru (I heard a little "pop"). At first no luck. I still could not squeeze anything out of the goddamned cyst. But one of my character attributes is persistence. If at first I fail to accomplish something, if I cannot think of something better, I will try what failed again, even if nothing has changed, because sometimes the result does change after all.  Finally, material started letting itself be squeezed out of the cyst, and the problem was for the moment resolved. Relief ("Thank you, Lord....") Numerous applications of apple cider vinegar also helped (who knows? maybe it was in whole or part the vinegar not my pinhole that provided the exit path?).
But what if the cyst kept filling itself? The relief "vent" I had made was only a pinhole, so it would likely heal/seal up quickly.
The pinhole didn't seal up too quickly (and, ironically, once I no longer needed it, the old drainage channel has reopened
itself). So far, now (Oct 2020) several months later, happily ever after. But the experience/not experience of piercing my
skin with the needle was "interesting" (May I not live in interesting times!) →
interesting enough that I had resolved/promised God/fate at the time that I would write it up here
if it turned out well. Pledge herewith discharged. I would also note that I know
a man who, I believe, if he had to undergo general surgery, would want to be awake to observe/study the procedure, and, if possible, chirurgically participate. I (BMcC) am a
wimp, and, as a person who fancies his semiotic vision is getting to be ever sharper than 20/20, I'm also becoming ever more superstitious as I age more and more.
Nevi (aka birth marks, moles) are not the only enemy which has besieged me. Also "minor" dental problems. After the moles came small but chronically annoying lumps and bumps in my mouth. During my time at Teachers College, after visiting the Columbia University student health center, and for the second time in my life encountering what looked to me like real life "the three stooges" M.D.'s (the first time was my army draft medical exam, 1969), a trip to an expensive "Park Avenue" dental surgeon removed a blocked salivary gland from the roof of my mouth. Two more trips to dental surgeons in White Plains and Yorktown Heights New York (Dr.: Are you really sure you want me to do this? I don't see anything." Me: "Yes") dealt with stuff below my tongue. In both cases, history had repeated itself in me picking at the offending objects.
And, today (since maybe summer 2019) I have another "minor" dental problem (perhaps a delayed after-effect of those earlier dental surgeries?) which is plaguing me and which my dentist said he did not want to risk messing with because it is benign and grinding it away might injure an otherwise heathy tooth. To be or not to be, that is the question. I am trying to self-apply psychoanalytic therapy to see if attributing my being annoyed to toxic introject(s) -- which is likely true -- can make me be less bothered. I need to make a self-appointment.
I was physically a very "puny" child (one of the reasons I was rejected for military service was for being underweight: 6'+1/2". 129 lbs); another reason was because I had procured a letter from the Baltimore City Court psychiatrist saying that being subjected to military training would likely cause a mental breakdown...)
At the prep school I attended, St. Paul's School for Boys, Brooklandville, Maryland, I was afraid of many things, including especially being afraid of being physically hurt. At the time I attended St. Paul's, "varsity sports" were a big thing, esp. football and lacrosse. I remember the lower level of "the gym" as a place where I succeeded in never entering the locker room, due to the public single-gender nudity there.
For many years I have wished I had had the precocious wisdom [which I did not have!] to approach the athletic director, Mr. Tullai and say to him something like:
"Mr. Tullai, you know I am weak and afraid of being hurt and do not want to be part of the public nudity in the locker room (etc.). But I also understand "mens sana in corpore sano" -- the value of a healthy body. Would you work with me to make a program for me where I could improve my body in a regimen I would be comfortable with?"
Educational philosophy note: I believe students should be taught the basics of human dignity, that "being created equal" is a primary, innate and inalienable quality of each person, where by "person" I mean a being with language who can give an accounting for his or her own actions and ask others to account for theirs. I believe students should be taught to stand up to their teachers when the student feels he or she has been treated with less than full human respect and dignity. Students should be taught that, whenever a teacher does or fails to do something to/for them that they feel is not right, each student should be taught to ask the teacher to give an accounting for why they are doing it ["Why are you doing this to me?"], and the teacher would as part of his or her employment contract, be required to give their reasons (the reason for putting this in their employment contract being to help "the old generation" of teachers not to backslide). If the reasons proved less than honorific and convincing, the students would be taught to be able to tell the teacher to "Stop it!" and the teachers, again would have in their employment contracts that stopping the offending behavior when thus legitimately asked to do so was mandatory. On the other hand: The students would also be taught that, when they stood up to a teacher, they would be held accountable, i.e., asked to provide good reasons for, what they did. In other words, simple mutually respectful human relations, not asymmetrical relations (in this case: teacher - student) in which one side assumes super-human powers and the other side receives sub-human treatment.
Back to Phys. Ed.: Much later in life, when I was in my "40s", I did finally get some physical exercise in a high-end "sports club" patronized by Westchester New York businessmen and housewives, "on wall to wall carpet". I used a rowing machine (a couple times even sustaining 180+ watts for 24 minutes), and an escalator-model "Stairmaster" [The stairway to heaven...], many times climbing 180 or more floors in less than 30 minutes. I did late in life come to "talk the talk and walk the walk" of physical fitness, neither of which I did at St. Paul's. I now sincerely believe in the value of physical fitness, although I still also abominate "contact sports", cheer rallies, public all-male nudity, etc.
My message here is sort of like the Starkist tuna ad, where the fish asks: "What do you want? A tuna with good taste? Or a tuna that tastes good?" What did St. Paul' school want: Mens sana in corpore sano for Everystudent (cf. Everyman), or elitist macho competitive contact sports with promiscuous same-sex pubertal male locker room nudity? (While we're here, let's spill some beans: In the seventh grade, two students were expelled for havng oral sex in the boy's lavatory. The lavatory stalls had no doors. And the teachers used a staircase in the lavatory as a shortcut between two floors in the middle school building. No privacy for students sitting on the toilet. I think it is sick and hypocritical to promote locker room same-sex pubertal nudity but not accept homosexual contacts.
My reader, this section is going to surprise you, I think. I respect persons who are sexually attracted to persons of their same gender, but I am not one of them, although I do eschew public same gender nudity ("the locker room", etc.) because I find it uncomfortable (but I also eschew baby dolls and women's earrings that are not works of modernist art -- in The Baltimore Museum of Art Gift Shop, I sold lovely earrings made by a craftswoman, Ruth Berridge, and some her earrings were little Calderesque mobiles. Those earrings made me make an exception to my aversion to body piercing: the risk of losing a "clip on" earring was in her case just too awful, ergo, I decided pierced ears were OK if a woman wore Ruth Berridge or equivalent earrings.).
As best I can remember, my mother came from Roman Catholic "stock" and hated the Roman Catholic Church. My father was Presbyterian but I do not know if he had any idea about anything religious. He never was in a foxhole but if he had been, maybe he would not have prayed, not bccause he thematically did not believe in God but just because hs simply did not have a religious dimension. He did occasionally attend Presbyterian Church on Sunday mornings when I was a child, but I believe that was because my parents for some reason decided I should attend "Sunday School".
I did indeed attend Sunday School, intermittently. In First Grade, I sometimes attended Sunday School in a cute little church in Dickeyville, Baltimore Maryland. This was near where a sweet little girl with one eye in my First Grade class lived but my parents never arranged play dates for me with her. There was also a famous rehabilitation hospital nearby. In Sunday School there, I seem to remember we sang "Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong...." It must have been a benign place.
Then, probably around the Fourth Grade, I at least once attended Sunday School at a Presbyterian Church in "The West End" of Richmond Virginia. What happened there? This seems unbelievable, but I seem to remember it: Somehow I got locked in a closet in the Sunday School class room, and [obviously] I eventually I got let out. I seem to assess that I did not go into the closet on my own initiative and that the Sunday School teacher was complicit in my not instantly getting out. Yes, my reader, I have come out of the closet! Now, I think: In hoc signo vinces! Be well, my reader, and may you find good, wholesome community if you go to church!
But let me confess(sic) to something else religious or at least ecclesiastical. I never was "confirmed" in any Church. But, as an atheist/agnostic, I did want to take communion, in one case because I was hoping to meet an attractictive-to-myself woman in Church (Preesbyterian? Episcopal? I don't know), and in other case, the Roman Catholic Church across the street from my beloved Chappaqua home, because I liked the place (I also once gave blood there, and would have taken my cat Abiko to be blessed had I not thought it would be traumatic/risky [no "Lost cat"'s!] for her). (Unitarian Universalists do not do communion, as far as my experience goes.) I did twice take communion. I was really scared, because I did not know the drill. I got away with it, although at least in the RCS case, with a bit of tussle with the holder of the wine cup. And now, July 2020, I am thinking about the Roman Catholic home for the elderly/hospice across Dulaney Valley Road from where I "lived" ca. 1958-1962. The Roman Catholic Church was good enough for Walter J. Ong, SJ, so why not for me? I sincerely believe the nuns there would be good persons, not be smiling faces that tell lies. I find the word Amen for some reason ambivalent (maybe it alludes to collectivity?). Ojala! [May Allah grant!]
I loved certain aspects of Japanese culture from the time I discovered them working as Museum Shop Manager at The Baltimore Museum of Art. Soetsu Yanagi's "The Unknown Craftsman", Hienrich Engel's "The Japanese House: A Tradition for Contemporary Architecture", etc. (This was 1970/71, back before "Fukushima".)
Sartorial splendor. One New Year's Day, the big Japanese holiday, I was in the little town of Bizen, which is near Okayama, which is near Hiroshima. All the shops were open. I went through them all with a wad of ¥s in my pocket. I wanted to buy some pottery. Nothing really appealed to me, until I entered one shop and saw "it" -- a certain sake cup, pictured here, in A Place to Study, at Who was Abiko?. I was dressed in my usual sloppy jeans and button-down long sleeve shirt, i.e., I looked almost like a homeless person. I entered the shop and looked around, the owner lady clearly concerned that such an uncouth character might break something. I asked to see "the sake cup". The lady tried hard to distract me to anything more suitable, i.e., less valuable. But I persisted and she finally relented, and I quickly bought the little piece (ca. US$300). It is the finest piece of pottery I own. It is the only piece I own that was made by a Japanese "important living cultural asset" (which is one step down from "living national treasure"), Kakumi Seiho. It is endlessly fascinating; I can see so many things in it, a little world, coming much closer to that than the kitsch-proverbial grain of sand; It's heft and feel is exquisite; After years I can still study/savor it for hours.... Anyway the very surprised lady got her money, I got my sake cup (to repeat: I wanted nothing else in the whole town), and I still have it some 35 years later. I used to use it to drink, not sake, but good Scotch whiskey. A few days after I bought it I saw another sake cup in the Mitsukoshi Department Store, Ginza, clearly by the same craftsman but not as interesting and twice the price.
A pox on all prudes! I liked to wander through the Buddhist temples in the Daitoku-ji temple complex in northern Kyoto. (The bullet train took me Tokyo <-> Kyoto in less than 2 hours, so it was just a "day trip".) I liked to look at the "dry gardens" -- the abstract landscapes of raked gravel with occasional little raked gravel cone shaped "mountains", special rocks, and, at Daisen-in, even a single small tree. Once I was sitting at the edge of one of these waterless seas, and the temple's chief monk sat down next to me and tried to seduce me. Alas I could not get aroused for him, but I thought the encounter was really neat. I am not "gay". But in the United States of Hypocrisy I had had far too much of sexual prudery (as Joseph McCarthy would say "one of them is one too many"), and I was pleased to see healthier behavior, especially in a sacred place and by a person of the cloth.
I loved Japan. Check out: Shugakuin Imperial Villa -- if I had money, I'd build myself a little one, "over here" and live peacefully and
Japan is the only place I ever really wanted to visit. The Fukushima catastrophe
was hard for me to handle, since it seemed to make the country "dirty" -- like a person who
contracted a venereal disease. (Had that nuclear power plant been built right,
the tsunami would "only" have been a tragedy and a disaster, not also an epitome of
its -- our -- so-called-civilization's corruption: Chernobyl East.)
I have many fond memories of the Land of the Rising Sun, and even implemented one of them in the landscaping of the little house in Chappaqua, New York, where I was to live for a few, far too few years (Martin Heidegger: One builds for the sake of dwelling for the sake of thinking -- "Bauen, Wohnen, Denken"). The world of the Shining Prince. An austere 12th century sword (above) in the Tokyo National Museum whose "waves in the steel" recalled to me the opening words of Hermann Broch's "The Death of Virgil": "Steel blue and light...."
Contrast the biped non-porcine decorated "pigs" of Versailles, i.e., Louix XIV and his court, and so much else of the many all too many "over here" in the land of More square feet!.... Of course there is good "Western" culture, e.g., Andreas Palladio's "Villa Rotondo" (right) and Louis Kahn and Hermann Broch and Edmund Husserl and Matisse.... But I think the ratio of quality to crap may be better in Japan, at least for a person who is not wealthy enough to create their own ambient surround, and even then, many of our wealthy have impoverished taste (Item: Patek-Philippe watches with diamond studded bezels).
However! Japan also has The Rape of Nanjing and Unit 731 and Fukushima and other things that are not good. It is so important to keep things in perspective, to prove all things and hold fast only that which is good. "Take what you like and leave the rest" (ACOA dictum), but also cultivate your ability to appreciate and discriminate (aka study, in an honorific sense), to be able to select wisely.
My first linguistic innovation, at age ca. 4 ot 5, was to mutate "mother" into "mud". This was due to a problem I had anent infantile need for what psychoanalysts call "the good object". It would be many years before I made any other changes to my idiolect of any language, so it does not really count here.
In writing these pages in A Place to Study, I seem to myself to be elaborating an English language idiolect (would that it was a dialect...). It contains words like "Lost cat" (Example usage: "No 'Lost cat's!"). Ever since I learned a little bit of German, I have liked to make big words by gluing smaller words together, transforming English phrases and sentences into polysyllables. Item: A friend is going to get a new clothes washer; I wish her "Happy homeappliancing!" I sometimes split big words into their component parts to make a point (perhaps suggested by English translations of Martin Heidegger's writings?). Item: "no where". I also invent straightforward neologisms. Item: "Kitschgasm" (although a Google search does turn up instances of this word, of which I had not been aware. I deploy that word to refer, inter alia, to a -- usually professional or educational institution athletic competition -- crowd gone wild, or perhaps the frenzy of the audience at a (POTUS №45) Donald J. Trump or Dr. Joseph Goebbels propaganda rally).
To borrow from the text on a certain calendar I think I have referred to elsewhere here: Was man made for his native tongue or was his native tongue made for man (Aside: I would ask the same question about the mother[-]land, ref.: "Dulce et decorum est...."). Language play can be low cost but also long-playing, renewable energy, non-climate warming and even not population exploding fun. Education facilitates here. The more you know the more you can allude. Am I getting a sense for James Joyce's experience here? Definitely Muhammad Ali's "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee".
Doing useful things that have no higher value than "pragmatic agenda", or being a merely socially useful person such as an assembly line worker, makes a person: usedull. (POTUS №45) Donald J. Trump-l'oeil's political regime was a: vengeancocracy. (POTUS №40) was Ronnie Raygun. The man who gave the 1999 U.S. Presidential election to (POTUS №43) George W. Bush was: Ralph Nadir. Russia is ruled by: Vladimir Putain. Jeff Bozo runs Amazon corporation. I attended St. Paul's perp Schoolfo rBoys, Brooklandville Maryland. I was childreared in an anti-sexual (not hetero- or homo- or any other) social surround. It was a Scheißestückwelt / Prigocracy. There I was haircutted, biweeky, by a: barberian (haircutting is a barberic social custom).
I am cultivating connoiseurship of typos. Many are just typographical errors meriting nothing more than metaphorical Wite-Out. But some are gems in the rough, felicitous Freudean free association material. Following is not a great example, but it will perhaps illustrate: If I mis-type Loose instead of Loos, am I alluding to a possible aetiology of Adolf Loos's(PBUH) syphilis? Poor man, RIP. I am also liking to write some things like non-native English speakers sometimes err in the use of definite/indefinite articles, e.g., for an artificially constructed example: instead of "The cat is on the Mat", "Cat is on mat". (Such locutions might be especially helpful in advese signal-to-noise situations, where every phoneme counts, item: telegraph operator on Titanic. Throw the "a"s and the "the"s overboard!) God sane the Queen!
Heraclitus said: Waking persons share a world in common, but the dreamer turns to a world unique to themself. For me, it's no fun writing for "File 13" aka the trash can or trash email folder. I doubt I will leave behind many writings that I did not try to share with others, unless put "in solitary". Solitary confinement is for many a recipe for insanity or at least for trying to save themselves from insanity by conjuring good introjects (see, e.g., the ending of Hermann Broch's "The Sleepwalkers"). I hope I have not made myself unintelligible by trying to make my words carry more weight -- too often carrying out trash, but at least sometimes bearing gifts. What I see is what I have to give to you (ref. Emmanuel Levinas, "Totality and Infinity", not a direct quote).
From Trivia genius website: "In the late 1830s, Boston-area newspapers were gripped by a craze for humorous abbreviations such as RTBS ('Remains To Be Seen'), GTDHD ('Give The Devil His Due'), and SP ('Small Potatoes')." In the 1830's! Surely we ought not to be more backwards than persons of almost 200 years ago! TRTBS (That Remains To Be Seen).
One does not need to listen carefully or to very much, to notice that (POTUS №45) Donald J. Trump superlativizes everything. A telephone call he makes is: "perfect". Something is very very bad. Or the most whatever ever, ever. Or he has done more than anybody about something, except, maybe, Abraham Lincoln.... He does not create words, or even deploy very many different ones. He overemphasizes everything. Everything is very whatever it is. There is no nuance, no shades of gray, in his binary discourse.
I must confess, I too am or at least have been a "fan". Monica Vitti. But, also, another European: Amanda Lear. Ever hear of her? I learned of her (ca. 1978/79) from a couple records a gay friend had: "Sweet Revenge" and "I am a Photograph". She had a deep, throaty voice. I seem to have heard somebody wonder, back then, if she was "trans". This is all vague and perhaps long since partly forgotten now....
But I wrote to her record company, once -- probably because I couldn't find the records anywhere to get my own copies. The record company sent me back (no cost to me!) a couple copies of each album. Imagine that? Even better: The albums were each plastic shrink-wrapped. One title's album jacket contained a small photograph of Ms. Lear, bare breasted. Inside one of the shrink-wrapped albums for this title, this picture had been excised with a razor/knife, leaving a maybe 2" x 2" plain cardboard area in the album jacket. As said, the album came shrink-wrapped this way.
So there's my adventure in fanland. And it helped me formulate a general thesis: The lower the altitude of a sublunary "star", the more likely one is to be able to get something one wants from/about them. My other data point here: Getting from Pantheon Books the addresses of the people they paid royalties to for Hermann Broch's books.
Other pop culture items: (1) There is a British rock group I like: "Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD)". They had an album: "Architecture & Morality", with songs about Joan of Arc, Enola Gay, etc. Pretty "cool", eh? And, of course, (2) Patrick McGoohan's TV series "The Prisoner" -- Number 6, a free man, Everyman Films.
Another item: I'm studying Bob Dylan's "I contain multitudes", and I'm able to listen to it ad libitum because it is available free on The Internet. Among other things, I think of my own substitutions for Dylan's words. The universal semiotic smorgasbord to be reflectively [re-]appropriated in study and play, or playful study. I happened to scroll down and read some of the user comments: The master!!!" "... our prophet" I am as The Man Without Qualities in the engineering office. These folks apparently see Bob Dylan as some sort of creature at a higher ontological level than themselves (Cherubims, Seraphims, Powers, Thrones, etc.?). They apparently have not heard The Gospel of Robbie McClintock: "Engage the work of another as the work of a peer. Shakespeare lived a human life, as you are doing." Very sad.
This is not really personal, but it's got to go somewhere so it's going here. I was trying to recall the name of a ceramic artist who participated in a Xmas Craft show I organized in 1971 at The Baltimore Museum of Art. He was a teacher at a local college, perhaps even head of his department. I emailed them and they replied graciously, but having to say that nobody at the school apparently would remember him and they had no relevant records. I think this "guy" was a sort of small-time ceramic Frank Zappa (also a Baltimoron). He sold ceramic jock straps in my crafts fair, if I remember correctly.
I have encountered a similar situation at least once before, when I tried to get information about my father, perhaps 15 years after his death, from Valspar paint company. My father had worked most of his life for a company Valspar had acquired, and I think I addressed my request to the office where he had, at one point, as a Vice President, had his/an office. They had no records of my father.
Today, I am struck even more than most days, by the concern of Holocaust survivers and others who would remember the Holocaust, that the past will be forgotten. Not all of the past is so bad, or even bad at all. Some of the past is even good. I think the past deserves to be remembered. Not so much for the dead who are either in a better place or no-where so our reambering will not likely affect them. But for ourselves, who are impverished by being amnesiacs.
Example: See my page here: The story of an American icon (Star and bars). I was deprived most of my life of knowing I had such an uncle. I don't relate to "heritage" stuff. I, like Diogenes, am a citizen of the whole world, except as may concern DNA vulnerabilitie to disease, etc. But here I found a man to deeply respect and whose story tells some lessons about "history". A much "bigger" person than my uncle, Admiral John McCain, Sr. played a less than stellar role in the story, and that is a lesson history can teach we the living today, too.
Happy ending: I did finally remember the ceramicist's name, curiously, because it's similar to Jan Szczepanski's name. Towson University Emeritus Professor Tom Supensky. He has a website, with phone numbers. I called his home phone and he answered. He's 82 years old now, and still an active potter, and, yes, he was making and selling ceramic jockstraps in 1971. I remembered, and I am a bit richer person this afternoon than I was this morning.
When I was a young child, often my parents would visit my maternal grandparents and, of course/perforce, so too would I with them. They [the grandparents] were blue collar folks, immigrants from "the old country" (Poland). My grandmother, at least, could read and write, I think -- she kept up letters (which sometimes contained small photographs of the people) with I think still-peasant (early 1950's) relatives back in Poland.
On the living (dining?) room wall was a little plaque:
A wise old owl once sat on an oak.
The more he saw the less he spoke.
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can't we all be like that old bird?
I [sometimes?] misperceived the last word there as my name ("Brad"), but the misperception does not seem to have had much effect on me or on anyone else. There was on the living room wall also a picture of maybe a boating shed on a pier on the edge of a lake that glistened in the sun. I hadn't thought of this for maybe 40+ (50+? 60+?) years.
I wrote something here and I've erased it all. Let's try again: I came from nothing and I expect I'm going to nothing, but, in the midst of miasmic dimness, having had the (undeserved?) good fortunate to benefit from a few good persons (yes, that definitely includes "Robbie" and "Lou" Forsdale), and good cultural objects -- books, films, ceramics and other --, have not been entirely nothing along the way from Α to Ω.
There is a recent (28 June 2020) Atlantic magazine article about how Europeans today no longer find Americans just "ugly", but also pitiable. The article says the pitiable part is something new with POTUS DJT. They had seen America as often being wrong in the past (and often right), but America was always a leader. America had purpose, however flawed. America deployed a rudder. Now they see it doesn't. This is a, for myself, damning appraisal. At bottom, what Europeans (and others) feel about America today, the article says, is esthetic revulsion. I think that "nails it". Circumstances may dictate that one lives in a certain place, but one does not have to identify with any place; one can always ask "What is this an instance of?" (Louis Forsdale), and adopt an anthropologically/ethnographically critical/reflective perspective on the place, which, if it is critically self-reflective, it will welcome.
I was child birthed and reared (free association: everybody has one but the Japanese have more civilized toilet culture) and have all my life except for a couple months in Japan, always lived in "this country". If I had great means, I might long since have gone elsewhere, perhaps, although it's cold there, just across the border to English speaking Canada. But then I might not have needed to leave, for I could have built myslf a small classical Japanese villa/temple or commissioned Mario Botta to build me an honorifically modernist home (I think not Frank Lloyd Wright, for I understand Wright was something of a tyrant to his students, and telling the employees of Johnson Wax company that they should just cope with a leaky roof and chairs they tended to fall off of, for His sake, while it gives me some pleasure in "sticking it to" non-Wright America, is not really right).
"Somehow", I know not how, it seems there was something in me that partly immunized me to my social surround (Abwelt). I do not know about my infancy, but maybe my mother was initially caring to her child. She certainly had to try hard to have a child (she had also had fairly mild polio as a child, to treat which her mother had had to massage her legs which may have laid down some good introjectory material). Before me I seem to have heard she had 2 failed pregnancies, including an apparently terribly malformed birth that only survived at most a day or so(?) and of which my mother once accused my father that he "did not even look at it". My mother's own mother, Mary Kandrena(?) Znamirowski, seemed a caring person of peasant stock, most of whose other children (3 of 4) worked hard and prospered in life, either materially or ethically or both, including my uncle Isadore. So maybe I acquired a good introject before things went toxic? Also, my mother had natural artistic ability. I cannot draw anything, but maybe my esthetic sense somehow derives from the same genetic material? I recall, around 3rd or 4th grade one summer school vacation morning, walking along the edge of the lot of my then home at 3804 Hanover Ave, Richmond, Virginia, entertaining some thought about something like the meaning of life??? And, again as an elementary school child, the instant my gaze passed over Rolex watches in a display case in the Miller & Rhodes department store, I was taken with/by them and I wanted one (I otherwise had no interest in time or watches, and found other wristwatches uninteresting at best). Or even that I somehow came to keep the doctor from gagging me with his tongue supressor ("Boy" was I suppressed!) by opening my mouth so wide that he didn't need to use it. Or my 7th grade innovation of hand-writing style. Something was going on that would not be expectable from my daily social surround. Not nearly enough to save me, but enough to keep me from being damned (compare: Theodore J. Kaczynski). Mild asperger's syndrome a contributing factor?
I do not consider myself to be a citizen of the Land of The Big Gulp -- insofar as I am not a citizen of the world, I hope I am what Edmund Husserl called "a good European" or cultured Japanese (if that is "elitist", it is only so to those who are profoundly, not in a remedial reading teacher's sense, illiterate (but I expect America is not unique in having persons who have ears but hear not and eyes but do not see, and there is a folk song which is indexical here: "It ain't me you're talkin' to", referring to what Wilfred Owen referred to in latin as "Dulce et decorum" but more recently was for those not fortunate enough, like myself and (POTUS №45) Donald J. Trump, to get a deferment, "nam"; peasants, famously, often have a keener sense of smell than schooled fools).
I have learned that not all of America is esthetically and/or ethically repugnant, but if there is a scale, and I think each day, for each person, there is one if they are fortunate enough to know about it, what I've metabolized around has weighted more toward the styrofoam take-out cup side (Take them out, Joseph Welsh!) than the master handcraft high-fire stoneware bowls (Malcolm Wright, Karen Karnes and others)/Rosenthal modern design porcelain coffee cup side. The fundamental particles of my universe are not quarks or such, which I think are fundamental only for physicists; may they find something sacramental in them! Louis Kahn famously had a conversation with a brick. He died, I undertand, if I may cite the Bob Dylan song about JFK's murder which I am currently studying, "like a dog" in New York's Pennsylvania railroad Station: "His body was picked Up by the police and taken to the City Morgue. Identification was made on a tentative basis through his passport." (NYT obituary) If I was superrich I would have assigned a private plane and a limousine to Louis Kahn. He stood for what could be redemptive about America, making it a shining city on a hill in a not mean-spirited (POTUS №40) Reaganomic sense, and Yale philosophy Professor John Wild, too (no, his name was not John Dewey, although Dewey was apparently a "good guy" too). I divide the world into "good guy"s and those who are less than good. My "good guys", in the spirit of Adolf Loos's essay "Ornament and crime", and Robert Musil's novel The Man Without Qualities, only wear hats when it's cold outside.
"It's cold outside" is the subtitle of the first episode of the BBC's epical TV series "The power of nightmares", which, as of this writing (mid-2020) is still available for free on The Internet. This is the Iliad (I have not read that book) of the (POTUS №43) George W. Bush era world, all of it, not just the "Free" part, and maybe also Dante's beneath the sod region. Again, free associating: the bedrock stratum of this less-than-world (what I have long denominated: Abwelt) is not Roz Chast's lost cat toys. And, just to show I am not blind to faults of non-Americans, I find Barbara Tuchman's diagnosis of the origin of modern Europe in the rats and fleas of the fourteenth century evocative. Medieval Europeans apparently believed cats were from the devil (cats do like to be "idle"), and they killed them. Had more cats lived, they might have saved them [the humans] from some of the rats which carried the fleas and thereby from the plague. Imagining a bunch of uncouths, not massing in a Superdome to watch Superstar football heroes head-butt each other on astroturf, but medieval peasants and I presume artisans (even nobles???) gathered around a stake in an unpaved town square to which [stake] a cat was bound and men vied to try to kill it by head-butting it at risk of having their eyes sratched out by the poor little predator/martyr, seems to me a good subject for a great cathedral's stained glass. Gotta give 'em credit, at least they didn't declaw the cat. Europeans also still have head-butting soccer and, even worse, rugby of scrum ill-repute. Japan? Nanjing, Unit 731, Fukushima and other things are appalling.
Back to "It's cold outside". "The power of nightmares" is not only ethically damning, but also esthetically to myself satisfying. It is as enjoyable a 4 hours as reading masterful prose (I don't parse most poetry), like Solzhenitsyn or Hermann Broch or George Steiner or maybe some other classics I don't know of or know of but have not studied (for myself, the burden on the text is unnecessarily heavy due to reading by myself instead of participating in a small group -- Jesus's "two or three" gathered together -- of similarly individuating persons).
Here's my "net": What not-nothing good would I have had in my life and have been able to contribute to civilization had I been put off at a right stop when I was born and childreared into the home of a George Steiner, or even maybe just a middle class assimilated jewish doctor who read serious books and patronized arts in his off time? "Man weiss nicht..." in a pragmatic way. Might I have become an Alexander Vindman (sans shrapnel) or a male Fiona Hill? As the United Negro College Fund's new slogan goes: "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste but a Wonderful Thing to Invest In" -- but not, I would argue, solely visibly disadvantaged black ones (or any other particular color -- it's character not color, I think, but not only character, for that is the stuff of sacrificial suffering, but also cultivation, which can be the stuff of not-sacrificial blessing). Galileo saw the world expand many fold before he went blind and was presumably reduced to feeling his way around his house arrest. He, like Martin Luther King?, got to see a promised land even if he didn't get there. In a fully human i.e. humane world, persons who are graced to rise up will no longer be shot down by thugs of either the flesh or the spirit.
In a fully human world, all, including myself, except those upon whom Nature has looked with disfavor (ALS and melanoma victims, et al.) could dwell in a non-theological heaven spatially upon but in a non-NASA sense above the dirt. Americans could rake dry gardens (karesansui) instead of mowing grass lawns (would we have sufficient gravel reserves for this?). God gave men and women two feet to stand erect; none should be made by fellow mortals to grovel at their [others'] feet. Politicians have their work cut out for them, and (again, referring to the BBC series) it's not Leo Strausseans duping "the people" into believing in idols they [the Strausseans/politicians] manufacture for their ["the people"s] own good (ref. Alice Miller). Ojala! An agnostic Amen.
There's an old cartoon somewhere, the text of which is: 'First of all: "I'm Debbie the person!"'
I have finally figured out my political position. I don't care, except for how it affects me (and/or other individual persons). "You" want capitali$m? Fine, just outlaw the employer - employee asymmetrical social relationship. Make it be capitali$m with a human face. Make every person be an independent craftsman or craftswoman. "You" want ☭communism? Fine, just outlaw The Party, and cede all power to the Kronstadt workers' Soviets! Again, make every person be an independent craftsman or craftswoman. Don't give me freedom of enterprise and don't give me collectivist repression of the individual, either. No bugbears! No red herrings!
Give me freedom from enterprise, freedom to engage in humanistic studies and cultivate my uniquely personal pursuit of happiness. Give me Kandinsky! Give me Habermas and Gadamer! I don't want (POTUS №40) Ronald Reagan and I don't want Josef Stalin, either! If "you" give me what I want, I'm with you; if you don't, I just want to get away from you because I don't have the power to cure humanity in general of you. My Leader/Messiah was born, lived, and died; but he left some misodoxical texts for us to study: Bertolt Brecht.
Every life matters, and everybody else, either on the right or on the left should show basic human decency, and "get lost". If "you" cannot sincerely say, with Neils Bohr, that every statement you utter should be taken as a question, not as an assertion, or if you are not ready to make all semiotic material (incl., both all your own beliefs as well as mine), according to the psychoanalytic old saw: "grist for the mill", you are a dogmatist bigot, and even you yourself would probably not want to apply that attribute to yourself. "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21) What do you, my reader, think here? firstname.lastname@example.org
1952ish. I (BMcC[18-11-46-503]) attended 1st grade in a 2 room school house in Baltimore Maryland. Actually, it was an old 2 room schoolhouse across the parking from a standard issue elementary school building where 2nd grade was, so it was not a real 19th century school, just post-World War II public school rooms not in the main building. I remember little of it because nothing memorable happened there. My father won points with the teachers by making a coat rack for them in the entrance to the building. I remember the classroom I was in the room on the North side, the right-hand side as you entered the building.
I do not remember the teachers. The one I had may have been Mrs. McGraff and the other surname Pullen. (2022 aside: Did "Mrs". mean she copulated? I would ask the same of my 3rd or was it 4th grade teacher in Richmond Virginia, Mrs. Scott.) In that North room of the 2 room school house, I sat at an individual desk. It seemed a big room. The building was stone masonry; the main school building was brick. At one point they were doing some construction on the main building with acetylene torches and we kids were warned to not look at the blinding light. Sounds exciting doesn't it?
In 2nd grade I moved to a classroom on the 2nd floor of the main building, which had one whole wall of big, bright windows. This is the room where I had my mini-stigmata experience (here). I also remember we had at least one air raid drill where I think we went out and sat down on the floor in the hall. Again, sounds exciting, yes?
At the end of the school year, either 1st or 2nd grade I forget which, we did something outside for end of year ritual and it was a time of 17 year locusts and I did not like the locusts being all around. Both the 2 room school house and the main school have been demolished today (2022) but Monaghan's Pub is still there on Gwynn Oak Avenue across the street from where the school used to be. Beer endureth, albeit kids don't drink it or at least I didn't.
Whatever the relevant adults thought or did not think, as a small child, I was apparently occupying space and time (GPS + UTC coordinates, with my GPA being the 5th dimension) during the weekdays, in a place called school.
Maybe for some people "culture", i.e.: high culture, is irrelevant, boring or disgusting because it is not politically correct and not woke but denigradtes tribalstic ignorance which I feel is less than fully human and they probably feel I think I am better than they are and they don't like that and that I should get down off my high horse and woke like them. For some others, high culture is a no brainer and what am I making a big fuss over what they tke for granted?
My life has been so disappointing in reality that without imaginary life in high culture it would have been even far more depressing than it has been depressing. The disgusting "Activist" I had the misfortune to encounte a couple years ago who wanted to castrate my vocabulary because I was not "sensitive" to a [fill in the blank] he apparently was a powsy-wowsy with. His world disgust me just like I disgust him.
The social surround in which I was childreared was a Scheißestückwelt. My perp school teachers were [fill in the blank]s. And now, in 2022, almost everybody is in love with the most disgusting thing I have encounterd in a life full of disgutsing things; mny things are disgusting bt this one Donald John Trumps sthem all: Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy. As of 11 October 2022 this thing has not yet destroyed my life nor caused the end of life on earth above grasses and cocroaches by triggering global nuclear war. Of course this thing is not an it but it should be. It is a nadir of low culture; even though it is a comedian, it has even said it finds Monty Python hard to understand [to be precise: It said it finds Monty Python harder to understand than some other British comedian NOS].
Thank you for listening to my self-psychotherapy session here (items 2 and 2a). The problems I have had are "molehills" (pun obvious!)
in world-history. But for me personally they have often risen to be mountains.
Risk embarrassment, and come out of the closet, if necessary.
As Elie Wiesel said: Don't compare! All suffering is intolerable. Theleme now! Ojala! Vale!