Every child should be educated, but what kind of education is available to young people today? High-tech programmed learning-units where a child interfaces with his computer and not with a live and inspired teacher who can expose him to and interest him in the life of his imagination.
If a modern student can manipulate all the functions of a computer and not know why he is doing it, he knows nothing about the content and its implications that are merely flashing by in front of him, accompanied by
The post-modern student is not shown the
wonders of the human mind, only its nuts and bolts. He has no grounding in the humanities and no tradition of a shared body of knowledge to refer back to and to build upon so that he knows where his thoughts come from and from whom. History, art, literature and philosophy provide students with a solid base to stand on rather than casting about in cyberspace
to find random facts and data to create nothing out of nothing.
A banker can make a good living without ever having read Shakespeare; but if he knows about Shylock and the other “merchants of Venice” in the sixteenth century, he might be a more ethical banker.
And, perhaps, the “pounds of flesh” that proved so irresistible in sub-prime loans
may have spared the blood-letting of indi-
vidual lives ruined and foreclosed on.
Language and reading has been reduced to the decoding of phonetic sounds without any comprehension of what those sounds mean and stand for. And all the grammar in the world will not help a child to express what is in his mind and in his heart without
the functions of language clearly explained and emphasized. All that is taught is manipulation of sets of symbols that may be linguistically correct but that have no meaning behind them except technical virtuosity. Form without content=nothing.
Students’ imaginations are being starved with either a ubiquitous abundance of medi-
ocre blogs where everyone is entitled to his opinion, no matter how uninformed and un-formed their drivel is or on pop-lit that will be forgotten in a few years. Where are the classics that demand that the student think as he reads and imagine as he reacts to these great works in his own writing about
literature? Games and toys have replaced the tools of the mind that are indispensible to substantive and creative thinking. iPhones, blackberries, and iPads all twitter away like chattering birds that distract, amuse, entertain but do not educate. Tex-ting is not good for thumbs or for complete thoughts in complete and worked sentences. “Ur nt gng to lik wrtg if u lik
txtg” because there is no resemblance be-
tween the two other than the letters of the alphabet are being trashed. And sent-off immediately as if the student wants to just get rid of them as quickly as possible so that he can get his instant gratification back
in another lame message. There is no concept of what writing is (working with words on paper), much less any knowledge
of and respect for words. “You’ve got mail”
is the be-all and end-all of most writing by students today, most often on the empty trivialities that pass for their daily lives.
Younger children are also overly scheduled and overly scripted with enrichment lessons and play-dates, except in free and creative
play. When a school hires a “recess coach,” we know that education has failed.
Consequently, children are being cheated out of their childhood’s carefree and fun years. There are even tutors who prep pre-school toddlers for kindergarten and their absurd admission policies. Leave children alone and let them play by themselves, not as neurotic adults think they should behave.
Once past the wonder years, it is impossi-
ble to recapture them; no matter how we try, the trials of adulthood cover over all
spontaneous actions with responsibilities.
Add to the decline of education, the new
obsession with “measuring” all learning in
stultifying and counterintuitive testing and the guilty need for “accountability” and, in
corporate terms, “compliance.” Rather than enlarge evaluations of curiosity and imagin-
ation quotients through art and writing and speaking, students are marshalled into little
toy-bots, all marching in-step and out-of-
tune with their natures as individual human beings with all their irregularities and rough edges shining through the armor of imposed regimentation.
As important as encouragement and high self-esteem are--and they are extremely important--not every child qualifies to be a bumper-sticker for his parents’ insecure egos: “My child is an honors’ student in everything” when the majority are struggling
developmental malingerers. Everyone can-
not be a “winner” and recieve a trophy for
first thru last in any fake competition. Sometimes, you have to lose--as in life.
Lastly, not all young people are college material as their “proud parents” insist they are. Why should teenagers be pressured into a series of frustrations, boredom, and failures in the name of status and a “college
education”? And, more so, at the exorbi-
tant yearly fees that are creating genuine
elitism? Pretty soon, already, you have to be a millionaire to afford to send your prized children on to “higher education.” Far better to let students choose for themselves, separated from their parents’ misplaced sense of exceptionalism by just taking a year off to find themselves through travel.
More students are in school for longer today, but fewer are learning anything of import. A combination of misguided leader-
ship and ineffective teachers cannot compete with the seductively slick new
electronic age. Pen and paper and creative thinking have given way to lighted screens and spell-checks. Mechanical writing and
rote memorization rule in robotic school systems where everyone succeeds brilliantly, where everyone is an over-achiever, and where no one learns anyting of lasting value.
Our educational system needs a severe reality check, and the sooner the better.
artist can bestow on his yearning audience.
“Teach[ing] us to sit still, even among these rocks” is the essential purpose of all works of true art. And all artists passionately believe in what they are doing, even and especially if it is absurd. In that sense, art is an act of defiance in the face of a hostile and unyielding universe, “watched over” not by a god but by accidental chance and brutal chaos. Artists are warriors against this absurd indifference, and the rest of us are merely unwitting witnesses to the drama.
Without art, life would be unbearable; and life without absurdity would be boring.
Thus, to make of our individual lives the most absurd work of art that we can create every day is the most that man can hope for and aspire to.
We MUST imagine that we are happy; otherwise, there is no reason to live.
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Life is absurd, that is, without meaning be-
cause it is terminal with no chance at
completion of any goal. Absurdity presup-
poses a heightened awareness and an acute state of consciousness; if one is not
aware of the futility of his life, then ignor- ance is, indeed, bliss. And since nothing is free under this sun, then the price for awareness is the fear of death. These are the basic tenets of atheistic existentialism as ALBERT CAMUS formed them into his philosophy of an “absurd world.”
To simply deny the rationality of this philosophy by a “leap of faith” is to commit “philosophical suicide,” that is, putting your blind faith in an irrational and superstitious mythology of a “promised after-life” is to deny and kill your reason which this kind of philosophy is grounded on.
The rational proof that life is absurd and, therefore, has no meaning is to be found in Camus’ twin images--of “the rock” and “the wall.”
The Myth of Sisyphus explains the first image of “the rock”: his punishment for having offended the gods (for no reason except that “the gods kill us for their sport”)
is that he is condemned to push a huge boulder up a steep hill endlessly because, every time it nears the crest, it rolls down the other side. Sisyphus is us, man, who takes up his burden, his own private “rock,” every dawn and struggles to get through the day with his face pressed firmly against hard stone until he has just about completed his objective task and, then, watches as “his rock” rolls back down--and he starts all over again. The “rocks” have changed over time, and we all have our own: be they a job, a family, a self, or a significant other to care for. We rise every morning to take up our routines and every night we “walk back down that hill” to retrieve that burden in the new day--day after day after day after day until we die. This work is pure futility with no hope of success whatsoever and is, therefore, absurd.
But we are caught up in our “rock rolling,” busily breathing and exerting our energies to their utmost and, so, momentarily unaware of the absurdity of what we are attempting to do. It is only as we walk slowly back “down our hill” that we realize
what is going on and, as Camus says, “the struggle toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart” and, therfore, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
The second image is the “absurd wall” where Camus turns his premise around and
through paradox--making meaning out of non-meaning--uses the absurd to create the only meaning that man has left to him in this terminal incarceration: the idea and the choice of defying the absurd with the active force of his will. Man wants one thing, say, happiness, and the world counters him with tragedy, loss, and sadness; man desires peace, but the world presents him with war and wilful destruction; man wants unity and clarity, and the world gives him confusion
and chaos. And the world always wins, especially in countering man’s ultimate desire for eternal life and the wall’s stopping him with the finality of death. The deck is stacked against the players, and the house always wins. But there is “one born every minute,” so we keep on playing--and losing.
Perhaps, the game is the best game in town. Or if you want to cash-in your chips and exit the game, then suicide is painless.
But to do the one rational thing in the face of these overwhelming odds, that is, kill yourself, would be “giving in to the absurd” and thereby giving to it more power than it already has. Therefore, the more absurdity that you partake of--daily--creates more non-meaning which is the only defense against a fated system; in other words, you live to your fullest while realizing full well that all your actions, words, and beliefs are meaningless and, so, count for nothing. Living life then becomes a matter of the quantity of absurd actions since there is no
lasting quality to any of your actions. That is why there is “no substitute for sixty years of living” and engagement with all absurdities in those intense years.
And the more defiance of absurdity, the better will be your life, such as it is. Now, believing in and following this philosophy requires a totally clear and lazer-like vision of the world as it really is with no softening around the edges. Love, sex, lust, art, creation are equally meaningless endeavors because they also end and, therefore, undercut the quality of those courageous acts. To love something more than your life itself and to do it with an intense passion for all of your life is the closest one can come to any “lasting” meaning; but that commitment ends too. Everything ends and we are all forgotten, eventually, as if we had never been here. Only the “immortals” whose work lives on after them have found any true and lasting meaning in their also struggling lives of pushing their rocks up
their hills and banging their heads against their walls. No sense, no feeling and, cer-
tainly, no thought. To control one’s con-
sciousness, that is, to turn it on and off, depending where you are in the process of pursuing absurdity is a necessary trick. Or becoming so involved with what you are doing at the moment so that you selectively
“forget” about the futility of it all is the real response to dealing with and outwitting absurdity.
The rest of us may achieve momentary small victories, but no one--including your-self--will remember them. Nor will anyone remember you. Insignifcant actions by a wholly forgettable person whose actions he believes and knows are the most important things of his life is the essence of absurdity.
Man is the most important thing to himself in his brief life and the least important thing in the eternity and infinite space of the universe. Man counts for everything and for nothing--at the same time. This is the
ultimate paradox--and man’s glory and heroism; and this duality is very difficult to peform and even more difficult to maintain.
A D D E N D U M
For Camus, there are four archetypes of the “absurd hero”: the conqueror, the lover, the actor, and the most absurd, the artist. We all fall into one or more of these kinds of absurd characters in the mean streets of our repetitious lives.
The “conqueror” is not only the warrior who wins a piece of the globe for himself and in the name of his country (as god himself battled Satan for control of the cosmos); he is also any businessman or entrepreneur set on claiming as large a piece of the prize as he can subvert to his will.
The “lover” repeats his absurd action of loving one woman after another (the Don Juan complex, here) with the same result:
he gets his rocks off and she rolls back down her incline to wait in line for the next dance around and up the hill. But the lover-hero believes with all of his huge heart that he truly loves and cares for every new woman he encounters, which ,of course, he does. Love, then, becomes the seductive
absurdity to every needy man.
The “actor” is the most readily identifiable type to relate to since we are all “players” upon the stages of our lives: child, adult, spouse, parent, senior and, then, graduate of the world of the absurd. Here the roles do not repeat but, rather, change only in dialogue but not in purpose: expression of self and as a foil to other supporting characters.
The “artist” is the most delusional and the grandest of the absurd heroes because what he is doing is not creating life but merely repeating it in recreating reality.
Further, he is imitating life as a mime would
imitate gestures; the gestures of the mind
and of the heart are “mimed” by the artist “in order not to die of the truth,” which is the utter meaninglessness of life. For the artist, description is possible, but explanation is not since there is no satisfactory “explantion” for our human condition. The artist’s leap of faith is the suspension of his own disbelief that art is not meaningless and that by re-presenting life through different perspectives, he is actually giving life a meaning beyond itself. Therefore, all art is only pretty pictures, mellifluous sounds, and soaring words--all the “sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Even the greatest artists, the ones who live on in their immortal works--a Homer, a Dante, a Shakespeare, a Beethoven, a
Picasso--provide comfort but nothing more to our little insignificant lives. By enabling us to “have immortal longings” through vicariouslyexperiencing life in their recreating of it is the greatest gift that the
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Should we be charged for water, healthcare and schooling? “Water, bottled @ $1/per bottle,” was unheard of and unthinkable until some marketing entrepreneur put water into an easy-to-carry plastic container that fit snugly into women’s purses and into men’s backpockets. Then, someone came up with sling-pouches, kind of water-holsters to allow water-bearers to carry water on their bodies, allowing modern men and women to go on extended trips to the mall without fear of terminal thirst. Evidently, tap-water was unofficially declared poisoned. Then, along came someone with filters (BRITA, to be exact) that would make the fouled clean. Granted, certain “slumdogs” of highly polluted Indian cities might welcome a bottle of “Nature’s Finest Spring,” but only after they could pay for the rest of their daily diet. The dawning of the age of superfluity
flowed forth with riches that no one could fully realize, except those threatened by death from thirst.
Should a human being be entitled to basic healthcare, that is, enough to get him/her into and out of this world plus a few extras along the way: like losing a limb, contracting a disease, and conquering depression?
Also, is a person entitled to food and the means for acquiring it? For post-modern
civilizations, we do not know how to grow
grain, fruits and vegetables, as well as herd, graze, slaughter and dress livestock for consumption and trade anymore. But we all know how to manipulate a shopping cart, wobbling up-and-down a slick-floored market aisle, but almost none of us know how to work a plow.
And this “knowing how” is the value, cost and price of an education freely given or minimally provided for by the state OR maximally profiteered by the business community: “Schools for Profit” sound just a little bit better than “Healthcare for Profit” and “Water for Profit” but the unifying two
words in each phrase, “for profit,” brings us up short and ready to ask questions (unless we are profiteers):
How does a corporation even
know about education, much less
about teaching as a craft?
Marketing, packaging, and selling--
yes; education and teaching--no.
“Educational corporations” merely organize
educational “systems” that produce
“products deliverable,” not educated persons, by hiring from “human resource” files, homogenizing and mass-producing future “labor-units” to “assembly-line” jobs (usually in “information-technology”) where they will “interface” with the rest of their diminshed world.
The worst boards of education are accused of bureaucratic ineptitudes while education- corporations are riding to the rescue.
Thousands of years of tradition in the arts
and sciences of learning are handed-over
to exploitive groups with Greek-sounding names, such as Phoenix and Apollo where, after all, all education and learning goes back to, except that these new birds of prey do not rise from any ashes but only come to rebury past shining sources of reason and inspiration under a final layer of sterile earth. “Death to the future,” this new god is saying in the sub-text and in the name of the universal god, Mammon.
This content fraud is added onto with another layer of profit-margin: excessive tuition fees. The result is debilitating debt among these victimized students which can only result in inevitable and massive loan defaults. Not to the corporations but to the government that funds federal loans to these students so that, ten years out-of-school, these graduates cannot even declare bankruptcy. Instead, he carries his
average “$80,000-in-debt” sign around with him all his life, holding him and his family
back from any kinds of real gains in--housing, car purchases, life-syle improve-
ments, children and family planning.
Further, these corporation-schools are sophisticated and equipped with the latest technology to generate whatever kind of compliances they are forced to meet, like mostly imaginary success rates. These actual but entirely uncharactersitic “stories,”
then, help to sell their programs to newly needy and challenged individuals: “sign-up here for your piece of the American dream.”
Selling a pipe-dream to a desperate person
who doesn’t even know why he is in this “school,” much less what his goal is, is organized crime at its most innocuous. And in the really big production-companies, the aggressive and duplicitous sales-enforcers usually outnumber the actual students. And they DO have their goals to meet, that is,
the number of students they must recruit to keep their job.
In America, we have come to know what we do best: make nothing, less than nothing, out of nothing. And make lots of money along the way.
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Students can’t write because their teachers,
who often mean well, approach their students in the wrong ways. Every student is a unique case-history with a lifetime of data imprinted on his emotions and in his mind. And since it is physically impossible--
in a classroom situation--to tailor-make your teaching methods and content to forty, more or less, disorganized young minds, all
in search of a complete self, teachers aim at the middle and, so, miss everyone. Every student is an individual and complex pattern of mind-sets formed over his lifetime by parents, relatives, friends, teachers and
anyone who has ever left an impression that has remained in his memory-bank, which are unlimited data-bases filled with all kinds of inputs that are prominent or
recessive according to their intensity and effect. It is a wonder that students learn anything at all about their writing and themselves with so much baggage on their backs. It is the teacher’s job to find in all of this flotsam and jetsam the centers of
receptivity where connections can be made
in organizing and transferring jumbled and fragmented thoughts into lines of clear communication, which starts with the sen-
tence and radiates outwards from that single linguistic structure.
First, a teacher must hone-in on his demo-
graphics: his students’ maturity levels, his
interests and abilities. Never ask a student to do more than he can do and less than he
is able to do. Choose subjects that students can relate to, anything that they would know about and have opinions on--from drugs to gangs, from immigration to affirmative action, from racism to technology, from Shakespeare to rap lyrics.
The first rule is to allow students to choose their topics about these subjects without any dependence on the internet because
second-hand information is always second-hand and, thus, not theirs. What they end
up doing with “research” is incorporating it into their own writing, either in whole or in
part. Research does not teach a student how to write but only confuses him and
encourages him to cheat. Beginning writers
are not ready for research. Hopefully, they
never will be because what is the benefit to
“writing” about someone’s else’s words and ideas when you are unsure of what you think about those words and ideas; far better to write out of one’s own experience
and relate it to the topic--which is what all great literature demands of us: that is, how does what this writer says relate to my life and what I can learn from him?
In writing about literature, the student must first explain what he sees as the writer’s main point in a poem, a play, or a novel.
If the student is writing on a passage from
Shakespeare, then a word-for-word para-
phrase is necessary before any analysis of
the passage can take place. This step is followed by an application of the points in that speech to their own most personal lives.
To save time and confusion, sometimes, straight lecture by the teacher, explaining and showing the essential themes, is neces-
sary. By all means, try to “lead them to a discovery” of the content but don’t wait around forever because different students understand at different rates and to lose a
bright student along the way of plodding analysis matters more than waiting for a slower student to catch-up. Let the strug-
gling student struggle on his own, while challenging the faster student to go further
(always “go further”) in his thinking, thus
creating more than mediocrity. Also, some slower students will catch-up more quickly
if they are pulled along with the challenges
and by their faster counterparts. Feed your students bland and easy ideas and that is what you will get in return; feed them a steady diet of “why’s” (always “why”) and you will get insightful responses. A student rises to higher levels and to his teachers’ proddings when they are presented to him; when they aren’t, he will coast.
The final and most important thing that most
teachers fail at is to carefully and
thorougly read their students’ papers. From a misplaced comma (which shows a lapse in focus) to mistaken ideas (irrelevant associations), every word chosen and used or misused in a student’s paper shows very
clearly--if the teacher is fully focusing on the inner-most workings of his students’ feelings and thoughts. That is why it is crucial to let students write about what strikes them in their reading and, then, to write about that IN THEIR OWN WORDS rather than trying to misuse unfamiliar words from the internet which, most often, are laced with ostentatiously critical displays of superficial learning by frustrated authors.
Next, take the student wherever he is, es-
pecially if his grammar, punctuation, and spelling are incomprehensible; fill-in and straighten out his jumble of words and don’t
just pave them over with your facile
fluency. Show him what he has done wrong and how to undo it. In his future writings, he will remember and imitate your corrections and re-phrasings--if he is serious about his writing. If he isn’t, you have done all you can, except finding the key to motivating him more effectively.
Also and in addition to correcting all mechanical errors, point out anything that a student does well (from using a word crea-
tively) to using a mark of punctuation precisely (usually a semi-colon or a colon).
Accentuate positive encouragement and deemphasize the weak spots: creating strong and self-confident writers is your
number-one job. Teachers who are “killers”
are also egocentric failures with their students and with themselves; they are not gatekeepers of excellence but purveyors of
frustration and insecurity. A “hard teacher” is a demanding teacher and one who can
reward his students for trying. Criticism must be couched in positive terms with lots
of “what if’s” for students to pick up on and develop on their own.
A piece of writing is a personal and a one-
on-one conversation between a student and his teacher in which the goal is to have the student want to write more and more until he looks forward to writing as one of
his “favorite things.” It can be done.
A grade is a tool and is only as good or as bad as the teacher who uses it. Grades mean nothing in themselves and are merely
subjective judgments in specific instances.
They are also entirely relative to different
teachers’ standards, which may be accurate or exaggerated. Therefore, use grades for
what they were meant to be used for: as
motivators and encouragers. Create better writing in your students by believing in what they write and reacting enthusiastic-
ally. Then, when they move on, they can develop the habits of depth, accuracy, specificity, and focus that you have kept
repeating on their papers. Persistent rein-
forcement is necessary though tedious.
It also helps to learn to LIKE READING YOUR STUDENTS’ PAPERS: it shows care and concern for your students and their individual worlds. They like that.
Almost all teachers, especially beginning ones, fall down here by viewing student papers as the necessary evil in their “over-worked” job-loads rather than the necess-
ary rewards for their efforts with their young writers. A good paper cannot be deposited into your bank account, but it should be savored and deposited into your personal satisfaction account--and count for much. You didn’t become a teacher to be rich, and appreciation can be a very seductive aphrodisiac. So, beware of this temptation and make sure (as you can) that you separate self-satisfaction from self-aggrandisement and that you teach because you love to teach, not because you love to be loved for your teaching.
Finally, you must love words which “alone are certain good.” (Yeats’ “Song of the
Happy Shepherd, l.10)
In the beginning was the word ...
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (Genesis, 1: 1 & 14)
So, too, do your students “dwell” with you for only a short time. And there is hardly anything more gratifying than seeing--in words on paper--the marked improvement
in a student who has entered your class disliking to write and exiting looking forward
to writing because he can do it well. And, now, he understands why “words alone are certain good.”
THE BREATH OF GOD
Inspiration is a much sought-after and an even more elusive quality. All charismatic
leaders exude it; all teachers pursue it; it cannot be taught but must be inhaled, that is, breathed into the thoughts and actions of an inspired person with the breath of a god.
Inspiration is a force that moves people to believe in and try things that were previ-
ously beyond their practical reach.
“MLK inspired a race to be free,” and “JFK
inspired a belief in youthful energy and
Great writers, philosophers, and prophets
inspire their followers, first, to believe in an ideal and, then, to pursue it when they feel that “it cannot be done.” Inspiration creates
possibility and action, such as in the Civil
Rights Movement that changed lives.
Inspiration lifts one out of the doldrums of mundane routine, up into the energized air of emotional revelation. Everyone wants to be inspired, breathed into with the spirit of a god, but those who inspire are far and few
between. And they are immediately identi-
fied, actively sought-after and, some, are even assassinated because of their gifts.
There is something otherworldly about
inspiration, as if you stood in front of a human genie in a newly revealed space of self-revelation. You yearn to follow this special person; you dare to be like him. He has powers to remake you in images con-
templated but never attempted by you.
Your first experience with inspiration, of being moved by someone, is a delayed reaction: you become aware of having been exposed only after the fact. It is as if you had been irradiated, but you only notice the glow as you proceed in new directions in your life.
Inspiration is an emotional, a visceral event that you feel before you understand it; it is that something in the air, that electric shock that runs through you on first impression and that remains with you, wearing off over time. Inspiration can move you to create
(paint, write, dance, sing) with an intensity
that you did not know you had.
When I first started writing, I was 16 and the words just poured out of me, and I had no idea where they came from. I had “a piece of pencil and a piece of paper in my hand and I was writing and having fun”
(William Faulkner). Whether I was also experiencing “peace and contentment of the human spirit” varied with the situation.
Pain is the ink of creation, and it moves us
to express our imagination, newly ignited and fanned by the force of inspiration. It takes the “forms of things unknown...[and] turns them into shapes that give to airy nothingness/A local habitation and a name.”
Poets, good ones, inspire with their words;
orators inspire with their resounding sounds; preachers inspire when they speak of real things and not angels; comedians inspire by satirizing and making us laugh. Most people, however, do not inspire because they cannot rise above their daily trivialities. They cannot recognize the inner meaning of ordinary things and, then, transform them into meaningful moments. To inspire, one must have a vision of some larger cause, such as a belief in the young who shall try to change their world and who will try as if it could really be done. Or a vision of the natural beauties that surround us constantly: the colors of the sky and the smell of new rain.
It feels good to be inspired, for a moment to feel as if what we know is gone can still be seen and acted upon. To be a child again and to believe--in spite of all we know--would take much inspiration, to be sure:
“To sit still even among these rocks.”
Sometimes, it becomes difficult to breathe freely both physically and mentally and, at those times, we need help: some fresh and renewing air that can come into us as an unexpected and joyful current of inspiration.
Unfortunately, these agents of inspiration, these inspirators come along only once in a great while and, sometimes, we even miss them.
We need to be lifted up and taken on the wings of a voice, a presence, a hero who will show us how to pierce through to the heart of things. And when that gleam has fled and we are left in the shadows of pessimism again, it becomes even more necessary to remember that shining moment when anything was possible--and
those times when we were blown away by someone else beyond our limited selves.
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A sensation, an emotion, a concept, something to avoid,
unless you like pain and some people claim that they do. Also, pain is close to pleasure, its opposite; and if either pain or pleasure are let go of and unchecked, each can kill you. Then, there is the phenomenon that exclaims, “Oh, it hurts so good, please don’t stop!” Therefore, “pain” is an abstract word that elicits relative reactions in different people.
But, overall, pain is negative, a threat to well-being and,
generally, bad. Where does pain come from, and how do different people deal with different kinds of pain?
On four human levels, there are four corresponding kinds of pain: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Most commonly referred to is physical pain: an unpleasureable
or, at least, an uncomfortable sensation, something that
you want less of and something that you want stopped.
Individual threshold and tolerance levels of pain vary from person-to-person according to energy levels of both the pain (its intensity) and of your self in dealing with the pain (how “strong” you are); your attitudes towards pain
(accepting or intolerant and controlling); specific moods that you are in during painful moments; and, most of all, the anxiety level of the sufferer.
People outside your pain, occasionally, say that “it’s all in your head,” which is the worst place to have it because your mind can and cannot be controlled depending on your personal level of intensity, that is, how sensitive you are and how deeply the realities of the world affect you. If you are a “control freak,” you are less likely to be
able to control your pain because you try too hard to control all those things in your life that you think you can control from money to relationships to pleasure to time.
So that, when it comes to pain, you are usually at its mercy and the more you try to control it, the more un-
controllable and persistent your pain becomes.
There are three things that you can do in these situa-
tions, methods of dealing with pain on a temporary basis
or until the pain subsides, relents and, finally, goes away.
The first way is DISTRACTION: do something, anything
that will re-focus your mind away from and off of the pain
(concentrate on reading words, playing games, watching images: any entertainment that you like and are good at);
this technique usually works with young children, who are easily distracted, as some adults also are.
The next disperser of pain is DISPLACEMENT, that is, replacing the pain with something pleasureable (eating, drinking, having sex, sleeping). Yes, you are merely avoiding the pain here, but that’s the point: you want to temporarily avoid it until either it or you “go away,” that is
fall asleep and, so, become unconscious to your pain.
This avoidance technique works on low-level and more merely annoying types of pain than on chronically intense pain where you become numb enough to your pain or fall
asleep and go unconscious. Conscious awareness is the friend of pain since it opens your mind up to identify-
ing, acknowledging, recognizing and encouraging the pain. “Naval gazing” is good if you are on a ship but not if you are in-pain.
The last method of dealing with pain is SUBLIMATION, that is, redirecting your negative pain-energy into positive creative energy--if you can. This way works with mental and emotional pain and, rarely, if ever, with physical pain.
Sublimation or transference of negative into positive forces is similar to distraction but on a more lasting level, that is, it takes longer and demands more involvement to write, paint, cook, clean--any way of putting your mind over your painful matter.
But what if your pain is beyond mere mental, adjust-
ments, as in agony: terminal disease, depression and despair? Where suicide begins to look good or, at
least, better than what you are overwhelmed with now?
What then? “Get your mind fixed, get over it, man-up”?
Clinical depression paralyzes you more than a stroke and incapacitates you more than any terminal disease ever can; in such mental and emotional states, you cannot do anything, not even talk. You are in suspended animation, a hearing and seeing coma, a living death where all you can feel is the unrelenting pain that you know and believe that you can never rise out of. There-fore any way out is welcome--and the sooner, the better.
I was in that state when I was 28-years-old, when I was an active, vibrant, successful young man. Then, my
2-year-old son came down with tuberculosis, which is and was curable. But my mind did not acknowledge that fact so that I went into a clinical depression where I could not work, could not leave my apartment, and where I could not even talk and try to explain myself to anybody--from my wife to friends to, even and especially,
my psychiatrist. He tried heavy-duty depressants, like
stelazine (“blues’) and thorazine (“oranges”), taken alone or together to keep me under control and from hurting myself. They, of course, zonked me out and sent me deeper into my depressive swamp until, finally, I went into N.P.I. (Neuropsychiatric Institute) at U.C.L.A. where
I stayed for two months. Then, I left and, slowly, pulled myself out of my depression, went back to work and, finally, with the reluctant help of my frugal father (in the form of an $8,000 dollar downpayment on a house in 1968) and with the abiding love, confidence and encour-agement of my mother, I came out on the other side.
That incident repeated itself ten years later to the point of two serious suicide attempts when I was 38--after I had lost my home and my family in a divorce, after my new mate had died in a car-accident in which I was driving, after I had lost my high life-style, and after another relationship had failed miserably. For the first time in my young life, I was alone, totally and thoroughly. I was in despair, and I could not mend my mind, much less remove the pain.
But I failed to kill myself and, again, came out on the other side and, again, with help: this time by a woman who has been my mate ever since.
Please excuse this embarrassing and indulgent display of weakness, but my point is that I have managed to live
with and come out of the most difficult things that I ever had to do. Now, imagine those out there who have REAL problems and hang-on, grapsing from hour-to-hour, just to survive, to exist in and with the most intense pain imaginable.
In such cases, you either have a god or an “other” person who tries to save you, or you do it alone because you have to and you will to. And, sometimes, both inside and outside supports fail you and, at other times, they succeed. I had (and have) no god, but I was lucky enough to be saved by love, the most important thing my mother ever taught me which I have never forgotten and which I cannot live without.
Pain is real and life is mostly pain, and you can never rest until you lose consciousness forever. What to do--if you really want to live, happily? Avoid pain (as best you can); deal with pain (as best you can); but, mostly, accept it and even welcome it as proof that you are alive.
And endure (as best you can) your pain until terminal unconsciousness arrives as your only relief and exit out of that pain. Try.
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To be intensely aware of our natural world
in the inner world of our self-consciousness and to identify with rocks and stones and trees is a blessing and a distraction. Hyper-sensitivity to signs of Nature--from light streaking through a cloud to crinkling shadows in darkened forests--is something to be valued, used and cherished. But to dwell upon the demise of all things in Nature, without ever arriving at any satisfactory explanation as to why they die and decay is to impose your ego onto a natural life force. Sensations and thoughts intensely applied to the Nature around us leads to frustrating dead-ends. Nature IS, but why and how Nature IS is beyond understanding.
Even if one believes in and attaches a doctrine of pantheism (god throughout Nature) to our observable natural phenome-non, we have merely replaced the mystery within Nature with another mystery outside of Nature, a god, a supernatural label for a still unknowable natural force.
Another aspect of Nature is our “human nature” and from there, what is “natural” and “unnatural” for each of the six and one-half billion humans that currently inhabit the earth and all those who have come before
and who will come after: what is spontane-
ously demonstrable from any one given person at any given time? Even if you impose a religious moral code onto an amoral Nature, the persistent relativity is merely categorized according to codes. Anything that is physically and objectively acted-out spans the heights of kindness and love to the depths of depravity. “The love that kills for loving” is “unnatural”; nothing is unnatural in a natural world.
Now, of what use is Nature? As the source for scientifically rational explanations of--how the planets move, how a flower grows and where did our known universe come from and how did it evolve. The laws of nature do not account for the “laws of man,” but they do provide a perspective.
But Nature is a source of amoral behavior and, as such, is instructive: there is no “bad” or “good” in Nature, no “right” or “wrong.” And since there is no moral order in Nature--only “survival of the fittest”--all is allowable. Therefore, “holding a human mirror up to Nature” may reflect pretty pictures but not any kind of moral instruction and code of behavior.
The ultimated questions here are--is there a guiding hand to the symmetry of Nature? And, if so, what are the inherent qualities and characteristics of this mysterious phenomenon that we call “Nature”?
Is Nature a chemically created and balanced energy that evolved into the first chemical reaction (the Big Bang) and that is constantly evolving into newly discoverable manifestations every day. Or is there something “bigger than Nature,” not a god or an all-controlling force but, just, “something bigger.” Is there a little humbug of a man
hiding behind a curtain, a natural wizard who is working his ultimate computer?
Only in movies.
And what difference does Nature make, as long as it always exists in whatever expan-ding and unimagineable worlds it operates in? Will Nature and all life ever end, as we now know it? And what will replace it? Or
is a perpetual nothingness all there is, ever was and ever shall be?
We daily live and walkabout in a mostly developed and civilized world, a world that has been hewn out of the darkness primev-
al and honed along the millenia. And, natu-
rally speaking in space-time and place, we have only just begun to evolve: 14 billion years for the known universe so far and 4 billion for the Earth, mere flashes in cosmic time and grains of sand in cosmic space.
Nature is all time, all places and all things.
“Human nature,” however, has not really evolved significantly from our animal relatives and our cave-men ancestors. We are still brutish and we still like to kill, one of our more consistent qualities down through the ages. But man is patiently impatient, enduring and ever-questing. Perhaps, someday, in the vast and limitless future spread out before us, we will become not “more human” but more ultra-human in an
amalgam of natures not yet conceived by modern man but which may be more creative and less destructive than what we have dragged along our ape-like ways from our benighted past and present.
Or maybe not.
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Since death is the only constant in an elaborately inconsistent and ephemeral life,
it is the only subject worth trying to explain.
We are accidentally born to a certain place, a here and a now, which is absolutely undeterminable by the person born. I could as readily have been born into luxury as into misery and anyplace inbetween. Therefore and since our births and our subsequent lives are not pre-determined (which removes all religious beliefs from the situation), then our deaths are absolutely guaranteed. Hence, it is the only topic worth considering. But why? Nothing that anyone can say or think or, especially, feel about death will alter its inevitability and finality (which removes all religous beliefs concerning “after-lifes”). So, save your breaths and, rather, expend it on living your life to your fullest. “Defy death by becoming part of the ‘absurd’ “ (the utter irrationality and chance that rules all our lives), then, becomes one way to “solve the
problem” of death in a philosophy named atheistic existentialism, that is, why and how to live, given life’s utter non-meaning in any enduring kind of way (memory fades, children also die, and art, eventually, crumbles).
But how to truly “deal with death,” to form, forge, and adhere to an attitude towards death that removes its terrors (which we all feel or will feel at the moment of our death, if we are, at all, conscious--and we, usually, are if we are awake at all): this view of and attitude towards death is the goal of this essay.
The key to all attitudes is acceptance of the impossibility of “changing those things which we cannot change,” the inevitable; and the only thing that cannot really be changed is death. So, one must change one’s attitude towards death. How does one do that and persist in this attitudinal adjustment while one is actively living?
If you love life, which all of us do (unless you are dead to life, that is, in a physical, mental or emotional coma), how can one ever “accept” the end of that life--forever?
Therefore, it seems necessary to adjust our attitude towards living. And what binds us to this “love of life” is both fear and life’s overvalue. Fear, yes; but how can anyone “overvalue” his/her life, no matter how disappointing, frustrating, exhausting as well as successful, smooth, and exhilirat-
ing it proves to be? Exactly: by realizing, believing and continuing steadfastly to believe that life is not as great as it is cracked up to be. But what else have we, if not a long life? A shorter life that may come at any time in any number of accidental ways that may be drawn out (terminal diseases) or instantaneous (car-crashes). “There is no substitute for 100 years of living,” says the existential atheist,
Albert Camus, in his theory of “the Absurd” and how to deal with it: outlive it, as far as
Why not, rather, look forward to your death
on physical, rational and emotional grounds
that can be formulated/created and main-
tained (no “backsliding” or loss of courage here) by simple (or simplistic?) logic?
Acknowledging that one gets tired of every-thing, after awhile (one even tires of watching Christ “walk on water” or any of the world’s wonders)--why not simply accept the fact that one is not as strong and long-lasting as one makes himself think because he fears the terror of death, which is no more nor less than the uncertainty of what comes after death and that gives us pause. Nothing but the long sleep that you rose from when you were born comes after death. And did you remember that? So, too, and at the moment of your death, you will not remember having been alive; you simply will not be anymore--and you won’t even know it.
So far, so good? Let’s say “yes” for the sake of argument. There, then, remains one more obstacle to this acceptance and looking forward to one’s final and deserved release from this “vale of tears”: the letting-go of your loved-ones’ hands, your last goodbyes to all which you have known and held most dear (well, not “all” but most).
Farewells are for the living (retirement parties and funerals), and they deserve these horrendous torments; the dead are relieved of all “goodbyes” forever--once they have accepted and performed their final adieus. And this death gesture is the final performance that you may be judged on and remembered for, for what that’s worth. There are no more cares anymore, and one is truly care-free--in the ultimate sense.
Now, go and do it. If you, and I, can. We will be better persons for it and, certainly, better off. Ignorance may be bliss, but unconsciousness is true and real nirvana.
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How do you really know that you exist at all, much less are of any value and worth, unless another, an “other” self outside of your own self tells you so by paying attention to you, that is, by acknowledging, recognizing and, finally, praising your existence in your self? We exist and are defined through the eyes of, at least, one other person who, usually, knows and likes you. The other disparaging “others” can and should be dismissed as not creative forces for the positve growth of your self.
Futher, one can be entirely and totally self-sufficient in his existence and worth in his own eyes only if he has an unlimited and unassailable faith in something outside his own limited self, usually, his god, some kind of powerful outside source that bolsters his supreme self-confidence against the ravaging onslaughts of daily realities: “Because my god loves me, I exist and am of immense value in his all-knowing eyes.” Fine--IF you can sustain such blind faith and exercise such consistent mind-control over your fragile self, especially when it is being bombarded by all the external forces of an unfriendly universe. Therefore, having a real-life, flesh and blood friend helps maintain self-integrity and genuine self-belief.
But what happens when that very human and imperfect friend who serves as your reenforcing mirror breaks or vanishes altogether? Then, you’re on your own and your true strength is tested to the limits where it runs down and you, again, are at the mercy of another “other” or a god to lift you up out of the depths: the true test of character and resiliency to even exist, much less to prevail. So, It helps to have one who believes in you.
Can you “buy insurance” against such catastrophes? Some people think so: those who believe in and who can achieve and sustain fame and hold onto its subsequent money-payoffs. For who is more well-known, admired and loved than our celebrities? Be they talented stars, wanna-bes, criminals, or media- manufactured, packaged and sold “famous” commodities. Besides being short-lived (from “15 minutes” to 15 years), fame and money run-out and only the truly deserving remain known for, at least, their own lifespans and, sometimes, beyond into quasi-immortality.
But once you “become known,” you also call attention to your now “famous” self and, so, expose that self (whether real or created) to the criticisms and attacks of all those around you who are NOT “famous”: “Why are you so famous, loved (and hated) and I am not? I am just as good as you are and, if truth be known and told, even better.” In other words, “Look at me, look at me or I shall just die.” People are selfish and jealous little beings, and, therefore, fame is fleeting.
Therefore, real and lasting self-identity and worth cannot be quantified by how much money you have, measured by how well you are known or, even, by how many flattering followers and hangers-on you are surrounded by. Far better to have a very few tried and true friends who can define you accurately and honestly than to collect friends the way you collect shoes or fans or fame.
“To be great is to be misunderstood” claimed Emerson, the great American idealist; by that definition, there are a lot of really “great” people around you, especially you.
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The Senate confirmation hearings on the nomination of
Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court are currently under-
way, but no one is interested except the senators who have to be interested or pretend they are. Ms. Kagan cannot say what she thinks; otherwise, she would expose herself to rejection by her partisan opponents who--now--are tied at 4 to 4 with one “swing vote” (Arthur M. Kennedy) that, lately, has gone conservative. To maintain this delicate balance, our President has nominated this carefully guarded moderate-liberal to replace the clearly liberal John Paul Stevens. But to be confirmed by a schismatically split Senate, Kagan has to play her judicial philosophy cards very carefully.
So, what is the point of these show-hearings? To satis-
fy society’s need for initial hypocrisy as prelude to even
more necessary and lasting truth-in-action.
Human nature, as a rule, and especially the societies that we operate in, cannot handle the truth, be it political,
legal, educational, or personal. We learn, all too early, to bite our tongues until they are nearly bitten off rather than express honest thoughts on controversial issues, like
abortion, the right to die, race, immigration, generational differences, marriage and sex, among others, such as
the military, homosexuality, and the media.
And why can’t we handle others’ truths which, may, in the long-run, prove to be the absolute truths? For instance, all the talk about multi-racial, much less post-racial, tolerance may be what no one really believes but which everyone wants to hear because it makes us feel good, that is, righteous. If you say what you mean, you are branded a bigot, a racist or, at the very least, a prejudiced and narrow-minded person. In your heart-of-hearts, don’t you really want all of the invading Mexicans to go back where they came from and all Muslims to just shut-up and go away to their third-world hell-holes? If you deny the presence of these politically incorrect and suppressed views, then you are either a totally selfless individual or a liar.
Our country is full of liars because of our unrealistic self-image of ourselves as “America--the beautiful, the land of opportunity, the shining city upon a hill”: in short, American exceptionalism. Beneath our currently flaking veneer, we ain’t that special: we are the most aggres-
sively violent and exploitive nation, curently waging long wars and trying to preserve our “right to bear arms” in
our HOMES, right in front of our medieval altars to
religion, even though, at least, one church has proven corrupt and criminal.
Personally, we are the most greedy, selfish, and self-
absorbed people on the planet, raping and sucking the
life-blood out of our precariously poised environment, right in front of our oil-coated eyes.
We also want “our stuff,” and we covet and protect it to the death, ‘lest anybody try to take it from us. We are insatiable gluttons for the latest gadgets (iPhone 4, or is it 5?) and other larger possessions (monster SUV’s and
big-screen televisions, the bigger the more impressive).
We pay lip-service to wanting an improved educational
system for our spoiled children, but we lie to ourselves by believing that mathematical accountability plus no increased taxes is the solution to attracting and keeping plain old good teachers.
We maintain fidelity in marriage (an outdated institution) by crucifying and exorcizing any celbrity ”cheater” (anoth-
er outdated and inaccurate term: one cheats at cards and on one’s taxes, not at sexual unions), whether the
reprobate is a political, sports, or cinematic hero. All the while, we lust in our hearts or between the sheets, when we get the right chance, that is, the safest opportunity where we won’t get caught.
In short, we neither say nor do what we claim to believe in. Under our animal skins, we are rascals all--and two-faced hypocrites to boot. It is difficult and demands courage to say what we mean, much less act on it. And very few of us are willing or capable of such honest voices and brave deeds.
Therefore, speak your mind and don’t bite your tongue; that kind of expression is not healthy for lying human beings, no matter what they say.
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A friend is someone who knows you, accepts you for who you are, and who is always there for you. Therefore, the more friends you have the safer you are.
Some people, though, collect friends the way one collects prizes and, so, devalue the quality of their friends by accepting too many of them who are, in truth,
not true friends but mere acquaintances.
However, the popular world at large votes for as many
friends as one can get: witness the television series,
FRIENDS; the hordes on Facebook; and the numerous friends in song and film; even Barbara Streisand sings about “people who need people.” Friends are in and
“friending” has become a business.
Linguistically, the word “friend” derives from the Latin
“amicus” (friend) and “amo” (I love) and, in the Greek, from “philos” (friend) and “phileo” (I love). Therefore, a friend is a lover, literally; a “philo-sopher” is a “lover of
wisdom,” something that we have lost track of in today’s
fast-paced and superficial society of internet networking.
How many tried and true “lovers/friends” can one have:
one, two, three, four or more--one at a time or simulta-
neously? Can we try-on friends like new shoes, one after the other, or can we covet them altogether? That depends on desires, needs, availability, and resources.
We can use friends and friends can use us without our even noticing the fair or unfair rate of exchange. Only true friendship, like true love, is free and wants and expects nothing in return except to give itself away.
Now, can one person love more than one other person at a time on deep and meaningful levels--emotional, mental, and physical? And can these “others” be of the same or opposite gender? Well, can they?
Can a man have a mate-for-life and, at the same time, a best-friend and a sex-friend without conflicts arising?
Yes, if he has an honest and trusting relationship with all three. Can a woman do the same? Yes but with, perhaps, more conflict due to social conditioning and the indoctrinated association of “sex only-with-one” that is sealed in flesh until death, disease, or dysfunction do them part. Fornicating foreverafter is more difficult and far less important than living happily everafter.
On lower intensity levels and without sex, men and women can have lots and lots of friends and acquaintan-
ces as needed and desired to fulfill their sense of self-
confidence and self-completion. The more secure the
mates are, the more workable will be their other relationships. Therefore, every man and woman can have a best-friend and a sex-friend (if he/she chooses to and can handle the latter) because one person cannot satisfy all the needs of another person, and all persons cannot satisfy someone else’s needs without a high degree of selectivity and compatibility between them.
Resentment, anger and jealousy can be overcome if
there are no secrets, lies, and pretenses; but mates have to be open and able to handle the truth about each other while being secure in their steadfast love for each other on the deepest and most enduring level.
Mates, best-friends, and sex-friends can also overlap with each other when trust and love exist in equal amounts that are capable of counteracting doubt and selfishness. Ideally, all persons in the relationship can be friends with every other person in the relationship.
In these combinations, however, it is sex that is the barrier to successful and true friendships’ forming, main-taining, and enduring. If both men and women can get over the exaggerated importance of the sex-act and rea-
lize it for what it is--a physical and momentary bonding as contrasted to more meaningful and lasting ties of shared thoughts, similar emotions, and genuine and reciprocal caring that mates have with each other--then every man and every woman can be free, fulfilled, and happy.
It is not in ourselves that we are thus and thus but, rather, it is societal thinking that makes us so. One mate, one best-friend, and one sex-friend are all that
anyone needs and what everyone really wants. Choose
each one carefully, and the rest will follow--naturally and openly--with no secrets, lies, or pretense, which are merely defensive walls put up by a fearful and hypocritical society.
We all know what we want and need; so, take it before it is too late. And keep mates and friends in their correct places: different kinds and places for communication, understanding, acceptance, and love. And be grateful for friends because they keep mates together.
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Who is the “cooler” leader, that is, the more self-controlled, president: JFK or Obama?
They are both very collected and, on the surface, strategically detached leaders, except that JFK acted and Obama, so far, has not: he has waited too long to enter the BP oil-spill and its related energy crisis. His m.o. is “calm and steady as she goes”; only our ship of state is mired in oil and has always been. Whereas JFK, first, blockaded Cuba, then, issued an ultimatum to
Russia to remove its missiles--the ultimate gamble. But he won and so did we. Therefore, studied “coolness” in the face of intense pressure, coupled with deliberated and decisive action, is the key to proven and successful leadership. However, to take that risk is the problem: sometimes, bold action can backfire; and you can never really know the outcome before the decision. High-stakes politics is an existential dilemma where one cannot make a mistake and, hence, the apparently endless “cool.”
But in our more mundane daily lives, which is the better way to approach our little crises: with controlled detachment or with decisive and ready intervention?
Both is the answer here: first, react and engage emotionally; then, respond rationally. However, that studied luxury is not always possible or even preferable.
If someone injures you directly and wilfully, either by words or actions, what is the usual automatic response?
To strike back in order to defend your assaulted ego or accosted body. Animals respond viscerally and instinc-
tively--most of the time. But, occasionally, they delay
their “strikes” with more control than humans do. Why?
Because human anger has been taught and shaped by
parents and society that, on one hand, says, “Repress your anger, stay calm, be cool”; and, on the other, teaches retaliation operating on a hair-trigger of even imagined insult and offense: “You can’t say that to me, you asshole, I’ll sue you!” Enter political correctness and exit honest opinion and valid criticism.
On the other more civil side of disagreement and debate, rational and calm discussion does still exist although you’d never know it to hear it in all its stereophonically hyped media-bias. If a new leader appoaches conflict with deliberate care and restraining reason that is well-informed and thoroughly fact-checked and does not jump in feet-first and with fists’ flying, he is
criticized for an imbalance of political reason over rightful intervention. These cases are always double-edged and far more complex than they appear on their reflective surfaces to the man-in-the-middle--us, the average and struggling citizens and taxpayers. “Why doesn’t he just DO something, make up his mind and act?”
Yes, why doesn’t he? And the argument continues on until effective decisions are made and genuine progress
occurs: blow-up the well and seal it; wihdraw from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan; put a strong leash on financial institutions and their captains of greed; prime-the-pump of jobs’ recreation by pouring equal amounts of stimulus cash into realistic and functional programs for the down-and-out as have been spilled into failing banks; get off the immigration fence and decide what to do with
12 million illegals--and on and on.
The cries for action currently drown out the ongoing drone for “cool” deliberation. To be calm in crises is the place to begin, but “cool” has its limits up to the inevitable point where “cool is as cool does.” And if it doesn’t do anything, then “cool” becomes frozen in fear and refrigerates more and more “cool” until the fridge shuts off. Then, the blow-torches come out, and all hell breaks loose.
Perhaps, a medium-cool approach is needed where the medium is not the message, that is, where the process is not the result but, rather, a preferred way to arrive at
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We all have our favorite teachers from whatever schools and grades and for whatever reasons, usually because they “liked” us. Were they, therefore, “good teachers”?
Yes--because we remember them for something that they gave to us: self-confidence, a new awareness, a
special skill, kindness and understanding, a sense of genuine curiosity, interest and plain old fun. True appre-ciation of the wisdom imparted comes later, if at all,
oftentimes much later, hence, the saying that “teachers affect eternity.”
That was back then; today, “good teachers” are ferreted out by their results, results that can be quantified and measured: the current “accountability” movement which scans standardized test-scores, A.P. courses-qualified-for, and regular administrative assessments. These can be valid yardsticks, but they are only numbers and sub-jective appraisals, often tainted by personal bias, either for or against. This attempt at objective accountability has been spurred on by the increasing dissatisfaction with graduates, as well as failure and drop-out rates. Now, schools are viewed as business-models that can be managed to produce bottom-line results in the forms of charter grants and government programs, like “No Child Left Behind” and, now, “Race to the Top.” These programs offer cash incentives for improving education by making schools aspire to winning prizes, with
which to further the school’s ranking and its number of enrollees. Profit and loss paradigms are being imposed onto teaching and learning situations as if they were assembly-line processes. Down through the ages, education has survived and prospered by an exchange
of ideas and skills passed back and forth between teachers and their students, not filtered through any
regimented and lock-step reproduction methods.
However much abuse and academic dishonesty has ensued and been perpetrated by fraudulent teachers in the forms of passive laziness, entertainment as con-job, or destructive incompetence, they are not enough to justify attempts to mold cookie-cutter clones who plug into computer enhanced mechanisms. The primal pull
in education is the force of the motivation that a walking, talking, empathetic teacher can generate out of a one-on-one contact with a living, breathing, evolving and confused young person who wants and needs a role-model to follow along his difficult climb to adulthood and
continued learning. The young learner must have someone who can lead him by the hand in lively discussions of thoughts and feelings and in pen-on-paper lessons of precision and accuracy: thinking off the top of your head and analytically organizing at your workplace.
If you really want to know who the good, bad and great teachers are, ask the students, especially the ones who have logged in more and more hours in front of these required purveyors of knowledge, that is, the ones who, as they mature, can discriminate among teachers beyond mere liking, fun and ease in the classroom. These positive teachers can be “hard” or “easy,” relative terms as practiced by different teachers and as seen by
What all good and great teachers have in common is their ability to challenge their charges to think beyond the obvious and, eventually, beyond themselves in fostering
the intellectual habit of “always going further” by incre-
mentally asking “why?” until there is no further to go.
Then, watch and listen as someone else goes even
further, where you could not go and try to imitate and emulate his method. Diving down to rock-bottom is the name of this game, and it is a “game” that can be taught
as an enjoyable experience so that, when you are left alone with yourself, with not an iPhone in sight, you can
satisfactorily entertain yourself by entering your own mind and taking it for a ride.
The last and best part of good teachers is that they are
creators, not killers, that is, they create achievement through encouraging their students; they do not purposely deflate youthful efforts and egos by harsh criticisms (even if justifed) which are merely excuses for showing off their own insecure egos. A grade is a tool and it is only as good or as bad as the teacher who uses it--to reward, motivate, and direct his struggling students to mastery.
A teacher is a parent, a friend, an adult who loves you and because he loves you and is responsible for you while you are in his care and in his classroom, he must, therefore, try to “tame” you by training you in the ways of life and learning.
The children’s fable of THE LITTLE PRINCE who had to tame his wild lion before he could free him is the parable of teacher and student. But we teachers are definitely not all “princes,” although our students always start off as “wild lions” who need much taming. Sometimes, even most times, it is a battle of wills and, sometimes, the real princes prevail. When they don’t, they are eaten by the lion and the student fails, the school loses points, and the robot-teachers invade the classroom and turn it into a buzzing and beeping laboratory of futility and absurdity: the race to the bottom.
(Note by the publisher - in the 90s I visited a club on Sunset and in a conversation the person I had a chat with was so impressed that "Mr. V" at BHHS is my father; what a great teacher, he said!)
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Why do people, especially young people, enroll on Facebook to the tune of 400 million and, then, complain about over-exposure?
Why do sports’ fans devolve into sports’ fanatics at the instant of their team’s victory?
Because all humans need to belong to something--anything that they believe will give their lives meaning, whether they realize it or not. And not everyone has had
the advantages that others have had, like
education, tradition and financial security.
Therefore, misguided allegiances can and do degenerate into celebratory violence and embarrassing revelation.
Los Angeles is particulary, although not exclusively, vulnerable to this popular phenomenon of social interaction, other-wise known as “networking,” that is, working and gaming the net or any other
public platform for acknowledgement, much less recognition of one’s place in society.
Witness L.A.’s two years’ running, back-to-back near riots, zealous demonstrations of joy over their team’s vanquishing of its arch-nemesis, the odious Celtics of Boston.
Therefore, a geographical pride of place bolsters and inflates a personal pride of
individualized identity. The precedent for
such group-pride can be witnessed in patriotic wars (“right” or “wrong”) to school-spirit (earned or merely claimed). And sports have been a classic measure for merit, going back to th original Greek games of Olympia, where pageants to their protective gods sponsored athletic compe-
titions among the humans below Olympus.
To have immortal longings and to aspire to godhead is a most admirable goal, provided one knows one’s limits: physical, mental and emotional.
It is not surprising, then, that for those under-classes, the underprivileged masses, sports can provide a level playing field where all can compete and where some of the most unlikely individuals can prove themselves triumphant, as all underdogs have done from Jesse Owens in the 1939 Nazi Olympics to Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential election.
But why this disparity between positive
festivity and destructive mayhem in the streets? Is it a reflection of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, economic level or some-thing vaguely defined as “class,” that is, a
civilized, often sophisticated, show of style and restrained behavior? We have rude examples of lower-class deprivation and
exploitation; and, then, we have equally egregious examples of so-called “upper-
class” elitism and privilege. Many times, the upper-classes, who should and do know better, behave in even more reprehensible ways than do their unfortunate underlings
because theirs is a conscious and deliber-
ate breaking of the laws of our society in
the name of better fortune, that is, greed for gain. Therefore, both grossly displayed exuberance and subtly secretive behavior for gains of recognition and of money--is a
pervasive human flaw.
Recognition--be it via the vicarious thrill of identity with a talented team that “represents” you or the direct thrill of safely
stealing money with which you can buy
recognition--is the necessary part of the process; for if no one knows who you are, you are unrecognizeable by defintion or by design. Hence, the pursuit of “specialness” is rampant in our currently evolving egalitar-ian society where everyone is “equal” if not outright “exceptional.” And, thus, the problem becomes a matter of degree of exposure in order to acheive recognition.
And where better to find a venue for exhibition than through the lenses of the ever-expanding and omnipresent media
of your choice: from celebrity making, no-talent, unreal reality shows to “dancing your ass off” with or without the stars to obsessive/compulsive “tweeting” of your most uninteresting and banal daily activities
to full-frontal presentation of your face and your stats on Facebook.
Everyone needs attention or as much as one can capture in ego-huge doses. There-fore, entrepreneurs manufacture and sell
bits and chunks of attention as obtainable commodities on no-cost social networks--no cost, that is, until you embarrass your self with too much information, too soon, too intimately. Not every private pecca-dillo is worthy of internet publication nor is every genuinely prideful moment of real achievement worthy of a parade; there is such a thing as keeping a low-profile and humility and just plain keeping quiet about your most wonderful self.
Self-satisfaction through encouragement, assurance and confidence in whatever it is that you are doing--from cheering as part of a crowd to being cheered on Facebook--should be enough to enable you to believe in your self that you ARE good, even if you are recognized by only one other person outside of your self.
Humans cannot exist alone, but there are limits of crowd-control and limits to mob-feeding. Society has been sold a hyped belief that everyone must be featured as the “special of the week” on a menu of
mediocrity which most of us are--until proven differently.
Not everyone can be a star, but everyone can shine in his own light; it is the source of the light, not its brightness that counts in the end. Therefore, be secure in your own energy, and try not to compare it to other more intense sources. There is only one sun, but there is a sea of seeds.
To me and to many of her freinds, she was
always “AUDIE”: the name has an open and
an auditory sound to it and she was that--candid, listening and talking.
“AUDIE” is the mother of my best friend and, so, she became my second-mother
figure (having been born in the same year as my mother, 1913).
During Tommy’s and my days in high school, she welcomed me into her homes
(in Montclair and on Westhampton) readily and openly: any friend of her son was a
friend of hers, as different as some of them were, myself included. Mothers don’t see
differences: they see only loved-ones.
Over the years, I and my wife visited “AUDIE” in her warmly glowing house by the water on the Island. She, again, greeted me and this new person, my wife,
with her ever-present sparkling charm, wit,
graciousness: she was always fun to be
around. And she let you know it.
When my wife and I used to travel--to China, Australia, England and Europe--I always sent “AUDIE” cards from faraway
places; they ended up on her refrigerator
you will always be my second-mother
“A U D I E”
alive and vital
in our moments together--
yours are forever.
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The World Cup soccer celebration in South Africa is not
enough to contain the spill-over from BP’s hole in the
Gulf of Mexico. Eradicating racism, poverty and war,
famine and disease, and genocide from the African
continent is not a hopeful possibility.
Fifty years after freeing themselves from colonial rule,
these now free and independent states (like Chad,
Congo, Sudan, and Somalia) have been futher subjugated by corrupt military dictators and rapacious warlords. Relatively benevolent states like South Africa,
as hard as they may try to gain world-recongnition
by raising billion-dollar stadiums (“Orlando”), cannot rise
above the cries and protests of their million “shack-people,” indigent and ignored, no matter how shiny their
media-stages resonate throughout the first-world.
Meanwhile, that advanced world is also drowning in its
own corporate-soaked culture that it cannot rise above.
The human struggle for survival has dislodged this planet
from its axis and spun this, now, shaky globe into a
pronounced imbalance between the super-rich “one per-
cent” and the rest of us: the starving poor and the
comfortable masses of the long-suffering middle-class.
So much so that those masses with their heads still above the tide--you, me, and us--can only tread water and anticipate the final wave by, all the time grasping onto their possessions and accumulating more in hopes that one of those things will keep them afloat, while denying even any token life preserver to buoy-up the drowning.
What else can we do--you, me, and us? What else have
we ever done since the dawn of man? Survival of the fittest, though, has now devolved into the victory of the
“greedy,” relative to our--your and my--needs and wants.
“I don’t want a lot, just enough to get by on, with maybe, a few luxuries (another relative term) thrown in here and there for me and my loved-ones.”
Nothing wrong with that and nothing that is not real and
necessary: take care of yourself and your own first; then,
whatever is left over, stash away and hoard for that rainy
day that will, inevitably, downpour upon you and me and
us. And let those who can--the “one percent”--help the downtrodden (as some actually do: the Bill Gates Foun-
dation and a few others). Or let the top kill the bottom
by drilling them further and further into the earth from whence they came.
Nothing has changed since the world began; we crawled
up out of the mud of the earth and walked upright; then, the oil oozed out behind us and we captured it. Now, it has caught up with us--you, me and them--and we are coated with our own slime. And we are drowning.
Let the games begin, and may the best modern man win.
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Why does familiarity, necessarily, “breed contempt”?
Because interaction with another, usually on a superfi-
cial level, exposes faults and flaws which emerge first and before the positive qualities (like loyalty, giving,
thoughtfulness) due to their higher energy/”heat” emitting
energy. “Cooler,” more subtle and usually more endur-
ing and lasting characteristics require a depth of know-
ledge beyond mere familiarity and quick-studies.
Also because we contemptuous humans have a ready tendency to take “the other for granted,” quickly and selfishly: “Oh, she always reacts the same way.”
Expectation often creates predictive behavior in another
because the other has been trained that way by the
selfish perceiver: our self-contemplating egos get in the way of and block our seeing and understanding the
positive traits in another that are, often, better than our
own so that genuine respect arrives only after the real discovery of the other has had time and opportunity to
develop into true friendship.
Therefore, a knowledge deeper than mere “familiarity” can and should breed admiration because there is
something special in everyone--if we look hard enough.
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Open and close
Hydraulically yawning gasps
In and out
While patients and healers
Pass between them--
Haggard and pale,
Confident and veiled
Behind those doors
Spread rooms within rooms
All hung with impersonal
Instruments of care
That attach, suspend and envelop
Broken bodies and battered minds
To soothe, mend and finalize.
In and out
Waiting for that last door
To open and receive them
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NOW IS FOREVER
The ultimate mystery is “something unknown and unknowable except by divine revelation”--why are we alive and why must we die?
Now, if there is no “divine,” which there is no rational evidence for, then these two questions will never and can never be answered. All the prophets, philosphers and scientists throughout all of history have not answered these twin mysteries to everyone’s satisfaction. Moreover, there is considerable disagreement and outright warfare abroad in our world today about the “correct answers” to the unknowable mystery of life and its attendant religions.
The closest that we can get is the approximation of words and the things inside those words, what the words reverberate of and dive down into: the abstract depths of the words that we hope may shed some light on the unknowable-- but that really don’t.
Therefore and instead of trying to “find out” and solve the mystery, we are left with how to deal with this annoying reality.
The ways are as many as there are individuals in the world, at last count, around 6.5 billion and breeding. So, there is something that everyone can like and adhere to.
My favorite is still atheistic existentialism
where all life is absurd, that is, irrational and without cause but with much chance and accident. And the only way to “deal with” such life is to ACCEPT its absurdity and respond in kind, that is, by acting as if there
IS meaning to anything we do--which is an entirely irrational and absurd conclusion. So and by creating more absurdity of quantity over quality of living (since there is no quality), we daily defy abusurdity by creating more absurdity, that is, by living to the fullest and the longest. Not as absurd as it may sound. Think about it.
All the talk and all the belief and, even, all the love in the world will not remember your having been here in a hundred years.
Our stay in life will be as if it had never happened and mean nothing, no matter how much or how little change we have left behind. Even as a planet--which will one day also have evolved and died out and taken its place with the other mysteries in the universe--AND as a collective species called “humanity,” what we did here will neither count nor be long remembered--in eternal time (a concept that we also have no understanding of because we are finite).
Therefore, ignore all of the above (since it won’t make any difference in the long-run)
and focus on the short-run of our lives here and now: nothing we may not know already but something we may not have accepted before.
NOW IS FOREVER
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The British comedy group Monty Python
once made a film called THE LIFE OF BRIAN: it is utterly crass and the most tasteless movie that they ever made; it simulates the life of Jesus Christ. There is a song called “Look on the Bright
Side of Life” that repeats throughout the film while people are undergoiing the most horrific events, such as the Crucifixion and being tortured in the Spanish Inquisition by being stretched on the rack until bones begin to crack and pop.
An answer to exactly what is the “meaning of life?” is a two-word one-liner that is thrown away nochalantly: “Nothing special.”
Plus various other ironically satirical witicisms. Substitute your own sarcastic remark, and you will have the gist of what’s going on in this film--a fun exercise in itself.
But what IS an agreed-upon meaning of life that most of us would vote for? “You are born; you eat shit; and, then, you die.” Close but not entirely satisfying.
“Seriously, now...” begins a lead-in to most popular jokes. And although life can be viewed as a joke--the grandest one ever played on anyone by some sort of demented and masochistically bored super-mind--life for most of us non-comedians is not a joke. Far from it: many people consider life a tragedy because the protagonist or the main character, you, always dies in the end. How you die determines whether you are a tragic hero or a tragic coward.
Comedy and tragedy aside, life can also be viewed as an existential struggle against overwhelming odds, a fight in which you are predetermined to lose but a fight in which you defy the odds and never, ever give up (usually described as “living your life to the fullest and for the moment,” whatever that means): your struggle is called absurd and your career one of meaningless meaning--as you push your rock, endlessy, up a mountain. Chew on that for a while.
Or we are here “until we get it right” and, so, do not have to keep coming back in a reincarnation of our former selves: Hindus vote for this option, as well as an infinite
“chain of souls” that stretches back and forward in time with each of us being a necessary “link” in the present. Flash-back and flash-forward anybody? Plus a freeze-frame that says “now is forever”?
Then, there is the ever-popular “reward in a Heaven or a Paradise” with either the Christian or the Muslim god holding court: Christ or Allah. But there are pre-conditions on this ticket: you must behave yourself--according to rules and regulations set down by the earthly administrators of divine-will, a.k.a., the religions of the world, created and overseen by very worldly and fallible men. Religions are under constant
attack today, and some blasphemers even consider them “religulous.” But they are the most pervasive and prevailing comforts to the most of humanity--poor, surviving, or thriving: from the elite to the disposbable.
And there is the scientific answer, that is, energy transformation based on the Third Law of Thermodynamics that states that
“energy can be neither created nor destroyed” but only transformed. Therefore, one day in a galaxy far, far away, we shall all “dance with the stars” and the free-floating atoms of our loved-ones.
Then, there is Pan-Theism, that is, god in/
throughout nature, as boxed and sold in the current blockbuster film of AVATAR. This belief’s being a theistic paradigm (that is, a belief in a god)--as opposed to an a-theistic system (that is, a belief in there being no god)--its god resides in and is Nature. And as a natural presence, it is neutral towards our human definitions of “good” and “evil”: it does not take sides. Those survive who are the “fittest” to survive, and these survivors are always evolving. Cyborgs in cyber-space, anyone? With the computer chip as its godhead? A different “apple” from the one that fell in The Garden.
Finally, there is the ever-dreaded “big sleep” of nothingness, a return to “that place you were before you were born”--nowhere, non-existence, not even a fleeting thought in our infinite universe. Here lies a pro- found paradox: our critically necessary self-importance, at the same time realizing that we are utterly meaningless--and forgettable. Choke on that one--forever.
But serioulsy, folks, is there no light in all this gloom and dread, all this fear and trembling, all this sickness unto death?
Absolutely: what each of us makes of his/her own life--daily, yearly, our own individual life-spans. And what are the most common glues that hold our fragile little bodies and our ephemeral souls together? Anything that gives your par- ticular life meaning: from sex and drugs through careers, family and divorce; from love and nurture through hate and war; from our mind-expansion to our waistline-expansion; from art to destruction; from god to self.
Ask a man about the meaning of life, and he will probably say work; ask a woman, and she will probably say love. So, if you love to work, that is, to live--the bottom-line answer to what is the meaning of life has to be L-O-V-E.
If you cannot, will not, don’t know how to give and to receive LOVE, then you are
screwed (literally and figuratively). If and on the other hand, you know nothing else but LOVE, you will, most probably, be taken advantage of. But what a way to go!
LOVE LIFE AND IT MAY LOVE YOU BACK; BUT IF IT DOESN’T, KEEP ON
LOVIN’ IT--AND DOIN’ IT. WHAT OTHER CHOICE DO WE HAVE?
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It has been said that “nothing is free,” that everything has its
price: freedom, bread, joy. Yes, all the good that we can
perceive and experience in this all too imperfect world of
ours must be paid for with all the bad that exists in this all
too unfair world of ours. Every drop of sunshine must be
paid for with equal drops of rain, tears and blood. For every
child born, an old person must suffer and die. The weeds
rise up to strangle the roses; evil battles with good--daily,
But there must be something that is free, completely and
without exception. Is it the air that we breathe? No: every
fresh breath must be paid for in released carbon-dioxide
in an ongoing pollution of our atmosphere. Water? Fire?
Wind? No: for water floods and droughts; fire burns and
destroys; wind whips into cyclones and tornadoes. And
our Earth, certainly, isn’t free for the taking--and using up.
So, what is, finally, free? TRUE LOVE is. For true love knows
only giving--giving to the loved-one(s)--totally, spontaneously,
and with not a fleeting thought of receiving back, an expectation
that degrades the very act of giving, itself. But why?
THERE IS NO WHY; THERE IS ONLY THE ENERGY OF LOVE
THAT MUST GIVE OF ITSELF AND GIVE ITSELF AWAY--
ENTIRELY AND FREELY--IN ORDER TO EXIST AND THRIVE.
IT MUST EX-PRESS ITSELF--FREELY--TO SURVIVE.
Be it the love of a parent for a child; a man for a woman and
a woman for a man; a friend for a friend; a master for a pet;
a teacher for a charge (as in “charged” and entrusted to the
care of); a person for his god and a god for his creation.
These gifts are all freely given; indeed, they must be freely
given--even when they are rejected and scorned by their
receivers. In this sense, love is not only blind but also deaf
and, truly, dumb.
Our world demands payment at every turn; whereas, love,
true love, expects and demands, even, absolutely nothing in
And that is why love is the greatest of the three virtues: faith,
hope and love/charity. In the end and when all the accounts
have been tallied and paid and when all the dust of our
bones has settled, all that remains, ALL THERE IS,
ever and before, IS--LOVE, true love: the primal energy
that was in the beginning, the first cause, the “Big Bang”
that created and gave us--everything and each other.
LOVE IS ; ALL ELSE PASSES.
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Love feels good: to love and, especially, to be loved. And romantic love feels like taking a glowing, warm bath in a narcissistic
pool of admiring appreciation. And, as such, romance is seductive: like a drug that we cannot get enough of. And whether it is true or lasting is irrelevant at the moment;
the only thing that matters is that we are in the tub and soaking up the energy of self-validation and worth. We all love to love--what? Love and, perhaps, even the other who loves us and whom we are ,supposedly, in-love with.
Daisy is in-love with love and with herself--alone. Gatsby is incidental; he is merely the one who never forgot her and who returned to tell her and to show her how much. His HOPE was limitless, but not his REALITY.
If there is a lesson here for you and your conception of love, then, by all means, learn it--and beware of the love that can kill: emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically.
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Time is the enemy ticking in us all, and it is
the lining of the womb that contains us all.
We are all tied-together in time, links in an endless chain stretching infinitely back and infinitely forward in time. And the glue that binds us together is love, also known as
hate, war and chaos: the repetitive sequence of events in our lives--all forms of energy and the life-force that directs and moves our lives from birth to death, from pre-existence to post-existence.
And around and beyond our conceptions of time is the ultimate mystery: WHY? Answers are various and subjectively true for we who believe in them. For even those who do not believe, in anything.
Death to this world is inevitable and final; rebirth is a matter of conjecture. And our lives are rounded with a sleep called life.
But the glue and the purpose are the same.
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Today, you are 44
(And I, 70) --
You in your prime,
I, in my decline.
You forge, forage and
Forever find new sparks:
In the sun of islands,
In on-line marks,
In nights of dark.
You are a light of my life--
So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, my son,
For all things well-done.
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GATSBY was written in 1925 right in the middle of the “Roaring 20’s.” Almost all of you have read it in high school and, therefore, know about it or of it. But, this time, we are going to try to relate it to right now (2010) and try to understand what relevance this novel has to “love, money and marriage”: another eternal triangle.
The 1920’s were a time of reckless abandon: following WWI, the entire nation went on a party that lasted nine years until the Depression hit in 1929. During that time, nothing was out-of-bounds, and there were no limits to behavior, business and the pursuit of romance.
“Romance” is defined as the opposition of realism, that which is: romance is what should be--in an ideal world of, primarily, illusion. Most of us today operate some-where in between the two, perhaps, more on the realistic side since we have been
chastened and disillusioned enough with--
government, politicians and world-events;
revolts and movements (the 1960’s and
“Change You Can Believe In”); and, always, with drugs, sex and rock’n’roll.
GATSBY’s world, as seen and created by
F. Scott Fitzgerald (and narrated/told by
Nick Caraway, FSF’s persona/mask and first-person narrator, the all controlling “I” in the story) is one of “romance” that is beaten down by the realities that are all around it.
Love between couples in this world varies
widely from “true-love” to infatuation to out-
right dishonesty: the relationships between
Gatsby-Daisy, Tom-Daisy, Tom-Myrtle Wilson, George Wilson-Myrtle Wilson, Nick-Jordan and, yes, between Nick and
Gatsby are all over the place. I will leave it
to you to decide which are true and real and which are misguided, distorted and false.
The single theme that carries over from GATSBY today is “love and money” with
“marriage” thrown in along the way to seal
the deal. My father used to tell me when I was a dating teenager that it is “just as easy
to fall in-love with a rich girl as it is to fall
in-love with a poor girl”; he was partly or mostly serious but left it to me to find out which kind was the “better choice.” I did.
In GATSBY, Daisy says to her long-ago beau that “Haven’t you heard--that rich girls don’t marry poor boys?”--through her gushing tears of sincere self-pity and justifi-catin for her actions in the past and continu-ing into the present. At another point towards the end of the story, Nick and Gatsby are puzzling over what it is in Daisy’s voice that is so alluring; Gatsby, finally, comes up with the corrrect answer:
”Her voice...is full...of...money.”
Myrtle Wilson who lives over a garage with her impoverished and pathetically weak husband, George, can’t wait to betray him for the rich “polo-player” husband of Daisy,
Tom. True-love and marriage do not seem to go together in this world, and both rela-tionships end up tragically for some of those involved, especially Gatsby.
Switch to today’s relationships, some 85 years beyond GATSBY: how many are based on convenience and money, and how many are based on true-love? And how many of you here, right now, are attracted to or going with or married to someone with money alone as opposed to the one with the good heart and honest head? Yes, we cannot live on true-love alone, but it does help make and keep a union together over time and troubles.
As you read and watch the characters in
GATSBY’S world move and maneuver to find both true-love and the ever-illusive
“American Dream,” ask youself where you are amidst all of their wild abandon--if you can find yourself there at all. If you are not, then take what you can from this moral tale
--and be warned about both true-love and
the “American Dream”: is either attainable anymore, or are they both gone in today’s
The words “love” and “happy” get more and more definitions these days, and it seems to work fine. Maybe, there are no “right” or “wrong” definitions today, but the con-sequences are that people are avoiding serious relationships and, before dating, they are checking out the material status of the one whom they are about to meet, much less going out on a date with him (or even her). If this way is the “American way of life and love,” it is also a global problem.
Everyone has her or his own procedure:
which way is yours and how does it work?
Marrying for money and being miserable seems a high-price to pay for “security” and
luxury. If there is a middle-ground, it is up to you, individually, to define it, find it and, then, make it work over time.
You seem to be a more sensible and realistic generation than mine ever was, and you all struggle daily--alone or with another in all kinds of relationships--with your feet firmly on the ground (continually on the go and hassled to make it from day-to-day). But there are still those younger and more immature and less experienced out there among you who still have their heads up in the clouds (or someplace else) and just can’t, for the life of them, figure out what is wrong with their relationships that keep ending when either the money or the newness runs out and the other person runs around and, finally, out on them.
“True and everlasting love” may be a fairy-tale (except for those who actually find it),
but we all do the “best we can” with what we have. Are you doing your best?
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2009’s film AVATAR has projected (in HD, 3-D and
plain old D for dollars) a sci-fi vision of human kind’s future in a place far, far away and its misuse and abuse of nature’s ethics and mechanics. Our attempt to exploit a natural and “inferior” race that inhabits this planet/moon
(named “Pandora”) by extracting its most precious and expensive mineral--“Unobtainium”--leads to disaster for the greedy humans and their mega-corporation and to near-disaster for the native “Navi.” “Pandora’s box” of
treasures are opened and set loose by the invading mercenaries, and the unavoidable and prophetic “evils” that accompany such a human breach of the natural order quickly ensue. The semi-tragic result is the expulsion of the new and evolutionary “Adams and Eves” from this almost destroyed “Garden of Eden”
and the near decimation of the native race who exist in-touch with their “Mother Earth”--the “Tree of Souls”--which does not “take sides” but merely nurtures “what is,” be it good or evil.
Flashback to 2010 thru 2020, the ongoing present and
Richard Branson’s newest business enterprise: commercial space-travel for a mere $200,000 a seat which will take you, the average millionaire, up 350,000 feet (about sixty miles) where you can experience weightlessness and awe at the curvature of the Earth
before re-entry (without the burning heat-shields of the
Space Shuttle) and, then, reunion with your home and your forever-changed perspective as the latest nouveaux corporate astro-naught.
Fair enough--if the commerce stopped there: with a new high in fun-rides. But, of course, that is only the beginning. What is already on the drawing boards and on the production line is a full-out commercial space industry including--”space hotels, space settlements, orbiting advertising, space hospitals, space athletic events, artificial space phenomena (whatever that is), space theme parks (of course), space product production (the plot thickens), space agriculture (which sounds like a fairly good idea) all patrolled by space traffic control and law enforcement agencies.” But the dark side of all of this brave new world are the proposals for “space crystal manufacturing” and “asteroid and lunar mining.” (www.spacefuture.com) (see ADDENDUM).
Sound familiar? Except this is not any kind of fiction; it is real-life science imitating art, or is it art imitating real-life science? Depending on which you believe came first: the artistic vision or the venal science.
Since our primeval origins and before (if you believe in the original “Garden” and its “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”), man has managed to subdue and destroy everything he has touched--from the first “apple” to the latest “space-flight” disaster. What is yet to be seen is the fruition of this remarkable and imaginative venture: a source for ongoing good or a prelude to rapacious plundering among the stars. I vote for the latter, based on man’s track-record thus far.
But who knows? Art may have exagerrated future realities or underestimated cosmic chaos. We shall never know, but we have been warned.
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Have you ever doubted who your “real father” is? I have and for the longest time (well into my 60’s) until my tolerant and patient parent insisted on a DNA test to remove any lingering doubt. He plunked down $500 in cash and settled the matter once and for all.
Did I have cause to doubt? Yes, I did since the timing of my birth and my birth-name were open to question. As I grew up and absorbed the contradictory facts of my birth,
I began to look for incongruities between my “real father” and me. And becasue I was “looking,” I found more inconsistencies than were there. Here, I was guilty of
egocentric assumptions about how “could he be my real father because I was nothing like him.” But as I matured, he also grew in my eyes--as most fathers do and as they earn their sons’ belief and trust.
Now, I have my own sons who do not doubt who their
“real father” is because they have no factual questions as I did. However, fathers and sons are constantly engaging (or they should be) with one another and learning from one another. Due to evolution and to genetic predestination, sons grow along differing paths from their aging fathers (no matter how “hip” and up-to-date the fathers are or pretend to be) while being unable to diverge from their paternal source in predetermined ways, such as, character, propensities, and actions.
For instance, my father was a reluctant provider who meant and did well, but his heart wasn’t in it: there was always a conflict between duty and genuine love, which he found difficult to express for varied reasons. He also did not listen, even though he prided himself in having been the first one in his family to go to college and earn a degree. His conflict here was with me who, degree-for-degree and presigious name-for-name, outdid him.
This unspoken barrier was demonstrated in his begrudging pride and repressed envy over my accomplishments. Not too similar traits--on the surface.
But below, in the genetic marrow, the egocentric and disparaging attitudes on my part toward him, though not always conscious, were similar. And, further, where I prided myself in listening, he defended himself as best he could against his upstart son. Our situation did not make for the best father-son relationship.
In general, the “weak father/strong son” pattern can be seen in all father-son relationships, and vice versa. Sons are supposed to compete and try to outdo their fathers; otherwise, there is no growth. However, fathers must not only acknowledge and recognize their sons’ accomplishments, but they must also encourage their sons’ efforts in whatever ways their fathering styles allow: through hands-on, physically emotional engagement with their sons as children and as adults OR through more distant verbal and intellectual contact and communication in clear words and ideas. A balance is the best way. But realities of time and place often intervene between professed and actual desires of fathers and sons. That is, “If you had really loved me, you would have given me more love and attention” is
the son’s inner-child lament versus the “I did the best I could” is the father’s fading song and excuse for inadequacy and selfish choices on his part. But both fathers and sons, rather, all humans are selfish, that is, they start with and center on self: otherwise, we would not exist. It is a matter of degree here: how self-serving is one’s selfishness and how self-denying is another’s selfishness. And the answers are always filtered through and tinged by each one’s subjective point-of-view. Indeed, all things are relative.
Also, nothing is free, that is, for any given gain by one in striving, there is a loss by the other in the actual achieving: that is, if one’s sons strive towards and turn out to be qualitatively better (in human terms of the heart, the mind, and the spirit), then the father’s price for that achieved progress by his sons is the diminishing of his own qualities: the sons are, now, more and the fathers are, then, less. Vice versa, sons pay their own price for their fathers’ maintaining the superiority of their values over the values of their competing sons. One “wins” and the other “loses,” but both benefit from the necessary tension between them. Values are not relative; they are absolute. That’s why they are called “values.”
Generally speaking, all human relationships share similar points of contention and compromise, but on a less intense level than the blood and bone ties between fathers and sons.
Fathers implant genes of similarity into their sons, and the sons can recognize and nurture those seed-strains or prune them or cut them off altogether. Sons have choices; fathers have made their choices.
In the cycle of fathers and sons, progress-stasis-or regression occurs. Ultimately and at the death of the fathers, their sons are chosen to carry on in their places by becoming new-fathers themselves and/or by passing on what they were given by their fathers to others with whom they have less binding relationships.
We are all connected in the endless chain of souls--past, present, and future; but fathers and sons are linked in stronger steel, harder to break but not impossible or even preferable. Sons can always forge new bonds.
Acceptance unites and doubts divide. Therefore, sons, choose carefully the nature of the realtionship that you will to have with your real father, not your ideal one because you are both human and, so, imperfect.
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“...with this body comes mortality,
an end and eventual rot, but also
the concreteness of [being human],
our animal life and breathing thoughts.”
(from Roy Scranton’s op-ed piece on Veterans’ Day, 2010 entitled “War and the City: Of Arms and the Pen”)
To the wildebeest, as they migrate and do battle with the giants in the earth, death be-
comes as important and necessary as life itslef. Not just to cull and, thus, regenerate the herd but also to strengthen the young to be able to survive their future cyclical struggles with earth and sky.
But can this neutral view of life and death, together with the rebirth of new life, also be applied to man’s wars with death? No.
Man is a conscious animal, acutely aware of his sense of self, and he will not give up his life; he will desperately hold onto it and hold out against death and its subsequent
mysteries, which he has no memories or concept of.
Animals are instinctual and have no sense of self, no ego, only bonds with the elements of nature; man is also instinctual
while being supremely involved with his presence in relation to his environment, as well as being in-touch with his heredity--his
roots and traditions. Therefore, he wants to “live forever”; hence, the human predic-
ament: man’s problem with his fleeting life and the eternal finality of his death.
Animals have no “problem” with death, only with finding enough food and water to live
and to bear their young. Death for them is simply another part of their life which they do not question but, rather, blindly accept--except not without a fight to that death.
What animals do in their brief lives, man makes up for in the experiencing of his life
on multi-levels. Men are giants in the earth that animals merely graze upon. Animals
are hunted down by men (and other animal-enemies) for their substance and for waste-ful sport. Men prevail--until they die; animals subsist until they cease to exist.
Men are animals with immortal longings that never materialize for more than a moment.
Man’s mind makes all the difference--for better or for worse.
Finally, man--the paragon of animals--doesn’t know why he is, just that he is, for a little while.
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“Love makes the world go ‘round,” and it makes us go ‘round and ‘round with it until we find our “one-true-love.” Or so the slogans go: the game of merrily going ‘round and letting love spin and spin and where she stops, everyone knows and fears.
Except that there is no such thing as a “one- true-love” or even any genuine kind of love. For instance, a mother’s “love” for her child; a father’s unconditional “love” for his little girl; ultimately, a god’s infinite “love” for his creations, us, are all examples of self-love at heart.
All “love” is nothing more than self-love because without a sense-of-self, we have no ego and, therefore, cannot comprehend, much less consciously act as if we actually exist and are capable of “loving” another person.
No matter how generous, giving, and self-
less one believes he is, all “love” returns back to the giver and it makes him feel good, very good or very bad. This fact of self-gratification is the reason for all “love” and why we “need love.” It is also essential to “love yourself” before you can “love others,” and here is where the problem of how much you “love yourself” enters before you can begin to share that “self-love”, your ego, with another person. There is rarely room for both.
“Oh, he’s too selfish to ever love
anyone else besides himself.”
Who isn’t? If you weren’t, you would not exist: it is not “I think; therefore, I am” but rather “I love myself; therefore, I am.”
Therefore, can anyone or anything “love” in the purest sense of that word? Yes, some dogs can--man’s best, loyal and only friend. Why? Because, and unlike man, dogs have no egos, that is, developed senses-of-self: a dog is, exists, in terms of its master only. And the dog will do anything for that master, unhesitatingly and unconditionally from sacrificing its own life with unthinking courage and selfless devotion to following its master over great distances in order to reunite with the master who originally took him in, fed him, and tamed and disciplined him--made the dog belong to him and the master belong to his dog, that is, love it dearly.
Dogs have kept watch for the return of their masters over extended periods of time, even after the master has died. The most famous case is the 1924 Japanese “hero dog,” an Akita named “Hachiko,” who literally waited for his master’s return every evening at the same time at the local train
station--for ten years. This story is documented in a 2009 film about the loyal and loving dog “Hachiko” and its wholly selfless love for its master, a Professor Ueno. HACHI: A DOG’S TALE, stars Richard Gere as the grown up Little Prince- like professor who rescues the abandoned pup, feeds him, disciplines (“tames) him; loves him and who, one day, dies on him--to never return on that train every night thereafter for ten years.
What allows this devoted and loyal dog to achieve its totally selfless love that it has for its master is the dog’s absence of ego. Some animals are intelligent, such as dolphins and elephants, but theirs is not a conscious self-awareness, a human intelligence which reflects back onto the ego, aware of itself and its identity. Dogs are not aware of themselves as separate entities as we are; they are aware of only their surroundings, other animals, and of their masters who feed and care for them.
Therefore, humans can never truly love, no matter how many songs they write, oaths they take, tears they shed and joys they share.
Our inability to transcend our egos affects all our thoughts, actions, and endeavors--from being generous to being selfish, attitudes which are always influenced by our senses of self. The reason why we “love” and why we crave “love” so much is that this powerful emotion of “love” makes us feel wonderful; and, we believe, that it uplifts and ennobles us and makes our lives
more meaningful--which it does, all of those things. But in an entirely different manner from what we give ourselves and it credit for. We “love” to be noticed, recognized, appreciated, cared for, respected and, if one is lucky or talented enough,even renowned. These responses are clearly all self-aware and self-motivated goals, from either the giving or the taking perspective of “loving”.
So, we “love” to fall in-love as if we are falling off some dangerous cliff of infatuation and off of our rational minds; we “love” and we lust after others’ beauty and flesh; we exchange “loves” and lovers and, then, seek another or others; and after a due period of mourning and healing, we find the courage to take another chance on love--all the while, loving ourselves and trying to feed our insatiable egos as much as we can with the least possible inconvenience and resistance from those potential others
who are ready to “love” us back.
The warm glow or the blazing heat of love, this life-renewing force is to be valued, honored, and acquired at all reasonable costs.
And, perhaps today, a new brand of selfish-ness has further invalidated “love” as we thought we knew it? The universal flocking to FACEBOOK, YOU TUBE, and the
personal blog has highlighted the hunger in our society “to be known” and to be rewarded with our own fifteen-seconds of undeserved and unearned attention. Now, we can all be viewed fully and display our very own distorted senses of overinflated self-importance for all to see, react and respond to, and feed off of until we are loved for who we are not.
The price we pay for “loving” someone is the intense grief we feel for them when they die or more accurately, for ourselves and our own personal losses. Or, simply and daily, when they just walk away from us to someone and somewhere else. And the “love-cycle” continues, revolves, and fulfills itself--creatively or destructively; and we are left to deal with its illusion and our disillusion.
What other options are there? To curse life, despair, and die? No. Rather to be honest and to acknowledge all “love” for what it really is--self-love, often bordering on outright manipultion and exploitation, and to stop pretending that “love” is anything more than varying degrees of selfishness.
We are what we are, and we never cease to deceive ourselves with the “power of love,” when “love” is merely the reality of self and the power of that self that controls, creates, and ends with us all.
(note by the publisher's dog esta: wooooooof!)
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“Grief is the price we pay for being able to love.” Why? Because we do not like to give up those things that we love, especially our loved-ones. But why pay the price at all? A grieving period is, supposedly, a natural and a necessary healing process; but it provides no effective closure or any kind of resolution beyond the fact of death itself: what is gone can never be brought back. This is the way that life is and the way that it should not be.
Rather, we have a choice here: defiance.
But not the mere repression of sadness or the periods of mourning that turn into ongoing experiences of indulgent attempts to forget the bones and the memories of those we bury or burn.
Therefore, why not defy loss and death, which are the prices we pay for the luxury of living? And, together with Camus and Dylan Thomas, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” being careful not to take
death as a personal insult, as Thomas did, because he needed a topic and a motivation for his enourmous ego and his “sullen craft or art.”
We can each defy in our own personal way
--for instance, by choosing to live intensely and for as long as we can get away with it, thus, creating more absurd actions out of our entirely absurd lives: Camus’ paradox--
creating meaning out of non-meaning (a matter of quantity over quality since there is no quality, by definition). “I defy; therefore, I am.”
Or by thinking and intellectualizing our human predicament, or trying to: “I think; therefore, I am.”
Or “comitting philosophical suicide” and
”taking a leap of faith” by placing our hopes in a magical and mysterious savior: “I believe; therefore, I am.”
Or--”I laugh” (the comic form of defiance); “I eat and drink” (the hedonistic version); “I hallucinate” (the expanded mind-consciousness way, still popular today); “I fuck” (always in style); and, even “I love... therefore, I am.” Choose your chance and follow your dream.
But to grieve, to actually shed and to wipe away soft tears, to spend time reviewing the points of our past pain, to cry on the shoulders and in the arms of our friends are all very human reactions to our terminal lives--but they are, also, very unsatisfying and finally frustrating.
Everything is born, exists or lives and, then, dies. To give this process more importance than is due is not to seize upon the one opportunity that can give meaning to our lives and, thus, allow us to not give in to death: a defiance that is conscious, intense and precisely directed at the center of the cosmos--at blind chance, wonder and beauty, and extinction.
Grieve if you must--and we must--but do not expect any kind of resolution to the fact that “we are dying every moment that we are living” (Dylan Thomas); and, above all else, do not glorify our brief time upon this earth.
Accept your birth, live your life to your fullest potential and, never, ever accept the finality of your death. What else can we do --and still be happy?
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to A STUDENT
her new book
Sometimes and after fifty years of teaching, the teacher becomes the student and learns one of the lessons that he has forgotten.
Today, at your book signing in BRENTWOOD, I paged through your exquisite book of photographs; and, then, I read the foreword by the REVEREND TUTU. He spoke of the interconnectness of souls, the “ubuntu.” And I realized that and in spite of, rather because of, Camus’ absurd wall and his daily rock-rolling up the moutain with Sisyphus (whom “we must imagine happy”) and Shakespeare’s “sound and fury signifying nothing,” my wilful descent into cynicism and nothingness--there is, has been and ever will be “the CHAIN” of souls: all those who have come before us, are present with us here now, and all those who shall follow us and take up their places in the links that go back to first man and first woman and that, without
each link, there could not have been the next and the next and the next links. So that and even though we are eventually forgotten and no one is even here anymore to remember our place in the chain, much less our names (and after only a brief time, a flash in eternity’s eye), our places are marked forever--or the next link could not anchor on to our link.
So, is the chain enough to give me meaning in a meaningless universe? I don’t know, yet. But seeing you and JOY and CANDY
KORNBLUM and hearing about LORI LEFF and the 10,000 links in my chain of students, and as your husband put it: “the seed catches and ....”; that should be enough to shine a light into the darkness of my doubt. Because if that is not the ultimate and satisfying goal of all my endeaveros, then “nothing” is and
Shakspeare was right; and FAULKNER is naive in his NOBEL PRIZE ACCEPTANCE SPEECH about “not accepting the end of man... because he has an inextinuishable
But when this world ends, which it will in either some billions of years when the sun burns out; or next year when we all go up in the conflagration of the new holocaust to be let loose on this chain of souls ... it will be “with a bang” (a very loud one) and we, the forged links in the chain so far, will “whimper out” and fall apart, clanking down into the dust and rubble of greed and hate.
But those thoughts are not what you want to hear from your “teacher”; so, I will shut up and go away.
But thank you for remembering me, for your book, and, most of all, for your being a shining link in our chain.
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The national feast has changed in its significance.
Today, our PILGRIM puritan forefathers are revealed to have been intolerant religious fanatics who were, literally, expelled from ENGLAND and HOLLAND in 1619 and cast onto the treacherous seas to find their way to “another place” in the NEW WORLD or in hell. The PURITANS were in rebellion against the Crown and, in 1640, beheaded CHARLES I and set up their own INTERREGNUM government under the oppressive and ruthless OLIVER CROMWELL. The rest is history: when CHARLES II was restored to the throne in 1660 and THE RESTORATION and revitalization of the empire began.
Meanwhile, the PILGRIMS set up enduring and representative institutions in the MAS-SACHUSETTS BAY COLONY, eventually including a democratic church system known as CONGREGATIONALISM but
not until they had worked through a preor-
dained witch-hunt, not only for “witches,” but also and more importantly for those who were “the saved/the elect” (the SAINTS) and the “damned/the reprobate” (the SINNERS) so that they could be admitted to the PURITAN fold and the rest cast out into the darkness of forbidding forests and brutal weather. And the way that one determined whether one was of the elect was by a PUBLIC TESTIMONY in which one related all those miraculous incidents of carefully recorded and ambiguous coincidence, more usually outright lies, that had occurred in one’s life that “proved” that one was predestined to be saved, that everything that one did as a
“saint” could not have been anything else but proof that one was a saint. And desperate and paranoid individuals kept voluminous “personal diaries” and copious
“journals” with examples that they hoped and prayed would convince the elders of the church that they were, indeed, one of the “elect” and, so, worthy of acceptance
into the arms of this special society among a plethora of “reprobate sinners.”
For instance that, one day while alone in a nearby forest he had seen a butterfly light atop his walking stick--an indisputable sign from above that he had been “chosen.” Or more convincingly, that one had FELT (not HEARD, for “diabolical sounds” emanated from the devil and invaded the ears of, usually, young girls who ferreted out witches in their houshold while being possessed and manipulated by the voices of those innocent servants whom they accused and who were, on more than one occasion, hanged or burned: see ARTHUR MILLER’s “The Crucible” and records of the time) that one had FELT the Lord’s hand on their person and was, subsequently, directed out of being lost in the wilderness, figuratively and literally.
And, thus, the PURITANS’ un-values of
foridden earthly pleasures, namely, human
sexuality filtered down to us in the form of our puritanical obsession with sex in any but monogamous unions, namely marriage, while all other expressions of this natural desire were to be considered “sins” and outright “abominations” in the eyes of those who knew the right ways, those who were
singled-out before they were even born and ushered into an elected body of bigots.
Together with our blinded ancestors, today’s THANKSGIVING continues to give thanks and much money to our consumer-driven gorge-fest in the name of gluttony and greed and in the face of outrageous poverty and deprivation. And we have the gaul to assuage our unacknowledged guilt by volunteering to feed the homeless a token and yearly handout that can only humiliate them further, except those who cannot exhibit any dignity or pride because they are starving.
Finally, we, as a very confused nation, gather far and wide across this land of veritable plenty and incredible waste to give thanks to our military endurance and stick-to-itiveness in our invasions and continued occupations of destruction and annihilation of the people’s of IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN.
It is understanable, therefore, that the only way that we can live with ourselves this “thanks-giving” is to anesthetize ourselves with food and drink to the point of being comatose and completey oblivious, for awhile, to our very real sins and iniquities against those who are not “elected” to be part of our new city on a hill in a new world of rapacious exploitation.
And a HAPPY THANKSGIVING to us all, every one, except those on the outside, always looking in. EAT, DRINK and BE MERRY for tomorrow--we continue onward and downward to our mutual and eventual self-destruction.
And in the words of PRESIDENT OBAMA’s spiritual mentor, the most reverend and most perspicacious JEREMIAH WRIGHT, may “god bless,” or is that--”god DAMN, AMERICA!”
Because, Lord knows, someone has to.
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Shakespeare saw his world as a “garden” where the “weeds” of evil grew and rose up to “choke” the good “roses” in an ever-ongoing battle in Nature. But he also believed that this conflict was necessary to the development of new and more hardy strains of roses. And that, without the weeds, the roses would wither and die on the vine. The eternal fight between good and evil is symbiotic and paradoxical: one nourishes the other while it destroys the other and, then, they change places.
Tolstoy said that “the aim of the artist is not to solve a problem irrefutably, but to MAKE PEOPLE LOVE LIFE (emphasis mine) in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.”
But after ANNA KARENINA, that changed: he was overwhelmed by the pointlessness of existence ... and, so, he ran out of things to write about. He had consumed the material of his life (David Brooks, “Description is Prescription,” NY TIMES, op-ed, Friday, November 25, 2010).
But how can an artist “make people love life” if he sees and portrays it as pointless? In that case, “description is NOT prescription” for seeing life as the artist does but,rather, an effort to immerse the artist’s audience in the infinite variety of the battle between good and evil and, thus, to seduce the viewer and to create in him an inexhaustible need to experience that mesmerizing canvas, albeit vicariously. It is the artist who, eventually, is choked by his own visions and, therefore, drained of his life’s force to ultimately expire amid his paints, his notes and his words: his own private self-destructive “weeds.”
Remembering that nothing in this world is, indeed, free and least of all is the artist’s desire to see and his indefatigable energies to preserve what he sees. Therefore, his only hope for a “happy death” is to re-energize his life’s blood out of his art, that is, to be nourished by the very thing that consumes him: the fires of his passion and the spending of those flames to feed on
the material it consumes but which also allow it to burn.
Every color spread, every note sounded, and every word drained out of the artist’s substance and essence as a creator must, simultaneously, refill his mind and body. Otherwise, the fire burns itself out and the artist dies with his brush and pen held feebly in his mortal hand.
Further, the struggle to push one’s burden
(one’s “rock”) daily and endlessly up the mountain of achievement only to have it roll back down to the bottom again and again and again; and to bang one’s head and body up against the world’s implacable “wall” is not a pointless exercise in absurdit IF one can re-create in the “smithy of his soul...the uncreated conscience of his race.”
Artistic creation is, then, the only meaningful action in this meaningless universe, even and especially if the artist’s voice and vision are limited in his here and now. Because to re-create eternal life out of finite life in the face of meaningless absurdity is the ultimate defiance that ever renews itself while the artist is alive AND after he is dead; the artist, then, becomes the ultimate hero and the only victor over the absurd. For unlike physical structures of stone, canvas, and flesh, voices of words and symphonies of sound exist in the ether of our ears and minds and, as such, can be passed down aurally and conceptually for thousands of years through the generations of man.
The original WORD does not have to be
“made flesh and dwell among us”; it need only be noted and remembered and given to the next in-line to repeat, revive and re-interpret as it applies to their particular time and place.
Thus, SHAKESPEARE will be read on MARS millenia hence, and our new “martian artists” shall propel their creative endeavors into their stars, light-years away. The creators’ LIGHT is inextinguishable and has no limits, as well as being the measure of man and his worlds.
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Chilly early morning mists
Irradiated by silver shafts
Of morning light dawned bright
As down and up
A Redondo Beach hill
I drove through euphoric sights
Towards a golden new day--
For a son had been born to me,
The first sunrise of my life.
Then, things fell apart
The center would not hold and
Sunsets followed as
Light clicked down to darkest day.
Times passed and up he grew
And so did I
As we each forgave the other
And ourselves: I for abandonment,
He for hurt and doubt.
Our days melded and we mended
Alone and together until now--
Tonight: he comes and goes
On a night flight to
His corner of the world
And I remain in mine.
Every time, each day,
Their sunsets sink
Down into inky oceans
Where divided horizons
Mark their separate ways
And united minds link
Their meandering motions.
(the publisher likes this one)
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“ENGLISH 28” MR. VERSACE
W L A C PARTING
After fifteen weeks of wading through sheets of red-inked corrections and comments by your obsessive English teacher, you are now ready to “start writing.”
All of you have learned the importance and the value of focusing on words in sentences in paragraphs in essays. Now, you can begin the next step--and you already have: using your language skills to discover, formulate and express those thoughts and feelings inside you that you didn’t even know existed.
Wasted words mean life less lived because
“Only words are certain good”; so, use them well and they will be good to you. And--KEEP WRITING.
All my best,
LOU VERSACE/"MR. V."
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Here is my philosophy of the “meaning of life” (in case anyone is interested):
First of all, I agree with the “big sleep” view of what happens after death--pre- and post- life on earth: nothing, except the loss of consciousness for each person forever (however long that is). But does death invalidate any meaning in life? Yes, as far as any lasting meaning: all ends, all fades, all is forgotten and “the chain” continues.
However and as far as temporary meaning is concerned--whatever you do and believe in, that is, the life that you choose to live, what you do every day and wake up every day looking forward to doing, what you love and would do for no pay at all--is YOUR MEANING.
“All I do this for is for me. The fact
that it involves other people is great.
That it amuses them and gives me an
income is great. But I do this just to
have a chance to sing my song.”
(George Carlin, comedian, died 2008)
Therefore, go and “sing your song” and listen to all those whom you trust and respect and, then, decide for yourself what “your song” is because no one else can sing it for you. Fall in-love (infatuation, fascination and, then, true and lasting love) with whatever it is that possesses interest for you, that possesses you, that you never tire of doing--and practice it, refine it, polish it until you can improve it no more and, then, go on to discover new facets to your trade, skill, career, art and strive to be “the best that there ever was,” knowing that there is always someone better.
Do not defy death; embrace life--with all your passion, belief, and talent. So that when your time is up, you can look forward to a peaceful sleep with no regrets, no unfulfilled desires, no fear, no holding back any more, no more hesitation to end “your song”--and, finally, to rest. Live so that you earn the right to die on your own terms and on the terms of chance, which controls the time we spend on earth; you control what you do with that time. Don’t miss your chance: steer, do not drift.
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Let me tell you about a place of grey gothic castles, of soaring cathedral
chapels, of dungeon-like rooms, of football coloseums, of romantic lakes,
of mythical griffins and gargoyles and of four years of falling in-love daily
with books, teachers, writing, and a campus of medieval splendor and
dreams. Let me say-you-a-song of long ago and far away in a place in
central New Jersey called Princeton University.
I was an impressionalbe, young, naive, and sensitive high school senior when I first met this place which was to mold me for the rest of my life. It was a steamy and sweating hot day when a person ran with sweat in the lowlands of Jersey’s highest humidity and mosquito-infested lowlands. Princeton University, or P.U. as it affectionately became branded in our brains and on our wall banners, is located in the hollow of a greenly lush central area of New Jersey of the same name--the town of Princeton, New Jersey.
We were visiting pre-freshmen assembled for an introductory tour of and
indoctrination into our “chosen college” for the next four years. My first
impression and memory of the campus was one of having stepped-back
in time and place to medieval England where crenelated castle walls held lead- paned casements i ndenting the rising spaces between aspiring spires punctuated with the grey stone heads of protruding griffins and gargoyles, the same mythical beasts that stand guard and peer over the flying buttresses of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
I was seduced and fell in-love with an architecture that promised
tales of noble knights, damsels in distress and undress, and rollicking jousts
among hearty eating and drinking lords and ladies of the realm. And I was
not disappointed for each and every day that I woke to my ringing “alarum
bell,” my call to early freshman classes (that drifted more and more into the
later and more “gentlemanly” morning/early afternoon hours of senior year),
I would walk expectantly onto the “fields of praise” to find new wonders
in the fantastically real forms of the very best literature ever written
amidst the very best environment for learning ever forged by the minds and
hands of enlightened and far seeing men: professors, administrators, well-
healed and generous alumni, and ever-evolving students, all male for as
long as an “all-male university” could and did hold out over some two hundred
years of American history beginning with our Revolution and persisting as one
of the last “bastions of male-dominated supremacy,” until the final and finishing
feminine assault on its manly gates, demolishing them entirely and gaining full and fair
admission in the late 1960’s. And since that time and that change, P.U. has
never been the same--for better or for worse.
Like all “good little fresh men,” we were assigned rooms and roommates
in whatever gothic gallery our masters fated us to. All of the dormitories
looked like small fortresses of gray granite, outside and in, with windows
that swung outwards from black-steel handles. The interior halls were tunnel-
like in their massive stone surfaces and they led to spartan white-tiled community bathrooms which one floor shared unceremoniously and which we later learned to “stand guard” outside of when a “lady was on the premises and had to use its very masculine facilities, which they also didn’t seem to
mind. My cell was 421 Pyne Hall--a single room, small by any standard,
just large enough to hold two single beds, two desks, and two dressers. Suites
of rooms were reserved for juniors and seniors who could choose their lairs,
their fellow roommates and their necessary amenities , such as refrigerators,
bars (fully stocked), furnishings for living rooms replete with fireplace and
sofas, party-room (an absolute requirement), and an often token and out-of-
the way quiet alcove for studying at a wooden desk and in a sleep-inducing
overstuffed chair for reading the many long assignments handed-out by our
sadistic profs. Some “suites” took in up to ten rooms and bordered on
“indulgent” living. But “the Tiger” was not to be denied.
What I learned about rooms and roommates was that they must be chosen
with much care and planning, for one’s physical environment in this medieval
village was almost as much a part of one’s education as what took place in the
storied lecture halls and the precepted classrooms.
All of my professors, if they were not all brilliantly gifted, were all
blessed with a burning love of their chosen fields of study and an
equally obvious desire to share and imprint their erudition with boys-becoming-
men. Professor Carlos Baker was Hemingway’s official biographer and, rumor
had it, he had fallen in-love with his idol’s slight masterpiece THE OLD MAN
AND THE SEA and that he had “not been the same since.” Professor Larry
Thompson was a specialist in American literature and taught me
“how to read” and enjoy William Faulkner, my favorite, and with whom I was lucky enough to have a one- on-one interview on a fall afternoon of my freshman year in a mahogany-paneled room of Firestone Library. And Professor Edward “Ted” Hubler, my advisor, who was said to “know everything about Shakespeare who knew everything about everything.” And I learned to love to learn everything I could from them all--and they taught me well.
But all was not books and pens and papers in never-never land; there was
fun and living to be had for the taking. Although and probably because we
were an all-male school, weekends were always party-time and chances
to invite your favorite girl to make the journey by car, bus, or train; some
were flown into Newark Airport up-the-road where they were limousined down to P.U. by the more affluent and stylish upperclassmen. But there was one hitch in this every youth’s dream of making merry--and of making Mary--in these weekends’ imagined orgies: girls had to be out of the dorms by nine, as if what was forbidden to happen after nine could not easily be indulged in before the nine o’clock witching hour. This archaic rule made no sense to any hot-blooded underclass male, but the penalty was severe: expulsion. P.U. was supposedly an institution for “gentlemen” where ladies were to be properly treated and respected, no matter whether they were ready, willing, and able or not, which most of them were-- more than willing, always ready, and totally able.
So and for our first two years of limited dorm-living, we fresh men and
sophistos had to work fast. I had a roommate who used to read
Andrew Marvell’s poem of sexual-intellectual seduction “To His Coy Mistress...to make much of fleeting time” to his dates in hopes of achieving ultimate and ready bliss. He never did, not until he graduated.
I remember crisp fall weekends when the lushly ample vegetation of my
idyllic campus metamorphosed into fragrant browns, yellows, golds
and reds and blended with the raised megaphones’ echoing of grave
clashes between the armies of the League of Ivy and when monster dances
were held in the even huger gymnasium with featured Big Bands like Gerry
Mulligan while crowds of tuxedoed hounds danced their crinolined
princesses around the shining blond floor of the basketball court. I
remember the very darkened dining rooms of Prospect Street’s Eating
Clubs--Ivy, Tiger Inn, Charter, Colonial, Key and Seal, Dial Lodge, Tower and
Canon--turned into groping dance floors while hopeful new artists like Chuck Berry
whined-out pulsating rock ‘n roll rifts on colorful red and yellow electric
Weekends were dedicated, officially, to the pursuit of pleasure
in all of its most indulgent forms--feasting, drinking, and whoring--as in
“days of yore” when all “goodly knights” were bent on beguiling and bedding
“comely wenches.” We were all starved for feminine affection--and we were
all as horny as monkeys-in-heat.
Winter was magic time, the most imaginative season, for the newly fallen
and virginally bright, blue-white snow appeared suddenly overnight to dazzle and sparkle the fairyland to even grander heights with encrusted filigrees of laced crystal that hung from towers and trees. This middle-ages tableau was an emblazoned page taken from an illuminated medieval manuscript picturing the mythical forest with its enchanted castles gilded with blankets of white-gold enameled onto the blackened bracken of dangling tree branches. Missing was the green-hissing and fire-breathing dragon to “slay” and “damsel to save.” Otherwise, we were Arthur and Gawain and Percival gallantly trudging through snowbanks toCommons and to MacIntosh and to Dickinson. We were young and alive.
It was a time of burgeoning, a time of awakening, a time of wishing and wonder, a time of discovery and enlightenment, a time of love in a place of joy and melancholy, for time was passing us by and taking with it our most treasured dreams of youth and longing.
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Swarms of falling flakes
Flurry down upon the ground
Sifted powdered sugar
From a sky-like sieve
Encrusting rocks in styrofoam
And crystallizing branches
In filigreed fingers
About to snap--
As night fades up to day.
A softly sunlit morning
Streams through icy
Laced window panes
Cracking over frozen glass
To sketch shadow-shapes--
On frames of frigid fame.
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Religion distracts man from his mortality with promises of immortality. He blindly believes instead of questioning and doubting until he has stripped away all his
illusions of any after-life. He should prepare himself realistically for his death rather than build walls of delusion around himself. There is no god or any salvation from non- existence: we rose from the dead when we were born and we shall return there when we die. We shall not “pass away” because there is no “passing” from existence to non-existence; there is only life and not-life, and not-life is timeless in terms of living-time.
What should we be doing while we are alive and, at the same time, preparing our-selves for extinction? We should live to our fullest capacity while trying not to become too attached to that living. To learn to love life while not taking that love seriously for the fact that nothing lasts.
We join and engage with our loved-one as the most important purpose in our life, and we take joy from giving to that one special person all of our being and receiving back all of his/her essence: that which we name as true-love and that is inexplicable, uncon-
trollble, omnipresent and lasting only until death do us part.
Then, we must let go of our unique love, not letting our fingers linger nor our eyes meet, ‘lest we should falter and cry out for some relief, any momentary mercy, from the exquisite pain of our loss for all eternity.
But to let that hand go and those eyes slide away into our final loss of all conscious-
ness before drifting off to everlasting sleep from which we will never awake.
But how can we love without loving? Is this contradictory paradox even possible, given the depths of our devotion, caring and need for this one profound love-of-our-
Yes, everything leads up to that one last look, that one last touch, that one last kiss: can the frenzied anxiety at that ultimate moment of good-bye be neutralized by
anything, any human response? Yes, in that one reflexive act of your mind and of your body in an instant of forgetting that we were ever here at all and, then, closing your eyes so that we know that we are no longer here as we slip deeper and deeper into our sleep of non-existence--where all
longings and yearnings fall away like so many leaves of a tree.
Learn to care and not to care at the same time; operate on two levels--one, your un-controllable feelings and the other, your all-controlling mind.
And when we are tempted to surrender to our feelings--the unbearable pains of final loss, the disappearance of all hope and the final onslaught of despair--HOLD ON TIGHTLY TO the hand of your beloved and
MOVE YOUR MIND AND YOUR EYES AWAY FROM the flesh of your beloved and FOCUS ON the comfort and ease of THE NOTHINGNESS OF YOUR OWN NON-EXISTENCE.
Then, just let go and fade away...
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