Reconciling With An Old Love

12 06 2010

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She was so unsatisfactory in so many ways that for many years I looked back on my time with her with resentment, almost hatred. True, she had a lot to teach me that I very much craved to learn, and I gloried in learning it. Under her tutelage the thinking side of me grew by leaps and bounds.

But my emotional side languished. At an age when a person’s life revolves around relationships with others — how to  start them and develop them, how to handle the details of them, and how to deal with the depth of emotion they can cause — I came on the scene too stunted to pursue that side of my development and left it just as stunted.

Major depression ensued — not surprisingly. And for years  after it went into remission I couldn’t remember my time with her without also remembering the loneliness that had been my only companion for most of that part of my youth.

That mental association became automatic with me, and always painful, so when she tried to communicate with me over the years I didn’t want to hear from her. I threw away all her letters. And when she needed help I said, in my poverty of wealth and spirit, ” Go get it from your foster children who’ve got rich. I never developed the social skills needed to get wealth and power, and I blame you for that, damn you! Fuck off!”

Yes, my alma mater presided over a bad, bad period of my life! Through the luck of my having had a martinet mother, I had gotten straight “A”s through all my school years. And when in 1966 (!) Columbia University sent a representative to my little town looking for graduating seniors who could help it put together a class not made up just of  kids from New York City, I was ready to accept their offered scholarship and join up. I shook the dust of  little East Texas town off my boots and headed East…

Only to discover, aside from the contents of a truly terrific education…my own sweet self. For reasons I now understand, but couldn’t then guess, I couldn’t relate to anyone I met in that New York City college. I didn’t make friends and didn’t date. The reasons for those deficits had nothing to do with Columbia and little to do with the people I met there. They are buried far further back in my past.

It’s all still the same with me 40 years later. I retain, and still cherish, most of the contents  of that great education; and I still can’t be close to people except under very special circumstances. For decades this intellectual/emotional lopsidedness caused me great sorrow.  But now, in the twilight of my life, the way I see my great deficit has greatly changed.  I don’t need the ability to bond with others very much anymore, but I feel that I need to understand the world around me now much more than ever before. And I’m trying just as hard as I can to understand as much of it as I possibly can, drawing upon  my Columbia education, all the learning I’ve built on that foundation since, and the vast world of information to be found on the wonderful new Internet.

Understanding the world is my way of embracing it prior to leaving it, I guess.

My old alma mater is one of the two factor in my life that have made that embrace possible. Thanks Columbia! I love you for having made it possible for me to relate fully to the world in the only way I ever truly could have done. I believe that if I had never known you I would  have turned out just as emotionally limited as I am now, and, more sorrowfully, no less ignorant than the poor redneck I was otherwise bound to be.

So please start back sending me those glossy alumni magazines. From now on I’m going to read every page!

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Here are some pictures of the Columbia campus. It’s unchanged as far as I can see. Now at last I can feel nostalgia for it.
http://www.aitcheye.com/colleges/columbia_university.html

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And how nice to find that I’m connected through my alma mater with one of my two great heroes!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/realestate/13obama.html?8dpc

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THE WAGES OF WEAKNESS II

21 11 2009

Some comments on my last post on “The Wages of Weakness”:

1.

The minor slights I reported in my last post were nothing compared to what I suspect most black people in the South experience! Those trivial events in my life are connected to the local virulent racism only in that they may have stemmed from it in some attenuated way, as I theorized in the last post.

But my little experiences do represent what I suspect is the most frequent FORM in which racism is experienced by its victims these days. Direct insult is now out. Violence is now out (except by cops). Firing at will, and quietly refusing to hire, are IN.

And the “inexplicable slight”, above all,  must happen every day. I would hate to be as hypersensitive as I, alas, am—and have to confront a world that contains so much scorn for folks like me.

2.

Nothing I experience in the way of inconvenience or occasional insult will deter me from pursuing my plan of avoiding driving—and the inevitable anxiety attacks that go with it.

When something seriously sucks, I believe it’s OK to avoid it. Millions of people have dramatically decided to avoid things that made them miserable or threatened to harm them during my lifetime.

The first group of people who did this that I remember were the Viet Nam War era draft dodgers. They were willing to go to Canada and live as foreigners for a lifetime — and in a country that’s COLD MOST OF THE TIME to boot — rather than die or suffer in any of a number of ugly ways. They didn’t believe any such suffering could be justified by the call to defend, not our nation, but our Empire.

I’m glad I personally got a high draft lottery number back in 1970. Viet Nam would have destroyed me (assuming I lived through it)….The only treatment they had for major depression in 1970 was electroshock, and it was not only traumatic by only episodically successful. I don’t think they had any treatment for major anxiety disorders at all.

3.

In the back of the mind of every old American man looms the ghost of John Wayne, exhorting him to perpetual toughness. I never had a shot at achieving that even when I was young. Now that I’m old, I look back sadly at my half a lifetime of struggling to be Waynian when I am by nature Barney Fifeian.

From now on I’m using to the full the amazing opportunity that age gives us to become no less and no more than what we truly are  — and in my case to get off the macho hook for good.