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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SEEING THE WORLD THROUGH DARK GLASSES

20 05 2009

A lot of my posts in this blog address large issues, American culture being the next to largest — and the whole human condition, even, being by far the largest! Usually when I write about these things I see highly unappealing facts. Generally I’m right. Those are the facts.

My recent post “The Bullshit Science”, for example, I think is 100% spot on. If you look at the world around you carefully, and think of that paradigmatic monkey troop, matastasized to cover the earth, you’ll see what I mean.

But I fear that I am right mostly only on the macro level. Lived out in the interstices of the complex social arrangements dictated by our instinctive struggle for status and our distinctively human fear of death is another world I consistently miss.

It’s the world of love and emotional connectedness — family love, romance, community loyalty, the pleasure of struggling together to make an organization work. And also in there is the world of fun, adventure, excitement, and wild abandon. And lets not forget the quieter pleasures of hopeful planning and enjoyable creativity.

These everyday, near things are our salvation. They block our view of the larger Human Condition, which, seen as a whole (birth, struggle, death, nada) is truly awful.

Unfortunately, I am almost blind to the world of emotional connectedness, for reasons having to do with my family of origin–so there goes that ameliorating factor.

And I am not having much fun, and have never been any kind of an extrovert–so there goes another.

The only thing I have to shade me from the pitiless macro view is creativity, and I only have a wee bit of that.

So OK, I’ll admit it. Everyone sees the world though his own unique lens. As for me, you might say I’m a guy who can’t see the trees for the forest.





WHAT ARE INTELLECTUALS GOOD FOR?

30 04 2009

For a succinct answer, go here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103567148





UNFLATTENED IN BATON ROUGE

27 07 2008

The Uses of Snobbery

I plead guilty to being an intellectual snob. It comes from having been a poor outcast fat kid in the backwards backwoods of Texas long ago. I had to cling to SOMETHING to have value in my own eyes, and I chose the contents of books. The ability to read “hard” books and to become lost in them was the only thing I had going for me.

Compared to those contents, as illuminated by my imagination, the squalid surroundings and dimwit country culture of my small-town Texas childhood became dismissible. It was like being thrown into prison and coping with the noise and danger and ugliness and cruelty and excess macho nonsense of the other prisoners by dreaming about your life when finally released. Seen through the mist of those dreams, it was all dismissible, hence bearable.

There is lots in American culture now, 40 years later, that remains unchanged (after a brief abortive flirtation of the USA with being civilized that occurred in the 1960s). If you actually live within the soup of media-business-religion-sports that constitutes all the “culture” that the USA has, then you will slowly be de-brained. I understand that this lowest-common-denominator culture is the natural product of a country made up of persons of so many ethnic and national backgrounds that, other than a burning desire to make as much money as humanly possible, they have historically had very little in common. But I don’t have to join the de-brained brigade just because I was born here.

After a lifetime of being regularly fed drivel, I now watch no TV, read no magazines (celebrity, so-called “news”, or otherwise), consume only carefully-selected contemporary movies, go to no theme parks, read no best sellers, and listen to no radio but NPR.

But I still actually live in the American South. People here are friendly and polite in their personal lives and daily contacts. And this state I now live in is unique among Southern states in having a strong minority population (the Cajuns) with a distinctive culture that influences many aspects of life here. But the public reality that reigns in this place and time is still highly driven by the larger mass of US media ideas and images that flood in upon us daily, and by a good deal of local self-deluding nonsense about the glorious Old South. The result needs continually to be dismissed if one is not simply to despair for one’s country. I can’t turn on the main local AM radio station without hearing a local Homer or Jethro imitating Rush in order to book his own transient local fame. (The usual chorus of drawling dittoheads always obligingly call in to agree.) This city, Baton Rouge, has a paroxysm every time the LSU Tigers play a football game and doesn’t notice much else that happens publicly. In politics it is cruel, in art is is limited to country and rap and phony Cajun music, in public thought it is limited to a slavish love of business and business persons, and a widespread desire to try to guess what they might want before they want it, so they won’t get in a huff and take their many dollars to some even more accommodating Southern state.

Oh yes, the folks did stir from their torpor recently to get incensed when the state legislators voted themselves big raises—raising themselves from tiny salaries originally based on the fact that theirs was once a part time job to middle-class level salaries. Smart people I knew joined the brigade of the incensed. I didn’t point out to them that if you pay people with power peanuts you give them tremendous incentives to take bribes.

It would have been pointless, and gotten a lot of folks mad at me.

The USA has a history of driving its artists and intellectuals into exile. In the 1920s through the 1940s it seemed as if most such folks were to be found in Paris. Now they have found a precarious home in academe. For those of us who are unacademicized, there is only the internal exile of dismissiveness. One gets ones information through the Internet, and lets the drivel go.