26 July 2015

Namaste

I sweated profusely tonight during my hour of Yoga practice though I felt rather strong throughout—my downward facing dog was respectable and I executed the unfamiliar (to me!) starfish passably. Of course, no matter what pose I take I never look like the 30- something young women whose knees don’t bend when the knees are not supposed to bend, whose forward fold from the divides the body exactly into upper and lower halves; and their Warrior Two poses does honor to the warriors who give their name to the pose. This is not to mention the grace in their flip-dogs and chadarangas.
            But at least during the hour’s practice I didn’t have the absolute need to fall into child’s pose as some kind of surrender. I maintained consistently by postures, well, for the most part, dropping only occasionally onto one knee when my upper torso wouldn’t (and couldn’t) sustain the weight. But I always the hour’s practice leave standing just a bit straighter.

            Anyway, as I said, tonight’s yoga caused me to sweat and my shirt became wet, and I thought to myself, well, I don’t care because outside the weather remains above 80 degrees and I will not chill. And then, as if a heavy gray cloud passed before sun I felt a shadow cross my consciousness and a sudden heaviness weigh down through my body. It was the hint that soon when I left practice the night would have fallen, the weather would have turned cold, and I would have need first of a jacket and then a sweatshirt and jacket to keep away the chill. I do not like the change to winter, but I love the cycle of seasons. Summer heat takes on a different tone when it followed by winter cold. This is what Thoreau used to organize Walden: the natural and wonderful passage of the seasons.

19 July 2015

Mendacities, Mendacities, Cowardly Mendacities

I am this morning reminded of the blatant hypocrisy that those engaged in partisan politics practice. Apparently Donald Trump has called into question the heroism of John McCain, calling him “not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Mr. Trump did not serve in the war, having received multiple deferments including one for a bone spur on a soon to be named foot. Of course,he was never captured, and the only shots fired at him were from a camera. Mr. McCain, a naval aviator, was shot down during the Vietnam War and been held prisoner in Hanoi and over five years suffered brutal and inhumane treatment in captivity. Some of the Republican candidates have castigated Trump for his disparaging remarks, though not all have sufficiently distanced themselves from the inanity of Trump’s remarks. For example, though Ted Cruz supported the claim that McCain was a war hero he refused to say anything negative about Trump after the latter’s slander.
            I am interestingly reminded of the campaign to impugn John Kerry’s reputation as a war hero during the 2004 Presidential campaign, when the swift boat controversy called into question the actions of then candidate John Kerry. The Republicans remained remarkably silent regarding the accusation, and used the charge to continue to undermine the character of John Kerry. I remember thinking at the time: perhaps Kerry was not as heroic as the reports seemed to claim, but unlike George Bush, Kerry’s opponent in the election, at least Kerry was in Vietnam and had not purchased his way out of service by high-placed privileged government connections.
            The moral character of the Republican Party has veritably disappeared. Lincoln would hang his head in shame to be associated with the bunch of dissolute, dishonest bunch of stony-hearted ignoramuses. To share ranks with the Republicans today is to align oneself with hypocrisy, with stupidity, with a blatant selfishness and cruel callousness to the increasing hardships of others—a hardship exacerbated by the stubborn Republican leadership. That the Republicans are not ashamed of themselves is all the more reason to condemn their unethical stances in the world. They are a miserable bunch.

09 July 2015

Sanity still


In George Eliot’s Middlemarch Mrs. Cadwallader urges Dorothea, now a widow, not to stay alone in the house at Lowick. Having devoted her life to the dry, esoteric studies of her husband, Mr. Casaubon, Dorothea is left at his death seemingly without purpose. Of course, over the eighteen or so months of her marriage Dorothea has become disillusioned with her husband’s obsessive, unfinishable and useless study in which he attempted to unify all of the world’s myths: he is researching and writing the Key to All Mythologies. Just twenty-one years old, Dorothea has married a man who lacks all passion and is more than twice her age. As she closes his affairs, she encloses Casaubon’s cheat-sheet, a “Synoptical Tabulation for the use of Mrs. Casaubon” into an envelope with a note that reads, “I could not use it. Do you not see now that I could not submit my soul to yours by working hopelessly at what I have no belief in?” Her marriage is lifeless if not also loveless. For the sake of an intended higher purpose—an idealism that could ever be realized—Dorothea has sacrificed her life.
            At Casaubon’s death and after a suitable period of mourning during which she resided at her uncle’s home, Dorothea returned to Lowick where she intended to live a solitary life engaged in various liberal and progressive social programs in the environs of Middlemarch that will improve the lives of the more needy workers. Hers is a noble purpose. And I think that no one in Middlemarch criticizes her intent.
            But Mrs. Cadwallader cautions Dorothea: “You will certainly go mad in this house alone, my dear. We have all got to exert ourselves to keep sane, and call things by the same names as other people call them by.” I find this interesting advice, given my interest in sanity and insanity. On the one hand, Mrs. Cadwallader acknowledges that staying sane requires effort, and that perhaps it is our natural inclination not to name things by the same names as do others. Mrs. Cadwallader might be suggesting that it is normal to be insane, and that sanity often represents a deprivation and distortion of our basic humanity. Thus, as D.W. Winnicott says, “We are poor indeed if we are only sane.” Adam Phillips acknowledges that we get a glimpse of the behavior our sanity suppresses if we examine the actions of children: that is, what adults feel is mad is normal for the child. Or in our attitudes towards sex: “If it is sane to abide by the rules . . . then sex becomes a form of madness.” In sex to be sane is to sacrifice desire for duty! Indeed, says, Phillips, “Sanity, as the project of keeping ourselves recognizably human, therefore has to limit the range of human experience.” Autistic and schizophrenic people pay no attention to what the world demands of them despite our insistence that they conform.
            But it might be true that to live in the world with others requires that we appear sane. And sanity would mean to adapt the strategies of madness as psychological tools when they are deemed necessary. Polonius says of Hamlet’s talk, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” And Polonius admits that in his ‘madness’ Hamlet can say things that ‘reason and sanity’ could not so prosperously be delivered of.” Insanity has its freedom and benefits.
            Dorothea Casaubon opts for insanity. She answers Mrs. Cadwallader, “I never called everything by the same name that all the people about me did.” In the words of an earlier bard, Dorothea has marched to the beat of a different drummer. However, her refusal to call anything by the same name as the people about her (who all had spoken against her engagement and marriage to Casaubon) led her to follow what she took as her desire into a passionless and unhappy marriage to Casaubon. And so Mrs. Cadwallader answers, “But I suppose you have found out your mistake, my dear, and that is the proof of sanity.” And Dorothea answers that no, indeed, that to call things by names different than the people about her might reflect her sanity, since, she says, “the greater part of the world has often had to come round from its opinion.” Hers is a noble sentiment, though I doubt its accuracy. But I think that Dorothea speaks to a deeper sanity than is meant by our common perspective on the state. Sometimes that deeper sanity appears to others as insane, but in their sanity they are mistaken.
            Maybe safety is to be wished for but not always sought.

02 July 2015

Political Thoughts

In the London Review of Books (18 June 2015) Christopher Lehman writes of the Republican so-called candidates: “Of the dozen or so people who have declared or are thought likely to declare, everyone can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.” He speaks particularly of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham and Scott Walker. If it weren’t too true it would be too funny! So much hubris, so much presumption suggests that somewhere and somehow hidden intentions abound. There has to be some motive for displaying incompetence so prominently. I find it hard to imagine so much idiocy so unabashedly and publically displayed without there first being some sinister motive developed by some Republican politico-strategist. I’m guessing that there must be some grand intention that would explain the entrance of so many remarkably unremarkable, unqualified Republican candidates into the race for the Presidential nomination. I am thinking that it was the 1962 New York Mets when last a similar bunch of amateur incompetents were assembled as is now grouped under the Republican banner of candidates for President of the United States. I acknowledge, however, that the well meaningness of the former far exceeds that of the latter.
     And in this week’s New York Times I read that Chris Christie has joined the fray. I am not heartened by his entrance and continue to suspect some ulterior motive to the growing list of candidates, though what the ultimate strategy might be I cannot imagine. The article suggests that “Mr. Christie, whose rapid rise as a national Republican in his first term was matched only by his spectacular loss of stature at home in his second, enters the 2016 presidential race bearing little resemblance to the candidate he once expected to be.
The economic recovery he promised has turned into a cascade of ugly credit downgrades and anemic job growth. The state pension he vowed to fix has descended into a morass of missed payments and lawsuits. The administration he pledged would be a paragon of ethics has instead conspired to mire an entire town in traffic and the governor’s office in scandal.” I wonder how a man so described could presume to think himself competent to become the President of the United States. Christie must be blind to his failures, or he wondrously re-inscribes his failures as achievements, or he assigns the responsibility for these debacles onto others in his administration. In any of these cases, I remain dubious of the man’s ethics.
     And so with all of these incompetents declaring their interest in becoming President, I have to assume that there is an overall strategy that has been developed by some mastermind in the Republican Party that might explain this plethora of putridity (a phrase that reminds me of the best pronouncements of another illustrious Republican, Spiro Agnew, to whom we owe such insightful rhetorical expressions as “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “effete corps of intellectual snobs”). In his article Lehman suggests that the entrance of Donald Trump into the race “can make anyone in his general vicinity look good,” and so is justified Trump’s announced candidacy this past week, and so is reinforced my suspicion of some Republican strategist’s grand design.
     And finally, that Chief Justice Roberts permits Justice Scalia to speak as disrespectfully of his colleagues as he does gives some insight into the presumption of the Republican candidates for the Presidency, and continues to terrify me that any one of them might succeed. 

29 June 2015

Oh frabjous joy, Calloo Callay!


I had forgotten.
     For a number of years on the last day of school my dear friend and colleague in the English Department would celebrate the completion of another year. I would head out on my Trek bicycle to Long Island from my domicile in New York City, and he would travel identically from the opposite direction. Both of us commuted via a somewhat busy Northern Boulevard. We would arrange to meet at bout 7:00am in a lovely shady park not far from school where we would sit at a picnic table and share a bottle of champagne and a moderate quantity of marijuana. Finishing the bottle and the joints, we would bicycle to school, arriving on time at approximately 8:00am, clean out our desks, have our sign-out forms appropriately signed by the designated administrator, and then by no later than noon, we would pick up our final checks, exit the school, climb up on our bicycles, and head back on Northern Boulevard to his home On Long Island for a somewhat debauched (but domestic and domesticated) weekend of merriment.  On Sunday morning I would awaken, have a great breakfast, and then peddle my bicycle back to the City where I would arrive after about three or four hours cycling. This annual event marked the beginning of summer!
     Eventually, I moved to a new school and then to a new state, and the summer inaugural ritual ceased to happen.
     This past weekend, however, I was visiting my mother who lives in an assisted living facility, and after many years of absence, Larry and I were able to coordinate an afternoon visit. I took the Long Island Railroad out to his home; he picked me up at the train station, and we drove to a lovely restaurant where we sat on the terrace and enjoyed a superb meal and wonderful conversation. I was drinking my second glass of Pinot Grigiot when Larry calmly said, “You know, today is the last day of school!” Oh my goodness! Here we had been separated physically and even sometimes even emotionally by many years and countless events; we lived half a continent apart;and at the moment enjoyed completely different existences, but here we were on the last day of schools celebrating again and still our lives and our friendship.
     No lesson here. Only the experience of transcendent joy.