24 June 2008

Getting Lost

Thoreau said that it is very easy to get lost in this world: you have only to close your eyes and turn around once. What with modern GPS systems, it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to get lost in this world. I was in a taxi cab this morning equipped with one of those sophisticated gadgets, and it plotted not only our exact position minute by minute and inch by inch, but it would, if I cared to also lead me street by street to the nearest ATM machine, Bank or Burger King. If I desired, this machine could direct me in a very polite tone of voice anywhere I desired to go, and might even make inquiry regarding the health of my particular family members.

For years I have advocated the notion of lostness for the schools; I wonder now what it means that it is now so difficult to get lost in the social world. What has been lost?

21 June 2008

Other People's Birthdays

Other people’s birthdays mark time better than my own seem to do. My oldest daughter finished her first nineteen years today, and I am feeling my age in a way I do not experience with the coming and goings of my own birthdays. Today, on her birthday, I feel old. Perhaps it is because as my children grow into their lives, they grow out of mine, and I think that in my obsessiveness with their lives, I neglected to build the life that I could inhabit when their lives moved away from my sphere of influence. Sometimes I feel like the skin left behind at the snake’s molting. Whereas for years my days and moments were filled with the children, now the children have their own days and moments to fill, and rightfully so, it must be done without me and outside of me. Hopefully, I am part of their lives, but I should not be present in it. I am become cliché: as my children need me less and less, I seem to have less to do. Over the years, I neglected to have a life for myself which I could cultivate sans the children: an adult life in which my fatherhood played only a supporting role, and my other capacities had the lead parts. Another image: I seem to lack now the knowledge I would need to play first violin after sitting for so many years in the second position. I would like to play melody in the orchestra, but I have not cultivated these skills lately. I thought I was too busy to do it; I thought I was not permitted to do so. I thought that the two roles were mutually exclusive.

And now I find that I have a great need to reinvent myself, and though my personal resources may be rich, I have to write a new script with new entrances and exits and all sorts of twists of plot.

Happy Birthday, dear daughter.

13 June 2008

Oil On Them Thar Hill!

I am amused by the logic of the Republicans who defeated a bill which would have imposed taxes on the oil companies who have reaped hundreds of billions of dollars in windfall profits during this recent rise of gas prices. The argument I heard from the Minority Leader (whose name is best forgotten, and has been!) went something like this: Yes, oil prices have been rising, and yes, the oil companies are making huge profits, and yes, we do get our gasoline from the oil companies, but no, taxing them won’t bring the price of gas down, so why tax the oil companies? If I had better studied logic I would have a word for that error in logic, but I prefer in my ignorance to just call it stupid. But maybe if some of the profits were taxed, we might be able to afford to support development of better public transportation which might reduce the demand for oil which might . . . well, the logic here is clear.

And anyway, if the price of oil is rising so dramatically by the barrel, then it must be that the oil companies are spending more to get their supplies. I am wondering how it is that they are making so much money; could it be that they are gouging the American public? And is that alright with the Republicans? I suppose it will be as long as Georgie Porgie and Sureshot Cheney have stock in the oil companies. May they have a restive retirement.

09 June 2008


There is never nothing about which to write, but there is always the concern about an audience’s interest in what I might have to say. And so I’ve been thinking about Eastern philosophy which teaches that everything is ego. Because everything I write assumes an audience which I pretend had need for what I have to say. And if I think that then it is my ego which wants fulfillment. If I think of the audience, I should be, I suppose, so awed that I could do little but listen! I wouldn’t write. But my ego insists that my voice must be heard. It is ego that speaks and not necessarily wisdom. Which seems to me now a very humbling position for a writer.

And the same goes for speaking engagements. How do speakers think about audience when they organize presentations. This interests me because as a teacher I struggle with audiences every single day, and on a pretty regular basis, experience failure communicating with them. Of course, not for lack of trying, but for lack of thinking. Ego, again. So these monasteries which demand silence help jettison ego.

How do we then decide when to speak? How do we trust that ego to break the silence?

We need to listen very carefully, but we must respond to what we hear. Abandoning ego seems to abandon action, and there are things we must do: care for the orphan, the widow and the stranger in our midst. But we ought also to consider carefully that when we speak it is to someone, and it is a violence not to consider the hearer.

And of course, when the writer knows there is an audience, there is the desire to continue to address that audience so as not to be alone.
So this blog is becoming easier and more difficult to write; so much to say and so much ego to silence.

04 June 2008

Second Dates

I have a date this evening with the first girl I ever took on a date, back there when we were in ninth grade. I’m assuming she liked me and had a good enough time to chance another such event! Then, my father drove a gray Chevrolet station wagon; I guess he was the chaperone. Tonight, she’s bringing her husband and two grown children.

If you’ve been following, over the past several years my past has pursued me, and I have a) refused to attend a class reunion (2006); b) traveled to Italy to meet with a high school girl friend (2007); c) chose to attend a reunion of the boys with whom I was friends in high school (2007); and, d) now, (2008), am having dinner with my first ever date. And I can’t even remember of what that first ever date consisted. (I was listening still to Dylan on this morning’s run: he sings, “I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from!)

It is an interesting phenomenon that until the past several years, I thought almost not at all about high school, except perhaps, for some of the teachers there, and about whom I wrote in several of my books. But my formative memories—the memories which form my conception of myself—began with my final year or two in college, in 1968-9, when the world to me and for me changed. Now, when I think of high school I have to recall that it took place pre-1968 and 1969, and that those people don’t know what happened to me then and subsequently what has occurred based in then. For me, it is a great psychological leap to imagine me then, and even more effort is required to know them now. But there is something about these meetings which gives my life an interesting symmetry. It really isn’t a straight line at all!

01 June 2008

Love and Hate

D.W. Winnicott argues that the developing child requires a good enough parent who cannot be destroyed by that child. I think what he means is this: as long as the child feels s/he has complete control over an object, and that it can be made to appear and disappear at the child’s will, then the child learns no sense of a world outside; with the world subject to the child’s will, the world is not separate from the child. Not being separate from the child, there is nothing to be done with the object: the object is the child. However, an object that is not the child can be played with, made into something else, and used creatively. The object must have enough integrity not to be whatever the child wishes it to be. The broom must remain a broom in order to be my child’s horse. And as long as it is not capable of being destroyed by the child, the object belongs to the world and can be continually, repeatedly and creatively used. If, however, the child can destroy the object, then the object belongs not to the world, but to the child, and can’t be used.

The good enough parent must be able to be used and not destroyed.

At the same time, Winnicott talks about hate in the countertransference. Sometimes, the analyst hates the analysand, and then what? And here is what I think I understand: Winnicott, it is told, took in a foster child who was particularly difficult. And when the child acted out in unacceptable ways—angering Winnicott—he would take the child and place him outside the door. And he would tell the child that whenever he wanted to come back in, he should ring the bell and he would be readmitted without qualification and without question.

By putting the child out of the door, Winnicott was expressing his hate for the child, but the unequivocal acceptance in permitting absolute re-entry expressed unqualified love. Paradoxically, he couldn’t express the love without the hate.

All this thinking about my children.