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.

26 June 2015

Mea Culpa

I am not poor. I am not wealthy. But I have been fortunate to have earned enough money to be able to purchase whatever it is that I really want. I am fortunate: I don’t desire very much. Years ago, when the New York lottery had just started I told my brother that if I won the jackpot all I would do with the money was to go into Sam Goody Music Store (I do not think the chain exists still) and buy whatever vinyl records I wanted; and then I would put the rest of the money in the bank. It was a silly desire, but at the time it was honest. I had a nice place to live; enough food to eat; a wonderful job; and no thought of retirement or long-term care. I had become a vegetarian and high priced meals were not necessary—or even for the most available—and I was even then a hippie and so my wardrobe tended toward the simple: carpenter jeans purchased at Canal Jeans (now Bloomingdale’s on Lower Broadway). My only flair was scarves I had purchased in Paris one summer. I was content.
     I am not poor though I have aged. I earn enough money to purchase whatever it is that I really want. I am fortunate: I don’t desire very much. And I listen to web radio and no longer own a turntable: all my vinyl sit unplayed (even unplayable) in crates and all of my cds lay in cabinets against the wall gathering for the most part dust. I have a nice place to live; enough food to eat; a wonderful job that the governor assaults with his idiocy; and though I do not plan on retirement now, I do consider the possibility and I think occasionally about the necessity of long-term care. I am still a vegetarian, and though there are far more opportunities for food fare out in the world, I turn most often to pasta, various flavors of veggie burgers, and a great deal of grilled cheese. I often forgo (unhappily) the French fries, but my metabolism and exercise regimen has slowed. I am content.
     But I passed homes today in Connecticut that represented wealth beyond my imagination, and I felt resentment at the privilege these houses represented. Many were gated, beautifully maintained—I suspect often by illegal immigrants—and expansive that bespoke families comprised of a dozen or so members but most probably normal households comprised of a set of parents and 2.4 children. I guess I think it obscene the wealth that these houses represent when I know the vast poverty in which too many children live, and I know that those children’s lives enjoy none of the privilege that exists in those enormous homes.
     And aren’t I a hypocrite to condemn the wealth I see out of my rented car window when I began this piece by asserting I have all I desire. It is middle-class guilt I experience: I can’t be Che Guevara and so I take the more easy path: irony, critique, and left wing politics at the voting booth.

17 June 2015

From frustration to creativity through transitional phenomena

These transitional moments are not easy for me.
            D.W. Winnicott talks about transitional phenomena. Perhaps he thinks of what I am calling here transitional moments as ‘phenomena’ and therefore, as transitional. I am speaking of the graduation of my older daughter from her master’s program at the University of Chicago School of Social Administration as earlier I spoke of my experience of my daughter’s 21st birthday. My daughter’s graduation demands a change in my understanding of who I am in the world and what the world may be for me now. I am in a transitional moment: I am in an area of transitional phenomena.
            For Winnicott the transition to a balanced, creative life was that which occurred in the ‘movement’ from the wholly subjective world over which the subject has complete control to that ‘reality’ that is objectively perceived and that does not satisfy the child’s sense of omnipotence. Transitional phenomena are those areas that are permitted to the infant (by good enough parents) between primary creativity--when the infant ‘creates’ the world she needs--and the objective world. Transitional phenomena are those intermediate areas of experience between what Winnicott claims the infant is ‘allowed”--“the substance of illusion” and an external reality. The good enough parent offers the child the illusion that there is an external reality that corresponds exactly to the infant’s own capacity to create: in these moments for the infant the world exists wholly by the child’s creation. When the child cries the breast automatically appears as if the child had created the breast—imagined it into being; the breast appeared exactly at the moment that the child imagined it. Of course, the infant does not know it is the breast it would create, but it does know that the world met her exact need at the precise moment that she expressed that need. With good enough parents whatever the child desires immediately appears: there is no difference between the infant’s imagination and reality.
            Transitional phenomena, then, are activities in which the infant engages with the environment during the moments when the good enough parent doesn’t immediately respond to the infant’s needs. These phenomena are linked to “thinking, or fantasying” on the part of the infant because these phenomena represent experiences of early relinquishment of omnipotence over the object (the ‘breast’) and the beginnings of the child’s relationship with the external world. This external world begins to exist in the experience of external phenomena.  Some would refer to this experience as one of frustration, a subject about which I posted recently. Winnicott sees these experiences in a less negative light. For Winnicott, these are moments when the child begins to ‘think’ or to engage in productive fantasy: the child acknowledges the existence of the external world that can be used but not wholly controlled nor destroyed. The child learns to use the external reality to fulfill desire. In the adult—because the existence of transitional phenomena do not disappear with childhood but continue (hopefully) throughout life, transitional phenomena are experienced in the production of art, in the experience of religion. Transitional phenomena are areas wehre occur the experience of “imaginative living and creative scientific works.” Transitional phenomena occur over the entire range of living¾over the entire cultural field. That is, transitional phenomena occur everywhere as the organism grows (and matures), and the negotiation the subject makes between her internal and external reality occurs in creative productions. The failure of the transition would lead, I suppose to either forms of schizophrenia or totalitarianism.
            One learns reality by becoming disillusioned with her sense of omnipotence, but one learns creativity in that experience of disillusionment.  The child learns that her capacity to control the appearance and purpose of the world is not absolute. In the potential space that exists between the wholly internal and the wholly external reality exists as transitional phenomena. It is the function of the good enough parent to disillusion the child, but one can’t be disillusioned without first possessing the illusion. We enter reality when we attempt to destroy the object and it survives. So perhaps I consider that the independence of the child in this transitional moment cum transitional phenomenon leads to the production of this blog piece--to some experience of creativity. The loss of my sense of omnipotence (an obvious and immature regression) transforms into my creative power.  My children have defeated me! I thrive.

05 June 2015

On Frustration

This statement is in my journal, with even a page reference, but I don’t know exactly from whom the thought derives. But on page 19 from what might be Adam Phillips’ Missing Out, I read the following: “We never  . . . recover from our first fake solution to feeling frustrated.” I am intrigued. Now, I think that frustration might derive from a voiding of a demand that one makes on oneself. That is, we will something and the world does not respond according to our desire and what we ‘will’ is not realized. What we want to occur does not happen. To be frustrated is to experience a repudiation of our will. The OED defines will (in part) as a desire to do something . . . the idea of the will doesn’t include the power or the opportunity to effect any specific action. The will responds, I think, to desire and can lead to action, though it need not necessarily provoke any action at all. In fact, to be frustrated then is to exercise the will and in that demand to demand that the world accord with my wishes but not to get what we want from the world. I respond to the refusal with what is termed ‘frustration.’ We act and do not get the results we want, or we do not act and the world disturbs us nonetheless. But since I want the world to move according to my will, then when my will fails then I become frustrated; frustration occurs when I would change the world to suit my wishes but the world refuses my wishes. To experience frustration is to resist change. 
          So to return to Phillips: he suggests that we actually invent strategies to deal with our earliest frustration, and that we never quite get over those early solutions. This sounds a bit like Freud’s repetition compulsion: the attempt to repeat an event or the circumstances surrounding an event perhaps in order to gain some control over it or an attempt to remain in stasis. The exercise of a repetition compulsion seems to be the attempt to keep trying to make happen what failed originally or what succeeded so well th. Thus, to avoid frustration—an inevitability in our modern times when the roles that we fill are so contradictory and we cannot with any consistency fulfill those roles—we address not the present circumstances but those of our first experience of frustration and the strategies we then devised to deal with our feelings. And there seems to be two problems here: the first is that the first strategy was a phony attempt at the outset. We are doomed for the most part to the denial of our will. The second problem regarding the use of original strategies (false though they may even have been) is that since that first event everything has changed and what might have seemed to work then can only fail now in these altered circumstances. We experience frustration.
          But, I wonder, if a strategy seemed to have worked then, doesn’t that suggest that the strategy worked and that the frustration was relieved? Not exactly. Just because the strategy seemed to have then worked does not mean that the provocation for frustration was removed. Like self-medication, the fake solution obscured the root cause of the frustration; we probably never get over this first fake solution because it seemed to have worked—and Phillips likes this to the idea of addiction, the exercise of which obviates the necessity for change by masking the stimulus for change.
          But Phillips does assert that disillusionment--the experience of frustration--might lead the tolerant individual to reality, because when one doesn’t get what one wants, either one creates an unrealizable ideal, a subject who always gets what she wants; or the subject must approach reality that will always lead to an experience of frustration. In the former, the end result is remarkably spoiled individual with absolutely no tolerance for or with others; in the latter situation yields a pragmatic, even stoic remarkably liberal person. Thus, frustration seems inevitable, even necessary to lead us to reality.