30 January 2017

And So Will We Yet

There is a Scottish drinking song written by Walter Watson (1780-1854) that I have now twice heard sung by Gordon Bok, Ed Trickett and Anna Mayo Muir entitled (in the Scottish) “Sae Will We Yet.” As with most drinking songs the lyrics vary from tavern to tavern and drinker to drinker. In these times a few drinking songs seem an appropriate accompaniment. In the version by these three I don’t have the sense that “So Will We Yet” is so much a drinking song as it is one of hope. But maybe that is what drinking songs are all about anyway!
     I think we live in terrible times. Donald Trump’s presidency is but a little more than a week old and the clouds of fascism move swiftly across our horizons. I awaken daily with a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach—some call my obsession displacement and some projection—but me, I call what I see fascism and I know it doesn’t come anywhere from within me. This week’s edicts eliminated United States aid to countries who offered birth control and abortion advice to the poor and needy; saw the confirmation of the beginning of the band of thieves who will serve in the Trump cabinet; witnessed a Presidential aide threaten the free press using language obscene and dangerous and even unconstitutional; issuance of an executive order mandating the building of a wall along the southern border of the United States and the closing of all US borders to Muslims from seven mostly Muslim countries whose refugees would be seeking asylum from oppression. However, Christian minorities from those countries will be granted exception. I recall that such was not the case for Jews escaping the horrors of Nazi Germany. The Jews then were turned away. Trump has closed the country to Muslims; after the Muslims, a friend lamented, “the Jews will be next.” All of Trump’s appointees are either Christian, white males or both!
     And so I have turned to the drinking song for some comfort. I have always felt calmed by the voices of Bok, Muir and Trickett. I have often quoted their version of Sydney Carter’s song “Julian of Norwich:” there they sing “all shall be well I’m telling you/all will be well again I know.” Today I have my doubts. I have turned to another song . . . The trio’s version of the old Scottish drinking song is entitled “And So Will We Yet.” And in this reign of Trump I make their song my invitation.
Come sit down beside us and give us your chat
Let the wind take the cares of this life off your back
For our hearts to despondency we never will submit
We’ve always been provided for and so will we yet . . .
     Some of us have been lucky. We’ve always been provided for and had rooms in which to sing. Some of us have helped provide for others. We have marched and sung together.
Come lift up your voices so hardy or frail
Enlighten up your hearts and enliven the tale
We will always be the merrier the longer that we sit
We’ve sung together many a’time and so will we yet. . .
But I am no longer certain that so will we yet. Oh, I do not think I or my friends will ever become homeless or even poor, but I am concerned about the integrity and freedoms of the future and for the future of the children—and not only that of my own daughters. The government power structure loaded as it is with hateful Republicans is such that there is little hope for much relief from their selfish oppression, and the present actions seem to portend only further repressive and dangerous measures for the future. I think we have voted away our democracy and abandoned the albeit flawed but revolutionary ethical principles on which the country was founded. Now, a fool sits in the White House who gives evidence of little awareness of either ethics or democracy, and he has surrounded himself with incompetent jesters who seem to care less. There is evil about the land and it resides in the White House. I despair. I hear the voices of hope:
And a song for you singers who keep your voices clear
Good health to you and happiness to all that you hold dear
For the world aa you would have it be, you sing with all your wit
And ease the work of providence and so will we yet . . .
     I know there are others like me out there; for most of my life we have sat and drank because we have had to always struggle. We always knew, as Dylan taught us, that we could only wish in vain that to live simply in that room once again where issues of right and wrong and black and white were clear to us.  We accepted that we would have always to struggle, even sometimes to effect change against our own idealism. With all apologies to Esau, Trump and his gang have stolen our birth right and made a cruel mockery of our lives, our culture, our history, and our ethical grounding in the Constitution and civil sense.
     And so for comfort I share what is no longer a drinking song but a urgent wish and call to community:
So lift up your noble hearts with laughter and song
And may your days be brighter and your nights not so long
For your joys were welcome here as woes you would forget
And when you wept we wept with you and so will we yet.

25 January 2017

Even Worse Than It Appears

In “A Touch of Gray” the Grateful Dead sing,I know the rent is in arrears/The dog has not been fed in years/It's even worse than it appears/but it's all right.” But with not a week into the reign of Donald Trump I am not so sure that anything will be all right again for a very long time. We are all very worried. I think we know who 'we' are. Sometimes I get the sense that the gang of Republicans led by Trump are the Soprano gang sitting at the rear of Satriale’s establishment eating and drinking and discussing who they are going to kill next. So far Trump’s appointments to the cabinet are an unholy assembly of mostly white male billionaires (I think one doesn’t become a billionaire without engaging in a rather high degree of ruthlessness and reckless greed) who have thus far set out to destroy whatever future the unwealthy (and now disempowered) of us have come to enjoy. That includes affordable health care, an increasingly healthy and viable environment, a government that will protect the rights guaranteed in the Constitution—the basic freedoms declared in the Bill of Rights and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. These are all threatened by the heinous work of the Trump administration and the Republican Congress. I am sorry: I think they are bad people, very bad people, indeed.
            In Camus’ The Fall, the narrator, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, asks his companion at the bar, “Do you have possessions? Some? Good. Have you shared them with the poor? No? Then you are what I call a Sadducee.” The Sadducees were an early society of aristocrats. I do not think Clamence’s sobriquet is meant as a compliment. He admits that once he was a Sadducee but now possessed nothing.
            I am concerned. No, I am worried. I know enough about the Weimar Republic and the rise of fascism in Italy and National Socialism in Germany to recognize the actions of the Republican henchmen as antithetical to democracy and a clear threat to the freedoms we have come to enjoy and to expect. I read the news today, oh boy! There is nothing that does not increase my anxiety.

05 January 2017


In the recent London Review of Books, I read an entry in article by Alan Bennett that was entitled “Diary,” that describes hyperthymesia as “a rare medical condition defined as being marked by ‘unusual autobiographical remembering.”  I am amused by the notion that autobiographical remembering might be considered “a rare medical condition.” As myself a hypochondriac, I suffer from several rare and not so rare medical conditions, and am always interested in discovering a new potential malady from which I might now or in the near future suffer, but hyperthymesia can be found in neither Dictionary.com or in the Oxford English Dictionary. Alphabetically the latter moves from hypersthenia—extreme or morbid excitement of the vital powers—to hyperthesis—in philosophy the transposition or metathesis of a letter from a particular syllable to the preceding or following syllable (a definition I don’t understand since the example offered appears in Greek). There are numerous other hypers- listed in the dictionary but not hyperthymesia. I do, however, find hyperthymesia on Wikipedia. There I read that “American neurobiologists Elizabeth Parker, Larry Cahill, and James McGaugh (2006) identified two defining characteristics of hyperthymesia: spending an excessive amount of time thinking about one's past, and displaying an extraordinary ability to recall specific events from one's past.” Why either of these characteristics might be considered a medical condition mystifies me.
     The question I want to consider first concerns the identification of hyperthymesia as a rare medical condition? Of course, controversy surrounds the diagnosis, with some arguing against the actuality of the condition and merely ascribing the ability to remember so much to a . . . well, to good memory skills. To those who ascribe hyperthymesia as a rare medical condition, hyperthymesiacs, they seem to have little control over their stream of memories and hence, can’t focus (nor function capably) in the present. This might suggest that the flow of memories occurs without provocation, as an unbroken and interminable narration of past events occurring without particular stimulation. Personally, I find this difficult to accept. Outside of an isolation chamber exists a world and no one knows exactly what it is in the individual’s world that might provoke any one thought from rising to the surface of an ever-moving stream (I think here of Proust and his madeleines), though one can, I think, understand the motive for the appearance of any one particular thought,¾Proust redux. But then, as Joyce and Freud taught us, that thought exists in a stream flowing seemingly without effort but affected by the complexities of the speed, location and depths of the waters and by that which lays immediately and subterraneously below the surface and the conditions of the atmosphere that sits above it, all of which factors influence the movement of the stream and raise to the surface of the stream’s movement any number of seemingly random thoughts which complicate its movement further.
     I might suggest that hyperthymesia consists in the capacity to recognize one’s personal past in everything in the world. Every object perceived recalls an object relation and use. Perhaps that in many cases this would become a heavy burden but hardly a rare medical condition. Were every event or appearance of an object to call up a former (and yet still active) object relation and even use would involve constant reflection and recognition of the personal past in the present. I suppose in such a case nothing would ever seem new, and all forms of surprise would exist not in the appearance of any object but in the connection that object would stimulate in recall. Little would appear as what it actually is in the present but rather, all focus would be on what the object might mean and from where that meaning derives, and that would (for hyperthymesiacs and for everyone else) necessarily always be defined autobiographically. We see really only what is meaningful individually to each of us. The past would always be somewhat present, and for some might represent a heavier burden than for others. Hyperthymesiacs might not be physically slumped over by the weight (though carrying the weight on one’s shoulders is a common cliché for such occurrences) but she might appear a bit distracted much of the time. Not whimsical but abstracted. I have known such people. I have been such people.
     Perhaps the “cure” for this “rare medical condition” might be the learned ability to forget. But I wonder how the art of forgetting might be learned. Torah says that when the people are settled in the land they should blot out the memory of Amalek and what he did to them on their journey out of Egypt, but then Torah immediately after cautions “Do not forget.” Does Torah mean do not forget to remember or do not forget to blot the memory which requires remembering. Perhaps hyperthymesia derives from Deuteronomy. This remembering and forgetting is a complex relationship. How to know what to remember and what to forget seems to me an impossible but common condition from which we all suffer.