Changing Temples Pt. 21 What Condition Our Condition

“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”
Kenny Rodgers and the First Edition
with Glen Campbell on Guitar. 1968

I like to think that it is some form of artistic sensibility in operation, but I have always had what can only charitably be described as an over-active . . . . .. Ah! how I would love to probe your mind to see what word(s) you might use to fill in that blank. Whether because you know me (too well) or you have a sense of the human condition, if you guessed “libido” you would have been wrong (though that is also certainly true). No, my fill-in was fantasy life. Is there a difference?

If truth be told, I have had to constantly (and I can count decades of such constancy) reign and constrain. Keeping a “present mind” has always been a great challenge – greater than my capacities, but, like the Light Brigade, I keep charging into the the canon fire of reality. Seemingly vast sections of the “self-help” section of any real or ether book store are aimed at present mind, in one form or another. I’ve done my fair share of sampling over the years. I am a New Age Sensitivity Training survivor.

With the “use by” date rather visibly imprinted on my particular corporeal package, I sometimes feel that I will have it all well figured out on the day I die, for I certainly have not demonstrated such comprehension to date – no matter how often I’ve been reminded or recognized the perishability of the contents of that package.

So here I sit in ancient, or is it modern, Istria watching as Romans or is it Venetians or Croats walk by. They and many others have walked this street over the ages. The human parade is what I fantasize walks along these streets, the composition of which makes one entirely unsure which age he is observing. I do not abide by the conception that humans have changed over the last . . . well, how long do you think humans have retained the characteristics we see – like fantasizing? Let me be blunt, my unapologetic bias is that technological change can be a very specious indicator of change in the fundamental nature of the human condition – that condition which operates from the inside out.

One of my favorite indicators of this abiding condition, that I cannot be sure whether I watch 1st. C. Romans, 17th. C. Venetians, or 21st. C. Croats, comes from an Ancient Greek named Hesoid (who lived sometime between 750-650 BC, about the same generation as Homer). He said: “The dilatory man is always suffering calamities”. I first found this reference in Michele Montaigne, who cited it to show it was certainly an active human attribute in the late 1500’s when he was writing his famous Essays. So, some 2700 years after Hesiod, some 425 years after Montaigne, what is not true about that insight into the human condition? What could be more true of that parade than that we continue to manifest that same characteristic some 2700 years later?

Somewhere in our ancient past we became this conscious being, this compilation of more than just instinct but a being of compiled faculties: projection, reflection, contemplation, communication, fantasy – all constructed or interwoven so as to satisfy wants and desires that transcend the mere organic implementation of skills to survive and perpetuate – how else can Art, for one, be explained? Are not the human wants and desires we see in the Pageant not merely fantasy in different guises?

We now have some verifiable, identifiable thousands of years of in kind variations of individuals walking in the parade: Theseus and his 13 companions marching into the city of Minos for his rendezvous with the Minotaur, Odysseus walking into the welcoming arms of the Phaeacians offering their boat for the last leg of his journey home, Aeneas marching into Latium to be wooed by two fighting groups – descendants of Troy and descendants of “those who several generations before had descended from the trees” – and in choosing would bring about the transformation that would become the great Roman Empire, the Gallic prisoners of Caesar walking behind him in his Triumph in Rome (a uniquely special parade only decreed/allowed by the Roman Senate for great victories – but accompanied, as was the tradition, by a man standing behind him in his chariot whose responsibility was to whisper in his ear “remember, you are mortal”), or Wayne marching on Denver in protest of war: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh”, “Hell no we won’t go”. Each of these was fantasy trying to interweave with reality.

Our universal, human parade is one of fantasizing about our obligation to end the scourge of the Minotaur, to never forget the importance of home and hearth, to recognize the necessity of escape from Troy, to acquire the power of Caesar, to end a wrong headed war. Our condition is to incorporate fantasy into intention. We imaginatively conceptualize. We create a digestible mix of fantasy, obligation, responsibility. I would add that the very oldest of records or rememberant myth show that in every culture our condition is to dose ourselves with any substance capable of disguising for a brief moment the vast indifference of Nature to the fantasies we began to weave when we wake up the next morning. Consequently, perhaps the hardest fantasy of all is acceptance that the parade will go on without us. It is perhaps that fantasy which is part of the very condition when seeks to bring a sober depth to our attempts at making this life significant.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 16 – How ARE You?

“So get the scrivener part of you activated again and tell me clearly –
not poetically – how you are.”
R.E.

I knew intellectually over the years that the characters in fiction were often alter egos of the scrivener – ‘The Portrait of The Artist As a Young Man’, James Joyce, always, always comes immediately to mind. Goodness how my best friend and I loved that book in our poetic, college years. We WERE that young man; we were captured within character. There is hardly a review of that book where the reviewer doesn’t attempt to convince that Joyce was that character. In fact, you can hardly read a review of any fictional work where there isn’t one or another attenuated attempt to show the author is the character.

As a long time writer of poetry, I acknowledge the relative obscurity of alter ego character hidden within the rhythm and the rhyme. To tell clearly “how one is” does not necessarily require the scrivener’s art of prose, but prose makes it a hell of a lot easier for the reader to ferret out the gophers of personality and spirit from those deep word holes in which they lodge.

Ah yes, how difficult it is to find true, real descriptors of the state of one’s heart and soul – even a scrivener’s deep word holes can be, as they say in the West, a dry hole. The real point, despite all these current lapses into poetics, is that the telling and describing of the state of one’s being (“how ARE you?”), clearly – not poetically, goes straight to the heart of vulnerability. It is a task fraught with the terrible truth of neediness, desire, frustration, immaturity, and, most critical of all, a too bright light shed upon the very reason writers create fictional characters – so that they can parade without hesitation those marching bands of discordancy, those clowns of childish needs, those floating representations of idealism, romanticism, and unobtainable or frustrated desires: pretty girls, tantalizing bosoms that modern costume has so graciously gifted to the male of the species, yachts, 1928 Mercedes Benz SSK Roadsters, Palazzos on the Grande Canale, a U.S. Senator’s seat, Granite Park Chalet at my personal disposal, etc, etc. (I’m sure you can fill in your own personal life-blanks quite nicely.)

I cannot tell others how I am without poetics. I lack the courage. I lack the cover of fiction, that gauzy curtain that allows suspension of disbelief – for I want those I know to believe in me, to believe in that part of me that is good and whole and kind and good humored and normal. After all, what real benefit is there in baring those aspects of personal being that are not the better angels of my nature? For, without a more than adequate suspension of disbelief, that other part of me, that bareness of soul, of how I am (and who I am) would, I fear – and I think all fiction writers fear – lead to condemnation, distancing, complacent bemusement, and a cleverly disguised demeanor of pity.

Oh, I know the endless litany about “those who love you” would accept you; such sureness in that contention. A sureness around which my skepticism swirls; a skepticism that has some powerful history of several thousand years of writers who are also skeptical and who created characters to reveal that which must have the distancing of the comedic, the tragic, and the narrative epic. In other words, are we so truly accepting of the stark naked homo sapiens sapiens – especially a skinny one? 🙂 “Yet, even so, he was very, very unwilling that any other eye should see him naked, see him exposed as a helpless tormented lover, a nympholept furiously longing for what was beyond his reach” Patrick O’Brien, ‘The Fortunes of War’.

Carl Jung said – and forgive me for not having precision here, but I have his deep intent, that I know – “True adult maturity is when we give up the things of the child”. “Things” are, of course, exceptionally universal: desires, wants, needs, hopes, despairs, frustrations, deep longings, deep angers and, especially, deep hurts – I like to describe it with a wonderful metaphor. Each of those (desires, wants, needs, hurts . . . ) is a barnacle that has fastened itself to our ship of being. As such, the accumulation, and God knows how much accumulation of barnacles I have, impedes passage through this life. Impedes in ways that can be so obscure to our own understanding, our own consciousness, that we have, as Jung would say, character aberrations, personality flaws, psychic maladjustments that further again impede us – the damn barnacles reproduce! And prolifically!

How am I? Well, impeded with all of that and more. Does anyone outside the self really want to view such stark nakedness? What is the value? I know, there is said to be therapy in self-revelation (“At times it seemed to him that candour was as essential as food or affection”. Patrick O’Brien, ‘Fortunes of War’), but, hell, that presumes so much, so very much.

Want to know how I am? I am sad that that ultimate harbor we call death is now just around the headland, and I can neither let go of the things of the child nor live contentedly with them, Zen models notwithstanding. Ah yes, impediments, what else is new in the human condition?

For aren’t we all deeply comedic in our weak neediness? Aren’t we all deeply tragic in our universal desire to have everything of the child satisfied, every whim of the child gratified. We have acculturated ourselves to accept denial, we have adopted that thin veneer of civilized acceptance of responsible behavior, but we want, oh how we want! Well, I think what we want is that others do not see such want; that damn pacifier hanging out of the mouth of a 64 year old is not a pretty sight. So, in response to “how ARE you”, you get acculturated application of veneer. I may be doing us both a favor.

R.E., I cannot tell you how I am without poetics. If there is the Great American Novel in everyone, then perhaps I will find those characters that, in composite, tell you how I am. In the mean time be patient with that altogether strange, barnacle impeded course I chart through life. And continue to ask, please, for, who knows, I may find a dry dock and clean the hull sufficiently enough that I can tell you truly how I am. I tend to think that will certainly happen but only in that particular dry dock which lies in that “undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn no traveller returns”.

Continued . . .