I Can’t Keep Blaming Mr. Hitler

True, Hitler did send columns of determined men with guns to conquer areas where my family in Europe lived, followed by special squads of “ideological” specialists who worked with desperate, angry locals to kill everyone in my family (and their ilk) left in Europe.   Not a bit nice, as my grandmother Yetta used to say about people who did awful things.   She herself had six siblings (every brother and sister she had) and her two parents murdered, by local Ukrainians, granted, but at the behest of specialized men who took an oath of personal loyalty to Mr. Hitler and did everything he told them to do. [1]     

I tend to think regularly of the outsized influence this conceited little puke had on my family, by killing virtually all of them — and then I think– you know, it all took place thirteen years before I was even born.    There are, after all, two sides, at least, to every story, plus all that nuance.   Maybe I am just being a melodramatic little bastard by continuing to make a big deal about this Hitler business, blaming that long-dead extremist demagogue for things that had nothing whatsoever to do with him.

I mean, people in my small family here, people I actually knew well, hated each other– having nothing whatsoever to do with Adolf Fucking Hitler.   A pair of half-siblings, my father’s first cousins, didn’t exchange a word for the last thirty years or more of their long lives.   What had Mr. Hitler to do with that?  Absolutely innocent on that count, your honor!

My fractured family, largely extirpated by men obedient to Mr. Hitler, was composed, a couple of generations back, in Hitler’s day, of a large group of hardworking poor people.   They were what you call “nobodies”.   Their lives fell silently into that huge statistic of dead people killed in the deadliest war in history.   On my father’s side the disappeared hamlet they came from, down to its precise location in the marsh land of Belarus, was one of literally thousands of Jewish enclaves permanently wiped off the world map in those years, when men like Mr. Hitler and his kind made big, important decisions about who shall live and who needed to be exterminated.  

I look at my own circumstances, ponder the epigenetics of it sometimes, the way my grandparents’ experience of being the sole survivors of large, murdered families might have shaped their personalities, how that unspoken of trauma of their murdered brothers and sisters and everyone else they knew altered the things they passed on to me without any of us being aware of it.   Then I think, there you go, blaming Mr. Hitler again!

I sometimes find myself comparing the circumstances of my own family with those of the proud, accomplished Jared Kushner and his family.   Jared has that haughty bearing, proud and imperious as a top SS man in the old photos.  It may seem unfair to make that comparison between a very wealthy Jew and the most “ideological” of the Nazi leadership cadre (most top SS men, as they say, were “well-born”), but you have to admit, looking at the way he carries himself, that Jared is an indomitable man and appears quite certain of his superiority.   Jared would never allow himself to be marched to a ravine for a bullet in the back of his head, after giving up his clothes for payment to his murderers.  No way.  Jared would find a way to win, to vanquish his enemies, because a guy like Jared Kushner, let’s face it, one of the President of the United States’ top advisors, is a winner.   His kind doesn’t get shot lying face down in a ditch like a nobody.

You may be tempted to call it a matter of pure, dumb luck, observe that Jared was randomly born to a very wealthy family of Jews who escaped the Nazi murder machine and managed to thrive in the United States, amassing a fortune of almost two billion dollars in barely two generations.  Think deeper.   It is just as likely a matter of character, which is, of course, destiny.  The best are the best for a reason, n’est-ce pas?  If it was mere dumb luck that Jared’s grandparents arrived here and were able to build a modest family business, buying and renting out multiunit apartment buildings in New Jersey, into a thriving real estate empire in just a few decades while mine worked as hard for a fraction of the reward, then what does it all mean?  What is the possible meaning of this random, merciless arrangement? 

I get worked up sometimes considering questions like these and I eventually get back to blaming fucking Hitler.   At the same time, I know that Mr. Hitler was merely a symptom, a purulent boil that was fated to burst upon the scene, like any inevitable destructive psychopath whose message manages to resonate with millions and spurs them to unthinking violence.  

I mean, if Mr. Hitler had never lived, had never come to power in the most civilized, highly industrialized nation of his day, had never held sway over millions of Germans (36.8% voted for his party in the last election of the democratic Weimar Republic), how different would the world be today?  How different would my life be?  Hard to imagine.   And senseless to try, really, except for the lessons I take from it, having studied Mr. Hitler and the rise of the movement he led, some might say obsessively, on and off for literally decades.

I realize, of course, that even if Mr. Hitler (I’m adopting the New York Times style here, the Grey Lady once puckishly referred to “Mr. Clapton” and “Mr. Diddley” in a piece about Eric and Bo) had never existed, most of my family probably never would have arrived here in the USA anyway.   By 1924 prominent American “nativists”, xenophobes and racists, under the banner of Eugenics (a discredited sham science that the learned and unimpeachable Mr. Trump devoutly espouses to this day), had severely restricted immigration from shit-hole countries like the places my people come from.  The few who arrived here came in before the land of the free largely closed its doors to immigrants in 1924, the last of them, my grandfather, sneaking in in 1923.

1924, coincidentally, was the year of my father’s birth, in an unforgiving, crime-infested  slum in Lower Manhattan.    Trump’s feverishly imagined Baltimore has nothing on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1924.   1924 was also the year, nine years after D.W. Griffith’s darkly influential silent film masterpiece The Birth of A Nation extolled the heroism of the Ku Klux Klan, that Klan membership in America reached its all-time peak of 2.4 million proud sheet wearing members.   Birth of A Nation was the first motion picture screened in the White House and President Woodrow Wilson, who watched it raptly, [2] later enthused “it’s like writing history in lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true!”

What was so terribly true, in the eyes of the otherwise progressive Woodrow Wilson (aren’t people complex?), was that the former slaves down south had been completely out of control, savagely and vengefully dominating the innocent local whites and raping the women — also attaining political office in many areas with their new bayonet-imposed right to vote.   As Griffith showed in his blockbuster epic, history written in lightning fifty years after the fact, a heroic band of white underdogs, modern day knights in sheets, arose to protect the glorious South from these unrestrained black beasts and protect the honor of their pure, white women.  

I was exposed to a big chunk of this controversial movie by an Italian visiting professor, during my time in graduate school at City College.   Almost ninety years after Griffith wrote his terribly true history in lighting, she insisted the group of us in her comparative literature seminar watch it.   I was there as part of my study of, eh, creative writing.   We all agreed that movie was some fucked up and incendiary distortion of history as we knew it.   It also explained a lot about historical revisionism and the dramatic power of heroically presented bullshit shouted through the right megaphone.

The forces of violent, irrational hatred in the world are always simmering (open virtually any history book anywhere if you doubt this).   Mr. Hitler sometimes, in the early days, when he was up and coming, humbly referred to himself as a “drummer”, the kid tirelessly banging the drum to set the cadence for the righteously marching troop parade.   Like the guy on the old slave-powered Roman galley, the hortator, some poor bastard who beat a drum and chanted to set the cadence for the coordinated pulling of the heavy oars by the other slaves, as ordered by the captain.

We have a hortator, inciter, encourager, exhorter, urger like that right here, in charge of scrawling his name jaggedly across the bottom of Executive Orders, veto pen in his other hand, and though I hesitate to invoke his tiresome name (again) in a piece about blaming Hitler, well, really, who can blame me?   Ah, fuck him [3] and the Nazi hordes he rode in on.   I really do have to stop blaming Mr. Fucking Hitler, though.

 

[1]  Hitler’s every word was, literally, law.   The Nazis phrased it “Fuhrerworte haben Gesetzeskrafte” and it was left to an army of Nazi lawyers to put their infallible leader’s every utterance into crisp legalize and codify it into the German legal code of the time. 

[2] I’ll try to keep the fucking toilet type adjectives and nouns here in the footnotes, gentle reader.  Wilson was a racist motherfucker if there ever was one.  He was the only U.S. president  in history born and raised in the Confederacy, so there’s that– he grew up in besieged and eventually defeated territory that had staged an armed rebellion against the United States.  In fairness to him, the famous Progressive also apparently hated Jews, a people who are not, except to certain racists, actually a “race”, though, like the Fuhrer himself (who had more than 300 “do not touch” Jews on his list) he had Jews he thought were first class.    He nominated Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court in 1916– a bold and progressive move.    As it was later written of Brandeis by Justice William O. Douglas:

 “Brandeis was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible … [and] the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.”

the Wiki continues:

On June 1, 1916, he was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 47 to 22, to become one of the most famous and influential figures ever to serve on the high court. His opinions were, according to legal scholars, some of the “greatest defenses” of freedom of speech and the right to privacy ever written by a member of the Supreme Court.

source

[3] Shit, sorry, gentle reader, I f–ed up.  So hard to keep the fucking cuss words out of it, idn’t it?

Giant Two-Year Old Keeping Promises

Talk about turning up the heat on the water in the frog pond… yesterday a room full of beneficiaries of toxic pollution celebrated the Trump administration’s announcement that it had repealed an Obama-era law that protects water from pollution.   The president [1] promised his angry crowds that he would invalidate everything the lying Kenyan-born secret Muslim Socialist Obama managed to pass into law.  He’s keeping those promises — fuck nontoxic drinking water, they sell it at the store, buy all you want.    Amy Goodman [2]: 

The Trump administration has finalized the repeal of an Obama-era clean water policy that protects thousands of streams that flow into large rivers and lakes, as well as wetland areas that filter pollutants and absorb floodwaters. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler — a former coal lobbyist — announced the rule change Thursday to thunderous applause during an event at the headquarters of the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, D.C. Environmentalists say Trump’s move to rescind the 2015 regulation, known as the Waters of the United States rule, will remove pollution controls for 60% of U.S. bodies of water, endangering the drinking water of over 100 million people.

USA!   USA!!!!   Chant it with me, assholes, or I’ll shoot you in the face!

 

 

[1]  Lest any of you stupid Trump-bashers forget, the state of Alabama was devastated by Hurricane Dorian, much worse destruction than the Bahamas and Puerto Rico suffered recently!  The president was TOTALLY vindicated in correcting that weather map and the so-called government scientists and deep state “experts” suck ass.  USA!  Lock her up!

[2] Amy reported on the Friday the Thirteenth treat citizens of Baltimore gave the rest of us yesterday.   A few seconds, check it out.

Frog in slowly boiling water

You know the old bit about the frog in a pot of warm water.  Heat turned up slowly, as the frog adjusts to the new heat, turn it up another bit.  The frog eventually gets uncomfortable, but it’s not bad enough yet that he tries to jump out of the pot.  Then the water boils and Froggie gets parboiled.     So it goes with creeping totalitarianism, the heat gets turned up one tick at a time.

Medical Deportation Order, recently promulgated by POTUS.   “Illegal aliens” who are being treated for deadly medical conditions in the United States must be deported to die back in their shit-hole countries of origin.  Fair is fair, criminals must not be allowed to get away with their crimes.  The law applies to all, except for certain special exceptions we don’t need to go into.    Look, honestly, if you’re rich enough to have an army of lawyers, you can fight off the law for a long time, sometimes indefinitely.  If not, we slap the cuffs on you, get on the bus and back to your shit-hole to die.

This calculatedly cruel policy is part of slowly turning up the water in the pot.  Let’s see if there’s any kind of outcry among the loyal base.   Yes, it is arguably horrible that very sick people will basically be taken off life support and sent back to places they’ve left, to die.   On the other hand, these illegal alien criminals should not be rewarded for their terrible crime of leaving a worse place to come to a better one.  Where are their papers?   Their respect for law and order?    Remember, a criminal alien is nothing like you and me!   Our pure nation is infested by this dangerous vermin and we need to fumigate the place.

This kind of divisive play is part of the standard fascist playbook.  Villainize groups of people that the Nation/People can turn its collective rage upon.   This goes back through history, when local aristocrats unleashed mobs to vent their fury on the Jews, the moneylending parasites [1]  who were the cause of all their problems.   When the mob was done venting, they put their yokes back on and went back to work for the aristocrats, who had them whipped.

If you are a person of limited intelligence, angry, frustrated at your declining possibility for the American Dream as more and more wealth flows upward to your betters, racism is probably for you.  I know there are also a few racists of average or even above average intelligence, but I’m not talking about those vile creatures.   I’ll go out on a limb, and no insult intended:  most racists are dumber than shit.

If you are a populist politician, eye on the crowd’s reactions, you love the mass of people at your rallies who are dumber than shit.   They get a vote just like everybody else.   They tend to do what they’re told.   They will support you, if you keep telling them what they want to hear, even if you go out on Fifth Avenue and start shooting them in their adoring faces.  It’s true!  Hah, kind of funny when you think about it.

I just listened to the audiobook of Jason Stanley’s brilliant How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.    I read the slim volume some time back after hearing Medhi Hassan’s interview with the author.   Listening to it I noticed many fascinating details I’d missed the first time.  Among them was Stanley’s description of his German Jewish mother’s heroic action during the early days of the Third Reich.    She dressed as a Nazi Social Worker and went to the local concentration camp every day.  She was able to extract Jews, one or two at a time, from the escalating Nazi killing machine.   

Most Jews at that time did not believe her stories about conditions in the concentration camp, few believed that this awful fate, even if true, would ever be their’s.   After all, mass killing of German Jews had not started, things were bad, true, but not horrendous, and they were German citizens still, after all.   She and her husband got out of Germany in time (hence the birth of their son Jason) but many other Jewish frogs in that rapidly heated pot that was The Thousand Year Reich, did not.  

We don’t see the worst arriving in one dramatic clap.   It advances by stages.  First you consolidate and control the mass media, decide what people learn about events and what they don’t.   You control the narrative on every important subject, creating distracting controversy as needed.  Say the massive release of carbon from fossil fuel is actually 70% of the cause of the rapid, disastrous warming of our planet — create and fund as many think tanks as needed to debunk that awful fact.    One step at a time, you get extremist judges into lifetime posts, you pack state legislatures with pliable, ambitious politicians who will pass legislation you write, just one foot after the other, forward, onward, endlessly.  If you have unlimited money, make sure the Supreme Court declares that you have unlimited political influence.    In the end, there will be nobody able to challenge your privileges and immunities.

The water warms one degree, two degrees, at a time.  Like the so-called ice sheets and the “permafrost” that’s melting much faster than predicted.  You know what?   There’s liquid gold under that permafrost, a shit ton of money for someone with the know-how to go get it.   Two sides to every story, yo.   Now, Mr. Doomandgloom, let’s turn this jacuzzi up just one more tiny notch, shall we?  [2]

 

 

[1]  In many places, Jews, who were not allowed to own land, or to practice many professions, were employed by aristocrats as tax collectors and money lenders, as usury was formerly forbidden between Christians. 

Today, of course, money lending parasitism is big business, largely out of Jewish hands.   If you need $600 dollars quick you can always go to a payday lender and get the money right away.   Only trouble is, you will often pay back up to three times that amount.   Don’t bother reading the fine print when you sign for your loan, you’d need a lawyer to explain it to you.    As far as I’ve heard no mob with pitchforks and torches has ever gone after one of these lucrative corporations.   In fact, they got a recent gift from Trump’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

[2]  I know, I know, what happened to cleaning part of my kitchen table today?   I’m on it, set the timer to 30 minutes, boss.

Organizing my attack

Sometimes we get insight in a very roundabout way, only after a thing has been gnawing at us for a very long time.   It can take being nibbled by a particular demon for many years before you jump out of your chair one day and say “what the fuck?!!” look down and see what is snacking on you.

At the end of several long, stressful days getting the house ready for the contractors (the lioness’s share done by indefatigable, self-proclaimed working dog Sekhnet)  I went through a pile of papers (a short stack) propped helter skelter on a board laid across an open desk drawer.   More than half the pages immediately went onto the recycle pile to be carried down to the bag.   The rest, mostly drawings, I clipped neatly into the clipboard they were lying haphazardly on.   

Not really very hard, I realized, though the volume and variety of papers here, as I glance around, is many, many times more than that short stack at Sekhnet’s I dispatched in a few minutes.   Of course, Sekhnet is right — spending a half hour a day at it would make a big difference within a few days, even here, in the eye of the storm.

Another insight hit me when I pulled a page I’d printed out of the pile and began reading.   It was my unsent pitch to a publisher who welcomes book proposals from unknown authors.   A two paragraph evocation of the book I thought I was writing about my father, something I worked on hours every day for two years, a massive, unwieldy first draft.   

I stopped reading my pitch shortly into the second “reveal” paragraph.   I was glad I’d never sent the thing, it was a labored, strenuous, grunting swing at nothing but air.   It did not present a hint of a compelling idea for a book.

I recently saw a best-selling author, in the windup to an ad for his Master Class on how to become a successful writer, describe the writing of the second draft as an exercise in convincing everyone that you knew exactly where you were going when you wrote the first draft.    Wow.    That’s precisely my challenge in putting together the book of my father’s life and then successfully pitching it.   

The story of my difficult father’s life is not the tired old story of a smart idealist with an abusive dark side, fighting for justice for strangers while doing great harm to his own family.   It’s not the story of a man’s triumphant emergence from childhood poverty into the middle class (along with a large cohort of World War Two vets at a unique and fleeting moment in history).  It’s not the story of monstrous anger, righteous and senseless both, and a rigid inability to forgive.   

Those things are part of the back story.   The book is more of a meditation on the nature and substance of history itself, what we remember and what we forget, and the imagining of a lifelong conversation that should have been.   That conversation with the skeleton of my father, the one that began the last night of his life, is the heart of the book, though it’s not the story I need to tell, shop and sell.  

The real story is what I suspected from the start, the difficulty of forgiveness and a rare moment of grace, just before death, when an unbearable burden is lifted, the regrettable truth finally spoken and reassurance given to the dying man just before his light winks out.  The story is about exactly what those regrets are made of, what was learned, and lost, how the unlikely and precious moment came to happen at all.

Twenty-five years ago an old friend celebrated my decision to become a lawyer (an ill-considered one, at best) as me finally being about to “compete”.  I get what he was saying, I’ve always kept myself out of the economic competition that defines our materialistic culture, refusing to race the rest of the rats for the mirage of an illusory goal (or simply being a cowardly rat, depending on your view).   I did not embrace the world’s second oldest profession, nor did I ever really compete in it, outside of plucking the occasional victim out of the meat grinder of justice, as when I saved an old woman from homelessness at the hands of zealous NYCHA attorneys.

In mulling over the anger I’ve been feeling lately I realize part of it is my chafing feeling of paralysis (not helped by painfully arthritic knees — as Vonnegut said “be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.”), of being overwhelmed by difficult things that are hard, true, but clearly not impossible.    Part is anger at my resigned acceptance of a limited, frugal life, foregoing comfortable middle class options while muttering here in great, sometimes worthwhile, detail about the objectively atrocious state of things and what I have pieced together.   

I’m angry about having no voice, in spite of speaking all the time (as I am silently doing right now, you dig?), and often finding and saying things I think would advance the larger discussion in a threatened world increasingly dominated by mindless bluster and vapid shouting.   I’m angry that evil idiots, often born “booted and spurred” to ride the rest of us [1] rule and I that have nothing to say about any of it, no matter how well I may say it.    And that others, professionals, who blow “thoughts” out of their asses, are well-paid to do it.

I’m angry about my inability to marshal my abilities to tell a story and get paid.   I’m angry that I have to monetize my writing in the first place (but in an uncertain casino economy one needs to keep some money coming in) and I’m angry that I’m not getting any money for it.

I’m angry that I’m not getting paid for writing what I write and I’m angry that I’m doing virtually nothing about it.  It is a frustrating cycle and it presses on because I do not confront the hard work I need to do to market and sell my work.   I am, on a fundamental level (and as hard as I’ve often worked in my life) lazy, preferring at any given moment to do what I like rather than what needs to be done.  Since writing itself is satisfying to me, once I have the words in final form, I never think of it as unproductive unless paid for.   When I think of it that way, through the eyes of the world, it pisses me off.   

I don’t mean to say that lazy is the last word on my life, it certainly isn’t (he hastily added).  There is also fear, of course, long habit, the actual daunting difficulty of the uphill task, and so forth.   I learned a very important life lesson during a dark time in my life — how crucial it is to be kind to yourself.   I don’t pile on myself when the going gets tough and I never reduce myself to the sum of my faults.   

On the other hand, this anger I’ve described is something only I can work on, a grating car alarm only I have the key to silencing.  I also remind myself that I don’t need to be paid a million bucks or write a blockbuster hit, a couple of thousand dollars would be a very good start.

Sekhnet observed the other day that the therapy I’ve gone through did not touch my powerful aversion to organizing my papers, my life.   Fair enough.  I’ve recently come to think of my great and irrational resistance to going through old papers as an odd reflection of my fear of death, but what the fuck is up with that?

Anger at how difficult it has been for me to read the proverbial writing on the wall, about situations, sometimes about people, the bottom-line nature of the reality we are all living in, is less than useless.    Anger, while it can alert us to a problem in the manner of all pain, disables the ability to see any path out of it, as anger directs all energy back to itself.  Time to poke a few breathing holes in this smothering carapace of aggravation, I say.  

 

 

 

[1]   The well-read Thomas Jefferson, master of the felicitous phrase, stole this famous image for his final letter (shortly after the great passage about democracy  “arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government”).

The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.

source

from Richard Rumbold, a man executed by the English for treason more than a century earlier.  Rumbold delivered the line toward the end of his final remarks, moments before he was drawn and quartered :   

I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another, for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.

source

I always loved this image of people born “booted and spurred” to ride the rest of us, particularly at a moment like this — Avi Berkowitz, 30 year-old assistant to Trump Special Advisor Jared Kushner, himself the supremely unqualified son of a billionaire. is elevated, by another very important man who inherited hundreds of millions and squandered more than that, to take the helm of  Trump’s secret, still unreleased Middle East Peace Plan that these born booted and spurred individuals are already boasting about. 

as to Richard Rumbold, here’s some great detail:

Note 1. Delivered in Edinburgh. Rumbold was captured after having been wounded and then separated from his companions in arms. An immediate trial had been ordered that he might be condemned before he died of his wounds. He was found guilty on June 26, 1685, sentenced to be executed the same afternoon, and was drawn and quartered, the quarters being exposed on the gates of English towns. [back]
Note 2. At this point Rumbold was interrupted by drum beating. He said he would say no more on that subject, “since they were so disingenuous as to interrupt a dying man.” [back]

 

“Paul, Paul…” (note for the Book of Irv)

Had a vivid memory yesterday, probably dredged up by Mark’s older brother’s memory of how his little brother hid candy bars from his two older brothers and how quickly he ate his meals at restaurants, lest somebody else get a morsel off his plate.

My father was over six feet tall and carried up to forty or fifty pounds of excess weight most of the time I knew him.   His younger brother Paul was quite a bit smaller, and fairly trim.   My father, at least once, told my sister and me the story of taking as much of his little brother’s food as he could get.   He told the story with a chuckle.

I didn’t stop to think, a middle class kid when I heard the story, that my father and my uncle were probably frequently hungry growing up in “grinding poverty” (the phrase my father always used to describe it, the family’s desperation corroborated by his cousin Gene) during the Depression.   My father would finish his food, turn to his brother, who ate more slowly, and ask him for another bite.  

” ‘Paul, Paul…’ I’d say and hold out my hand to him and he’d very reluctantly break off a tiny crumb of food and hand it over.    He didn’t want to, you know, but he always gave me something.”

As I told this to Sekhnet last night I remembered something else, the walk back from Carvel with my younger sister.  

Our parents would give us some change to go buy ice cream at the Carvel two short blocks and one long one from our house.   Carvel had soft serve machines and we’d generally each get a cone, sometimes plain sometimes with sprinkles (my sister was partial to the multicolored ones) and sometimes dipped in molten chocolate that would instantly become a lovely, slightly soft, thin chocolate shell (the “Brown Bonnet”).  

We’d lap up the delicious ice cream as we walked that first long block.    As we turned the first corner the swirl of ice cream in mine would be flattened down to the cone, a few bites and I was finished.   My sister ate more slowly, turning the cone methodically to lick away the drips, savoring her ice cream.   I’d always ask her for a slurp of her cone.   When she resisted I mocked her as a “saver”.  She’d reluctantly hand over the cone, protesting the unfairness (and she had a point) and I’d take a slurp.

“Paul, Paul…”

 

 

The Denial of Deniable Denial

Those who offer prescriptions about how to live, righteous, generous fuckers like me, should follow that old advice to the physician about healing thyself.  It’s easy enough to sit in a chair and opine, bolstering your case with easily found internet artifacts, harder by far to get out off that chair and take needed action[1].

If you write or speak proficiently, it’s not that hard to craft a story that makes it sound like your head is not firmly planted in your own ass.   Given the right motivation we can usually convince anybody of anything by telling the right, reasonable story the right way.  That convincing, of course, includes ourselves and the foundational stories we live by.

I think about this deniable denial today, as I hesitate once again to fully join Sekhnet in her heroic cleaning/reorganizing marathon to empty the ground floor, ahead of the imminent arrival of contractors, hopefully, before the rest of the dining room ceiling collapses.  

In fact, I’m going to keep this very short, finish my coffee, and get down there into the basement, brush aside her contention that there’s nothing I can do to help right now and leap into action.   It’s not that I haven’t helped, I have, but I’ve done less than I could have, debilitated by brooding and my, eh, important work here.

A few quick examples, and a few more sips of coffee and I’m gone, down to move things around, wrap them in plastic, carry them to safety in huge stacks in the basement.    At least make another large pot of sauce out of the dozens of delicious tomatoes, picked the last few days and beginning to attract countless tiny flittering fans who also love their delicious sweetness.

My last post suggested that thinking your way through difficult feelings is the way to go.   Fine, and I believe it, particularly compared to the blind rule of emotion, a rule that never takes reason into consideration while a great amount of energy is consumed repressing difficult emotions.  There are times when an important piece of knowledge really does change your feelings about the thing in question.  The devilish detail about feelings is that they are fucking feelings, very sensitive little things they are, and you can’t reason with them the way you can with ideas.  Also, feelings can’t be wrong, even if they don’t make any sense.

In theory, confronted with something troubling, you can set out all the predictable outcomes of an idea to make it better and discuss ways to avoid the worst.   They call some version of this the “marketplace of ideas”.  According to this theory, ideas come to market, are picked over, the bad items are left to eventually rot (and presumably become fodder for animals being raised for slaughter) and the good ideas are put into everyone’s basket and taken home to enlighten the little ones.  [2]

We live in denial (as I am now, doing this, ahem, important work instead of getting down to the asbestos rich cellar to somehow help Sekhnet pick through 70 years of debris, or at least follow her directions about what else I can do), almost all of us, on some matter or another.  We can all point to examples of things we are not in denial about, difficult things we take by the horns and wrestle to the ground.   These examples suffice to demonstrate that we are not in denial, though there are other things we deniably deny we are in denial about.   Deniability is the key, no?

My mother, a wonderful, bright woman with a great sense of humor, liked to insist, from time to time, that she was very well-adjusted.   She would go down a list of the many vices she didn’t have.   Hard to dispute that she wasn’t an alcoholic, a smoker, a child abuser, a racist, a cheat, a liar, on down the list.  She’d concede that she could lose some weight, that was true.   She’d give you that one.

“She’s a hundred pounds overweight!” my sister always pointed out to me after one of these moral lectures from our otherwise morally upright mother.   Nowadays my sister recites a similar list, she’s at the perfect weight, her blood pressure and cholesterol are perfect, she walks miles every day, she doesn’t smoke, take drugs, gamble, have any other obvious vices.  

You know what I’m sayin’ here?

I don’t know why I have this undeniable aversion to cleaning.   I will clean a bathroom floor, a toilet, a sink, dishes, the stovetop.   Those things I have no hesitation to keep fairly clean.   It is the living mass of dozens, hundreds, of other items, particularly the shifting rafts of paper everywhere, that I cannot tame or organize.   Why not just go through them, shred what needs to be shredded, file and store everything else, after making space for them?   It is as the slothful saith in the Book of Proverbs:  there is a lion in the way, yea, a lion!  

If I have a place to put something, I generally put  it there.  A nail in the wall is where my baseball hat gets hung when I walk in, it is either there or hanging on the carabiner attached to my backpack.   My keys, wallet and phone stay in my pants pocket or in a metal dish I have on my desk.   Everything else… hoo boy.

So part of the agony of Sekhnet’s cleaning marathon for me is the overwhelmed feeling I get looking at piles of chaos that need to be tamed, sorted, boxed, wrapped, moved.   The energy immediately drains from my body, even as I carry heavy items down from the attic after carefully wiping away decades of soot.  

I understand, using my mind, that this debilitating anguish is a feeling I just have to put aside.   It’s not a phobia, I’m not actually terrified.   It’s an aversion, like I have toward snakes.   I won’t die of a heart attack if I approach a pile of clutter with a box in hand, I just… it’s just… 

I can’t deny it, I have a problem.   One more cup of coffee and I’m on it, goddamn it! Here I come, Sekhnet!   

 

[1] what actions are truly needed is another, deeper question for another time  

[2]  Sadly, this theory, in practice, is as sadly self-serving as its sister theory, the “free market” with its insidious “invisible hand”.    Good ideas, it turns out, don’t drive out bad ideas in the marketplace of ideas.  Instead bad ideas often incite strong emotions that cause the holders of bad ideas to beat up or kill the holders of better ideas.   The marketplace of ideas is as free and beautiful as the free market that subsidizes already wildly lucrative industries that are rapidly destroying the earth.  Of course, the theorists of freedom have a bold answer to my critique: the alternative is TYRANNY!!!!