Writing, the last refuge of a scoundrel

It is, I suppose, the last refuge of a scoundrel, this sitting and writing out the things that vex you.   Writing on the internet gives carte blanche for every opinionated asshole to have a good purge with no editor to get in the way. [1]  

I had an editor once, I suppose he could be called that, he definitely did edit.   Since the company he worked for paid me $250 for a thousand words, he got the final say on what I really meant.   One of his improvements really fucking got to me, I can tell you for sure.   He took the line “It made no sense to me that a man with all the qualities he possessed could be such an intractable asshole” and rendered it “It made no sense to me that a man my mother absolutely adored could be such an intractable asshole.”  

It made perfect sense to me that my mother loved my father, and I understood the many reasons she did.  I shared many of them myself.   That was no mystery to me. The mystery was that someone with all the admirable qualities he had, and the humanistic ideals, could abuse his children, that was the point of the sentence, the rest of the paragraph.  It was why I had placed the line where I had in the complicated story I was trying to tell in a way too few 1,000 words.

The perfected sentence was clearly much closer to what the editor felt was true, he couldn’t believe, apparently, that his mother had loved his father, an intractable asshole he’d written about in a svelte 10,000 word essay also published on the site.   Fuck him and the knock-kneed, swaybacked turd he rode in on, the dick-fingered mediocrity.   His unsought refinement of  what I really meant made me want to slap him hard, back and forth, smartly, bip-bap!   We eventually had a series of misunderstandings [2]  and I saw that sending future work to him for his random editorial attentions  was not worth the $250 or the emails from friends congratulating me on having my tampered with prose published.  [3]  

Thus it is with the world, my invisible friends.   We constantly have to weigh what is most important to us.  To me, it is finding as much clarity as I can, wrestling things that don’t make sense, particularly maddening things, into some kind of coherence. I am, for better or worse, a life-long student.  I tend to brood and read, make notes, brood, read, stop while walking to make a note.

If you don’t know the people involved, you will probably find my piece about the terrible erosion of an old friendship an interesting read that might apply to your own life.   If you know the people, there will inevitably be a shudder of horror seeing the situation set out so starkly.  I have come to prefer seeing a thing clearly and deciding the best course of action based on my beliefs about the way to be in the world to passively waiting for the next arguably inexplicable assault and the sickening argument that sometimes follows about who was the bigger asshole.  There is nothing to compare to doing an emergency favor for someone and then, instead of thanks, having some shit thrown on you.   I can tell you this from recent personal experience.

I think of something like the president’s current policy of ripping babies out of the arms of asylum seekers, having government personnel lie to the parents that after a short interview they’ll see their kid again, while during the interview the kid is shipped to a prison for children, never to see the parents again.   The first thought that comes to mind, outside of the fact that the privatized prisons where these poor kids are warehoused have some kind of exemption under this supremely corrupt administration, where they get a huge break on the already lowered tax for corporations, is that this is exactly the kind of “feeling out public reaction” that Mr. Hitler’s people used to routinely do.  

Hitler didn’t come to power and immediately open up the now famous Death Camps.   It took years, step by step, to prepare everyone for this final, extreme, previously unthinkable step.  That final step only became necessary, you understand, once the nation was at war.  Step by step, always prepare the next step carefully.   First you gas ‘useless eaters’, people in insane asylums, the mad, the demented, the retarded.   You read the polling carefully.  Most Germans, it seems, had no problem with euthanasia, if it was pitched correctly.   Eventually you will be able to euthanize all enemies of the state, keeping it discreet and secretive and always, always justifying it as a mercy done for the greater good.

(added the next day)  Stop the presses.  The larger point about the incremental nature of the ascendence or evil practices remains, but my example is problematic. We learn from Hannah Arendt that the gassing of “mentally sick” Germans had to be stopped, due to public outcry, after a mere 50,000 souls were “granted a mercy death”.  No such protest was made a couple of years later when the “granting of mercy deaths” was liberally extended to millions of Eastern European Jews and many others who died in the gas (the Nazis preferred poison gas, Zyklon B, was originally developed as a pesticide, don’t you know?)  and by other methods.   

So the fact that Trump and his diminutive racist lapdog A.G. are forcibly, and deceptively, separating parents and children when the family comes seeking asylum, is just one of the many steps toward becoming a society where unspeakable cruelty is as common as America’s Top CEO’s bristling over-sensitivity to criticism.

Look, once something becomes routine, most people will stop questioning it.  It’s human nature, you can only be outraged for so long, particularly if there is nothing you can do about it.   A shame that thousands of children and their families will be scarred for life, fleeing violence in one country to experience cool, rationalized, perfectly legal government violence in the country you fled to.  But what is that next to the brutal scarring that men like the president and his Attorney General must have experienced to make them the vicious people they are today?

That is always the question, in this world so deftly described by the brilliant Mel Brooks in his explanation of the difference between comedy and tragedy.   “Tragedy is when I break a fingernail, comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die.”  If you are not personally the victim … well … you can understand … kind of … an abstraction like why it’s wrong to torture somebody who was turned in for a large reward … on the off chance that he is a terrorist … or wrong, OK, to take a baby from its mother’s arms and lie to the mother, as you lead her away … or wrong to lie, repeatedly, about everything … but on another level these things will never be absolutely, compellingly real to you.   

If an old friend is in a panic to see you, accuses you of malice, gives you the chance to say you were mistaken, or lying, then tells you that you’ve never been a true friend, are incapable of admitting wrongdoing or apologizing, and expresses deep anger for a good deed you did thinking you were sparing his feelings … well?  What is one to make of this?  I was confused as hell for a few days, then, as I digested the constituent parts of it, came to finally see it clearly.

The old friend is prone to anxiety, fears the worst, always, apparently.  This anxiety causes him to live a nervous life where he really can’t always give the feelings of others the same immediate attention he must give to his own feelings.   His friends must understand this characteristic distractedness, his true friends must see past it.   They must make an allowance for this personality trait, even if he can’t always reciprocate.  His life is, in a phrase Springsteen once sung, “one long emergency.”   He has many fine qualities, great intelligence, humor, warmth, but he also has needs that can sometimes obscure these qualities. 

I don’t have great insight into panic or anxiety.  I had to imagine and understand, as best I could, what life must be like for someone prone to that.   Depression I have lived, I get that, but what it must be like living with constant anxiety took some imagining.  I don’t understand being angry for reasons that are mysterious to myself.  It simply makes no fucking sense to have anger you don’t understand constantly simmering in the background.  I have to understand why I’m mad.   It can take time, but most of the time I can put my finger on it.  I get a certain relief when I understand what I’m mad about, I can often take some action that will help.  This old friend has no time for this exercise, and his anger comes out in odd ways.  Like lambasting someone who has just spent a couple of hours being as kind to him as he knows how to be.

This old friend’s oldest son is a mensch, a really admirable young man.  I don’t know him nearly as well as I know his father, but I know enough to hold him in high esteem.   It was the thought of him reading what I had originally posted, a more detailed, much angrier piece, that caused me to take the post down.   His father never reads anything I post here, the son periodically does.   After talking to Sekhnet, someone I’ve never known to pull a punch, telling me I might want to pull this punch, I realized how much the original version could have hurt the son.   It’s possible the revised post might too, but much less, I thought, and there was value to the post in the “larger conversation” I am always dreaming of.

Relationships, like all living creatures, have a life cycle.  It’s hard to see this when you are young and idealistic, but live long enough and you will come to see this life cycle over and over.   When a friendship is mutual everything is cool.  Over time certain patterns become ingrained, resentments can build up.   One guy crucifies the other guy’s priceless guitar.   Anger is stored up.  Distance is inserted between people to insulate themselves from further damage.   Mistrust accrues every time an untruth is uncovered, or an attack happens.  Enough of this shit happens for long enough, the warmth of friendship can cool to coldness.

I haven’t reached that point with this guy’s father, someone I’ve known for about fifty-five years, but I certainly am not confident that my old friend is capable of the kind of self-knowledge I need in those closest to me.  I have friends as neurotic as he is but they have never given me the same cause to doubt their basic good will.   I intend to give my old friend every benefit of the doubt, I’m just not optimistic about the long-term health of our long friendship.  I hate the idea of holding him at emotional arm’s length, for the sake of remaining friends, but that may be the only working compromise available to me.

Consider this, related, if seemingly unrelated, to the incremental way things die.  It would have been unthinkable a few years ago to imagine waking up in the USA every day and hearing the lede “the president attacked”.  This thin-skinned man with the massive inferiority complex attacks someone several times every day.  It’s what he does.   After a few hundred attacks we just take the words “the president attacked” for granted.  It’s tempting to fume about that for a moment, but I’ll rein in that impulse and give one last grunt here.  (You may laugh, or at least grimace, to see how well I rein in that impulse, I suppose).

Professional football players respectfully protesting police violence against unarmed blacks are “sons of bitches” fumes this man who then screeches that they should be “fired!”  His campaign fundraiser crowd goes wild, applauding their hero who basks in their adoration.    One of the bitches tweets that she’s proud of her son, proud to be the bitch who raised him to be such a man of  integrity.   The president, of course, has no answer to this, he’s looking for someone else to attack, the main thing is to keep attacking.  

His daughter, a mannequin-looking woman he’s on record as wishing he could have sex with, busily promotes her many brands while a public servant, profiting handsomely, if corruptly, from her selfless service to the nation.  A comedian points out that she’s behaved with monstrous insensitivity regarding her father’s policy of ripping young children from their asylum-seeker parents’ arms.  The comedian calls her a “feckless cunt” for not confronting her father on this heartless policy, instead of  narcissistically, obliviously, posting pictures of herself hoisting one of her loving children.   The description seems to fit pretty well, feckless meaning “lacking initiative or strength of character, irresponsible” except that “cunt” is the c-word, like “nigger” is the n-word.  It is a word that simply may not be uttered, except at one’s peril.

Now the president gets to be righteously outraged, the thing he does best.  Picture how much restraint it must have taken him not to tweet that the offending comedian, Samantha Bee, is the cunt.  “She’s a cunt, not my daughter, her, she’s the fucking cunt, with a mouth like a fucking toilet bowl full of disgusting vegan shit!”   He could have tweeted that, but he’s the president and aware of his power as a role model, so he merely ranted a bit without profanity about no talent, loser Samantha Bee and her low-rated show and called for her to be fired.   The First Amendment is overrated, he thinks, even as the sacred Second Amendment is constantly under attack by liberal c-words and n-words who fucking hate our freedom.  Lock her up, lock her up!

USA!   USA!!!!!



[1] With WordPress you can even do it for free!

[2] A nice example is outlined here, along with a 1,000 word piece he actually solicited, one he rejected as “strangely unmoving”.

[3] WordPress bots helpfully provided a link to an earlier piece, which has more a bit more detail and nuance.  Vous pouvez clickez ICI,  mes amis.

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