Conversations May 27, 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

6 AM. So. Quite a different feeling, taking a day off deliberately, rather than doing it behind my own back, so to speak.

Told you. It puts you back in charge of you. Now, you must understand, this isn’t a problem I had in my life. Unlike you, I always felt in control of my life, so all I ever had to contend with were external forces. And after I got free of the Star, I never really had an outside employer who could tell me “do this, do that” — and I never had an office job, never had to count off the hours from 9 to 5 and then go home and get ready to start again the next day. My life was mine to shape, and I did plenty of active planning, to shape it, as you know from your reading. (Yes, I guess biography has its uses.) But of course that kind of freedom only meant I had to find my obstacles in a different way. We do, of course. What would life be, without obstacles?

Did you have a preferred topic this morning? More about sex? Or, I had the sense it might go into the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism that were starting to come up the other day.

It wouldn’t so much be the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism as the temperamental differences — the perceptual and emotional biases, you could say — between Catholics and Protestants. In other words, it isn’t a matter of theology, really. The theology follows the perceptions and thoughts and emotions of the different kinds of people. They see the world differently, they experience it differently, and so they think about it and draw conclusions about it differently.

And it isn’t so much Catholics versus Protestants as any kind versus any other kind. If you want to center on Catholics, Catholics not as opposed to Protestants only, but as opposed to Protestants, Jews, Hindus and all. But I don’t know that it would be worth our time here. Once people get the idea, they can carry it out themselves; it’s just a matter of thinking about it.

Well, I don’t know about that. Think how much reading is involved in getting that data!

There’s more to read than the printed word, you know. Read the world; it’ll give you what you need.

Then why did you read all the time?

I didn’t just read. I kept it in balance. I was so active, so vigorous, so involved, it was only that massive reading that kept me balanced in the intellectual side of things too, and the sort of neighborhood-gossip side.

Interesting way to think about it!

Well, look how your life — and everybody’s — has been changed by the coming of the Internet. The whole balance in your life between local and global has changed. Instead of local newspapers that had local content, and larger papers that had larger content — and instead of slow but lengthy reports, that had to be read — but you know all this.

Yes, all right, where would you like to proceed?

Let’s take one of your friend Bob Friedman’s questions, why is what we are doing important to me and to you?

Shall I take a stab at it first, or do you want to go ahead?

What I have to say about it won’t take all that long, maybe. For you, it’s interesting material in itself, and it’s good practice the way talking to Joseph Smallwood was good practice. The way to become a writer is to write. The way to learn to talk is to talk. Same thing, the way to learn any new skill is to practice it extensively and as regularly as possible, and in connection with the rest of life, not in a vacuum. And beyond the learning of it, in your case there is the teaching of it, if only by example.

In my case, there’s the helping to bridge the gap. It isn’t as if this is the only such process or dialogue going on, of course. Think of millions of people learning this, quietly, one by one, unknown to one another, each with all the assistance from the other side that can be asked or needed. Like Lincoln said, everybody helps — those who can’t skin can hold a leg.

And in my own personal case, beyond the satisfaction of helping the process, I can get into the conscious mind of your time some truths about me that could help change the way you think about me, which helps me here. That’s one of the drags that being a public figure creates, one I didn’t count on when I was alive there! If I had known, I might have lived differently in certain respects.

Such as?

Oh, I might have taken some care to correct my reputation, if I could have.

Yesterday — or maybe Tuesday — I looked up the professor I thought was Hanson and it turned out to be Charles Fenton, but we both knew who I was referring to. Do you mean helping people like him get your life straight?

No, I mean living with an eye toward a different kind of non-physical heredity.

I don’t quite understand that.

I’d be surprised if you did. Let’s see if we can clarify it.

When you’re in life, you realize that what you do isn’t necessarily known to others, and certainly the reasons for what you do are often enough entirely obscure and misinterpreted. But you have to live with (and within) your reputation. The smaller the neighborhood, the firmer the reputation and the more it hems you in. As your neighborhood gets larger, or as you change localities, you get to reinvent yourself to those around you, if you care to, or if new surroundings bring out different sides of you. But there’s such a thing as bursting the bounds, and becoming a transcendent figure, standing for something in people’s minds, and everybody having heard of you and thinking they know you. Look at Lincoln, for instance.

Well, Papa Hemingway became my myth, and I helped create it, and went along with it, and it took on a life of its own, because it sort of fit my life. But it isn’t the only way the mythmaking could have gone, and if it had gone in other directions, I would have had different dimensions of freedom.

I never appreciated, even at the end of my life, how Scott Fitzgerald had been warped and crippled and distorted not just by his own ideas but by the pressure of expectations he never even knew. By people he didn’t know, I mean.

I’m a little hesitant here, but I think we need to call in Carl Jung. He can explain what was going on, I think.

[CGJ] But you are afraid you are making me up, and making up the data, and thus exposing yourself to the danger of being exposed as a fraud! This is no improvement from where we began.

Well, I do it regardless.

Yes. But you will do it more easily without the exaggerated respect for facts and data and verification and criticism. Such things must be risked and dealt with, or even disregarded, if one is to accomplish the clearing of any new trails.

Yes, I know. It just happens to be my particular obstacle.

If it were not this, perhaps it would be lack of access, or lack of anything to say, or inability to say it. But — continue to overcome it. Work at it. Nothing worth your while comes without obstacles, however talented or lucky you may be, or however perfectly fashioned for a particular line of work.

Now. Ernest experienced the hidden pressure of people’s expectations. This is a real and not a metaphorical force. It has real effects, that may be used, well or badly, but will in any case be experienced. As with anything else in life, the more consciously used, the better, as conscious control puts the conscious personality where it should be, deciding. Surely this is obvious.

Lincoln became President of the United States, and his very election brought to a head a crisis that had been building nearly his entire adult life. He found himself at the center of the storm from the first moment, and had to grow into acceptance of the role fate had in mind. By his depth of character, by the human qualities that gradually became evident to people, by his ability to articulate what his people felt but could not express, he came to mean more and more. By his identification with Emancipation, he moved from partisan to statesman to iconic figure. And of course by his martyrdom he perfectly fulfilled the savior archetype in modern guise, and this — combined with the success of his twin causes of Union and emancipation — assured that his reputation would continue to grow. People’s affection grew. People’s hatred or incomprehension lessened, with time. But all the time his cultural effect grew. He became more central to the myth of the American experiment; not merely the political but the social experiment.

As he lived he was the recipient of people’s prayers and curses. After he had finished living, still he was the recipient of prayers and curses. This did not and does not leave him untouched. There is no such thing as an electric current that flows without flowing. There is no such thing as nonphysical connections among people of similar vibrations flowing without flowing. Lincoln limits and channels and also frees and directs people’s energies to the degree that they allow themselves to be affected. But those in bodies can easily choose whether to be consciously affected. Those not in bodies cannot.

You will notice that my work was done in the most sheltered part of Europe that was yet central. Portugal, for instance, was equally sheltered, but was a backwater. Austria, Germany, England were all central but not sheltered. My work had to be done quietly, steadily, without distraction but without isolation. In short, my life’s circumstances were a chemical retort — an alchemical retort, I should say — within which life proceeded to experiment and produce new combinations.

When my work came to be carried on, one strand of it came to be Robert Clarke, living an entirely obscure, humble existence in an English backwater. Externally he had no credentials but experience; no connections, no way to make his work known. But when he was ready, how easily the way opened. A letter to Colin Wilson, a referral to you, and the publication of two books. Then, when he was safely dying, the entrusting of three more books to you. None of this, you see, was produced or affected by the pressure of other people’s expectations. His alchemical retort was entire privacy through obscurity.

Thus three examples of how fame or constricted, specialized, fame or entire obscurity may shape a life’s work.

Hemingway is an example of a life lived itself as an example of wholeness, of gusto. The image, however, became increasingly skewed and skewed his life accordingly. And continues to do so 50 years after his death.

I’m afraid I have to stop; it has been an hour and a half and I’m tired. Perhaps this is a good place to continue, anyway, according to Papa’s dictum to stop while you’re going well.

You are stretching yourself a little, but if you are careful it will be all right.

You mean, I’m extending too far in trying to get this?

You are paying insufficient attention to your physical mechanism, in your preference for breaking new ground. You’ll be on the other side soon enough, without hurrying the process. I lived 86 years, and I know!

All right. It’s difficult for me in some ways, but I’m paying attention.

Scheduling your day away from this was a step in the right direction, but positive steps should be taken as well.

I know. Exercise.

Interest.

Interest?

More later.

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