Conversations July 23, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nearly 5 AM. Funny, these guys. Subtle, too. I’m lying there asleep — at least I assume I was asleep — and I hear the doorbell, “ding dong” — only low, muted, and anyway this house’s doorbell doesn’t sound like that. And so with an internal smile I realize that it is my slave-drivers suggesting that it’s time. Out of hand, these guys. And of course they remind me of my friend Rich’s conceptualization of his Guidance. When he wants an answer, he visualizes a doorbell and pushes it. Calls them The Doorbells, which ranks up there with Frank And The Guys Upstairs as a good name for a singing group.

All right, Ernest, I see the point now of a list of queued-up questions. I was just fishing around, wondering how to begin, when I remembered that I have a couple of questions left.

And you can see that it is time for you to do the thinking about the material that will generate more questions, for just that reason. It isn’t a matter of sitting down and analyzing what you have and then producing an end result. You sit down and read, and it raises questions, and you pursue them, and you have more material, and gradually clarity emerges and deepens.

Well, that makes the process clearer. Thanks. I’ll have to become more systematic about it.

Re-reading and making headers for all the earlier sessions will provide a start and can be made into part of your routine as this has become. That’s one way.

All right. So — “Papa” — do you have anything you’d like to say about your time with the Kansas City Star during World War I before you went overseas, or with the Montréal Star after you return?

Your more careful reading has showed you my life less from hindsight and more from how it looked to me going forward — or anyway it is showing you how I looked, going forward.

Yes indeed. I have a picture of you — come to think of it; this just occurs to me — much like my cousin Charlie, so much enthusiasm and drive and intensity, so magnetic a personality.

Did the abstract not get concrete, right all at once, just then?

It did! It really did. I had read of how you were, and I had an idea of it, but suddenly connecting it to something I’d seen popped it out for me.

What you just experienced is a sudden grounding of an abstraction. But I don’t like either of those two words very much. “Grounding” seems like “bringing something down to earth” and is accurate in one sense but is not accurate if it is taken to mean “deflating the overblown” or “making concrete something that was vacuous.” And “abstraction” — well, I never trusted abstractions, even though we deal in them continually.

Let’s say, instead, that you just connected a component so that the juice flowed through it. That’s what grounding means, in this case. And it wasn’t an abstraction, that idea of me that you had had, but a visualization, even an idealization.

When you connect a visualization or ideal image to a functioning current, it becomes a part of the flow — part of the electrical circuit — and is able to contribute on a moment-to-moment basis, rather than sitting separate and unconnected except when specifically addressed.

When you suggested to your friend Michael that he address various “past lives” he knew of, he experienced a sudden coming-alive of those parts within him. What had been masks on a wall became living intelligences interacting with him. That was the same process.

Yes, I can see that. And all my boyhood reading, of Lincoln, say —

You were much too young and too inexperienced to truly understand what you were reading except as generalized background about a slice of American history from 1809 — or from his boyhood, really, or young manhood — to 1865. Even the background wasn’t in any connected circuit. The Civil War was as much a disconnected series of set-piece incidents as anything else. It was not the process, the connection, that you gradually learned it to be. It couldn’t easily be otherwise — you have to learn the alphabet before you can spell; grammar before you can write. So this was giving you the basics, and at a very young age. There would be time enough to retrace and retrace your steps, adding understanding as your life provided you with experience.

Hmm. In this as in so many things, I’ve had to do it backwards from the way other people do things, I see.

There is undoubtedly a Complaints desk somewhere.

I’m smiling too. But it’s striking. It’s like, there is a flow, a circuit, and there are components. And sometimes we build (or receive) another component and other times we plug another component into the circuit.

It’s just a non-inflated way of restating what you’ve heard often enough before: Your job in life is to keep connecting the dots so that all parts of yourself productively interact. Work on this analogy; develop it a little. It has promise.

Seems to. All right, I will. All right. You and newspapering.

Don’t forget, you have another advantage that somehow has not occurred to you: Your very first job out of college was as a newspaper reporter.

Which gives me a faint echo of your early life. I hadn’t thought of it, it’s true.

Also an echo of your cousin Charlie’s life. Your journalist cousin Charlie that you found so attractive.

Is this why you nudged me — if it was you, as I am beginning to suspect, though until now I’d assumed it was my own idea — to give Angelo’s editor [in my novel Babe In The Woods] Charlie’s name and part of his personality?

Whether you thought of it or were nudged — how would you be able to tell, and what difference would it make? You’re always being nudged by a million things in life, mostly without your knowing. That’s just how life is. Don’t worry about it.

Well, for the sake of the studio audience, so to speak —

I had a cousin named Charlie Reilly. We called him Bub when he was a kid. He was seven years older than me, a year older than my older brother, and seven years is an eternity when you’re kids. It’s a gap that can’t be bridged. But I admired him and found him enormously attractive as an individual, everything that I was not. He was outgoing, knowledgeable about the world (or so it seemed to me, especially as he moved out into it, while I was still in school), self-confident, just enormously cheerful and attractive to people. He gave me my first bit of external validation while I was in high school and he was in the Army, writing to my mother how bright and mature I was. (I saw the letter and clung to the praise, needing it desperately.) Later he became a reporter, and an editor and I got one glimpse of his life — only one — because my parents and I “happened” to have car trouble one Sunday night in the town where he lived. That glimpse stayed with me. And then he was killed at age 39, in December 1978, trying to rescue a kid in a fire, and one of the headlines said “Hero dies in fire” or something like that. His funeral Mass had three priests concelebrating it; the publicity was huge. I wasn’t there. I was in another state with my wife and child, and didn’t get back till the day after the funeral, but I heard about it.

A little more than eight years later (though much later, experientially) in January 1987, at Shirley MacLaine’s first Higher Self Seminar in Virginia Beach, one of our exercises was to meet our twin soul — and to my amazement, it was Bub! “The first 40 years were mine,” he said. “The next 40 years are yours.” Fortunately I told this to my brother Paul, because by the time he quoted it back to me, years later, I’d forgotten it, and it came as a big shock!

And of course now it occurs to me, I could talk to Bub again, but I defer that.

But you see that having a glimpse into his life, and then yourself having two experiences of journalism, you have an introduction to my life via an emotional, an intuitive, connection rather than a merely logical one. Or I suppose I should say, both an intuitive and a logical connection, now. The one gives you a picture, the second gives you flow.

There is a tremendous lot of information packed into that insight. It’s going to take some time to unpack it.

Do it with your fingers — in other words, writing — rather than trying to do it in your head. You can’t fix it, like an artist fixing a charcoal sketch, without setting it out somehow. If you don’t do that, it just swirls around in your head. Analogy, remember.

So — you on the two papers —

Suddenly you can see that it wasn’t Ernest Hemingway acting as a young man, but young Ernie, feeling his way into life, the way your cousin did. Both ways of seeing it are true enough, actually, but biographers are prone to reading a man’s life backwards.

Reynolds doesn’t.

Well, he’s always drawing connections forward, and that is valuable, but only if the reader remembers that the subject of the biography didn’t know all that. The subject of a biography doesn’t know the barest elements of his story. How could he? Who he marries, what kids he has, how he lives, where and when he dies — nobody knows that ahead of time, and it’s just as well. But the biographer knows before he begins to write, and if he isn’t careful he’ll write a portrait instead of talking to the person.

But that’s all they think possible.

Well, that’s what they think, but that isn’t really what happens or even how they experience it. It’s just that when they come to set it all down, it comes out within the format that says, “he lived, but he’s dead now” instead of “he lived and here’s how it was for him” and certainly not “here’s what he thinks now, looking backward.”

They couldn’t very well do that and keep their respectability.

Not yet, no. But if they knew more than they admitted, and incorporated it in some way — as Carl Jung often had to do, — they could make a more alive portrait. Sandberg did it. So did Reynolds, in fact. But it doesn’t always come through — like most things in life it depends on the person, come to think of it. The reader determines what is in the book he reads.

We’ve done our usual 70 minutes, but I’d still like to hear about you and the newspapers.

Plenty of time for that. Today’s session wasn’t a diversion.

No! And it’s funny that I have to keep remembering, I could contact this or that person. It’s like I have to — oh.

Yes. You have to complete the circuit before it will become an automatic process for you. Until then, you’ll need reminding on a case-by-case basis.

Hmmm. One more example of how we function all disconnected.

That’s one way to look at it. Another is to say, it’s an example of how you can learn to function connected, and what’s in it for you.

Thanks, my friend. And Bub, I hear you in the wings. Our time will come, and I’ll be glad to talk to you after so much time.

[I append a poem I wrote about him right after he died. Neither death nor life looks the same to me now as it did when I was 32.]

Night Snow

His possibilities dead, behind him

He leaves crystallized rationalizations

And a thousand cigarette butts and

Tickets to every sporting event within a day’s drive.

And memories. And plastic idols. And discarded

Unnoticed bystanders, captured by the smile.

Too late! Too late! Too late!

Bewildered by the terrific din

Of cessation of that eternal motion,

The survivors stand amazed, forlorn,

Numbly gathering shards of reminiscence,

Exchanging reassuring myth of

Inexplicable catastrophe,

Lest they be forced to rectify their lives.

Too late! Too late! Too late!

You terrible others, why do you not mourn

Possibilities foresworn? The death

Was only culmination of the life. Not

That he died, or died too soon, but that he

Retreated from himself, hammered up a legend,

And died unable to return. Every

Silent nighttime falling snowflake calls,

Too late! Too late! Too late!

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