Tuesday, April 27, 2021
5:25 a.m. I woke up thinking of JFK, parts of his inaugural address running through my mind. There had been a long dream but I don’t think I recall any of it. Instead, while I was turning on the coffee maker, I thought of The Sun Also Rises, and for the first time thought, whether or not Hemingway intended it consciously, it is also the story of the herd and the outlier. I don’t know that it is worth looking into in any detail, but I think it would bear the comparison, with various people being now a part of a herd, now an outlier or an outcast. Robert Cohn, of course – he is the one who comes to mind – but then each of them in his own way.
So why did I wake up – why was I dreaming about
Not the best question.
No, I remember that. Very well, let me think. What were my dreams of John F. Kennedy about, and how do they apply to my life today?
A better question, avoiding the sometimes unanswerable “why” that often merely provides what you call “the how of it” rather than “the why of it.”
Very well. And the answer to my improved question?
You can still quote much of that address that you heard and then read sixty years ago. It isn’t even as if you put any effort into memorizing it.
No. For a long time, I could still hear his voice as it came out on that Friday morning, and the printed text served merely as reminder.
You can’t do that for other speeches you read of, not even very important ones.
No. Even the Gettysburg Address of Lincoln’s, short as it is, will catch me at a certain point, and the forgotten word or forgotten connective will stop me from going on to finish it. The best I can do usually is a few sentences from an address, perhaps only a few phrases, even only a few words. “We face not a theory but a condition,” for instance. Even those few words from Roosevelt’s first inaugural may be subtly wrong, not in meaning but in exactly reproducing the words. “Ill-housed, ill-clothed, ill-fed”: I have the idea of it, but not necessarily the stenographic record. Or there will be sentences like “Yesterday a shaft of light cut into the darkness”; Kennedy describing the signing of the Test Ban Treaty. Context clear, but context serving only as matrix for an occasional gem, even though I remember so clearly listening to that speech in my grandmother’s living room. But what does this have to do with my dream?
How many speeches do you suppose inspire a person’s entire life?
I was about to argue with you, to point out that I was already a Kennedy partisan before that speech, but I see what you mean. It changed him in my view from an attractive personality to something entirely different – and it wasn’t the taking of the oath that did it, it was the speech. Funny that I never realized that.
You realized it at the moment, but you didn’t remember the transition later, because the fact of it wasn’t important, and because you were not introspective.
No, nor did I realize it until Rita Warren pointed it out 40 years later.
So, a pivotal moment, changing you into a devotee who had been inspired emotionally as well as, shall we say, intellectually. You had found him an attractive personality; now you discovered that he was so much deeper than you had realized, and it all rang true to you, and opened new visions.
Yes, I guess that’s what happened. I have never thought of it in those terms. I was only 14, after all. A precocious 14 intellectually, a backward 14 emotionally, but still, only 14, with a 14-year-old’s ignorance of the world and the world’s mainsprings and counter-flows.
You might have had a very different internal life afterward, if snow had not kept you home where you could watch the inauguration and hear that speech. Merely reading it would not have produced the same effect.
I suppose I could have waited 50 or 60 years and watched it on YouTube.
Yes, very funny, but you see the point.
I see a point. I’m not sure yet what this has to do with my dreams, still unremembered, unless it was merely for the dream to act as excuse for you to tell me about the effect of watching the inauguration.
Notice that – in your mind these are different categories, so you label one as “the point” and the other as “a side trail” – awakening from a dream of Kennedy’s inaugural address, you segue to a thought of how Hemingway’s book might be seen as a depiction of herds and outliers. You think they are unconnected because logically they appear to be unconnected. However, in waking life as in dreaming, events are as often linked by emotion as by thought. More often, in fact. And emotion has its own logic, quite as valid as formal logic of thought.
Kennedy admired Hemingway, I know that. He had invited him as honored guest at that event, in fact.
And Papa couldn’t go, not only because he was mentally unwell, but – primarily – because he was ashamed of what he had become physically, a shadow of the example of virility he had been.
[EH]: A mockery, in fact.
Welcome, Papa. Is that it, then, you didn’t want to be seen that way?
I was sick, but yes, I had lost so much ground just since returning from Spain, I couldn’t stand the idea. I thought, “Let’s preserve the image, anyway. Let’s not damage the brand.”
Not in so many words.
The form of words don’t matter, that was the sense of it. You don’t want to parade your debility.
“I never found that it paid to discuss casualties.”
Not the same thing, but along that line, yes. Do you want people to look at you and be encouraged, or discouraged? I mean by that, what kind of example do you want to be?
Your mother would have approved of that sentiment.
She would have. It’s very Victorian, like me.
Some people will find that idea a shock, but I don’t. I think it’s very true. Now guys, can you pull this together a little? I got the pieces but not the overall shape.
Are you not concerned with the example you set? Are you not wondering?
As you said, you weren’t particularly introspective.
That’s our theme song. If anything gives you an outside perspective on your life, it is this kind of communication, written or otherwise. That’s one reason why not everyone does it, by the way. Not everyone needs to do it.
Your life is nearly over, hence your career, hence your production for the world. Naturally you wonder what it came to. Naturally you wonder how it will be seen. Take the dream as reassurance that it was not wasted even if the effects are not visible. Did Kennedy know of all the boys watching that speech, taking fire from it? Is there any reason he should have known, even if it had been possible? And the herd-outlier insight applies to you as well, of course. Nobody spends his or her life entirely as herd animal, entirely as outlier, entirely as outcast, even. You move into different roles relative to the people you mix with, which seems to be external and certainly is outside your conscious control.
So sometimes we’re Jake and sometimes we’re Robert Cohn and sometimes we’re Bill, or Brett, or Mike?
More like sometimes in any of their lives they are part of the herd, and sometimes they are outliers, and occasionally they are outcast.
I could give examples, now I see it, but I don’t feel like doing it. Anybody who reads the book will be able to see it clearly enough. It was just that I hadn’t made the connection before. But what was this session about?
We answered your “improved question.”
Well, so you did. All right. Done for the moment?
We suppose it would be a waste of effort to encourage you to further self-examination – further introspection – but it would be entertaining, if approached in the proper spirit, and would be instructional in any case.
If you say so. okay, our thanks as always. I’ll send this around, but I’m not sure who will get what from it. Till next time.