Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's Only Words

I find that anything I say, do or write during or immediately after any experience is never representative of my final conclusions about the events or issues to which I am reacting.  Often, while the the heat from the moment still lingers, I blind myself to any lessons, conclusions or accurate evaluation of an event.  I think, if one looks back at one's college career, or high school, or a job one left more than five years ago, one will sum up various personalities encountered or one's own behavior, very differently from how one might do at the time.  It is much easier to evaluate a relationship long after it is over, and specifically to evaluate one's own errors therein, when the passions have cooled.  I suspect many people who have an angry parting will acknowledge years later (if they are not totally narcissistic and if they are not still fighting over children or possessions - in which case the relationship isn't over, only the partnership is) that there were plenty of faults on their own part which were not simply because "he (or she) drove me to it".  Just because one got the other party to actually ask for the divorce that both saw coming does not mean that one tried harder to save the marriage; it simply means that one was the more passive-aggressive partner or that one was better at gamesmanship.  No one in a relationship is playing Solitaire.  

My last entry was a fine example of exactly what I don't want to do, which is write a running commentary on my current life.  And, since I brought it up, I probably owe some kind of resolution: my time with Diem did not go well.  But my opening remarks here are an explanation, I hope, of why I am not going to explain what went wrong.  I think I learned something, but it is not something I can articulate - at least not accurately - at the present time.  

William Wordsworth described poetry (I can't recall his exact words) as being emotions recollected in tranquillity.   I suspect wisdom could be described much the same way.  There is no truth possible, no real understanding possible, until emotions have played themselves out.  Wordsworth is entirely right, not only about poetry but about any writing.  One can write well re-living a peak moment or a past affair, but one cannot write with much insight or wisdom during that moment or affair.  Think how tedious it is to listen to someone first in love when he or she is talking about the many virtues of the beloved; once is fine, but by the next day we really prefer to hear about something different.  Or out of pure boredom with the topic we begin storing up parts of the catalog to mention back to the impassioned one when the same degree of emotion is spent listing the deep black flaws in the now-discarded partner.  We are at our least interesting and certainly we express ourselves least uniquely when we speak of someone we have just fallen for, or of the baby that has just been born.

The only useful way to look at any broken relationship, any lost job, any past disappointment is with the assumption that we ourselves are partly at fault - and not just by reiterating one of those 'horoscope' faults ("I am too trusting",  "I am too generous", etc.).  It is useful instead to think of those times one kept silent when one should have spoken, when one should have been helpful instead of letting someone flounder, when one tried to force changes to make a person 'better', when one should have done the difficult thing.  It is self-defeating to catalog the faults of the friend or partner or boss after a separation; it is far better to examine that catalog of flaws before one plunges in.  Anyone can love or trust a complete bounder once; if there is a second occurrence then, well, as Cassius said, "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves…".  The second alcoholic or batterer or selfish prick or whatever that you love or marry is entirely upon you.  This is actually good news, because that fault which is yours is the only one that you can do anything about.  

It occurs to me that this also explains why the current style of candidates' debates is one of the worst possible ways to determine who is a good candidate for office.  The old style of debate where people were willing to take the time to listen an hour or so to each candidate laying out his positions followed by discussion might have been useful, but the format where a questioner tries to catch a candidate off-guard and unprepared and where opponents seize not on an idea but on the phraseology with which it is expressed, merely awards glibness (which may be the worst possible quality in an office holder).  Whatever a candidate blurts out in a debate about an issue hardly reflects accurately how he or she will perform, even in matters pertaining to that issue.  Who hasn't said something like "They ought to shoot them all" about one group or other, or made some similarly sweeping statement in a moment of passion, or during a moment of light humorous conversation among friends?  I certainly have, yet I would be hard put to think of a single situation where I would attempt as President to push through any action (as if one could) remotely resembling such a statement.  It is true that carefully vetted 'positions' on issues are supremely uninformative, but I submit that they are no less indicative of the behavior we can expect in office than are the quick answers to 'gotcha' questions in the heat of debate.  Harry Truman is now much revered for his actions as President, but at the time he was in office he was famed for shooting off his mouth and having to retract later.  Mom used to tell me of a famous comedy sketch showing an actor representing Harry trying to retrieve a letter from a public mailbox.  It was funny to audiences because it captured this personal quirk so well.  

Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, wrote and spoke beautiful words, but his behavior in office was thuggish and undemocratic.  Besides screwing the help, he schemed successfully to have his chief rival, Aaron Burr, executed; attempted to impeach Chief Justice Marshall for opposing him in some matters; established an embargo during the war of 1812 with the chief purpose of destroying those arch-rivals to Virginian supremacy, the merchants of New England; and sent warships to try and quell the outbreak of democracy in the black nation of Haiti to remove a bad example to the Blacks on his own estates.  Jefferson's idea of democracy is what we would describe as oligarchy: the only real objection he had to British Monarchy is that he wasn't the monarch.  This is remarkably similar to the motives that set bin Ladin on his path, as a Yemeni by family origin he was limited in how much power he could amass in Saudi Arabia, hence he set out to overthrow the monarchy which would always outrank him.  Originally he didn't give a shit about America, but like Jefferson, he was finely attuned to what sells with the people that he wanted to rule.   Not only did Jefferson did not want the vote extended to blacks or the white poor, he wanted to prevent the French and Spanish inhabitants of any class in the Louisiana Territory from voting also, based on their inferiority to those descended from the ethnicities we now call WASP.  

So words, especially those spoken on the fly or in the midst of passion, are mighty poor indicators of a man's fitness to hold office in a democracy, or his ability to frame policy in concert with supporters, opponents and the indifferent.  Actions (like punching a wife or opponent) are far more telling at those times, because these show what a man might do in office when aroused.  The ability of a man to speak dispassionately of his mistakes and of his own part in the failure of previous enterprises is, in my mind, one of the strongest indicators that he will be successful in the future.  At worst he will err differently, and two examples of failure might just inspire someone else to find the true solution, or the better path.  

And so back to the solitary life...


  1. But, writing a running commentary on your current life is EXACTLY what I would like you to do! Why must you be so responsibly silent about whatever happened until much later when you gain some real perspective?

    If I hadn't just spent 90 minutes in a traffic crawl that seemed to have no cause at all, I'd guess I wouldn't feel quite so strongly about this.

    I think one of your first posts after I happened upon your blog years ago was about your seeing a former love and deciding after the joyous reunion you weren't all that much in love at all. Do you remember that?

    To be honest, I'm just very, very happy to see some new entries from you. I've missed you and all my other favorite bloggers from MSN Spaces, all of whom seem to be plumb out of news.

  2. I agree with Flooz about the first blog post of your I read. It could have been the same one!

  3. @Flooz - Gee - my recollection of comments thru the ages (not yours, in particular, but all those I have gotten here and in Spaces Live) seem to indicate that people respond more to tales of times past. Your thoughts, however, do seem to explain the popularity of Facebook where people seem to be enthralled to hear that someone is at the beach or that the sun is shining and we are treated to endless variations on "you rock!" and "Good luck with that!" and "I hope you feel better soon." There are presumably some folks who can make a daily trip to the grocery enthralling, but I fear I am not one of them. It doesn't even enthrall me. The entry to which you refer, I assume is that where I re-met Tiko the Stalker after 3 years of dead silence. It WAS a discussion of current events in a way, but I submit that the real interest was not the event itself, but the long history of finished business that had gone before. If I just said I met some guy and it didn't go well without the 20+ years of history that preceded the meeting, it would have just been another story of another date. To tell the truth, the Tiko story isn't totally over yet, I don't think. Maybe I should talk about that some time. The thing that drew me to your blog at first was that awesome pic of you in the perfect beehive and the perfect 60s look. You were the kind of girl (in the pic) that I always wanted to know. Your blog interests me because even though you often talk about now, it always resounds with the history you have given with Mum, the Evil sisters, and the once-hot guys you have left behind (or vice versa) - oh, and because you write well.

    @Shana - THAT one might have been interesting, but I assure you my average day would bore you almost as much as it bores me. But FYI, it is sunny out; I am listening to one of my brother's songs as I write; I plan to go to Sam's Club later. If you are gripped by this, I'll try to get back to you on what I bought there (probably big cans of CoffeeMate will head the list). How's that for a cliffhanger?

  4. David, thank you so much for swinging by my teeny tiny blog Boozy Tooth and leaving such a nice comment. I used to keep a blog that was quite popular and had lots of followers, but it became more of a job than I wanted, so I started a new "anonymous" blog. It always shocks and surprises me when someone I don't know comes over and leaves a comment. Sure made my day. Thank you so very much. Your thoughtful comment really means a lot. Looking forward to getting to know you better through your blog. Thanks again!

  5. Yo, Booz - Teeny tiny, but toothy! I had to drop by a place with a name like Boozy Tooth - like a sweet tooth only better. I usually comment on blog entries I read if I like either the writing quality or the topic or sometimes just because I can't shut up. I was never a popular blogger, but I had a bit more following until I 1) got fed up with Spaces Live and moved and 2) became less regular a blogger - people got sick of dropping by and finding nothing new. I like finding new blogs that are interesting; I tend to check out, sooner or later, people who are followed by people that I follow (who, in turn, tend to people who at some point drop a comment here). So thanks for the visit.