Monthly Archives: September 2017

afraid of commitment … and death

 

 

During my lifetime, I have benefited from having friends whom I met in all sorts of ways, from school to work to many other venues; and from having friends who have ranged from the conventional and successful to unconventional individuals who have, in various ways, broadened my outlook and knowledge of people and life, and, also, have often introduced me to ideas and various things that I would never have otherwise encountered.

_______ was one of my unconventional friends. (I guess practically everyone has a few.) We met in my workplace, although we did not actually have the same employer. He was a sort of subcontractor.

_______ was older than me by over a decade. Yet age never mattered. We clicked from the get go.

_______ did not live the conventional life of a middle class striver, although he had been raised, apparently, in a conventional middle class home by WASP parents. I believe his father was a bookkeeper or accountant, or some such job, and worked for several years for a municipal agency.

To give an idea of how he defied convention — to what extent (and here, I should say, that he was never a rebel; he was unconventional in lifestyle and thoughts, but was not the kind of person who acted outwardly defiant; furthermore, he was not a radical or political person) — an amusing story might be apropos. He told me (he had come to young adulthood in the 1950’s) that an aunt of his said to him: “I know what you are. You’re a beatnik!”

_______ didn’t mind this remark. He told me, “I am a beatnik.” He also used to say to me, “I live in a slum and I like it.” At that time (which was the time when I first met him), he was a city dweller.

When one thinks of a beatnik, one thinks of a guy with a beard who is perhaps given to making comments to discomfit unhip squares. _______ wasn’t at all what one would think of as the Jack Kerouac type. He wasn’t a good dresser (he got his clothes at thrift shops), but he was clean cut and in no way dressed, talked, or acted in such a way as to call attention to himself. He was extremely courteous and was well spoken.

_______ absolutely did not believe in medicine or doctors. He had no bank account. He was very into New Age stuff. He had several sessions (called readings) with a psychic. She told _______ about his prior lives, going back to the Middle Ages (he had been a monk, she said). He believed this absolutely.

 

 

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Despite all the things that I found interesting about my unconventional friend, and despite my welcoming and appreciating his friendship, I came to realize over time that he had his limitations. (Don’t we all?)

He was an only child. I would guess that he didn’t have much contact with other kids. He rarely talked about his upbringing or parents.

I was impressed (perhaps too much) by _______’s open, inquisitive mind. Everything was intuition. When I was younger, his rambling thoughts intrigued me. But he was intellectually lazy.

He would tell me, for example, that according to something he had read, you could learn things from a book by putting the book under your pillow and sleeping on it. He believed this.

He preferred to live in an abstract, theoretical realm. He did not like to be tied or nailed down by facts.

If you were in a discussion with him, and wanted to get analytical, or, say, had contradictory evidence, he wasn’t interested in hearing it. He had an interesting mind, in many respects, totally unconventional, yet, as I say, interesting. But once he formed an opinion, there was no way you could change his mind or thinking, no matter how much evidence or what counterarguments you might use. He wasn’t listening.

One little example. _______ never studied foreign languages. He did not have the initiative or patience for that type of endeavor. (He attended college briefly but dropped out.) Once I was telling him how I had grown to love an oratorio by Berlioz, “L’enfance du Christ.” He was interested. (If you introduced a topic likely to appeal to _______, he could be very interested. But if not, he would be bored and make no effort.) We discussed it a bit and I told him the title in English meant “the childhood of Christ.”

Whenever _______, who not well educated by conventional standards, got a shred of information, he was proud of it. He didn’t know any foreign languages, but he was familiar with the film “Les enfants terribles” (1950, based on Cocteau’s novel). So _______ knew the word enfants and that enfants meant children.

Well, enfants and enfance are pronounced the same. So, when I said “l’enfance du Christ,” ______ suggested that the title of the film might mean “the children of Christ.” No, I explained, that was not the case. He seemed disappointed, skeptical, and a tad annoyed. I don’t think he quite believed me.

He found his parents to be way too strict and developed a habit of stubborn non-compliance. He was a Peter Pan.

His attitude towards women was a mystery to me. He could get along with women such as friends’ girlfriends or spouses or women that he would encounter in an intellectual or professional context, but he seemed to completely avoid intimate relationships and appeared to be completely against letting it happen.

Despite his original mind, there were some places he just wouldn’t go in discussion. He had no use for psychological or psychiatric stuff.

 

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One shouldn’t make snap judgments or draw superficial conclusions about people. But I have thought about _______ over the years as I have matured; have gained more life experience and practical wisdom; and, most importantly, have assumed adult responsibilities.

My wife has given me critical insights about _______. I asked how she would explain certain things about him. She said he was a perennial boy who never grew up in most respects. He was afraid of COMMITMENT, of committing himself to certain obligations and to adult relationships. This latter realization was my own. I have so thought for a long time. He has avoided adult responsibilities and marriage and children.

I have concluded that what _______ fears is DEATH. Loss. Without becoming committed, one has less to lose.

I did not realize this until I got married and had children. That changes everything . Because now you don’t just have your own death to fear, you are terrified at the thought of losing those dear to you, which is in a sense worse than losing one’s own life.

Afraid of commitment. Because there would be something to lose.

Afraid of mortality, the very thought of it.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 2017

epiphany II

 

 

The following is an email of mine.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 28, 2017

 

 

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Janet and Scott —

 

In my blog post

“epiphany”

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/08/23/epiphany/

 

from a month or so ago, I described how I had a mystical experience while walking in Manhattan in the early evening that day after leaving the library.

I experienced this again this evening under similar circumstances.

I had just taken the Staten Island ferry back and forth for pleasure. At rush hour.

It wasn’t that crowded, especially returning to Manhattan.

Everyone in a good mood, as usual.

Gorgeous sunset … other passengers and I were saying to one another how beautiful it was: the sky, the crimson clouds, the sinking sun shimmering on the water, the harbor.

I got off at around 7:00 and walked about three blocks to an Au Bon Pain on Broad Street.

Sat down and plugged my phone in to charge it.

Place more or less empty; two young women at an adjacent table were having a friendly, animated discussion.

The place is self-serve. I poured myself a large coffee from an urn … went to the counter where you pay; no one there … finally concluded, looks like this coffee is free.

I sat nursing my coffee for a while … and musing.

No one ever bothers you in the City; in Manhattan, in the midst of frenzied activity (though not at this moment) going on constantly around you and people everywhere, one can, paradoxically, attain great peace.

I walked uptown a couple of blocks to catch the number 4 train … in those moments, I experienced the epiphany.

It had cooled down and there was a wonderfully refreshing sea breeze on the sidewalks.

There are relatively few people in the Financial District (Wall Street area) at that time of day … what people there were, were sauntering along, with pairs conversing happily.

I had a feeling, surge, of profound happiness, serenity, and inner peace.

 

Roger

the punishment of Anthony Weiner

 

 

Roger W. Smith

email to Anthony Weiner

September 27, 2017

 

 

Dear Mr. Weiner,

I feel terribly sorry for you.

YOU are a victim.

Of malicious prosecutors and an inhuman judge.

Who refuse to acknowledge your contrition and progress in therapy.

And of a legal system which is making you out be a monster for what was a foolish but petty transgression.

 

Roger W. Smith

Maspeth, NY

 

 

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Former congressman Anthony Weiner has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for having illicit contact on line with a 15-year-old girl using Skype and Snapchat. Weiner was also fined $10,000. After his sentence is served, he must undergo internet monitoring. He must also enroll in a sex-offender treatment program. He will be required to register as a convicted sex offender where he lives or works for the rest of his life.

Weiner has no prior criminal record, has pledged himself to rehabilitation, and has been undergoing a rigorous program of group therapy and treatment by Sex Addicts Anonymous.

In May 2017, Weiner pleaded guilty to transferring obscene material to a minor, stemming from interactions he had with a 15-year-old girl from England. The Daily Mail had published an article about the illicit online exchange, based upon an interview with the girl. The incident came after a barrage of revelations about Weiner’s explicit communications with women he met on the internet. Weiner is married and has a five-year-old son. His wife has filed for divorce.

Previous incidents of sexting by Weiner that were publicized had resulted in his resignation from Congress and public humiliation for him.

 

 

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WHAT THE PROSECUTORS SAID:

 

The prosecutors, Amanda Kramer and Stephanie Lake, in their sentencing papers, said probation was “simply inadequate.” (The government had recommended a sentence within the range of 21 to 27 months.) “There is a history here that simply cannot be ignored,” Ms. Kramer said in court. “What is required here to stop the defendant from re-offending, to fully pierce his denial and end this tragic cycle is a meaningful term of imprisonment.”

 

 

WHAT WEINER’S LAWYERS SAID:

Weiner’s lawyers, Arlo Devlin-Brown and Erin Monju, had sought probation for him, citing what they described as Weiner’s “remarkable progress” in the treatment program he is participating in. In court, Mr. Devlin-Brown asked the judge to hold out prison as a possibility if necessary, “but not apply it now, and give an opportunity for something positive to emerge from the wreckage of all of this.”

Mr. Devlin-Brown, in a statement, cited a comment by the judge that Weiner’s sentence might send a cautionary message to other sex addicts. “We certainly hope this public service message is received,” he said, “but it has resulted in a punishment more severe than it had to be, given the unusual facts and circumstances of the case.”

One of Weiner’s lawyers emphasized in court during his sentencing that he is the father of a five-year-old boy, whose continued contact with Mr. Weiner could be instrumental to his recovery.

In addition, Mr. Devlin-Brown cited Weiner’s commitment to rehabilitation as a reason not to send Weiner to prison at all, arguing that it would disrupt the “remarkable progress” he has made in therapy.

 

 

WHAT WEINER SAID AT HIS SENTENCING:

 

“I acted not only unlawfully but immorally, and if I had done the right thing, I would not be standing before you today. The prosecutors are skeptical that I have truly changed and I don’t blame them. I repeatedly acted in an obviously destructive way when I was caught.”

“I was a very sick man for a very long time. I have a disease but I have no excuse. I accept complete and total responsibility for my crime. I was the adult.”

 

 

WHAT THE JUDGE SAID:

 

The judge, Denise L. Cote of Federal District Court in Manhattan, told Mr. Weiner that his offense was “a serious crime that deserves serious punishment.” She said that there was a uniform opinion among those who had examined him that he had “a disease that involves sexual compulsivity; some call it a sex addiction.” She said Mr. Weiner was finally receiving “effective treatment for this disease,” including attending group therapy and Sex Addicts Anonymous. “I find he is making an enormous contribution to others who are suffering from that same disease. But the difficulty here, is that this is a very strong compulsion, so strong [that] despite two very public disclosures and the destruction of his career on two occasions, he continued with the activity.”

Judge Cote also said that because of Mr. Weiner’s notoriety, there was “intense interest in this prosecution, in his plea, and his sentence. … So there is the opportunity to make a statement that could protect other minors.”

 

 

WHAT THE U.S. ATTORNEY SAID:

 

Joon H. Kim, the acting United States attorney in Manhattan, said Mr. Weiner’s sentence was “just” and “appropriate.”

 

 

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD (“The Wreckage of Anthony Weiner.” editorial, September 25, 2017)

 

As painful as it is to watch a life in ruins, Mr. Weiner brought degradation upon himself. No public penance on his part, no acknowledgment of a sexual addiction, no level of commitment to rehabilitation, no expressed regrets for having turned lives upside down, could absolve him of grave sin. This former New York congressman had repeatedly exchanged lewd texts with a 15-year-old girl. That made him not just a moral transgressor. It made him a criminal. … The year and nine months given him by Judge Denise Cote qualified as an act of grace, as did her hope that, once freed, he would find a way to be “engaged productively.” … To put it bluntly, Anthony Weiner — smart, often witty, politically deft, at one time plausibly a strong candidate for New York mayor — proved to be a pathetic jerk. But few jerks do as much damage as he did in his recklessness. He may even be responsible for Donald Trump being president. … He certainly was the ruination of himself. “I was a very sick man for a very long time,” he told the judge before she sentenced him. Not many would have disagreed when he then said, “I have no excuse.”

 

Comment by Roger W. Smith: This is stern moralizing by holier than thou creeps, which is what they are, to put it bluntly. They have suddenly gotten religion. What they can’t forgive Mr. Weiner for is the “sin” of supposedly derailing Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency. This to them is a mortal sin, far outweighing his other transgressions, which they could really care less about (despite pretending otherwise). Compassion and human understanding are not their concern.

Also, Mr. Weiner has become an EMBARRASSMENT. His “sins” really are negligible in the overall scope of things. Yes, negligible. He had no prior criminal record and engaged in activity that got him into trouble legally only once. He had no physical or personal contact (other than “virtual contact”) with the girl and did do something inappropriate and illegal, but not something that deserves jail time. (Many Times readers feel as I do; see below.) He doesn’t have friends left in the right places, though, because he is seen as a loser and creep (“pathetic jerk”) in the Times editorial writers’ opinion (despite having been on the “right side” politically when it comes to Timesthink), which, you can be sure, represents the thinking of “right thinking” people (those who consider themselves ashamed of Mr. Weiner). Once they no longer approve of you, watch out!

 

 

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COMMENTS BY NEW YORK TIMES READERS:

 

 

It’s hard to defend Anthony Weiner but someone has to. His crimes were crimes of ideas, thoughts and fantasies. No one was physically touched, no one was ever physically harmed. They all participated and if they felt he was bothering him they could have easily ‘deleted’ him. Sure, the guy has issues, but they are his issues and none of our business. He is fully aware of the irreparable damage that his obsessiveness with sexual fantasy with people he has met online has caused in him. His job as congressman, his rehabilitation, his marriage. I can see the judge taking away his cell phone for 21 months, but not putting him in jail.

 

 

The worst sadness in all this is his son. Weiner is seriously ill and was unable to control his devastating impulses. Why subject his son to 21 months without him when it has been shown he has improved with now, the right treatment and hasn’t offended in a year. His son needs him at his delicate age more than Weiner needs a jail cell, with seemingly less therapy available. Why didn’t the judge consider his long-suffering wife when she asked, because of their son, not to jail him. So the judge sentenced his son to possibly a much longer sentence than his father…. Sad. Judge, very sad.

 

 

What is wrong with our legal system? Anthony Weiner is a sick man, he has a mental illness. So we’re going to send him to prison for nearly two years? Bankers and lenders who engage in practices that nearly destroy the economy, and bankrupt thousands and thousands of innocent people, never spend a day in prison, not even one of the nice “white collar” ones but someone with a severe addiction is sentenced to prison. What’s wrong with this picture? Everything.

 

 

Am I the only one who thinks 21 months for sexting is ridiculous? There wasn’t even any contact.

 

 

While I don’t approve of Weiner’s action(s) and am livid at both he and his wife for their role in the 2016 election disaster, I have to wonder if 21 months for sending pictures to a teenager is a tad draconian. There were pictures. There was no physical contact. The girl was 15, not 11. She was never in any physical danger and was free to end the session(s) at any time.

The leap from jailing someone for sending pictures to jailing someone for making a lewd comment to jailing someone for thinking lewd thoughts is not as great as one might imagine. I suggest that those calling for blood in this case take a deep breath and do some deep thinking.

 

 

Anthony Weiner should not go to jail. He has treatable illness and the place for treatment is through the medical system not the prison system. His crimes were crimes of fantasy and he never so much as physically touched a “victim” who could have easily “deleted” him instead of egging him on. He has already lost enough. His job, his aspirations of political rehabilitation, his privacy, his marriage. Take a way his cell phone maybe, but not his freedom.

 

 

The sentencing of Mr. Weiner is excessive and unjustified. Twenty-one months in a federal jail for having committed a virtual crime with a teenager who is curious and confused, and willing, is selective enforcement and unjust.

Mr. Weiner has an impulse control problem, that is clear. I don’t see him as a monster but one with a neurological and behavioral disorder on a level with drug addiction.

 

 

I don’t care for the man but the sentence is way too harsh. He never had physical contact with the young person. It can be true that he’s a jerk, and also be true that his sentence is too harsh.

 

 

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MY THOUGHTS

 

Anthony Weiner has not behaved in a way that reflects well upon him.

He has an addiction, a compulsion.

An addiction to sex, alcohol, drugs, gambling may be a problem for a person and their loved ones, but it is not a priori a crime. Nor should it be.

Weiner’s addiction manifested itself in sexting. It was behavior not becoming a public official, but, since it was with other adults, it was not a crime. Until he slipped up once, and engaged in a salacious internet exchange with an underage girl.

For this he will be required to register as a sex offender? That is really cruel and uncalled for. Yes, cruel. Isn’t the purpose of such laws — i.e., those dealing with sex offenders — to prevent predators such as rapists and child molesters from repeat offenses, and to protect potential victims? Anthony Weiner belongs in this category of offender? The judge says he does, or could be, or _______ (who knows how she concluded what she did). How does she know that he is a dangerous sexual predator likely to continue, despite being in therapy? She pretends to knowledge which is founded on nothing substantive, no evidence; there is no basis for her conclusions.

A key to the judge’s convoluted thinking seems to be indicated by her statement that because of Weiner’s notoriety, there has been “intense interest in this prosecution, in his plea, and his sentence. … So there is the opportunity to make a statement that could protect other minors.”

In other words, use Weiner to make a general point — to teach a lesson to all and sundry — which does not quite apply in this case, but who cares? It’s worth using Weiner as an example, to scare would be predators from offending. Just in case they might be thinking about it. Or, if Weiner himself might possibly be thinking about repeating. Better to be safe than sorry. Put his head on a pole in a public square.

It’s not fair. There is a person’s life being ruined here. Can’t the punishment be made to at least fit the crime? Are we to have “designer sentences” contrived to set an example for all would be sexters?

Trials are a game. Like kids playing tug of war, Old Maid, or Monopoly. Or sports contests. The two sides — prosecution and defense — only want to WIN. (And, to run up the score, if they can. Just as a football team doesn’t want to win by 3 points if they can manage to win by 30 points, prosecutors argue for as long a sentence as they manage to see imposed, no matter the justness of it.) Perhaps — probably — to bolster their resumes. In the process, what’s fair and what the explanation for misdeeds might be — and many other considerations that ought to be taken into account in resolving thorny questions of motivation, guilt, responsibility, accountability, and so on — get brushed aside.

The truth and what’s fair are irrelevant. Compassion for the individual on trial is considered irrelevant, not to the purpose. For example, that Weiner is contrite and has committed himself to therapy, or that imprisonment could have a negative effect upon his son, who is five years old.

Judges to be prepared for the job must have to submit to the opposite of a blood transfusion: an UNtransfusion whereby they are drained of all blood. Of human feeling and human emotions. They and the Robespierre-like prosecutors are bloodless, insensate, obdurate, unfeeling, heartless, insentient, soulless, unbending, cold blooded, indurated. (Choose your adjective.)

A final thought. It concerns public morality as it affects and impinges upon the thinking and decisions of prosecutors and judges.

The PC crowed used to be against censorship and obscenity laws and against snooping, into bedrooms and/or one’s reading matter, say. The American literary critic Newton Arvin (1900-1963), a professor at Smith College, was forced into retirement in 1960 after pleading guilty to charges stemming from the possession of pictures of semi-nude men from issues of magazines such as Grecian Guild Pictorial and Trim: Young America’s Favorite Physique Publication. Arvin’s prosecution is regarded as having been a miscarriage of justice (he also had Communist leanings), yet, today, something similar is going on with the vigilant hunting of persons who violate strictures regarding what is and what is not permissible to be viewed or shared on the internet. There seems to have been a definite shift towards meting out more severe punishments, and the PC crowd are in the vanguard, calling for justice, as they see it, to be applied with no possibility of redemption (read treatment, in the case of nonviolent offenders) contemplated or allowed for.

 

 

Roger W. Smith

   September 28, 2017

 

 

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Addendum:

 

According to a Wikipedia article at

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_projection

Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.

That’s what has fundamentally been going on here. Ever since Anthony Weiner was caught sexting. As the press was feasting on and gloating about each new disclosure.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

A former colleague and good friend of my wife called this evening (September 30) and left a voice mail. It so happens that he is very articulate.

Apropos my post about Anthony Weiner, he said: “Roger’s argument about Anthony Weiner is so compelling, it’s impossible to detect any flaws in it.”

I realize, sadly, that despite this, it will probably not help Mr. Weiner.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

All the while, [Alabama politician and former judge Roy] Moore seems to have been the king of hypocrisy. The Washington Post published a devastating account of how he initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old schoolgirl.

The victim said that Moore, then a 32-year-old assistant district attorney, drove the girl to his house, removed her clothes and touched her sexually. Under Alabama law, that apparently constitutes sexual abuse in the second degree. If you want an example of a politician who lost support and was arrested for less egregious behavior, consider Anthony Weiner, the former Democratic member of Congress, who is now in prison for sexting a 15-year-old girl.

 

— “God Should Sue Roy Moore,” by Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, November 10, 2017

 

Note that Weiner admitted his transgressions, participated in sex offender therapy, and pleaded guilty.

hats

 

 

The other day, I used a cliché in conversation with a friend. I had shared an audiotape of an interesting lecture with him. “If you don’t find it interesting,” I said, “I’ll eat my hat.”

He joked that I don’t wear a hat.

“Yes,” I replied, “nobody does. Since JFK.”

 

 

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Afterwards, I got to thinking about a remark a friend of mine, the poet Charles Pierre, once made to me.

In the preface to his Collected Stories (1978), the author John Cheever wrote: “These stories seem at times to be stories of a long-lost world when the city of New York was still filled with a river light, when you heard the Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner stationery store, and when almost everybody wore a hat [italics added].”

Alluding to this, my friend Charlie observed that this indicates something that was true of what he called the “New Yorker writer” and New Yorker stories.

“They trade off on what you already know,” he said. “It’s a commonplace that men used to wear hats.” The implication: such stories are not really original in content; they don’t take us into new realms of consciousness, thought, or experience.

 

 

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Another thought, a memory, about hats occurred to me because of my friend’s jest the other day.

When I was in the seventh grade, I rode a bike to school every day. It was freezing cold in the winter months. We lived in New England. Often, I would get to school and would be rubbing my hands at my desk; they would seem almost frostbitten. There would be tears in my eyes.

I didn’t wear gloves; nor, for the most part, did I wear a hat.

Actually, I had a knit cap. My mother would insist that I put in on every morning.

It was probably something stupid such as that I didn’t want to mess up my hair (slicked with hair tonic). That must have been the reason. Anyway, I didn’t want to comply. But I would give in and put on my hat.

When I got just past our front yard, I would take the knit cap off and stick it my back pocket.

My mother in later years would joke with me about this. She said that she would be watching me, through the kitchen window, leave for school. (She was the solicitous type — although she was not overbearing — and undoubtedly wanted to make sure I got off okay.) She said she would be amused to see me take my hat off, without fail, when I thought I was out of sight.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 2017

“Black Coffee”

 

Let us take a day in Balzac’s working life, a day typical of thousands.

Eight o’clock in the evening. The citizens of Paris have long since finished their day’s work and left their offices, shops, or factories. After having dined either with their families, or their friends, or alone, they were beginning to pour out into the streets in search of pleasure. Some strolled along the boulevards or sat in cafés, others were still putting the finishing touches to their toilet before the mirror prior to a visit to the theater or a salon. Balzac alone was asleep in his darkened room, dead to the world after sixteen or seventeen hours spent at his desk.

Nine o’clock. In the theaters the curtain had already gone up, the ballrooms were crowded with whirling couples, the gambling-houses echoed to the chink of gold, in ‘the side streets furtive lovers pressed deeper into the shadows-but Balzac slept on.

Ten o’clock. Here and there lights were being extinguished in houses, the older generation was thinking of bed, fewer carriages could be heard rolling over the cobbles, the voices of the city grew softer–and Balzac slept.

Eleven o’clock. The final curtain was falling in the theaters, the last guests were turning homeward, from the parties or salons, the restaurants were dimming their lights, the last pedestrians were dis­appearing from the streets, the boulevards were emptying as a final wave of noisy revelers disappeared into the side streets and trickled away–and Balzac slept on.

Midnight. Paris was silent. Millions of eyes had closed. Most of the lights had gone out. Now that the others were resting it was time for Balzac to work. Now that the others were dreaming it was time for him to wake. Now that the day was ended for the rest of Paris his day was about to begin. No one could come to disturb him, no visitors to bother him, no letters to cause him disquiet. No creditors could knock at his door and no printers send their messengers to insist on a further installment of manuscript or corrected proofs. A vast stretch of time, eight to ten hours of perfect solitude, lay before him in which to work at his vast undertaking. Just as the furnace which fuses the cold, brittle ore into infrangible steel must not be allowed to cool down, so he knew that the tensity of his vision must not be allowed to slacken: “My thoughts must drip from my brow like water from a fountain. The process is entirely unconscious.”

He recognized only the law which his work decreed: “It is impos­sible for me to work when I have to break off and go out. I never work merely for one or two hours at a stretch.” It was only at night, when time was boundless and undivided, that continuity was possible, and in order to obtain this continuity of work he reversed the normal division of time and turned his night into day.

Awakened by his servant knocking gently on the door, Balzac rose and donned his robe. This was the garment which he had found by years of experience to be the most convenient for his work. In winter it was of warm cashmere, in summer of thin linen, long and white, permitting complete freedom of movement, open at the neck, provid­ing adequate warmth without being oppressive, and perhaps a further reason why he had chosen it was· because its resemblance to a monk’s robe unconsciously reminded him that he was in service to a higher law and bound, so long as he wore it, to abjure the outside world and its temptations. b woven cord (later replaced by a golden chain) was tied loosely round this monkish garment, and in place of crucifix and scapular there dangled a paper-knife and a pair of scissors. After taking a few steps up and down the room to shake the last vestiges of sleep from his mind and send the blood circulating more swiftly through his veins, Balzac was ready.

The servant had kindled the six candles in the silver candelabra on the table and drawn the curtains tightly as if this were a visible symbol that the outer world was now completely shut off, for Balzac did not want to measure his hours of work by the sun or the stars. He did not care to see the dawn or to know that Paris was waking to a new day. The material objects around him faded into the shadows -the books ranged along the walls, the walls themselves, the doors and windows and all that lay beyond them. Only the creatures of his own mind were to speak and act and live. He was creating a world of his own, a world that was to endure.

Balzac sat down at the table where, as he said, “I cast my life into the crucible as the alchemist casts his gold.” It was a small, unpre­tentious, rectangular table which he loved more than the most valu­able of his possessions. It meant more to him than his stick that was studded with turquoises, more than the silver plate that he had pur­chased piece by piece, more than his sumptuously bound books, more than the celebrity he had already won, for he had carried it with him from one lodging to another, salvaged it from bankruptcies and catastrophes, rescued it like a soldier dragging a helpless comrade from the turmoil of battle. It was the sole confidant of his keenest pleasure and his bitterest grief, the sole silent witness of his real life: “It has seen all my wretchedness, knows all my plans, has overheard my thoughts. My arm almost committed violent assault upon it as my pen raced along the sheets.” No human being knew so much about him, and with no woman did he share so many nights of ardent companionship. It was at this table that Balzac lived-and worked himself to death.

A last look round to make sure that everything was in place. Like every truly fanatical worker, Balzac was pedantic in his method of work. He loved his tools as a soldier loves his weapons, and before he flung himself into the fray he had to know that they were ready to his hand. To his left lay the neat piles of blank paper. The paper had been carefully chosen and the sheets were of a special size and shape, of a slightly bluish tinge so as not to dazzle or tire the eyes and with a particularly smooth surface over which his quill could skim without resistance. His pens had been prepared with equal care. He would use no other than ravens’ quills. Net to the inkwell–not the expensive one of malachite that had been a gift from some admirers, but the simple one that had accompanied him in his student days–stood a bottle or two of ink in reserve. He would have no precaution neglected that would serve to insure the smooth, uninterrupted flow of his work. To his right lay a small notebook in which he now and then entered some thought or idea that might come in useful for a later chapter. There was no other equipment. Books, papers, research material were all unnecessary. Balzac had digested everything in his mind before he began to write.

He leaned back in his chair and rolled back the sleeve of his robe to allow free play to his right hand. Then he spurred himself on with half-jesting remarks addressed to himself, like a coachman encouraging his horses to pull on the shafts. Or he might have been compared to a swimmer stretching his arms and easing his joints before taking the steep plunge from the diving-board.

Balzac wrote and wrote, without pause and without hesitation. Once the flame of his imagination was kindled it continued to glow. It was like a forest foe, the blaze leaping from tree to tree and growing hotter and more voracious in the process. Swiftly as his pen sped over the paper, the words could hardly keep pace with his thoughts. The more he wrote the more he abbreviated the words so as not to have to think more slowly. He could not allow any inter­ruption of his inner vision, and he did not raise his pen from the paper until either an attack of cramp compelled his fingers to loosen their hold or the writing swam before his eyes and he was dizzy with fatigue.

The streets were silent and the only sound in the room was the soft swish of the quill as it passed smoothly over the surface of the paper or from time to time the rustle of a sheet as it was added to the written pile. Outside the day was beginning to dawn, but Balzac did not see it. His day was the small circle of light cast by the candles, and he was aware of neither space nor time, but only of the world that he was himself fashioning.

Now and then the machine threatened to run down. Even the most immeasurable will-power cannot prolong indefinitely the natural measure of a man’s physical strength. After five or six hours of con­tinuous writing Balzac felt that he must call a temporary halt. His fingers had grown numb, his eyes were beginning to water, his back hurt, his temples throbbed, and his nerves could no longer bear the strain. Another man would have been content with what he had already done and would have stopped work for the night, but Balzac refused to yield. The horse must run the allotted course even if it foundered under the spur. If the sluggish carcass declined to keep up the pace recourse must be had to the whip. Balzac rose from his chair and went over to the table on which stood the coffee pot.

Coffee was the black oil that started the engine running again; for Balzac it was more important than eating or sleeping. He hated tobacco, which could not stimulate him to the pitch necessary for the intensity with which he worked. “Tobacco is injurious to the body, attacks the mind, and makes whole nations dull-witted,” but he sang a paean in praise of coffee:

“Coffee glides down into one’s stomach and sets everything in motion. One’s ideas advance in column of route like battalions of the Grande Armée. Memories come up at the double bearing the standards which are to lead the troops into battle. The light cavalry deploys at the gallop. The artillery of logic thunders along with its supply wagons and shells. Brilliant notions join in the combat as sharpshooters. The characters don their costumes, the paper is covered with ink, the battle has begun and ends with an outpouring of black fluid like a real battlefield enveloped in swathes of black smoke from the expended gunpowder.”

Without coffee he could not work, or at least he could not have worked in the way he did. In addition to paper and pens he took with him everywhere as an indispensable article of equipment the coffee-machine, which was no less important to him than his table or his white robe. He rarely allowed anybody else to prepare his coffee since nobody else would have prepared the stimulating poison in such strength and blackness. And just as in a sort of superstitious fetishism he would use only a particular kind of paper and a certain type of pen, so he mixed his coffee according to a special recipe, which has been recorded by one of his friends: “This coffee was composed of three different varieties of bean-Bourbon, Martinique, and Mocha. He bought the Bourbon in the rue de Montblanc, the Martinique in the rue des Vieilles Audriettes, and the Mocha in the Faubourg St. Germain from a dealer in the rue de l’Université whose name I have forgotten though 1 repeatedly accompanied Balzac on his shopping expeditions. Each time it involved half a day’s journey right across Paris, but to Balzac good coffee was worth the trouble.”

Coffee was his hashish, and since like every drug it had to be taken in continually stronger doses if it was to maintain its effect, he had to swallow more and more of the murderous elixir to keep pace with the increasing strain on his nerves. Of one of his books he said that it had been finished only with the help of “streams of coffee.” In 1845, after nearly twenty years of overindulgence, he admitted that his whole organism had been poisoned by incessant recourse to the stimulant and complained that it was growing less and less effective, and that it caused him dreadful pains in the stomach. If his fifty thousand cups of strong coffee (which is the number he is estimated to have drunk by a certain statistician) accelerated the writing of the vast cycle of the Comédie humaine, they were also responsible for the premature failure of a heart that was originally as sound as a bell. Dr. Nacquart, his lifelong friend and physician, certified as the real cause of his death “an old heart trouble, aggravated by working at night and the use, or rather abuse, of coffee, to which he had to have recourse in order to combat the normal human need for sleep.”

The clock struck eight at last and there came a tap at the door. His servant, Auguste, entered with a modest breakfast on a tray. Balzac rose from the table where he had been writing since midnight. The time had come for a brief rest. Auguste drew back the curtains, and Balzac stepped to the window to glance at the city which he had set out to conquer. He again became conscious that there was another world and another Paris, a Paris that was beginning its work now that his own labors had for the time being come to an end. Shops were opening, children were hastening to school, carriages were rolling along the streets, in offices and counting-houses men were sitting down at their desks.

To relax his exhausted body and refresh himself for the further tasks that awaited him, Balzac took a hot bath. …

 

— Stefan Zweig, Balzac; translated by William and Dorothy Rose

“my shining visage”

 

 

I had a somewhat remarkable experience in connection with a memory today.

I had a mild, temporary disappointment once. It was over 50 years ago.

My parents were going out somewhere for the evening. I hesitated and then said to my mother, “It’ll be okay. I will put on my shining visage,” meaning she didn’t have to worry: I accepted the setback and would not let it get me down.

What I meant was, I’ll put the best face on things.

My mother was affected; she liked words herself and liked the way I invented my own locutions. She felt better about having had to disappoint me. (I do not recall details, but I think it was a situation where she informed me about something that was a negative. I think she was the intermediary.)

“Shining visage” means something like beaming, smiling face.

My mother was touched. She said that’s so like you.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

I was ransacking my brain today trying to think, what was the phrase? I drew a blank.

I told myself, you can remember … keep trying.

I thought it might have been something like blithe spirit. That didn’t seem quite right.

I looked in an online Thesaurus for an adjective that means cheerful, buoyant, or sunny. Then a NOUN came to me: visage. Whereupon shining came back to memory within a minute or two.

Memory works by association.

The memory, the memories are there, in one’s brain.

Recall is possible.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 24, 2017

is Trump mentally ill?

 

 

re:

“Is Trump mentally ill? Or is America? Psychiatrists weigh in”

Review of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” by Bandy X. Lee (ed.), “Twilight of American Sanity” by Allen Frances, and “Fantasyland” by Kurt Andersen

By Carlos Lozada

The Washington Post

September 22, 2017

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2017/09/22/is-trump-mentally-ill-or-is-america-psychiatrists-weigh-in/?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-a%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.827230047f9d

 

 

*****************************************************

 

He’s not even close to being mentally ill. Common sense could tell one that in less than 60 seconds of reflection.

There are some things one doesn’t need to be an expert on to be able to see clearly.

I do not deny that Donald Trump often exhibits what, if he were an acquaintance, one would probably say is disagreeable behavior and that he appears to have undesirable personality traits. Narcissistic? Self centered?

But, he has actually functioned at a high level in many areas of his personal life. He is sane. Does not have hallucinations or lack the ability to distinguish between what is real and a lunatic belief. Is not a danger to himself or others, meaning possessed by demons as a serial killer might be or about to commit suicide. In other words, doesn’t exhibit any of the “rule of thumb” indicators of insanity.

How many people have you encountered in the course of your life whom you just couldn’t stand and, from your experience with them, seemed to have horrible personalities and traits which may have driven you to distraction: arrogance, conceit, selfishness, bossiness, boorishness, lack of discernment and good taste, rudeness, insensitivity, lack of consideration, self centeredness?

Perhaps you had to put up with such people, deal with them on a regular basis in a school, work, or other settings. A boss, coworker, authority figure such as a school official, teacher, or coach.

I have had bosses and coworkers whom I couldn’t stand. I could have written a whole chapter enumerating their “bad” qualities. I could have and perhaps did sometimes speculate on what psychological defects or demons drove them to act the way they did. But I wasn’t their psychiatrist.

But, you will say, there is a difference between a boss or coworker, Mr. Smith. Donald Trump occupies a position which, if he uses it for ill, shows poor judgment, or goes off the deep end, can affect the population en masse as well as nations.

True. But then one should oppose Trump’s policies, his actions, his administration.

No one says that one must LIKE him. Or that one should not be permitted to talk, enumerate, and analyze his faults (glaring ones). But that doesn’t entitle one to make extravagant, unfounded claims about his mental health.

Sometimes less is more when it comes to such discussions … the less said the better when the premises of the discussion are idiotic.

The “experts” are full of hot air.

They’re making fools of themselves.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  September 2017; updated January 2018

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

addendum:

Several commenters have said that Trump has been acting “crazy,” proving that he is insane. There is a difference between acting crazy (as actions may be viewed or characterized) and being insane. I responded to one commenter as follows: “[Trump] may act crazy, sometimes, just as Nixon seemed to do near the end of his presidency, or when he was bombing Hanoi and invading Cambodia, but that did not mean that Nixon was crazy in the clinical sense of the word.” The same qualifier applies to Trump.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

addendum:

 

 

To the Editor:

As a psychiatrist, I deplore the idea that psychiatry itself may become a tool to get President Trump out of office. The American Psychiatric Association has issued clear guidelines that a psychiatrist cannot diagnose a person whom the psychiatrist has never personally assessed. So the news that Dr. Bandy X. Lee — who has not personally evaluated the president — may be telling members of Congress that the president could be delusional or narcissistic or incapacitated is highly disturbing to me.

The Trump administration currently faces several different allegations, any one of which — if proved — could lead to Mr. Trump’s impeachment. If one wants to remove Mr. Trump from office, one should do it by proving him guilty of an impeachable offense. With an eye toward my profession’s checkered history, our psychiatric expertise must remain completely apolitical as we continue to treat mental illness across this great country.

 

— Paul Campion, Bronx, NY; letter to editor, New York Times, January 9, 2018

 

 

*****************************************************

 

addendum:

 

See also:

 

“Maybe Trump Is Not Mentally Ill. Maybe He’s Just a Jerk”

Op-Ed

By Jeffrey A. Lieberman

The New York Times

January 12, 2018

 

 

Jeffrey A. Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, writes: “I feel strongly that my fellow psychiatrists, and any psychologists or therapists, should stop speculating publicly about President Trump’s mental fitness and stop trying to diagnose possible mental conditions based on their armchair observations. … It’s entirely possible that he simply has certain personal qualities we don’t find ideal in a leader, like being a narcissistic bully who lacks basic civility and common courtesies. That he is, in a word, a jerk. But that alone does not make him mentally unfit to serve. … We can raise an index of suspicion, make back-seat observations of someone’s behavior to express our concerns and even speculate as to whether illness may be the underlying cause. But those observations, coming from physicians — even psychiatrists like myself — are merely public opinion. They are not reliable as evidence for definitive diagnosis and removal of a sitting president from office. Mr. Trump’s public behavior will never be enough for us to determine his mental fitness because a diagnosis requires a thorough and nonpartisan examination.”

This is essentially what I said above.

 

— Roger W. Smith