Monthly Archives: February 2019

“Congress shall make no law …”

 

 

In a story in yesterday’s Washington Post

 

“Supreme Court seems to seek narrow w:ay to uphold cross that memorializes war dead”

By Robert Barnes

The Washington Post

February 27, 2019

 

It is indicated that

 

A majority of the Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed to be searching for a way — a narrow way, most likely — to allow a historic cross commemorating World War I dead to remain where it has stood for nearly 100 years.

Two of the court’s four liberals suggested the unique history of the Peace Cross in the Washington suburb of Bladensburg, Md., may provide a way to accommodate its position on public land in a highway median.

But more than an hour of oral arguments showed the difficulty the court faces when it must decide whether government’s involvement with a religious symbol has an allowable sectarian purpose or is an unconstitutional embrace of religion.

 

And so on.
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This is a contentious issue that has been with us for a long time. But I think it is absurd for jurists and interest groups to be splitting hairs over such questions. It calls for a satirist such as Jonathan Swift to show the absurdity of this kind of public debate.

My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp Jr. (not an arrogant or haughty person, it should be noted) once remarked to me, in a completely different context, that human stupidity would always be very much part of humanity, very much with us.

Here’s food for thought.

The Constitution should not be taken literally. The Founders, schooled in Enlightenment thought, were wiser than that: Their intention was to produce a document the underpinning of which was clear, rational thinking.

Some of the “original intent”/strict constructionist types — including supposedly eminent judges and jurists, and legal scholars — are, to put it bluntly, idiots. Who read and interpret the words of the Constitution over literally, without any context or nuance, and without using common sense.

So are the citizens who, in reading the words of the First Amendment, think that it was intended to prohibit public exercise of religion. The Founders would have been horrified to see it interpreted that way.

The freedom of religion clause did not bar exercise of religion, or display of crosses, Christmas trees, or creches, for example, either in public or private. This would have been unthinkable to the Founders.

 

 

 

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In making convoluted, tortuous arguments, the litigators do a great disservice to the public and threaten the common weal. Someone shouldn’t feel anxious about, or have to explain or defend oneself about, erecting or preserving a monument with a cross to honor war dead. To maintain the converse is the worst type of sophistry. And, by the way, it’s also a good example of a form of perverse presentism. Believe, me, when the Bladensburg Peace Cross was erected in 1925, it was done with good intentions. It was meant to show honor and respect. And, the Founding Fathers would be turning in their graves to be told there was something wrong about erecting a monument with a religious symbol on it.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   February 28, 2019

“Kullervo” post updated

 

 
I have updated my post about Sibelius’s great symphonic tone poem Kullervo. The post now contains a complete libretto in Finnish and English.

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/22/sibelius-kullervo-and-incidental-music/

 

I attended a performance of Kullervo last night by the Oratorio Society of New York, conducted by Kent Tritle, with the men’s chorus of the Manhattan School of Music, at Carnegie Hall.

It was wonderful — and for me revelatory — to hear Kullervo performed live.

I hope to have more say about Sibelius in another post.

 

 
— Roger W. Smith

   February 26, 2019

pre-spring haiku

 

 

 

all over the place

water running faster than you can walk:

snowmelt

 

 
— Ella Rutledge (posted on her Facebook page, February 2019)

 

 

I wish to thank my friend Ella Rutledge for giving me permission to post her haiku on this site.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   February 24, 2019

 

 
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photographs of Central Park taken February 21, 2019 by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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Brahms

 

 

On February 14, I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor, in a performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (one of the world’s premiere orchestras).

Brahms’s first and fourth symphonies are equally good. The first is a personal favorite of mine. Both symphonies rank right up there with Mozart’s greatest, Beethoven’s symphonies, Schubert’s ninth, and one or two others. Unquestionably.

A word that came to my mind last evening in connection with Brahms’s music is powerful. (Or should I say vigorous?) Incredibly so. In this respect, I would say very similar to, rivaled by, Beethoven.

Other encomiums:

such clarity of structure, development, and phrasing;

brilliant orchestration;

sonority, orchestration, harmony, the interplay among instruments: a brilliant fusion of same;

works that sound totally original;

in no way derivative or imitative.

When you hear Brahms, it’s unmistakably Brahms. Brahmsian. He has his own sound.

In the fourth, there is not one boring stretch or passage, no instance of a putative listener thinking the first and fourth movements were great, but the Andante was nothing special.

Don’t stop there, dear reader. His violin concerto. His German Requiem. His quartets. What impresses me most about Brahms is complete mastery combined with such sincerity and depth of feeling so clearly expressed.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 15, 2019

I heard the flute in the Andante.

 

 

 

At the end of the second movement (Andante) of Mozart’s Symphony No 40 in G Minor.

In a splendid performance this evening at Carnegie Hall.

It induced a feeling of serenity, of gladness. Of being lulled into peacefulness.

In such a state, I thought — with such pleasure — who can hurt me? Let them try. I have music. Literature.

I have nature — yes, here in the City. I was walking all afternoon today. There was a slight hint of spring in the air.

I love my City. I am in daily intercourse with city dwellers — either in earnest; or transitorily, casually, in a ceaseless intermingling and flux best described by Walt Whitman. I receive (in Whitman’s words) love and return it:

 

“If you meet some stranger in the streets, and love him or her, do I not often meet strangers in the street, and love them?”

— Walt Whitman, Chants Democratic

 

“I am in love … with all my fellows upon the earth.”

— Walt Whitman, Chants Democratic

 

 

I have a loving and supportive wife who is devoted to me and makes it her business day in and day out to make me as happy as possible and to see me fulfilled.

 

 

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My love of such things, both tangible and ethereal, and of people who share and reciprocate such feelings, cannot be destroyed by petty persons who envy me.

 

See my post

 

“Cruelty has a human heart.”

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2019/02/13/cruelty-has-a-human-heart/

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   Valentine’s Day

   February 14, 2019

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I read in today’s New York Times the following:

Where will El Chapo most likely go to jail?

We won’t know until sentencing, but it’s probable that Mr. Guzmán will be sent to the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., more commonly known as the ADX.

The ADX can house up to 500 prisoners in its eight units. Inmates spend their days in 12-by-7-foot cells with thick concrete walls and double sets of sliding metal doors (with solid exteriors, so prisoners can’t see one another). A single window, about three feet high but only four inches wide, offers a notched glimpse of sky and little else. Each cell has a sink-toilet combo and an automated shower, and prisoners sleep on concrete slabs topped with thin mattresses. Most cells also have televisions (with built-in radios), and inmates have access to books and periodicals, as well as certain arts-and-craft materials.

Drug lord Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera (El Chapo) was certainly guilty, and he is not a nice guy. He was a brutal criminal who murdered — or ordered and witnessed the killings of — opponents and underlings viciously and sadistically without compunction. A psychopath.

But reflecting upon my blessings today, I felt, why must the maximum amount of suffering and deprivation be inflicted upon criminals locked up? It’s another kind of cruelty; organized, state sanctioned cruelty.

I am not trying to find reasons to extenuate El Chapo’s crimes. Except, perhaps, to say that the worst psychopaths seem to have been doomed to be what they became from the start. Deprivation of the worst sort, not solely or primarily economic, must have resulted in their growing up without the normal, so called human, feelings that bind us together.

“Cruelty has a human heart.”

 

 

 

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

 

— Anne Frank

 

 

One wants to believe these words. For me it’s a guiding principle and an operating principle of daily life. It works for me.

Yes, all people have flaws, but that’s different. I try to see the goodness within.

Pettiness. Hatred. I have seen it a lot lately. What’s most hurtful, in people once close to me. Age has embittered them and turned them into haters.

 

 

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I had a lackluster day. I was having computer problems. I didn’t get as much done as I wanted to. I wanted to go for a walk in the City but never got out. I felt logy and out of sorts physically.

I got mixed up and left a tote bag with valuable papers — on the subway, I thought, but my wife found it. I had left it behind on the way to a concert.

 

 

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The concert was fantastic. It was foul weather–snow and sleet. There were a lot of empty seats.

I took the subway to Queens and was waiting for a bus on a dark, deserted street corner– no one around–in sleet and rain.

Suddenly, all alone, by myself, at a deserted bus stop, my feet wet, my spirits lifted and I felt better. It was an experience akin to moments of transcendence I once read about in a book by Colin Wilson,

I texted a friend: “I’m waiting for a bus. I’m happier now.”

 

 

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Saint Augustine taught us that evil is human. The awful thing about hatred is that it feeds on itself and is usually inflicted upon undeserving persons whom the haters are confident will not be in a position to retaliate.

Hatred makes them feel alive and like they have their own “guiding principle” and rules to live by: Thou shalt hate. It is good to despise those who deserve your scorn.

Why do they deserve it? Because they are despicable. It’s a tautology. A closed circuit whereby hatred must be discharged upon the hated to prove they deserve it. And to prove to the haters’ satisfaction that by their cruelty they vindicate themselves. The exercising of which, they feel, perversely, exalts them in self-righteousness.

Note that I said righteousness, which is different from being in the right. This type of cruelty is never “right” and is usually based upon misinformation and hasty, false, or superficial judgments.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 13, 2019

 

 

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Addendum:

 

The type of hatred exhibited by chronic haters should be distinguished from what we mean when we use the word loosely, by saying, for example: I hate busybodies, gossipers, or nosy people.

As just one example, I recall a coworker of mine once whom I just couldn’t stand. My therapist never could quite figure out why he annoyed me so. (Yet he didn’t necessarily think it was improper for me to have such feelings.) Certain things about the coworker’s personality and way of relating got on my nerves.

We worked in the same department, but I did not have to deal with him constantly. It’s just that when we did have interaction, or were working on a project together, I hated it.

But, here’s the difference between such feelings and perverse hatred. I wasn’t close to this person, and I never to my knowledge expressed any sort of anger, annoyance, or displeasure. It was more like an annoyance. (A mosquito?) With someone I was not close to. Totally different from cruelty practiced towards those close to you, cruelty meant personally for them, inflicted with relish and with a deliberate intent to wound.

In which the question is taken up: When is the desire to be admired not abnormal?

 

 

 

“It seems that you must have some insecurities about your writing if you feel compelled so often to exclaim how well done it always is.”

 

“You are often harping about how great your writing is and how unappreciated it is and how jealous people are of your writing. You seem to have some illusions of grandeur and seek to dazzle whatever readers you have with your continued brilliance. “

 

“Are you the only judge of your writing? Recently there have been a number of posts in which you highly praise your own writing and intellect. Shouldn’t this be something that other people (your readers generally) evaluate?”

 

 

 

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Several relatives of mine have been critical of what they feel is my undue desire to be admired for my writing.

Like many people who themselves do not engage in creative activity, they are quick to find fault with others who do.

I can not help thinking of my father. He lived a life in the arts. He was a musician.

He loved the life of a musician. He was proud of his skills, which he exhibited at an early age and then developed and honed throughout his lifetime. He was well trained and well educated in music. Along with natural gifts, he was completely dedicated to music and highly motivated. A natural interest and innate ability drew him to music, yet he could have, at some point in his life, given it up and chosen a different, perhaps more common or pedestrian occupation, which is what many who showed promise in, say, the arts or athletics in their youth often do. At some point, they give up study or pursuit leading to a professional career.
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My father loved being able to earn a living doing what he loved most: playing the piano. It was, in a sense, hard work for him. He worked long hours and odd hours, usually for low pay. He never became wealthy. I would observe intense concentration on his face, as if the rest of the world had been blocked out (which is not to say that he was oblivious to there being an audience), and, although he usually seemed at his happiest at the piano, I would sometimes see him grimace and scold himself if he hit a wrong key.

A key thing to understand about my father — and people like him — was that his identity was piano player, and piano player was his identity. Not solely. He was also a husband, a father, and a family man. If someone asked him who he was, I am certain, he would have said, I am the husband of … (my mother), the father of … (four children), and a pianist. (Or, perhaps, a pianist, a husband, and a father, in that order.)

His ego was coterminous, so to speak, with his music making. Take that away from him, and he wouldn’t have been the Alan Smith we and the admirers of his playing knew and loved.

 

 

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Being able to perform music for emotional satisfaction — knowing it gave others pleasure — and for profit gave me father a sense of being (to use a clumsy phrase) emotionally validated, of being affirmed.

Yet, he was not a narcissist. He had a quiet confidence in his abilities, a not bashful — but not boastful either — sense of them. Only occasionally did he speak to me, in confidence, of his own assessment of his skills. He quite realistically appraised them, once telling me, for example, about his ability to transpose music on demand and on the spot. And, on another occasion, saying, “You know, I never really mastered the organ. I can get by, but I never fully learned the organ, I never learned all the stops.” (Or words to that effect.)

 

 

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And yet. (Here’s where my writing comes to mind.)

My father loved to be admired for his playing He loved to give pleasure to listeners. To be told how much they enjoyed his music. He was motivated as a professional by the love of his craft, the love of music, and, also,  love of the attention and praise it brought him. By the ego gratification he got.

It’s the same with my writing. I have a quiet confidence, or self-assurance, in my ability as a writer. I feel that I am very good, but I can make realistic appraisals of my own work. I am a perfectionist and am probably my own best critic.

 

 

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Which leads me to my main point. There is difference in the desire for ego gratification and praise or admiration on the part of creative person and narcissism or self-promotion.

Speaking from a psychological perspective, I would aver that it is normal to desire to receive and enjoy praise and admiration when it has been earned and one knows that one deserves it.

This is not a sign of overweening, all-consuming egoism or vanity.

A soloist or actor performs. They enjoy the applause and plaudits. They have worked for it. They know when they have met their own demanding expectations and deserve credit.

There is nothing psychologically wrong, unhealthy, or abnormal about this. It fact, it would be abnormal to find a person in the arts who did not feel this way. It’s a healthy exercise of one’s selfhood, of exerting oneself, in which one seeks affirmation and validation of one’s industry and talents.

One does not create in a void or a vacuum. Affirmation is crucial. It’s like saying, one can’t love in a vacuum. There must be reciprocity. One seeks someone to love (a love object), and to be loved in return. One loves others reciprocally. Narcissism is something else.

Similarly, “public” acts of creativity are an act of unselfishness, a kind of selflessness, wherein the ego both asserts itself and gives or vouchsafes the productions of one’s self, an individual, to others, expecting to receive appreciation and admiration in return. When affirmation or recognition does not come, one must accept it; it can be frustrating, disappointing, depressing, and worse, the worst case being that of the creative artist who never gets recognition.

But lack of appreciation, or not getting enough or as much as one feels one should, does not mean one should give up. Because creative activity is a fundamentally good thing, like doing other types of productive work, engaging in sports, or being physically active. And wanting others to take pleasure in it is the opposite of selfishness.

 

 

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I am constantly trying to interest other people in my writing. I often get a response along the lines of how interested they would be reading it, and then, they never mention my writing again — in most cases, they probably never did get around to reading it.

I take this in stride.

But when I do get a reader, when someone tells me how much they thought of a piece and makes complimentary remarks about my writing, it is very gratifying.

I am slaving over a major piece of writing now. I have been working on it for months. I am certain it will be good when I finally finish it.

I can’t wait to make it public, in the hope and expectation that people will read and praise it. What in part motivates me is the desire and thought of wanting to make it good so that it and I will be praised.

If one didn’t feel this way, we would have a case of de facto solipsism.
— Roger W. Smith

   February 2019

 

 

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COMMENTS

 

posted on Facebook by Nancy Jordan Ables (a former piano student of my father)

February 8, 2019
I am thinking that a writer of any kind needs to have confidence in their abilities, especially when they publish it for all to see, and I see nothing wrong with saying “I think I did a good job.” Musicians, politicians, actors, or anyone who has their work available to the public make similar statements all the time.

 

 

 

a comment via email

Ewa Solonia

February 8, 2019

 

Thank you for your post. It was interesting. The comments you are getting are upsetting and unconscionable. I totally understand how you feel. I’ve also been doing all kinds of art throughout the years. Compliments are always appreciated because it’s art! It’s the highest form of communication with the world one can achieve. It’s not about the grandiose.