Category Archives: musings (random daily thoughts)

“You are the politest person I ever met.”

 

 

Those were the words of my late friend Bill Dalzell, spoken some fifty years ago not long after we had become friends. We met in New York City, where I had recently moved.

I remember many conversations I have had during the entire course of my life more or less verbatim. Not every word, of course, but many important, significant remarks I do remember verbatim.

“You are the politest person I ever met,” he said to me.

I recently wrote, in a eulogy for Bill I wrote last year for posting on this blog, that “He [was] …. in many respects totally unconventional. Was a nonconformist. Yet he was one of the kindest, politest, most civil persons you could hope to meet. He was a true gentleman.”

In writing this, I was not (at that moment) thinking of what Bill said about me.

 

 

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At the risk being called a purveyor of racial stereotypes, I think it is worth considering that Bill and I both came from similar ethnic/cultural backgrounds: English, Scotch. The civility and good manners of English people struck me on a couple of trips to England. Teaching true courtesy was something important to my parents when I was growing up. For example, the importance of saying please and thank you. Not just words, but showing gratitude and appreciation. Not making importunate or arrogant requests or demands.

Or, to give another example, politeness to strangers and people of all ages, older and younger. And, when greeted by someone you passed on the street, always returning the greeting. I still can’t comprehend why in New York some people don’t bother to do this or neglect to do so intentionally. In the New England of my childhood, one would invariably respond with a “Good morning. How are you today?”

I have close relatives who were brought up the same way. They have either forgotten these principles or can’t see them when manifested in others. They certainly don’t appreciate them.

I have news for them. I haven’t changed. They have. They have become mean, churlish, and uncharitable.

They can’t credit me as Bill once did. They say, incredibly, that I am an inconsiderate, self-centered, boorish person. What we seem to have in this case is an example of psychological projection, where people vent their own frustrations and failings by finding fault with others. They enjoy making me into a sort of Donald Trump caricature and, having built up this false picture in their minds — and, in their view, having “validated” it by sharing stories among themselves in which I am always doing something boorish or offensive (they delight in telling one another such “horror stories”) — they feel validated. It’s a perfect example of people trying to elevate themselves by denigrating others, using stereotypes that have no basis in reality.

Beware of the narrow minded, petty people who think and judge like this; who can’t see or appreciate people as individuals; who have no respect or appreciation for a person’s intrinsic qualities, for their true nature; and who instead try to tar and feather them by ascribing to the object of their hatred and scorn behaviors and opinions that they have made up.

 

 

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I am still the same polite, considerate person that I was fifty years ago. It’s unlikely that a person would change in such a fundamental matter of character.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith
  June 2019

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

My eulogy for Bill Dalzell

 

“William Sage Dalzell (1929-2018)”

is posted on this site at

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/03/13/william-sage-dalzell-1929-2018/

one doesn’t write in a vacuum

 

 

a comment posted on this site by Pete Smith

July 8, 2018

in response to the following post of mine:

 

“expressing outrage” … admirable or to be frowned upon?

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/06/27/expressing-outrage-admirable-or-to-be-frowned-upon/

 

 

Stop the self-serving blathering.

Despite your recent posts bemoaning the Trump administrations horrific treatment of immigrant families, you forget your posting in support of Trump after the Billy Bush tape, pretending that this was just “locker room talk” (Trump’s own characterization) and thus joining the legions of racist misogynist xenophobic supporters who chose to look the other way at this horrible idiot and, incredibly, helped get him elected.

Your relatives are not two-faced liberals who pretend compassion but live for only themselves. We and our spouses have given more than you will ever know (because you don’t ask or care) and far far more than you have given to support the underprivileged, both through personal service and financial support. Your hateful screeds denying this are an insult to your family and an embarrassment to yourself.

Stop reposting this garbage.

 

 

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One doesn’t write in a vacuum. Ex nihilo.

You have to have something to start with. To leverage off of. Drawing upon one’s own experience. Something you are reacting to. Which you heard or experienced. Something from your own, lived experience.

Which perhaps — or definitely — got you thinking about something.

For example:

A relative, commenting upon frequent messages of mine about migrant children being cruelly separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, seemed to be implying that I was getting too worked up over the issue (which reminded me of what most “reputable” people used to think and say about abolitionists prior to the Civil War). Which led to the outpouring of vituperation (responding to a post of mine on the topic) from the relative quoted above.

A relative asking me why do I keep posting photos of myself on my City walks on Facebook, and publicly stating that it was a case of vanity.

Close relatives telling me that I am obsessed with being praised for my writing and too proud of it.

 

 

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The following are posts of mine which resulted from me considering such topics after something brought them to mind. The posts led to snide and harsh criticisms, both on line and in emails, from relatives of mine:
“expressing outrage” … admirable or to be frowned upon?

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/06/27/expressing-outrage-admirable-or-to-be-frowned-upon/

 

 

on photography (MINE; an exchange of emails, with apologies to Susan Sontag)

https://rogersgleanings.com/2019/05/30/on-photography-mine-an-exchange-of-emails-with-apologies-to-susan-sontag/

 

 

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

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

 

 

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To repeat. The writer has to have something to start with, to leverage off of. It’s usually something you disagree with or want to clarify and, in so doing, make your point of view stand out. Otherwise, we would only have generic, unfocused, anodyne writing — inoffensive, but dull and not worth reading:

My Summer Vacation

How I Am Enjoying My Retirement Years

Why I Am a Liberal

 

 

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The self-appointed censors in my family would be happy with prior restraint. They wish to be designated “minders” who can control what I write about and am permitted to say, making sure I step on no toes and that no one is ever offended. They want a sort of closed circuit Orwellian publication channel or venue in which thought control and censorship can be imposed, if deemed necessary, by them.

 

 

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Think of the writers — many examples come to mind — such as James T. Farrell in his trilogy Studs Lonigan; Theodore Dreiser in his early novels and his autobiographical work Dawn; Tolstoy in his novella “The Kreutzer Sonata,” who were drawing upon their own experience in their families or among boyhood friends (in the case of Farrell) as a source of content and as grist for the writer’s mill. By their doing so, their works gained verisimilitude. The philistines are incapable of recognizing or appreciating this.

Inventing characters out of whole cloth or opining about hypothetical situations usually does not lead to good writing. A writer leverages off his or her own unique experiences.

 

 

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A final thought: Beware of people who want to beat you with a cudgel by bringing in some public figure such as Richard Nixon or Donald Trump whom they loathe and somehow, incongruously, trying to place you or your views in the same “camp.” It’s usually a case of psychological projection.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2019

It’s gone.

 

It’s gone.

They’re gone.

The past. Our lived history. Past times. The particulars. What made them unique.

This past, our past, dies with people. As they pass away. Dies as well as the people themselves.

An era. A generation. Gone irretrievably.

 

 

 

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My friend Bill Dalzell.

I think of him often. Of New York as he knew it.

When the City was affordable, actually cheap. When it was hospitable to artists, writers, and editors; to independent types who loved culture, the arts, and the life of the mind and who didn’t want the buttoned down life.

The New York of art film houses, the Automat, McSorley’s Old Ale House, and the Blarney Stones; of the Metropolitan Museum of Art when admission was free; of the New York Public Library when it was open 365 days a year. When the subway fare was a dime, a glass of beer was twenty cents, and flats in the Lower East Side rented in the 30 to 50 dollar a month range.

Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., my therapist.

He practiced when psychiatrists did talk therapy and were intellectuals rather than pill pushers; when (as was the case with me) they charged 30 dollars for a session scheduled for 50 minutes that usually lasted an hour; when a writer such as Dr. Colp used a Royal manual typewriter; when a Sunday afternoon or holiday recreation for him and many Manhattanites, such as myself, involved seeing a foreign film.

 

 

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This melancholy, mournful train of thoughts occurred to me today when for some reason or other I thought of Bill, when something reminded me of him.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 22, 2019

Schubert (specifically, his last sonata), Mitsuko Uchida, and my mother

 

 

Schubert piano sonata in B-flat Minor, D. 960

his last piano sonata

not published

he died two months later

 

 

Mitsuko Uchida

flawless performance at Carnegie Hall on May 4, 2019

 

 

I have criticized her (perhaps unfairly) with reference to Schubert performances.

I saw her a couple of times performing at Carnegie Hall within the past year. A Schubert performance last year left me feeling lukewarm about her, despite the fact that the audience — she has a following — loves her.

But I shouldn’t jump to conclusions or “give up” on her too easily, I thought. It may be that I have been lacking in discernment and, consequently, appreciation for her playing.

She certainly confounded my expectations, and my prior less-than-enthusiastic opinions, on Saturday evening.

I realize that the three last Schubert piano sonatas are all great, just about equally. I have had a sentimental preference for the next to last sonata, D. 959. But I fully felt and experienced the greatness of the sonata D. 960 tonight. Mitsuko Uchida made me feel that.

And, I realized, as an auditor, why she is regarded, probably, as the foremost Schubert interpreter of our time.

So, from her hands, I heard Schubert and felt what makes his music unique and special. And so lyrical in a deeply affecting way. Note I said lyrical, by which I don’t mean to neglect what I would call complexity yoked to powerful, direct expression — a quality preeminent, unmistakably so, in Beethoven. It’s not quite the same thing, but — as to what makes Schubert great – in the program notes from last night’s concert, reference is made to Schubert’s “seemingly bottomless stockpile of melody, his ability to invest the simplest of musical phrases with dramatic significance.” (italics added)

Schubert sounds like no one else. His sound — if I were a musicologist, I could probably elucidate the distinguishing features; chords, for example (the program notes refer to “quicksilver changes of keys and moods”) — is sui generis. He is almost immediately recognizable. Perhaps this is a truism that applies to practically all great artists: the Handel of Messiah and Samson; the Haydn of the masses and The Seven Last Words of Christ; the Mozart of the Ave verum corpus and Masonic Funeral Music … the Melville of Moby-Dick; the Tolstoy of War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Resurrection; the Joyce of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.

But– I’ll say it– I prefer Schubert to Chopin (with respect to the former’s compositions for piano).

 

 

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What is it about Schubert?

I would say that he is incredibly self-contained — his music is sufficient unto itself. By which I mean that his music holds, fulfills, and enraptures the listener without anything in it that was intended necessarily to impress or astonish. The music seems to bubble up like a spring. There is nothing imitative or referential. No other composer could write such music. There is was only one Schubert. Self-evident? Yes, admittedly. But I got to thinking about this at the concert, and my mind wandered without my losing focus on the music. (This has happened to me at other concerts, as I have noted in previous blogs.)
How could I express these feelings or opinions of mine about Schubert? In my mind, I strained to think of a way to put or couch it. I thought of my mother. Yes, my mother.

My mother was a remarkable person. People almost always seemed to notice her special personal qualities, and to speak about them. There was something “self-contained” about her too. The good things were just there, inherent, unchanging; sort of wafted out of her; were effused into the atmosphere, so to speak, to those around her. The good things, the remarkable things — her particular way of seeing things and relating to people and her milieu — seemed to have always been part of her.

She wasn’t trying to impress others (though she was self-conscious, naturally, about the impression she made and eager to be thought well of). She was, to the extent she was admired for her good qualities, just that way. One felt that one would never meet such a person ever again, which is not to say that she was a perfect person or deserved veneration. It’s just that what was good about her was constant; distinctive in her; treasured and consistently welcome for the sense of emotional satisfaction that came from being privileged to be related to or know her. By which I don’t mean that she was like a therapist, healer, or do-gooder (though she was kind and thoughtful), she was someone whom people wanted to know and associate with because of who she was.

 

 

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Like Schubert? Meaning one wants to listen to him. Not because one should (because someone told you you must, because of his musical standing or stature as a composer). Not because he is the best composer in this or that medium, or was important as a composer in the transition from classicism to romanticism. But because he’s Schubert . And, with my mother, people wanted to know and talk with Elinor.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 6. 2019

 

 

 

IMG_4547 (2)

my mother and I in Danvers, Massachusetts

 

 

May 6, 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.

“You are among those who love you.”

 

 

A thought occurred to me this evening. I hope I can put it into words.

It involves a memory. On the way home on the bus, some words from long ago came back to me. I recalled them exactly, but could not recall who said them.

I have been blessed with a good memory. Think, I told myself. My memory works contextually. The words, I knew, were said by a male of my acquaintance. Not by someone in my immediate family or by a relative.

The words, spoken long ago, were as follows: “You are among those who love you.”

Why did they come back to me? Because of a feeling I have been having over the past couple of days, or perhaps the past week, of being loved and cherished by those closest to me, of being suffused with love from others. Of basking in the warmth of and feeling enveloped by it.

Did a former boss say this? A coworker? I doubted it. A friend? Did not seem to be the case.

Then, as is usually the case with an effort at recall, it came back to me. The words were spoken to me by my boss at Columbia University, a dean, when I was working there many years ago. I was his administrative assistant.

My boss was gay, which was common among academia, but he was not openly gay. It was a time when being openly gay could be damaging to one’s career. He was discreet and reticent about his personal life, yet we had a close relationship in the office and I got to know him well. He was an emotive person, who openly shared his daily trials and work frustrations with me, and his likes and dislikes. We had rapport on an intellectual level from the get go.

His remark did not amount to saying that he had erotic feelings towards me.

 

 

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Putting his remarks in a larger context today, remembering and reflecting upon them, it occurred to me — something that I have thought about occasionally — that people want to love and be loved. Not just to have love affairs and intimate relationships, or to be loved by spouse or family. Not solely or exclusively this. But to love others and be loved in return. By others, I guess one could say I mean to love humanity. Maybe it’s not always love; it’s more like affection. But people, excluding perhaps psychopaths and haters, want to express and share affection towards other people and from them in return. Even including people they don’t know well. I experience this all the time. Living in a big, supposedly impersonal city. I go into a store or office or cross paths with someone, and they want to make me feel liked, and to show that they took pleasure in meeting me, if only in passing.

So that, I would conclude, the default, the human condition, is to want to love or at least to be affectionate as well as appreciative. Not to dislike or hate. The latter is an aberration.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    January 2019

 

 

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O the joy of that vast elemental sympathy which only the human
soul is capable of generating and emitting in steady and
limitless floods.

 

— Walt Whitman, “A Song of Joys”