Monday, April 30, 2012


      A few years ago at a business reception  in Manhattan (felicitously called a “salon”) organized by an old friend, I ran into a girl from my college class who had clearly gone nuts.  You could feel this entering the room, even before setting eyes on her.  I sensed a  low, throbbing, dissonant hum, growing ever more persistent.  It reminded me of  the intense electronic music in the movie Forbidden Planet  painfully gathering and swelling until Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen finally fled the Krell's graveyard world.

     She still looked good.   Always a pretty girl, now become a very minor celebrity,  she had maintained her schooldays Pre-Raphaelite visual persona, but her face and eyes told that either the “meds” weren’t working or that she was completely beyond their reach.  When I spoke to her, the “no one home” sign was sadly unmistakable.

     I told Caroline about this later that evening and wrote about it the next day to another friend, describing the feeling I had seeing the crazy girl as  "dislocation.”  

          In other words, I had no idea where my old friend was, what she was feeling or why, and seeing her pushed me off my grid into terra incognita.

         It's often that way when you meet people who seem to be there, but aren’t really, i.e., people lacking empathy and emotional coordinates.  Based on the things I’ve learned in school and experienced, I think human nature has remained pretty much the same throughout history (this is why great poetry, visual art, music of the past, and historic philosophy and religious teachings can still “reach” us), but now there are many more trap doors and worm-holes leading to private mirrored prisons  than there were when I was growing up.   People seem intent on constructing their own black holes.

        I feel this every time I view Facebook, where friends have transmuted into “friends” and all things seem simulated, not real.  I see it reflected in our remote-control  international drone wars prosecuted by dessicated entities I see in 3-D tv shadows and  fought by soldier-technicians schooled, skilled and desensitized on "shooter" video games.  

       This morning I feel it acutely in the fervid interest and pleasure I see some of my own contemporaries taking in the weekend's annual “White House Correspondents Dinner,” an event that so clearly demonstrates the “productizing” and trivializing of news and reinforcing of status quo thinking and values, it prompts feelings of loss and tragedy.  Only a serf satisfied in his servitude could feel anything but disgust and shame.  (Who was it that said  "politics is show business for ugly people?")

   To gain some peace, perspective and relief, I contrast all this with Hugh MacDiarmid’s 1939 poem, Perfect, which I learned a short time ago:

     ..On the Western Seaboard of South Uist
     ......Los muertos abren los ojos a los que viven

I found a pigeon's skull on the machair,
All the bones pure white and dry, and chalky,
But perfect,
Without a crack or a flaw anywhere.

At the back, rising out of the beak,
Were domes like bubbles of thin bone,
Almost transparent, where the brains had been
That fixed the tilt of the wings.


     I hope you liked that.  I thought it was amazing when I  read it.  Its mysterious origins and the poet's biography are both fascinating and worth investigating.   Oh -- Jane and I saw  The Raven yesterday.  You can skip it.   This was a movie that really needed Nicholas Cage to succeed.


  1. I'm not sure I agree that people have changed so much over the years, but it is distressing to encounter someone such as your friend. I grew up knowing many people who weren't really there. So many people "lacking empathy and emotional coordinates". Of course, they usually had little empathy for themselves nor the capacity to feel their own true emotions.

  2. Another thought occurred to me. Jonny is not a fan of Facebook. He once described it to me as "artificial intimacy". I think he's absolutely right generally, but I can thank Facebook finding people from my past. I've reconnected with quite a few I had lost touch with, but have picked up our connection via email or phone or blog. I've stopped posting anything personal on Facebook. If it's a happy thought, people just check "Like". If it's a sad or painful thought, some might muster up an "I'm so sorry", but usually write nothing at all.

  3. Facebook has its uses, I guess. On balance, however, I wish it didn't exist. It's sinister thinking that every one of those innocuous "likes" is going into a database and being used as a marketing tool. It's good, obviously, that you clearly have a self-editing function. So many people don't. Some of the people I feel sorriest about in that respect are Jane's classmates who, based on their Facebook postings, have already assured that they will never be President of the United States. As for my old college acquaintance, with any luck I'll never run into her again. She was never what you would call "nice." Curtis

  4. Sorry to take up so much space on YOUR blog. I've been thinking about Facebook lately, and something someone suggested to me. With whom do you share yourself and how much do you share. This has been an issue in my life now, and I suppose it's one of the reasons I haven't been as involved in the Facebook community as of late.

  5. I've been thinking about that also. My current thinking is "fewer things with fewer people." Nobody who matters will notice. Discretion is still the better part of valor. It's a vale of tears, knives, daggers and yawns. Curtis

  6. "It's a vale of tears, knives, daggers and yawns." That's so good, Curtis. I just hope you don't start believing that so fervently that you stop producing this lovely blog. It, and Tom Clark's, and Nell's (all found through you) provide me with a connection that could not be achieved without the internet -- imperfect, to be sure, but (as you will no doubt agree) what isn't?

    Interesting to ask if there are more "mirrored prisons" than there used to be. Looking at the Qin emperor's suldiers, the penchant for relieving anxiety through well-placed reflective surfaces seems like one of the great human constants.

    I fear I know your internally absent friend. The difference for me is that I always found her unsettling.

  7. You're way too nice. Thank you. I'm trying to look at things positively today (and tomorrow). Oh -- have I ever mentioned that the (now former) chairman of Dewey LeBoeuf is/was a neighbor of ours in TP? Curtis