Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who Am I?

WILLIAM JAMES, THE PHILOSOPHER, SAID that everyone has as many different selves as there are people who know him. Each person, from his wife and children to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, perceives the same man differently. Ever since I heard that in Philosophy101, I have been confused. Who really am I? Which one of me is the real Joe Taylor? For that matter, who are you? If we don’t even know whom we are how can we ever solve global warming or cure cancer? The guy who figures that out should get two Nobel Prize, one for the day dreaming that is the precursor to original thinking, the second for his solution. I already qualify for one of those talents. The prospect of such riches and fame out there waiting for me to “originate” has temporarily distracted me from writing. Some may think it presumptuous of me to regard myself so highly, but a fact is a fact however absurd. I’d like to say more about that but I emptied the bottle of the stuff I was drinking to gird myself for scribbling this.

Am I deranged? The word “telefunken” keeps popping into my head and I can’t get rid of it. “Telephfunken” has something to do with telephones. Maybe it means telephone. That’s a hard way to say “telephone,” but it’s typically German. That reminds me. The recently deceased Walter Cronkite’s name was originally spelled “Chronkite”, (with the” “h” after the capital ”C”). Spelled that way the word means illness. My authority is a relative of Mr. Cronkite. Anyway, is “deranged” one of my selves? If so, I want to make it clear that there are many good parts to me. I know, because my barber told me. This barber was once at a funeral where not the preacher, not any person who spoke had a good word to say about the deceased. In desperation, the minister asked if there was anyone attending the service who had a good word to say about the dead man. The barber stood up and said, “I always found him an easy man to shave.” So there.

How can I not be out of my mind if I have to contend with so many different personalities mixed up in me and battling to be Joe Taylor? May the best man win. But seriously: Auguste Descartes, the French philosopher, said “I think therefore I am.” So, is it our cognitive capacities that define us? Emanuel Kant, the German, said, “I ought therefore I can.” Or is it our moral character? Calvin Coolidge, the President who preceded President Herbert Hoover said, “Business is the business of America.” That argues for our work life. As for me, I think it is our love life – the people we love, in the various ways that love can be expressed -- that defines our souls.

More Later, Joe

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hospital Joe

(The following is an edited version of an article Joe wrote a few years ago. Joe had minor surgery at Salem Hospital Thurday, July 15. He will be home Friday and is, of course, already back to business.)

It happens everywhere I go. There was girl in Philadelphia once, she walked toward me on a center city street. She wore a shiny tan skirt, a white blouse, blond hair falling to her shoulders, a page boy bob framing her fresh face, under a totally blue sky and sunshine all around. She passed me by like I didn't exist.

I had quite a conversation with her in my daydream prone mind:

Hey you -- yes you, in the navy blue power suit and pink blouse, with the gold necklace around your neck, and swinging that black alligator attache case, striding along confidently on your way to a corporate takeover. You passed right by and didn't even see me. But that young hunk coming the other way, you gave him a good look. OK, I don't really expect that you will pay any attention to me. My cane gives me away. But even at my age I don't like to be erased. In the inarticulate lingo of today, it feels a little like, you know, being wiped out.

Am I poking fun a myself or am I serious? Both. That girl in Philadelphia reminded me of other times and other girls, as an old photograph tells of times that can be retrieved. I used to buy camelia corsages for girls like her. Sometimes I would skip lunch or eat apples from the trees on campus to have the money. There were rides in automobiles and I would hold the girls tight. And the dancing! I inhaled the slightly scented aroma from her body and we danced cheek to cheek then, not like today where dancing looks like prizefighters squaring off in the ring. There's so much more to dancing than what what they show on TV. That's the serious part. As for the self-mockery? That comes from remembering my age.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day Dreaming's Revenge

(Continued from July 8, 2009)

The art of day dreaming grows with practice. (I should have spent as much time on my violin). From childhood fantasies fed by envy, it was a natural progression to the satisfying fancies of revenge. At the reunion I noted the wrinkling of childhood and adolescent beauty. I gloated that I was one of the few who was still working at his music. (I had played in a community symphony orchestra for thirty-nine years). As for automobiles, I claimed superiority by virtue by my well-practiced and principled disavowal of conspicuous consumption.

Childishly malicious? If it's good enough for John Updike it's good enough for me. In his novel "Bech At Bay" the protagonist (Updike's alter-ego) gets revenge by killing the critics who had previously scorned him. (Never too late for me to find a new hero). Updike has only to put down his vengeful pen to return to reality. For the ordinary day dreamer there is always a wailing child who needs us, or bills to pay, or the lawn to mow. I could never day dream my way through those trials.

You can rest assured in your day dreams, Joe

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Rewards of Day Dreaming

(continued from July 7, 2009)

My talent for [daydreaming] appeared at an early age. To my mortification, I saw that many of my childhood contemporaries were clearly more handsome, more clever, more worldly than I. From first grade on they received more valentines from the prettiest girls. In eighth grade they won the music memory contest and in High School they were the first to obtain a driver's license. Clutching my few valentines, struggling to distinguish Mozart from Beethoven, gaping at a yellow convertible speeding out of the school parking lot, I honed the self-isolating art of reinventing myself. I day dreamed that I received a valentine with a heart drawn on it from the prettiest girl in the class; that I could differentiate Prokofiev from Mahler and that I was an adolescent sophisticate driving with one hand on the wheel and the other around a girl. Thus, the motives in attending my 50th high school reunion were not entirely pure.

More Later, Joe

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day Dreaming

(I should preface this post by stating that Day Dreaming was first published in a literary journal in Winter 1999.)

The ability to pass time gracefully is an art that makes idleness attractive. Recently I was housebound and largely immobilized for two weeks recovering from surgery for a bone spur. Happily, I was well prepared to endure the inactivity. While some may have chafed at the enforced leisure, I enjoyed these doldrums.

Good habits, we are told, are learned in childhood. So are bad habits, and thus it was that in childhood I learned the pleasures of passing time by doing nothing. To appreciate this skill, one must understand that idleness is as much a state of mind as it is an absence of activity. The essential requirement is a shameful surrender to nothingness. Day dreaming, with its misty, evanescent, self-hypnotic qualities fits that definition. Self-serving and self-indulgent, it is perfect comfort for one's privations.

More Later, Joe

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Life After Life and Before

I doubt that the hereafter will hold anything as engrossing as our quadrennial presidential elections; as absorbing as the cultural and political clashes between the Eastern and Western worlds; as portentous as the debates about global warming and stem cell research, as much fun as the World Series and the Super bowl. Nor is the next world likely to offer the intriguing, awesome, ludicrous, shameful comic and noble manifestations of human conduct reported in the newspapers every day.

I would like to live long enough to know if there will be a cure for cancer; if there is life on other planets; if terrorism will be wiped out; how history will treat George W. Bush; how high and how low women's skirts will go; and if songs will ever sing again. I'd like to be around if and when the limits to the universe are discovered and when physicists find the tiniest bit of matter that can possibly exist. Will Social Security be saved and will scientists learn how memory works? There, from the cosmic to the comic, from the crises of life to its circuses, are reasons enough to be affectionately attached to living and living and living.

Have a Happy 4th of July!

More Later, Joe

Friday, July 3, 2009

Just Like Starting Over

My seventies were for summing up. I thought about the person I had become and what I meant to others. I thought about the after-life of fatherhood when the true pleasure of being a father is found in happiness for what the children have become, for what they have done and how they have grown in the doing.

In the nineties one must find new motivations for going on. The goals I had set for myself earlier had given me a destination. Goal setting is an art form, combining inspiration with self-expression. Art is said to mirror life. Well, a symphony ends with a flourish, a drama with an internal logic, a song climaxes on notes of beauty, a ballet ends with grace. The mirror must be rigged to break up in one's nineties. Then, as I tugged at this paradox, the solution came to me. Life is hugely interesting. As a man in passion allows himself to get involved with a woman, I, overcome with interest, understand that I want to live on.

More Later, Joe