Why Did I Get a Master’s Degree in English? (I didn’t.)

Hello, nice to see everyone here being practical about our apparent delusions of grandeur. As a kid in middle school, I used to listen to T. S.  Eliot on a phonograph in a public library. On a bench as a very young child, I told my uncle, I wanted to be a writer. My mother said, I would spend long hours with books entertaining myself. My aunt said that I had the vocabulary of a doctor. My father was a doctor. I don’t know how many of you are like me. Professional parents, a disposition for beauty insulated from the real world. My father used to cut up dolls as a youngster. He kept cats in the refrigerator. There are early signs, at least for him, they were practical ambitions.

I think in the beginning we all relished the sacrifices poets made, starving, losing lovers, losing children. We loved the small hovels poets lived in, traveled by trains, hobnobbed with the literati because of their families. After my father died, I knew such dreams were no longer a reality. He left us with enough money for me to finish a BA in Speech. I thought I wanted to be an attorney, but I hated what I saw of law: Stacks of files before friends, who are so much more articulate and debonair. When I got a certificate in Paralegal Studies, I got an “A” in everything, except that when I finished my coursework all I wanted to do was read novels or philosophy, which I did and do even four years later.

At the university studying Speech, I took a Latin American Literature course instead of a second year of Spanish and Edgar C. Knowlton, the genius who he was, told me not to get a MA in Literature, but rather to write if that is what I wanted to do. I think what I relished as I did taking all the artistic photo classes at the University was the little group of labbies that had formed and who spent nights and days in the photo lab having parties and printing and processing together. Writers are less social. So, we met at writing groups and marveled at how good the writing was, and then went off to try to write like what we read in The New Yorker or literary journals because they changed our lives, made us feel.

If I look at the early lives of writers such as Eliot, I see a similarity except none of the famous names like Harvard or Oxford, “Publisher, playwright, literary and social critic and ‘arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century.'”

No, I don’t see any of that working for me and my ambitions.

I think as it is with art and artists, writers and writing, is that like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, only a few people can get to the top, where all their needs are met and the only thing left is self-actualization.

The cost is tremendous if we are not connected and financed. Even Virginia Woolf described “A Room of One’s Own.”

I’ve been working in a restaurant since I was 16, taken many a job, only to find that as a waiter, I was able to make enough money to buy a small condo and live out my life. I tried marriage; girlfriends come and go more often than not, and my financial advisor, a buss person with a million dollar house and many children said to me that my last phase should be to sell the current location in two years and then buy a duplex. When I am 65, that second unit will finance my freedom coupled with social security, if we can keep social security away from the Republicans. Meanwhile, I grow tired, mentally and physically.

Let’s face it, English/American literature is for us the cherry on top of a life that has been insulated by the lives of those who worked in the 50’s. The cost of living will rise and so will the quality of work become more menial. We’ve passed through a phase of insulated preeminence and even then writers starved and artists lived alone. We are the only ones who buy Literary Journals and novels written by the tried and true. Is there any room for the breadth of us?

There is a certain biological aversion to the self-indulgent person, who hides behind the third person. Even you and I are a bit sensitive to the stuff that is being played. Imagine the scrutiny of the masses? None of them have any sense of self and thus they are followers. But, what can we tell them that hasn’t already been heard? I have this ominous sense that our lives travel in circles. Where our country is on top of the world today, tomorrow, like the Chinese, we will be working in manufacturing plants, sleeping on cots and not knowing our neighbors. Kurt Vonnegut said it best in Player Piano that the world would be broken up into neighborhoods: “The wealthy upper class — the engineers and managers who keep society running—and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines.”

It makes no sense to follow a line of thought that will only cost you in the end. Social Security will have been marketed. We’ll all be working for the rest of our lives succumbing to injuries we cannot tell for fear of loosing our jobs. Teaching literature in schools gutted by all the inessentials means that nothing will be left.

I have a friend from Columbia (the country) and he says that prosecutors and doctors are making less than anyone else. The world there is turned upside down. It all began with corruption. Poverty begets a lack of freedom and a lack of freedom makes for desperation. At least, in such a country great writers like Gabriel García Márquez make some of the best stories. We forget that as writers, just as photographers, the most decadent reality makes for the most interesting views. Gabriel García Márquez said, “Life has no limits.”

I suggest that as you choose your paths, you will not be able to escape your destinies. As a waiter, I know the hardships of reality. I know that my last days will be very painful. For I have chosen my “bliss” as Campbell said. But, he also said, as I have learned lately that, “During his later years, when some students took him to be encouraging hedonism, Campbell is reported to have grumbled, ‘I should have said, “Follow your blisters.”‘” (See: http://albert-ellis.blogspot.com/2008/04/art-and-irrationality.html)

“The Active Voice”

The definition of a stone: “Mineral object, piece of rock, quarried for a purpose, a pebble, precious stone, hard seed, calculous concretion, gravestone, grindstone, millstone, hailstone, smooth surface for printing, any surface for artists, playing piece, completely, to put to death, to fortify, to sharpen or smooth, to make insensitive, he who casts the first stone, leave no stone unturned.” (Taken from Dictionary.com)

The stone represents the last possible weapon against an aggressor, who had the audacity to outlaw it. It speaks of the right of a person to wage a greater, more violent response. If a person comes to you with a baseball bat, for example, you can use a gun to shoot them. A stone, however, in a Palestinian child’s hand against a Jewish soldier? “I take all rights way. I make the laws, I make you impotent. I leave you helpless.”

To me, the Jews have become what they most feared. What Hitler did to them was unconscionable. There is no way their treatment will leave their genes. Their nervous systems are impregnated. Only the strongest win, it seems. And if you want to keep something you have to fight for it and plan and scheme.

Still, like the Nazis, they were confronted and beaten. Their attitudes remain in our communities and sour our systems. It’s like tarantulas will never leave the hillsides. Snakes will never cease to slither in the jungles, nor fall from trees to suffocate.

But, the stone with so much denotation or connotation is not a paper weight. Unfinished stone is an odd object in a house. It belongs outside. I see the scattered rocks in Gaza. I see the dry atmosphere and the future as a gated community, where every other community has been stripped of life. Even when everyone is gone, like my father, who died when I was ten, he still lives in me and forms my thoughts. He makes an outline of my sadness. He is a silhouette, like a Magritte painting, called “The Active Voice.”

The above drawing is an homage to Magritte. It is a symbol of the little boys in Gaza, who throw their lives because of something that is true. Their songs are being beaten or shot. Their families are made to hunger and suffer. One generation after the next. A monster is being created and unleashed. The air of hatred is so thin that nothing can breathe. On the Dead Sea, the bodies float upside down. Nothing sinks where the salt has been thrown or where the eyes stack up.

I throw a stone for you. I want it to skip over the glassy surface, but the turbulence grabs it. The reflection in the lake is no longer clear but murky. The depths are disturbed. No fish nor bread to share. No memory of God. No prayers for the enemy. The sky is dark with dust and pandemonium.

On the Subject of Women Being the Property of Men

Well, I just finished reading Beloved by Toni Morrison. In it, she describes the ravages of black slavery and the buying and selling of human beings. We don’t or aren’t supposed to be doing that any more. I totally agree with you when you say “What does that even mean?!” Still, sadly, it’s true. I am reading a book by or about Baudrillard, and in it he has been attributed to saying that we are at the stage where we pay our employers to work for them. We educate ourselves so that we can then fit into the groove we have been assigned. Women have a purpose too, I am afraid, where men have bought the world and money is the means of barter, and capitalism’s slaves use their bodies as a means to their financial ends vs. the Capitalist’s machines, which keep him at a distance and so he never gets his hands dirty. A woman’s place is as a sexual tool, a baker of bread, and a barer of children. For far too long we have been deluded about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Man has even corrupted God to have us believe that we are the property of others. When a man says he wants a woman to be his property, he is speaking in Christian terms. Putting the fear of God in you is to make you think in heaven you shall be rewarded for your sacrifice. But, I know life here and now is the only waking state. You’d better fight like hell against what’s coming back. A trillion dollar tax cut is going to go far to making women the property of rich men.