Monthly Archives: November 2016

Trolling the alt-right

I have a bad habit, on the Internet and in real life, of deliberately nudging or testing people, usually when their beliefs and mine are at variance. This, I learned recently, is called “trolling.”

trolling
You wanna go trolling? Or aren’t you interested in stinking fish?

Sometimes the habit is innocent enough. Too many Facebook posts I’d characterize as “pious,” whether of a religious or psychological nature. Cliches, really, or maxims from deservedly obscure self-help gurus (not to be confused with writers like Shakespeare, Goethe, or Ambrose Bierce). If people can’t recognize the difference between a genuinely profound idea, or sentiment, and something superficial or bogus, I’ll be glad to call their attention to the matter, though it wins me no popularity contests.

In real life, as we say, in the quotidian, where we live and exercise and breathe, I will troll my alt-right acquaintances at the gym I attend. These are the dumbbells that love guns, hate minorities, and have no room at all for reading or thinking. So I’ll say stuff like “I sure hope Pres-elect Twatwaffle will put an end to welfare!” And when they rail against the lazy moochers — welfare mothers with many mouths to feed, fathers with multiple baby mamas — I’ll say, “You mean niggers?” And they’ll say, “That’s what I was thinking.” And I’ll say, innocently enough, “Well, let’s call a spade a spade!”

And if they say, anent the latest violence on the news, “They kill students at Ohio State?,” I’ll respond, “Yeah, it’s another crazy Somali. Why don’t they restrict immigration to white Europeans?” And they’ll say, “Sounds like a good idea to me.”

Meanwhile, the world whirls on, and if we aren’t getting any smarter in the “first post-literate presidency,” we can at least get sassier.

Anne Frank

My  wife Jen and I recently saw a University of Arkansas production of Anne Frank, a dramatization of the diary, which prompted us to pick up a copy of the diary itself.

Image result for anne frankSomehow I’ve not read it, ever, except for excerpts here and there in anthologies, but reading it now I see how enthralling it can be both for historical and literary reasons. Frank records the Nazi persecution of the Jews as it spreads from Germany to Holland, where the family fled in 1933, and she confides in her diary as to a friend, her BFF, in fact, for her motive in writing, she says, is to discover and describe just such a friend.

Fabulous that she would begin such an enterprise and push it forward by and for herself! The diary was not discovered till after the war, after the Franks were hustled off to concentration camps. Anne Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen camp; her diary was saved, back in Amsterdam, by a family friend and employee.

Frank called her diary “Kitty” and confided in it, as you would to the best friend you didn’t have and might never have. It’s charming to overhear these confidences, starting with the friendly address of the diary. “Dear Kitty,” Frank wrote, again and again, telling of her fears and joys and terrors.

I’m reading the diary now and should like to use it as something of a model for the young students I am tutoring, who are writing journals. Frank, after all, deliberately supersedes the idea of recording only “a series of bald facts … like most people do.” She has more important things on her mind — political, psychological, and yes, erotic, things to consider, as any adolescent would have on her mind but few would commit to paper like this. Frank not only writes down her thoughts, she uses writing as a means to transcend the painful and the lonely here and now.

Sound familiar, writers?

Tutoring is more than child’s play

Since I retired and moved to Arkansas five years ago, I’ve been doing a little tutoring. Yes, I tutor kids and adults too in reading, writing, and language.

The word “tutor” comes from the Latin for protector, so a tutor has a privileged and responsible position vis-a-vis his tutees, a position of trust and confidence. In the case of children, the parents entrust the child to the tutor so he or she can grow in knowledge and critical thinking abilities. He will know how to take on the world on his own.

lar, lares
The Wikipedia article on lares, a type of Roman tutelary spirit, shows a “Lar holding a cornucopia from Lora del Rio (Axatiana) in Roman Spain, early 1st century AD (National Archaeological Museum of Spain).”

In ancient Rome, tutelary spirits guarded the household, protecting and defending the inhabitants. They cast a protective shade over the huddle of family. They acted almost like a talisman, or charm, and so too the tutor can provide such magic to ward off the dangers of the world at large.

With kids, it’s great fun to see them develop as readers, thinkers, and writers. They are naturally curious and fidgety, and so our lessons may at first resemble squirrel chases inside a cage. I get them to sit down and read a bit, and they do. But pretty soon they are fidgeting, cracking knuckles or looking at the ceiling. I put a pen in their hand, and they resist its power. Oh, the pain of this business of thinking and translating thoughts into words!  They can talk bushels, but writing is a different monster altogether.

What’s most difficult is to convert all the diffuse energies of childish play into something logical, linear, disciplined, of course. It’s a conversion that most adults have not yet made, if we can judge by such phenomena as our recent presidential election. Who needs logic and reason when we can have games and carnival? When creepy clowns beckon in the guise of wise men?

For man doth not live by bread alone. Nor do we protect ourselves, and stand our ground, with guns alone. It’s ideas that protect and transform us. It’s the ability to digest, combine, and reformulate others’ ideas — and to make of them some kind of intellectual and spiritual life of our own.  Woodworking and flower arranging are great hobbies and talents. Soulmaking is of another order.

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The huddled masses yearning to be free

In the wake of the election of President Trump, we have to acknowledge that there was great anger on the part of the electorate and great yearning too.

statue_of_liberty-cr
Lady Liberty holds the torch of freedom for all — the high and mighty, the weak and oppressed, the billionaire, the redneck, the wetback, the elite.

I think of the Emma Lazarus lines inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, think ironically of these lines, for today’s wretched, huddled masses, it seems to me, who may be counted by virtue of my education among the moralists and elitists, are the rednecks and other uneducated white working class (WWC) folks who elected Trump.

Our yearnings are theirs too. Who among us doesn’t want freedom, however we define it? Freedom from fear and want? Freedom from oppression by the government or other institutional forces who may despise and/or underestimate us?

The WWC have long disdained the long arm of the law and government that tells them what to think and how to express themselves. They can’t express their doubt or anger in their limited vocabulary (and whose vocabulary is not limited?), so they vote for the anti-PC candidate.

As Andrew Marantz writes in the New Yorker, Mike Cernovich, whom I profiled last month, became a prominent vessel of pro-Trump populism by saying unconscionable things on Twitter. “This election was a contest between P.C. culture and free-speech culture,” he told me the day after Trump’s victory. “Most people know what it’s like for some smug, élite asshole to tell them, ‘You can’t say that, it’s racist, it’s bad.’ Well, a vote for Trump meant, ‘Fuck you, you don’t get to tell me what to say.’ ”

In this yearning for freedom to say what one thinks, whatever one thinks, however “unconscionable,” whatever anyone else thinks of what one thinks, the wretched masses are like artists.

For if the essence of art is the yearning for freedom, so too the votes of the WWC. Now, the WWC may not have the skills or materials to be actual or actualized artists, but they do have human voices and human dignity and are worth listening to. Worth closing our yaps for, just a minute, and listening to. Not to worry, we’ll have our chance to talk again. And we’ll have our chance, again, at the ballot box. Our chance to vote and perhaps to vote for a candidate who’s more to the liking of a greater number of the people as a whole.

Meanwhile, it may be time to learn a little humility and bear up under the weight of what we might think of as our own oppression. For there is art in suffering, too, and learning. We don’t want to end up, after all, like Robert Frost’s runaway boy, in the first poem of his Boy’s Will (1913), who concludes, in perverse, puerile triumph,

They would not find me changed from him they knew —
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

Veterans’ Day

Veterans’ Day.

And I myself am a veteran, a viejo.

Not of the same foreign wars that many old patriot windbags blow on about, but of the psychological wars of living and dying in America.

Of seeing my older brother live and die in America.

Of the indifference and contempt in which artists are held in America.

No place for them, for they will not put their artistic, or queer, or simply reluctant shoulders to the capitalist wheel.

Produce, don’t mooch, motherfucker.

Be useful, sad fuck. Make a tire, make a house, make a creampuff, whatever.

This art of yours — Useless! Subversive! Communistical!

Take these bizarre ideas of yours and shove ‘em up your ass.

And get to work, you clown, for the greater good and glory of society.

Moleman thinger
Moleman is the story Gerry created in the 1970s in Minneapolis at a time when his study was located in the basement. This must have been the entryway to the underworld — and many discoveries not imagined by the richer upper world of the bourgeoisie.