I liked the way yesterday’s story about 1970s movies turned out, so I think I’m going to swim in these waters for awhile and see if it leads to anything interesting. I’m going to start by briefly examining two movies at the beginning and end of that era — “Harold and Maude” from 1971 and “My Dinner with Andre” from 1981. While Andre is a 1980s movie, it was written and about life in the 1970s, so I think it’s a solid bookend to Maude.

Harold, the protagonist of his film, begins the movie in a state of ironic nihilism. He is a boy (we never find out his actual age and it’s often hard to tell where in the range from 14 to 28 he occupies) who has no goals or aspirations beyond his affection for funerals and dark love of staged suicide scenes. His mother upsets this balance by asking him to consider a career in the military (where his uncle has some kind of undefined officer position attained by being Douglas McArthur’s “right hand man” — somewhat ironic, because he doesn’t have a right hand.) And then she declares that it is time for him to get married. She arranges three dates via a “computer dating service” to find him the right match, which is actually her right match, since she fills out his dating questionnaire.

Harold’s life is already due for a disruption when he runs into Maude at a funeral, and then is basically stalked by her at another. She too enjoys attending funerals, but we find out early in the film that while the pair has some common traits, they have wildly different worldviews. A traumatic incident happened to Harold in boarding school that led his mother to believe that he was dead … and Harold liked her outpouring of distant affection. He reacted by seeking a return to that state of shocked loss over and over through the staged suicides.

Maude, while fully aware of life’s tragic, temporal nature, sees the human condition as a call to fully embrace living, to ignore legal and moral boundaries, to seek out experiences and find a way to liberate yourself from the persona you’ve created to cope with life’s difficulties. This is a clear, full expression of Nietzsche’s philosophy. But Maude is more than that, she is also the personification of the 1970s cultural ethos — it’s as if the culture declare: we have taken the first and biggest steps towards political liberation, now it is time for personal liberation. The movie tells us that even a rich white straight male can and should be liberated.

This is an extremely hopeful movie, despite its numerous references to suicides (and Maude’s own suicide.) As the credits roll and “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” plays on, you feel that everyone can learn to love more openly, ignore family expectations, keep cultural institutions at an ironic distance, and become the authors of our stories.

I don’t believe “Harold and Maude” influenced the cultural much — it was a box office bomb in its initial release and took many years for it to catch on, buoyed in large part by midnight movies that turned it into a cult classic. It was, however, a perfect reflection of how the culture was adapting to the end of the 1960s. The final episode of “Mad Men” captured that mood as well — with Don Draper escaping New York for an EST retreat in California, then suddenly getting the idea for a Coke commercial that celebrated multicultural peace and togetherness by the mutual purchase of a fizzy, sugary beverage.

Given the state of the world in 1971, it might have seemed more appropriate to have Harold drive his hearse-guar over the cliff in the final scene. The world seemed to be unraveling. The Vietnam War didn’t just drag on, it had been expanded into Cambodia and Laos. War protesters were gunned down in Kent State, then turned to more radical alternatives afterwards, leading to a string of terror bombings across the nation. The Pentagon Papers were released, detailing how thoroughly Americans had been lied to throughout the war.

Yet, on personal level, people were feeling a certain freedom in the early 70s that was unique, and in many respects extremely positive. Women were entering the workforce at a pace that even exceeded the early 40s when so many men were enlisted for World War 2. Many gay men and women finally felt safe coming out of the closet. Because of greater access to the birth control pill, young people didn’t feel the need to marry and start families so early. All of these were positive and unsurprising cultural shifts among young people.

What really drove the mass cultural change in the 1970s, however, was the generation older than the Baby Boomers, those who were already married and had small children, but also wanted in on the liberation. These young mothers had just as much right to careers as women younger than them. This was another positive outcome.

But then something in the culture shook loose and an avalanche started. In his book “Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution, An Unfettered History,” David Allyn described the rapid cultural shift that happened across generations this way:

During the sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s people told the truth. They told the truth about their sexual histories. About their secret desires, About the ways they had been pretending to conform to societal norms. Not everyone told the truth all at once, of course. But when a few key people became authentic about their sexuality, others were inspired to follow suit. Eventually, more and more people told the truth about themselves, until there was a critical mass or “tipping point.” It turned out that “nice girls” were having sex before marriage, that teenagers were yearning to have homosexual relationships, that some married couples were interested in more than just monogamy. When enough people told the truth, the life of the nation was transformed.

What makes the term “sexual revolution” so confusing is that it has two meanings and inspired the adoption of two separate sets of ethos that pushed and pulled in tandem and against one another in that era. Allyn wrote:

Part of the reason that there is still so much confusion surrounding the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies is that the term “revolution” has two meanings: It can denote a calculated contest against the status quo (as in the “French Revolution”); or a sudden, unexpected period of social transformation (as in the “Industrial Revolution”). The sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies involved both elements. There were direct attempts to topple the legal and political pillars of the existing moral regime. There was also an unplanned reconfiguration of American culture, a result of demographic, economic, and technological changes that took many Americans by surprise. Sometimes these two aspects of the sexual revolution operated in tandem, forcefully pushing the nation along one path; sometimes they operated in opposition to each other, pulling the nation in two different directions at once.

It’s the social transformation part of that equation where “Harold and Maude” lives, even if the movie really has very little to say about sex. It’s possible to imagine an alternative 1970s where this drive towards individual transformation and growth retained some elements of the sexual mores of the previous era and focused instead on spiritual or artistic growth. However, in retrospect, maybe it’s too optimistic about humanity to think it can ever take advantage of its freedom, at a mass level, in a way that will lead to free expression and open minds without significantly changing the sexual behavior of people, at least in the short term.

Friederich Nietzsche was a bit naive in this respect as well. His conception of the ubermensch — or overman — wasn’t about a powerful political or business leader (as his work has been polluted and bastardized by the likes of the Nazis and Ayn Rand.) His ideal New Man, who will overcome our religion-poisoned past, is an artist. Nietzsche loved music and musicians most of all and probably felt his greatest personal failure was his mediocre musical talents. His books were intended to inspire creators to dream big and create works that can redefine our world. So, like Maude, Nietzsche envisions a world of free artists rewriting what it means to be human.

So when we arrive in the late 1970s in the world of “My Dinner With Andre,” we are actually sitting in on a conversation between two people that Nietzsche would consider the ideal form of a future human being — a playwright and a stage director in New York, two people who have devoted their lives to expression living in the cultural center of those productions.

And when we meet these people, they are exhausted and nearly defeated. The 1970s, this decade with so much hope for inner growth and expression, had turned out very badly for the type of people you might expect would get the most out of this new freedom.

Wallace Shawn, who in the 1980s would become something of a cultural icon because of his role in “The Princess Bride,” was best known in the 1970s as a writer of small, realist dramas that were mostly staged Off-Broadway. He had a decent number of hits in the 1970s, but by the time this movie was made, his creativity was stilted and he was finding it difficult to get his work produced.

Andre Gregory was a stage director who had a number of successes in the 1970s, but at a certain point lost all faith in his work and decided to quit the profession. His epiphany brings to mind Liv Ullman’s character Elisabet Vogler in “Persona,” who one day onstage is overcome with disgust at the artifice of her work, rendering her mute and unable to perform anymore. But instead of retreating into silence, Gregory goes on a very 1970s kind of quest in search of theater-like experience around the world that evoke the kinds of emotions he used to be able to create on the New York stage.

One of the difficulties in watching “My Dinner With Andre” is making it through the first half of the movie, which is a nearly unbroken monologue by Gregory about these bizarre experiences. Shawn makes no effort to engage him in a dialogue about these adventures, he just coaxes him to keep talking about his weird group frolics in the forests of Poland, his trek to the Sahara Desert with a Japanese yogi, trying to figure out how to stage “The Little Prince” and several other sojourns that I don’t remember off hand.

In the second half, however, we do get a bit of a culture clash and we also start to see that Gregory himself is conflicted about the value of his excursions. He recognizes the privilege at the heart of them and accepts Shawn’s criticism that there’s a dangerous cult-like nature to the way the people behave in these circumstances.

The movie, however, serves as a fitting conclusion to the 1970s cultural ethos, because it perfectly describes the state of exhaustion that existed in the country after this decade of liberation had played itself out. Gregory and Shawn agree that by the end of the 1970s, people seem to be asleep. They can’t see the world around them anymore, they have retreated into nostalgic escapism — or worse, desired a regression to simpler times with simpler life choices.

For an artist, this is the worst possible atmosphere. People go to the theater (or to a movie) in hope of being put further asleep, so they can more fully escape the reality around them. Gregory tells Shawn that it isn’t even worth trying to stage a realistic play that attempts to wake people up, because all it will do is reinforce the misery all around them — the murders, the left-behind — and even this will push them deeper into their slumbers.

The movie ends with two choices about how the culture could move forward out of this state. To Gregory, the answer is somewhat akin to what the 1970s started to do, but ended up getting sidetracked into sex and drugs escapism — seek out consciousness-changing experiences that force you to see the world around you. He likens this to going to Mt. Everest, taking in the awesome beauty of nature and having a shared experience of something bigger than ourselves.

Shawn mocks this idea — saying its privileged and impractical to tell people to visit Mt. Everest. Why not tell everyone to pay attention to the cigar shop next door? Get to know the life inside that shop and your consciousness might be woken up.

Gregory believes that humanity is too far gone to see that cigar shop, that capitalism has taken hold of us and put us on a conveyor belt towards robot status. He even pleads with Shawn to get rid of his electric blanket, that it gives him too much comfort and keeps him from sharing essential parts of humanity that must touch discomfort and a shared sense of what it is like to be cold.

That argument really offends Shawn, who loves his electric blanket and generally thinks there’s nothing wrong with comforts. And if people aren’t woken up by his plays? That’s ok too, as long as he’s allowed to keep writing them and earn a living to support the life he has chosen, filled with moments of little joy.

As the movie ends, the characters allow us the option of retrying the 70s again, hoping to catch the right experiences this time, or moving on to the 80s, pursuing comforts, trying to cut our own bargain with the material world.

Shawn ends the movie riding home in a taxi, noting all the shops in Manhattan along the way and the personal meaning each one of them hold for him. This tells us that he took something important away from the dinner and sees more clearly now.

Watching the movie nearly 40 years later, however, we know that both Gregory and Shawn failed. The door to the 1970s was shut and bolted very quickly. But the hope that we could strike a bargain with the material world barreling down on us was naive as well. Those shops Shawn viewed are all gone now, replaced by chain retailers aimed at high end consumers.

Even worse, people like Shawn don’t live in Manhattan anymore. The successful ones may live in Brooklyn, but more likely Hoboken or Jersey City. The slightly less successful are writing plays as one of three or four gigs, trying to do meaningful work while paying the bills with a freelance article here, a few weeks of Uber driving there. Most people like Gregory and Shawn gave up trying to make a living as artists a couple decades ago and are entrenched in corporate jobs, pretending their quarterly internal comms shows are just as meaningful as that play they’ve been hoping to write.

As it turns out, Gregory was exactly right — capitalism has put all of us to sleep. And now it’s made the world sick, and we are holed up in our houses, trying our best to keep working to keep paying the bills and keep pretending everything is normal while the stock market again approaches all time highs and billionaires are gobbling up the remaining assets middle class people have to unload to stay afloat. They’re competing to build rockets to Mars while we have kitchen table debates weighing whether it’s worse to risk having your children infected with a deadly disease or fall farther behind in their education.

Sadly, the great promise of the 1970s failed. We did not achieve personal liberation in large part because we walked away from political liberation and thought we’d done enough for now. The rich and the powerful took advantage of this inward turn, started recapturing money and power and haven’t looked back since.

I’ll be writing about some more 1970s movies in the days ahead to examine how and why this happened.

I have been watching a lot of movies made in the 1970s recently, which isn’t a chore, that decade might have been the artistic apex of American moviemaking. But what made for great movies also made for a very strange time to be alive, especially if you were a child.

In this context “That 70s Show” is either the stupidest or most brilliant TV show ever devised. The argument for its stupidity is that it had nothing to do with how life was actually lived in that decade, other than the fashions and haircuts. The way people behave on the show is purely a mix of the 1950s and the 1980s.

That is the argument for the show’s brilliance, because there was this tension in the 1970s between what was going on and what it wished itself to be. No decade has ever been more nostalgic for another as the 1970s were for the 1950s. There was “American Graffiti,” “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “Grease,” and whatever the hell Sha-Na-Na was. While the artistic output of movies remained strong throughout, there was a major turn at the half decade mark towards escapism that started with “Jaws” and gained rocket fuel with “Star Wars.”

Despite all of the nostalgia and escapism, movies of the 1970s did an incredible job of documenting the massive cultural shifts that were taking place at that time, even in the form of movies set in other times. “Cabaret,” for example, was about pre-Nazi Berlin, but its celebration of the artistic and sexual experimentation of that era was a clear warning to 1970s audiences — don’t get too cozy with all the new freedom you are experiencing, there are dark forces behind it. We should have listened to that message more closely.

Darkness oozed out of 1970s period movies. “Patton” might have been a World War II biopic, but it was clearly intended as a commentary on the still ongoing and disastrous war in Vietnam, as was the Korea-era comedy “M*A*S*H.” “The Godfather,” “The Sting,” “Paper Moon,” “Chinatown” — all of them were about decaying values and con-men, but audience at the time clearly recognized the Nixon administration and all of the other American institutions that were rapidly losing public trust.

To see the 1970s from a distance can be pretty fun. To have lived and grown up in it was quite another adventure. It really seemed like an era without childhoods. Families were breaking apart right and left. Drug abuse was rampant. Pornography was everywhere — it could even be glimpsed from highways in the drive in movie theaters. Murder rates were two to three times higher in major cities compared to now. The so-called lawlessness of today was nothing compared to that age of riots during blackouts and fans exploding onto fields of play after major sporting events.

What puzzles me about the 1970s now is that there were excuses at the time that everyone accepted, but that don’t make as much sense anymore. We were told that this is what happens after a country loses a war. Or after a lawless President gets caught. Or when there are hard economic times — defined then by inflation and gas lines. Major social changes had just happened — Stonewall and women’s rights, the sexual revolution. People hadn’t adjusted to it all.

For many years that argument seemed to make sense to me. But having lived the last 20 years of American life, it now seems ridiculous. The Iraq War was just as traumatic as Vietnam in important ways, especially coming so soon after 9/11. We had a massive economic collapse in 2009 and are experiencing an even worse one now. Social change has been far more rapid in our era than that one. The gay marriage decision, MeToo and Black Lives Matter have reshaped the cultural landscape at breathtaking speed.

And yet, with all of this change and a horrendous global pandemic … and the worst President in our history who combines the worst features of Nixon and Carter and still has a lot of venality and stupidity left unaccounted for … we’re actually doing ok in this country compared to how people behaved in the 1970s.

Teenaged pregnancies are way down compared to then, as is drug abuse. Divorce rates are lower. Sexually transmitted diseases are far less prevalent. The kids in general are alright. If anyone is losing their shit right now it’s the same Baby Boomers who were responsible for much of the bad behavior then.

It might be time to take another hard look at the 1970s to figure out just what it was all about. In the 1990s, there were some attempts by Gen Xers to revisit that era in books and movies like “The Ice Storm.” But even those pretty much took the excuses of the era at face value. They were just overwhelmed and couldn’t help themselves, they told us. Maybe it was something else. Maybe, for example, the lead in gasoline was far more damaging than we assumed.

There were deeper social pathologies at play than the first round of explanations can cover. Once the rules started to break down, everyone felt obliged to rush the stage, like fans of The Who in Cincinnati. A weird group psychology had taken hold that trampled an entire generation of children.

Thankfully, we have not returned to those times. Maybe we should study more closely why that happened so we can make sure future children are shielded from a recurrence in future generations.

My psyche is not happy with me walking away from this project. Actually, it’s probably just not willing to give up the activity. The surest signal of what you want in life is what you actually do when presented with the freedom to do whatever you want.

So here I am, on an August Sunday morning, at my favorite spot near the lake, doing what I do most days, just writing what comes to mind, or in some cases what has haunted me in recent hours.

Maybe this is one of those Tolkienesque fourth or fifth endings to the project I wrapped up. Or maybe it’s a reconsideration of what the project was really all about. Or maybe it’s just habit. Who cares? You are no more required to read as I am to write. Yet, here we are.

I’m surprised that I’d never drawn the connection between Lana Del Rey’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell” and the Anima in a previous piece. Maybe it’s because I covered LDR earlier and discovered Anima later. It’s impossible for me to hear “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” and consider Jung’s concept. It’s both a full embrace and a fascinating role reversal — LDR doesn’t just declare “I’m your man,” she describes her influence just as Jung did in his initial writing and the Animus. Is that the state of male/female relations in this age, where a woman needs to step up as a man’s Animus to give him the strength to make him whole? Traditional Jungians would probably argue that LDR is just Animus possessed and is attempting to pass on these masculine archetypes to the men around her. Even so, that’s a rare stance for a female artist to take. Perhaps Beyoncé went there a bit in “Lemonade,” which I might ponder later.

The neo-Jungians have been skeptical of Jung’s Animus for decades, and it’s sexism is undeniable. But I’ve never seen it used as brazenly by a woman, one who reluctantly assumes the goddess role on the album’s first track, now declare herself a man’s true Animus. It’s a fascinating role appropriation.

The men in this album are hopelessly lost, best of all in “How To Disappear,” where she contrasts the existentially lost men with those immersed in exhausting, inevitably pointless combat with life. LDR is clearly on the side of the pointless over the hopeless, but the song ends wistfully with a fictionalized LDR settled with a family promising not to disappear, even though she can’t bring herself to say the words.

“California” then features a “scared to win, scared to lose” man whose depression only becomes fully apparent to her after she sneaks a look at one of his letters to someone else (which I love for it’s probably unintentional allusion to “Persona.”) Her response that depression is a promise to take him out partying, which doesn’t seem remotely helpful, but makes for a reasonably commercial modern pop song.

The whole album seems to have been written in the shadow of the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper update of “A Star is Born.” This is never more obvious than in “The Next Great American Record” which also chokes me up for its lovely affection for Generation X, something you don’t get from many Millennials. Here, LDR is supporting an older man “70s in spirit, 90s in this frame of mind” who needs reassurance that he’s an equal partner in whatever joint venture they are building.

This leads into the album’s epic centerpiece, the masterful ode to a disappearing world “The Greatest.” It’s more haunting today than the day it came out. The song now reminds me of the bittersweet musical number at the end of Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” where Fosse’s dead alter ego says goodbye to life and everyone he knew in it. (It’s actually not THAT devastating — the end of “All That Jazz” kills me every time.) But the song ending with “oh, the livestream’s almost on” seems today like a scary prophesy of 2020.

To be honest, “The Greatest” reaches such an emotional high that I pretty much sleep walk through the rest of the record from here. That’s probably not fair. The songs become a little more personal in the final quarter, less about the men around LDR than her attempt to stay centered while dealing with them. There’s probably no better way to end the album than “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have,” even though 1) it’s an interesting nod to Fiona Apple just as she’s about to walk away from this style of piano ballad and 2) for an album that has focused so strongly on the men in her life, none of them are around for the close, with the possible exception of the monsters under her bed that she alludes to late in the song. I admire her for declaring herself unhappy but not sad and full of hope.

These days, that’s not just difficult, it’s downright heroic.

For anyone wondering after yesterday’s post whether this means the end of my blogging, I can answer a definitive ‘no’ on that. I have come to the end of a cycle, I’ll call it the Anima Project, and I feel good about ending it exactly where it landed.

This website is devoted to writing about Montaigne and essays in the style of Montaigne, which means essays that are primarily about the writer (in this case me.) If I have the urge to write more about Montaigne or to supplement the Anima series, I will post it here. Likewise, if I come up with another idea for a series of essays in the Montaigne style, I’ll write and post them here as well.

You might have noticed that, from time to time, I have pulled back from myself and written other blog posts that would more accurately be called advocacy or review. From now on, I will post those kinds of pieces on my personally branded blog, which is danconley.blog. There’s nothing on the site right now, you haven’t missed anything, but in the future I will write those kinds of pieces for that site and will likely link from Facebook when I want a wider audience (if you haven’t figured it out by now, sometimes I really don’t want one.) I’m feeling the urge to kick up my non-personal writing at this time, so that could become my primary blog going forward, but I’ll need to prove that first.

As for the recently completed project, I have some final thoughts. I went through a pretty traumatic experience and wasn’t fully aware of it at the time. I have gone to therapy off and on for a number of years, but I never really dove deeply into the sensitive stories of my life until working with one particular therapist late last year and early this year. For whatever reason, I felt a special kinship with her and felt comfortable going places that I hadn’t gone before. She felt like an alter ego to me.

When the professional relationship ended, I had a big mess to clean up. How do I process what just happened and why? How should I think about this? How long will I feel this way about it? Those kinds of questions I covered with a really excellent therapist — I’m eternally grateful — and through this blog.

I’m not entirely in the clear in this story. There’s still a part of me that is reluctant to talk about those sensitive subjects I plumbed with my past therapist and believes that those stories are partly hers as a result. There’s a part of me that only wants to examine those stories with her and is reluctant to find someone to replace her to do that work. Finding the comfort to share those stories with someone new — and trusting that person not to drop me off at a convenience store in the middle of Allegator Alley (whoa … major psychodynamic flashback there … yes, true story) is my ongoing work.

But, I have made progress and in addition to my last CB therapist, I also want to thank everyone who has read this blog and tolerated my meandering thoughts on this strange topic. Even if you have done so silently, you have provided incredible support to me when I needed it and I’m grateful. Writing is a central part of my personality and the best way I know to process thoughts and feelings. So, thank you for indulging me while I worked things out so publicly.

And I would appreciate it if you would stick around for whatever comes next.

How does the story pick up and continue after the Tale of Marcela? It’s easy to imagine a short story ending here. If Quixote’s quest is all about restoring the Golden Age through deeds of the knight errant, Marcela spells out in detail why this is not only an absurd quest, but a counterproductive and oppressive one.

Of course, I am under no obligation to follow Cervantes all the way to the end of his book — many scholars have already followed that path. If Marcela sticks the landing for the story I want to tell, then I am free to end it right here. And I shall.

Taking stock of where this journey began in March and has led in the final week of July, I now see a logical pattern that appeared random as it was being created. The story has all been about processing and laying to rest a confounding relationship in my recent past. I started out with many questions and confused feelings.

I started out with my old friend Montaigne as a guide, who helped me get used to the solitude of the lockdown, and then made me feel comfortable following his path of personal reflection and observation. I used his words as long as they felt useful, then set off on my own.

I went far deeper into psychology than I ever intended and probably revealed more details of my therapy than would be advisable. I dabbled in some amateur psychology myself and did an unexpectedly deep dive into the works of Jung. This led to a major breakthrough that allowed me to depersonalize my feelings quite a bit and separate the person in question from my anima.

Chasing where this anima wanted to take me somehow led me to Quixote, and I followed the knight errant’s path on a similar quest to earn his anima’s approval, only to realize that my anima does not, in fact, ask anything of me and these acts of daring are little more than my attempt to win over a fictional character.

And this, interestingly enough, leads me back to a song that I wrote in February for an Old Town School class when I was deep in my anima poisoning stage. It was called “The Ballad of Charlie the Tuna,” and it was about the Starkist Tuna pitch fish who, for five decades, did increasingly elaborate acts of daring to prove to Starkist that he was worthy of their attention because he had good taste. This video is one of the best examples of the series.

There are two ways of looking at Charlie — he’s either a fool who does a series of pointless acts to prove his good taste for no reason, setting himself up for disappointment, rejection and isolation; or, he’s a genius, because his acts of differentiation keep him from being caught, boned, filleted and stuffed into a can like thousands of fish just like him.

I choose to believe a mix of the two — it is Charlie’s uniqueness that keeps him alive. But there’s a sadness to his quest, because it does separate him from his nature. And so I close out this series with my song, recognizing that these past four months of writing have been mostly my own Charlie the Tuna exercise to stay alive when the world seems to be closing in.

The Ballad of Charlie the Tuna

I can’t expect to win your heart, by being part of the same old crowd

Never felt quite myself, wearing a cap and singing aloud

So when I swim in deeper waters, it doesn’t mean that I like it alone

And just because I have opinions, it doesn’t mean you can throw that stone

So if I sound a bit off key, maybe your ears could use a tune

And if my ideas are strange and free, it could be your mind is just a cartoon

Because I have style

Because I have passion

Because I have taste

I’m still alive now

Because I have drive

Because I have vision

Because I have taste

I’m nobody’s lunch

Somebody asked if I preferred, to be chunky or albacore

But I said don’t be naïve, packed up in water is such a bore

I poured a bath, Chateau Lafite, the ‘16 always blows me away

 And if they say why drink a red, I make them pronounce aquifoliaceae

Now if you say that I’m a snob, or that I put on airs so tight

Just remember Bob, Phil and Joe, stuffed in package called Chunk Light

Because I have style

Because I have passion

Because I have taste

I’m still alive now

Because I have drive

Because I have vision

Because I have taste

I’m still free for lunch

Yes, I have that drive

I have that vision

I have good taste

And who’s sorry now?

I also considered entitling this “the maiden who annihilated the myth of the femme fatale.” It’s one of the most memorable episodes in “Don Quixote” and I hope I can do it justice. Quixote set it up in his speech about the Golden Age, where he spoke of a time when virtuous maidens could roam free without fear of being accosted by aggressive suitors.

Marcela is advertised as the most beautiful and virtuous maiden in the land, and love of her has driven many men to seek out her love by becoming shepherds or performing senseless acts to win her attention.

The most senseless of these was Grisostomo, who wrote songs in her honor and eventually took his life out of lovesick sorrow. In an act of incredible bravery, Marcela decides to attend his funeral and is greeted with this charge from one of Grisostomo’s friends

“Do you come, O savage basilisk of these mountains, to see if with your presence blood spurts from the wounds of this wretched man whose life was taken by your cruelty?Or do you come to gloat over the cruelties of your nature, or to watch from that height, like another heartless Nero, the flames of burning Rome, or, in your arrogance, to tread on this unfortunate corpse, as the ungrateful daughter of Tarquinus2 did to the body of her father? Tell us quickly why you have come, or what it is you want most, for since I know that Grisóstomo’s thoughts never failed to obey you in life, I shall see to it that even though he is dead, those who called themselves his friends will obey you as well.”

Faced with this vicious emotional attack, Marcela leans back and delivers a devastating, intensely logical explanation and defense of her worldview. It begins:

“I do not come, O Ambrosio, for any of the causes you have mentioned,” Marcela responded, “but I return here on my own behalf to explain how unreasonable are those who in their grief blame me for the death of Grisóstomo, and so I beg all those present to hear me, for there will be no need to spend much time or waste many words to persuade discerning men of the truth.

This is a beautiful rhetorical device she employs — appealing to the higher reason of the men, the supposed advantage that they hold over women. She will then proceed to unclothe them all in their emotional weakness and flaccid intellectual capacity:

Heaven made me, as all of you say, so beautiful that you cannot resist my beauty and are compelled to love me, and because of the love you show me, you claim that I am obliged to love you in return. I know, with the natural understanding that God has given me, that everything beautiful is lovable, but I cannot grasp why, simply because it is loved, the thing loved for its beauty is obliged to love the one who loves it. Further, the lover of the beautiful thing might be ugly, and since ugliness is worthy of being avoided, it is absurd for anyone to say: ‘I love you because you are beautiful; you must love me even though I am ugly.’ But in the event the two are equally beautiful, it does not mean that their desires are necessarily equal, for not all beauties fall in love; some are a pleasure to the eye but do not surrender their will, because if all beauties loved and surrendered, there would be a whirl of confused and misled wills not knowing where they should stop, for since beautiful subjects are infinite, desires would have to be infinite, too.

That’s basically a rhetorical connection between religion and Aristotelian logic, demonstrating why beauty should not compel the beloved to bear the burden of unwanted affection. But it gets better:

According to what I have heard, true love is not divided and must be voluntary, not forced. If this is true, as I believe it is, why do you want to force me to surrender my will, obliged to do so simply because you say you love me? But if this is not true, then tell me: if the heaven that made me beautiful had made me ugly instead, would it be fair for me to complain that none of you loved me? Moreover, you must consider that I did not choose the beauty I have, and, such as it is, heaven gave it to me freely, without my requesting or choosing it. And just as the viper does not deserve to be blamed for its venom, although it kills, since it was given the venom by nature, I do not deserve to be reproved for being beautiful, for beauty in the chaste woman is like a distant fire or sharp-edged sword: they do not burn or cut the person who does not approach them.

I would make a joke here about ridiculous incel men who complain about how sex is withheld from them, but let he without sin cast the first stone, Don’t get me wrong, those guys are a special brand of idiots and fools. But I’m as guilty of all men of believing he is due love from the beautiful in some fashion. It’s a disease of our gender that needs to be reconsidered in every new generation. Marcela has much more to say on the subject, much of it beautiful, but I think you get the gist.

The femme fatale is a Jungian archetype –the seductive female who lures a male protagonist into danger. What the tale of Marcela wisely points out is that men actually need very little luring to take on this danger. They do stupid, ultimately pointless things to impress women they find beautiful without any prompting or even hints of reciprocity. They call it many things, knight errantry is just one of them, and all it does is to imprison women by removing aspects of their freedom.

It’s something to be mindful of, even when motives seem pure.

I have been thinking a lot recently about a 2004 New York Times Magazine piece by Ron Suskind about the President George W. Bush’s foreign policy and their worldview. In the piece, an unnamed Bush aide, made a comment to Suskind that he characterized this way:

The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ […] ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’

While Donald Trump often derides George W. Bush and especially his foreign policy, he shares this feature with him — he believes in shaping his own reality. A story in the Washington Post today by Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker capture this worldview succinctly:

People close to Trump, many speaking anonymously to share candid discussions and impressions, say the president’s inability to wholly address the crisis is due to his almost pathological unwillingness to admit error; a positive feedback loop of overly rosy assessments and data from advisers and Fox News; and a penchant for magical thinking that prevented him from fully engaging with the pandemic.

Magical thinking is a good description for Trump’s insane pronouncements about the Coronavirus — he have a handle on it, it will soon be going away, we have conquered it, etc. But this disease doesn’t begin and end with Trump, it’s a national affliction and disgrace. Read what Axios.com, that oracle of obviousness, has to say about the recent outbreak of COVID-19 on the Miami Marlins baseball team:

It’s a bad sign for baseball moving forward. But most importantly, it’s a bad sign for just about everything in our daily lives — showing that something approaching normal can’t simply be willed into existence.

That quote from Karl Rove keeps ringing in my ears “when we act, we create our own reality.” There are people on this planet, most of them living in this country, who truly believe that they have become outrageously wealthy and powerful purely out of their own greatness, than they can do no wrong. To these people, their inner voice is always saying “if you build it, they will come.”

Well, yes, they will come … they will join a death cult of stupidity and insanity, one where we are needlessly sending people to emergency rooms and to their deaths — and destroying any hope of an economic rebound in the near future — simply because a certain self-satisfied, self-glorifying segment of our culture cannot let go of their magical thinking.

Yes, Mr. Rove, we are indeed history’s actors. We are acting to destroy a country 244 years in the making in a manner of months, because we lack the humility to do what should be the easiest thing any leader can do: face reality.

Chapter 11 of “Don Quixote” features one of the knight’s most famous speeches, his “harangue” about the “Golden Age.” Whenever anyone speaks of restoring a glorious past, it’s time to sit up and pay attention to the ways you are being manipulated, whether it’s a MAGA-like attempt to retrieve American past glory or Martin Heidegger’s critique of technology and lament for the craftsman culture.

Quixote’s speech, on first glance, sounds very appealing and there is some utopian value to the ideals expressed here, whether they are indicative of an actual past or not. But the speech is also highly contradictory — it is designed to be a defense of and explanation for his knight errant quests, but more often is in direct contradiction of his actions. I’m going to go through it bit by bit:

After Don Quixote had satisfied his stomach, he picked up a handful of acorns, and, regarding them attentively, he began to speak these words: “Fortunate the age and fortunate the times called golden by the ancients, and not because gold, which in this our age of iron is so highly esteemed, could be found then with no effort, but because those who lived in that time did not know the two words thine and mine.

This is the first contradiction/note of irony in Quixote’s speech because everything that he does in his quest is about his personal glory and elevation of his divine Dulcinea. It’s all about the thine and mine.

In that blessed age all things were owned in common; no one, for his daily sustenance, needed to do more than lift his hand and pluck it from the sturdy oaks that so liberally invited him to share their sweet and flavorsome fruit. The clear fountains and rushing rivers offered delicious, transparent waters in magnificent abundance. In the fissures of rocks and the hollows of trees diligent and clever bees established their colonies, freely offering to any hand the fertile harvest of their sweet labor. Noble cork trees, moved only by their own courtesy, shed the wide, light bark with which houses, supported on rough posts, were covered as a protection, but only against the rain that fell from heaven. In that time all was peace, friendship, and harmony; the heavy curve of the plowshare had not yet dared to open or violate the merciful womb of our first mother, for she, without being forced, offered up, everywhere across her broad and fertile bosom, whatever would satisfy, sustain, and delight the children who then possessed her.

Quixote is making this idealistic call for people to share the earth without coveting or forming attachments. And yet, his quest is not about leaving people in peace to go about their lives, it is all about disruption of order, forcing them to pay homage to his Dulcinea or challenging them to make amends for injuries to his steed. And, of course, Hobbes would laugh at this description of a human utopia by noting how these primative lives were nasty, brutish and short. We see today just how much nature is out to kill us and Quixote’s naive wish to return to such simplicity is nothing more than an adult’s attempt to retreat to the womb. Speaking of the womb, Quixote now makes a curious pitch for a time when women could live more freely, without fear:

In that time simple and beautiful shepherdesses could wander from valley to valley and hill to hill, their hair hanging loose or in braids, wearing only the clothes needed to modestly cover that which modesty demands, and has always demanded, be covered, and their adornments were not those used now, enveloping the one who wears them in the purple dyes of Tyre, and silk martyrized in countless ways, but a few green burdock leaves and ivy vines entwined, and in these they perhaps looked as grand and elegant as our ladies of the court do now in the rare and strange designs which idle curiosity has taught them.

This vision sets up the section that immediately follows, about the shepherdess Marcela and her desire to live an unattached life free of annoying, demanding suitors. The irony comes in contrast to Quixote’s Dulcinea, who was created as a romantic symbol much like Marcela. So while Quixote can boast of his desire for a woman’s freedom to avoid the suffocating attention of suitors, he feels obliged to be such a suitor, even if his target is fictional.

In that time amorous concepts were recited from the soul simply and directly, in the same way and manner that the soul conceived them, without looking for artificial and devious words to enclose them. There was no fraud, deceit, or malice mixed in with honesty and truth. Justice stood on her own ground, and favor or interest did not dare disturb or offend her as they so often do now, defaming, confusing, and persecuting her. Arbitrary opinions formed outside the law had not yet found a place in the mind of the judge, for there was nothing to judge, and no one to be judged. Maidens in their modesty wandered, as I have said, wherever they wished, alone and mistresses of themselves, without fear that another’s boldness or lascivious intent would dishonor them, and if they fell it was through their own desire and will.

This is, of course, pure nonsense. There was no time in human history that existed prior to manipulation and language games, unless we want to consider a time before human consciousness and I don’t think that’s what Quixote had in mind by a golden age. If we are to assume some Garden of Eden state prior to humans being corrupted, it is interesting how Quixote turns that fable on its head by making women the victim of the fall rather than the perpetrators. There is a germ of feminism to the story, but also some infantilization of women, that they are incapable of handling themselves in the face of deceit and manipulation. That leads us to Quixote’s next section:

But now, in these our detestable times, no maiden is safe, even if she is hidden and enclosed in another labyrinth like the one in Crete; because even there, through chinks in the wall, or carried by the air itself, with the zealousness of accursed solicitation the amorous pestilence finds its way in and, despite all their seclusion, maidens are brought to ruin. It was for their protection, as time passed and wickedness spread, that the order of knights errant was instituted: to defend maidens, protect widows, and come to the aid of orphans and those in need.

And yet, Quixote does all of this in service of a fictional woman. Carl Jung would argue that Quixote isn’t doing this in service of a woman at all, he’s serving his anima, which is just another part of his personality. Viewed in this context, the order of the knights errant is nothing more than an Anima Cult that sprung up to let men fuse their psyches and give them an excuse to ride around on horseback and start trouble among people just trying to go about their lives. Quixote then thanked the goat herders for listening to his tale, leading Cervantes to note:

This long harangue—which could very easily have been omitted—was declaimed by our knight because the acorns served to him brought to mind the Golden Age, and with it the desire to make that foolish speech to the goatherds, who, stupefied and perplexed, listened without saying a word. Sancho too was silent, and ate acorns, and made frequent trips to the second wineskin, which had been hung from a cork tree to cool the wine.

Cervantes immediately creates distance between the speech and his own thoughts about it. The speech is designed to show the foolishness of Quixote, but it’s really there to make a commentary on the rationale for knight errantry and to allow Cervantes another opportunity to point out just how ridiculous and contradictory Quixote’s quests are.

I think the speech has value because, at first reading, it can seem very moving. As a rhetorician, I understand the power of ideal past visions that need to be upheld or restored. We usually recognize this dangerous method when politicians sell it, but they are not alone. Companies have golden ages, as do non-profits and schools. For how long has Apple clung to the Golden Age of Steve Jobs and built a cult around him?

We’re all susceptible to seduction like this and Cervantes does us a huge favor by pointing it out early in his story before we get carried away with Quixote’s supposed nobility. The truth is that Quixote’s quest is personal and selfish, and we should never forget it.

If Quixote is the hero of the story — which is up for interpretation, actually, you could argue that Sancho is the hero — then he cannot just succeed in his hero’s quest on first attempt, he needs to confront his shadow during the journey and achieve greatness by becoming whole. This is according to Jungian archetypes, and has also been further elaborated by Joseph Campbell and others.

Given that Quixote is a fictional creation, this creates some problems. He is not a real person, he is a creation of a man who has read about the feats of knight errantry and fully incorporated that writing into the creation of a character. I have not read any Jung analysis of Don Quixote, but I am sure he would consider the Quixote character a persona, what our protagonist has adopted as his way of coping with the world. But once again, a persona does not free someone from confronting his shadow.

The interesting thing about Sancho Panza is that he operates as a shadow while remaining a completely believable, autonomous character at the same time. In Panza, Quixote sees all of the things he has rejected to become this persona — a connection to the land and to a family, religious belief, normal human gluttony and greed. Panza is the everyman that Quixote is trying so desperately to walk away from and to reach an exalted state of immortality.

In Chapter 10, we get our first serious glimpse of the Quixote-Panza relationship, which can be viewed as a classic hero-sidekick duality, but can also be seen as an interior monologue between a man and his shadowy, grounded half. After Sancho asks for his insula as reward for their first victory over the friars, Quixote has to remind him that they have taken only small steps on their quest so far:

“Let me point out, brother Sancho, that this adventure and those like it are adventures not of ínsulas but of crossroads, in which nothing is won but a broken head or a missing ear. Have patience, for adventures will present themselves in which you can become not only a governor, but perhaps even more.”

This can be seen as a form of Quixote self talk, a reminder to himself that he has only begun this new life and bigger adventures await. Soon after, Quixote claims to have invented a balm (no doubt taken from one of the stories he read) that has magically healing powers. Panza, very wisely, offers to give up any claim on an insula if he could only have the formula to this balm, he could then produce and sell it and never have to worry about money again.

“Be quiet, my friend,” Don Quixote responded, “for I intend to show you greater secrets and do you greater good turns; for now, let us treat these wounds, for my ear hurts more than I should like.”

To bring in another Jungian archetype here, Quixote is demonstrating that in addition to being a stereotypical hero, he is also a bit of a trickster, because maintaining this grand fictional persona will require him to make many outlandish claims and promises and to keep raising the stakes with Sancho to keep him on board. As will be pointed out in another chapter soon, Sancho is one of the few people who believe him only because he lived in such close proximity to his pre-persona self and gained his respect through the years. We’ll see how long he can hold onto this trust.

Sancho doesn’t tend to check Quixote’s claims and promises, but he does pay careful attention to his language and is quick to point out when Quixote is taking his behavior places that will be difficult to uphold. Later in the chapter, Quixote vows to endure great hardships until the time that he can find another battle and win a replacement for his broken helmet. Sancho is skeptical:

“Your grace should send such vows to the devil, Señor,” replied Sancho, “for they are very dangerous to your health and very damaging to your conscience. If not, then tell me: if for many days we don’t happen to run into a man armed with a helmet, what will we do? Must we keep the vow in spite of so many inconveniences and discomforts, like sleeping in our clothes, and sleeping in the open, and a thousand other acts of penance contained in the vow of that crazy old man the Marquis of Mantua, which your grace wants to renew now? Look, your grace, no armed men travel along these roads, only muledrivers and wagondrivers, and they not only don’t have helmets, but maybe they haven’t even heard of them in all their days.”

The effect of these conversations is to make two crazy characters seem perfectly sane. They are working out the boundaries of their relationship and convincing the other that their quest is both reasonable and attainable, if only they are willing to stick to the plan and not get too attached to the stories of past glories.

In my personal experience, men tend to have to replay this Quixote-Panza relationship over and over in their lives, taking both sides of the equation. I tend to do very well in the Panza role when I have a Quixote model who I trust and admire. Being a speechwriter is all about helping a leader continue and succeed on a quest, and I am pretty good at helping them achieve those goals.

I have to admit that I make for a strange Quixote and tend to push away potential Sanchos in my life. I am far more trusting of women in partnership roles than men and tend to be excessively critical of men in these roles. I admire Quixote for being so open to Sancho’s advice and criticism. He seems to enjoy his company and doesn’t judge him harshly, even given ample opportunities.

Perhaps a second half of life journey for me might include becoming more open to Sancho Panza type characters. To do that, I will probably have to drop or get over some of my visceral dislike of men (something intimately tied to my relationship with my father), but that’s the subject for another essay.

In part one of this history, we left the brave Basque and the famous Don Quixote with their swords raised and unsheathed, about to deliver two downstrokes so furious that if they had entirely hit the mark, the combatants would have been cut and split in half from top to bottom and opened like pomegranates; and at that extremely uncertain point, the delectable history stopped and was interrupted, without the author giving us any information as to where the missing parts could be found. This caused me a good deal of grief, because the pleasure of having read so small an amount was turning into displeasure at the thought of the difficult road that lay ahead in finding the large amount that, in my opinion, was missing from so charming a tale. It seemed impossible and completely contrary to all good precedent that so good a knight should have lacked a wise man who would assume the responsibility of recording his never-before-seen deeds, something that never happened to other knights errant,

So many thoughts come to mind as Cervantes opens part two of his story. First, I’m amused at the fact that Cervantes felt compelled to stop writing his second-hand account of Quixote because the original version wasn’t sufficiently grizzly. Without the knowledge of where body parts landed after being hacked off, how are we to trust the narrator?

Second, I’m reminded of the numerous two-part episodes of “Batman”, and any episode of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” in the use of catch-up narrative and winking reminders that we are hearing a story from not entirely credible authors.

Third, with the introduction of Cervantes as the “second author” (or wait, is he the third?) of this story, I’m blown away by all the forms of the novel he created right out of the gate. There is no need for a postmodern novel, every technique meant to create a chilly distance between writer and reader began right here.

So Cervantes finds a copy of this secret history of Don Quixote, written in Arabic, and has it translated so that he has a reliable account of what happened, including this battle with monks that closed the previous chapter. It’s all very amusing, but it raises a serious point — who owns any story and how much blood must a writer shed to retain authority and credibility?

Yesterday, I began work with my fourth therapist in less than a year. Yes, self actualization has been my own exhausting Quixotic quest. And, dear reader, it is even worse than it sounds, because in between these four were numerous other therapists who have been interviewed and a Tavistock conference with triple digits of aspiring therapist in attendance. It hasn’t been entirely unpleasant, because I generally like therapists, I find them to be people with their hearts in the right place who are generally well read and good listeners. I enjoy spending time with them.

However, I have developed my own idiosyncratic list of pet peeves about therapy. First, I absolutely hate it when a therapist doesn’t remember something important that I’ve told him or her. I’m not going to get angry over something trivial, such as a mixed up name, but to forget an incident that drew blood when I mentioned it is nearly unforgivable in my book.

Second, I do not like when the therapist talks too much and, especially, when he or she repeats him or herself. It’s one thing to give an illuminating theory or quote, but to come back to that same piece of material in the next session I consider an insult to my intelligence. Get a better handle on what you said in MY 50 minutes, please, and never assume that I didn’t hear you the first time.

The third thing, which is crucial to me, is that I want to be in control of my stories. I see therapy as a way of gaining power over the past so that my stories do not dominate me and make me their victim. That means that I want to control the pace of therapy. I want to be the one to decide when traumatic stories are unearthed. I want to build a relationship to a point where I trust the therapist to hear these stories in context and understand why I do not feel victimized. Most of all, at least at this point in my life, I want the therapist to read this fucking blog.

It is here, in these pages, where I recount the stories that I consider most important in my life in the context where I want to tell them. I don’t expect my therapist to read everything, but if given multiple prompts to please read some of this to get an understanding of who I am before beginning a consultation, I expect you to listen to me and treat this relationship as one where I have some autonomy to define how I want to be treated.

In this regard, I have to give a lot of credit to my past two therapists for different reasons. The first of the two complied with my request to take the psychodynamic work at a snail’s pace, to let us get to know each other first and slowly ease into the stories at a time when I felt comfortable telling them. It’s possible that we got a bit too cozy at this time and did too much easy work right off the bat, but I still think this is a style that suits me. I do not want a first session interrogation about my most traumatic moments in life.

My third therapist — who has done an outstanding job and who I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone who could benefit from CBT — has always gone the extra mile to understand me and my thought patterns. She has read this blog and asked intelligent questions about it. Maybe she gave me a false sense of security that any competent therapist would do the same.

It’s possible that all of this is coming off as a lot of anger about my therapy session yesterday, and that would be fair. I am venting a bit and I tend to get angry about things in a delayed manner — my therapist probably has no idea that anything from yesterday bothered me and would be surprised by this reaction. Naturally, I should raise it with him and make it more “grist for the mill” (which, by the way, is another of my therapy pet peeves — whenever a therapist uses that phrase, pay special attention, because he or she is probably just trying to shrug off something that’s bugging you and may be really important to you.)

But I have to say, if I don’t receive some indication over the next six days that he has read this blog or will in the near future, I will soon be on the hunt for therapist number five.