When desperate, the best thing to do is do better. Don’t give up to helplessness. Don’t succumb to selfish grifting. Try harder. Sacrifice. Endure. See hope in the future. There are people and situations which can help you escape your misery. Find them. You’ll find the worst first. Then you’ll find that the best are flawed. But most likely your escape is the escape you fashion from the pieces of a past that you broke. Pick up the parts that will serve you. Abandon those which cut your hands and break your heart. The puzzle parts are all there for you to put together into a new beginning. At some point you must stop looking back. Look down. Look up. Look sideways. Move forward but protect and defend what is precious to you at all costs.
Fresh off my latest social disaster, I decided I would review the book which would answer a contemporary mystery.
The book was rare. It was only printed on demand. No local or online book seller had it. No near library held it.
I found my prize at Jelly Fenellie Books in London for the purchase price of $100. I ordered it and it arrived in three weeks…what a surprise!
It was NOT a stogie mimeographed copy or plainly wrapped amateur creation. A hard back. A fine dustcover. A clear library-like protective coat. And more…
This book had the editor’s signature, date, best wishes. This book had the embossed stamp of its prominent owner. Inside, in just the preface and first chapter pages, I found more surprises.
At first, I tried to acquire this book by other methods. I checked the online book brokers. I called a rare book shop in Pennsylvania. I called the publisher, the son of the subject, in Dallas. I contacted the library listed in a universal library search. No luck.
I found this premiumly priced, rare book at Amazon UK site for a high price and ordered it immediately. I waited anxiously. I feared something would happen in transport or delivery that would spoil my self-assessed treasure. Not so.
The book arrived bubble rapped and well taped, though packaging torn, in my mailbox as in the timeframe estimated. I perused it then put it down as if the excitement was over.
When I did cautiously approach the book to read, I anticipated that I would be at first slow to find enjoyment in it followed by boredom followed by drudgery. But that wasn’t the case.
First, I was delighted to see the signature of the author. As mentioned, it was the editor but also the son of the subject. It turned out early that this accomplished military edited amateurishly, but lovingly. He caught the high points the father would have wanted.
Tracing the identity of the embossed stamp, I discovered an author of prodigious works in the area of intelligence and espionage. Also, a colorful politician and public figure, if not an occasional scoundrel. I pursued his trail and found other books and authors to the point I was afraid I would lose my original intent, to review my new rare book.
I reluctantly returned to my expensive find and, after reading only the preface, wondered why I had wandered off.
Great names and events of the mid-twentieth century fell easily on to the preface pages. Fine, precise words. Time lines and lengths of time. Teasers. Resistance to publishing this memoir. A philosophy which I expect will guide this tale or reappear at the epilogue.
My interest in Absurdist literature and Albert Camus led me to email the blogger Robin Bates, author of the blog BetterLivingThroughBeowulf.Com, and ask him about these subjects. Below is his reply:
Albert Camus was a superstar during his life, in part because he summed up intellectuals’ distress over a world
- which old certainties seemed to be vanishing away
- when religious belief was on the decline
- after a second world war
- now with an atom bomb
Existentialism has some connection with the theater of the absurd. If there is no god, the reasoning went, then our lives have no ultimate meaning and our lives are absurd. As put by some: We are just a chemical reaction that occurred on a small pebbling hurling through the vast reaches of interstellar space, and an encounter with a large enough meteor would put an end to everything in a moment. Existentialism was a response to that bleak view of the world.
It’s always useful for me to remember that existentialism has the word “existence” at its core–it’s a philosophy that directly addresses existence questions, such as
- why are we here?
- where did we come from?
- why do we die?
- what is the meaning of our suffering, etc?
If there is no meaning to life, then it shouldn’t matter if Meursault shoots the Arab in The Stranger. In The Plague, such a sickness causes us all to question the meaning of life. Is there meaning in pushing a rock up a hill over and over, given that this could be a metaphorical expression of many of our lives.
Existentialists traced their thinking back to a number of others, including
- Dostoevsky (especially the Grand Inquisitor chapter in Brothers Karamazov),
- Nietzsche (wrestling with the death of God),
- Kafka, and
- Kierkegaard (Christian existentialists look to him).
The hard-boiled detective novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler have been described as existential, with the private eyes seeking to solve sordid crimes, even though the world won’t be that much of a better place even if they are successful. “You’re just a grubby little man in a grubby little world,” one villain tells the detective in Murder My Sweet. In The Maltese Falcon, when pushed to defend why he does what he does, Sam Spade replies, “When you’re partner dies, you’re supposed to do something about it.” It didn’t matter that his partner was a sleaze.
And that gets at one of the existential answers, one that existential authors like Ernest Hemingway also arrived at. If there’s not greater meaning [in life], then you determine a meaning and then you dedicate your life to that meaning. Sisyphus’s life has meaning because he dedicates it to pushing the rock up the hill, even though from another vantage point it’s all absurd. In fact, certain existentialists saw a kind of heroism in dedicating efforts to something which might be absurd.
There’s not much heroism to Vladimir and Estragon waiting around for Godot (God?) in Samuel Beckett’s play–so there’s a thin line between absurdism and existentialism.
Now, there are Christian existentialists, with the apparent absence of God from the world requiring a leap of faith (Kierkegaard). Existentialism is often seen as a very individualist philosophy, which is why it has fallen out of favor with some. After all, as soon as you start talking about families and communities, individual searches can seem somewhat selfish and self-absorbed. But there’s no doubt that existentialism has had a major influence on world literature. A whole generation of young people looking for meaning saw Camus as their spiritual guide.
A bit of France off the coast of Canada. The islands of St. Pierre, Miquelon and Langlade are rich with anomalies, not the least being their status as France’s last foothold in North America. A hermit of Langlade off the coast of Miquelon island rich with mysteries, not the least being his status as Langlade’s last human inhabitant of this soon to be uninhabited island of France’s last foothold in North America. Not much is known of this individual, but with our application of creative non-fiction, let’s fill in the blanks.
Where to begin? The mouth hell, shall we? The waters between Miquelon (Michael) and Langlade (a corruption of “l’île à l’Anglais” or Englishman’s Island) are called Gueule d’Enfer (Mouth of Hell). More than 600 shipwrecks have been recorded in this point since 1800. Half-wild horses, the survivors of earlier ship wrecks, graze on the grassy hillocks. The accidental equine tourists or Langlade, are joined by the intentional residents – white-tailed deer, brought over from Canada in the 1950’s. These fully-wild forest cattle have proliferated in the thick brush and stunted spruce forests. I’ve described how the largest of the four-legged creature of Langlade arrived. How the bi-pedals? That’s where creative non-fiction comes in.
According to the 1999 census, Langlade Island was almost deserted. Only one inhabitant. Langlade’s sole year-round inhabitant being Charles Lafitte. That’s it. Census data is sparse and anecdotal info curt, but the imagination can inveigle what’s missing. We know how the birds and the bees and horses and the deer got here. How did Charles la light here? And wh why does he stay? Perhaps, he prefers the anonymity of the near permanent fog to the exposure to the madding crowd. Or, more likely, a woman put him here (if he were to explain).
Assuming old Charles is no horse whisperer, who does he talk to when no one is listening? Mr. Lafitte has dogs. Those dogs surely accompany him in all kinds of weather, whether it be meteorological, psychological, or philosophical. The gods didn’t burden canines with the curse of mood. When a man locks his wife and his dog in the trunk of his car, when he lets them out, he always knows which one will be glad to see him. What kind of dogs were they?
If it were me, because my own experience with dogs, they would be Turkish shepherds. I love the hilarity of dachshunds, but the eventuality of back issues and totality of their uselessness would prohibit them from being companions at my hermitage. The beauty and power of the German shepherd appeals greatly to my esthetic appetite, but in a starvation scenario I might appeal to those great big teeth she has. No, give the soft mouth and hard bark of an Anatolian mix. Enough Pyr (Great Pyrenees) in her takes the lion out of Anatolian. Or Akbash (white face) mix, cousin to the Anatolian (Karabash = black face). You can’t beat having two companions, one of which you always know will be there, the other you never know where she is. But, the most curious thing about Charles Lafitte is not his chance to be a hermit or his choice of canine companions, but his nickname.
The hermit Charles Lafitte, at some point, acquired the moniker “de Gaulle”. I doubt that this name stuck simply because he is French. I would have thought Napoleon would have better suited for a superficial and derisive reference. I guess having the first name Charles would be a good start towards the application of “de Gaulle”. Seems too easy. Maybe he had a big nose. Well, come on, a Frenchman with big nose…doesn’t that go with the territory? Possibly, it disparagingly likens Mr. Lafitte’s estrangement to man as a distant comparison to Charles de Gaulle’s government in exile as a resistance to the Nazi occupation of France in WWII. If Charles’ isolation was known to be connected to some criminal connection, I imagine he would be known as “Jean” Lafitte, you know, like the 19th century pirate. If a woman sent him to Langlade, I might call him Charles “Defeat”. If he was simply a mad man, how about “Chucky”.
I could go on, but interest is probably waning for you the reader and the morning sun is waxing for me.
P.S. Charles Lafitte passed away in July of 2006…just before the road on the isthmus between Miquelon and Langlade opened to traffic.
P.P.S. I researched Charles de Gaulle and was reminded that the french general led the government in EXILE against the Vichy Government. This explains Charles LaFitte’s nickname.
Last week, four blond, blue eyed, fare skinned people sat in the a medical clinic waiting room. One would guess these people were related based on the physical characteristics. I was one of them. Heck, I thought, we could have been related except… The other three, all children, took up all of the other chairs in the room. The youngest, a boy, sat sideways with feet on a second chair and a ballcap on a third. The oldest, a teen girl, sat on two chairs with a windbreaker on another and a purse on a fourth. The middle child, a gangly boy, laid across three chairs, his boat like shoes snaked through the armrest of a fourth and his handheld video game extending under the armrest of a fifth. It occurred to me, who raised these kids?
I heard the staff behind the window complaining loudly about these discourteous folks. I agreed but ignored it. Don’t meddle. The voices I heard were clearly meant to alert the rude guests to straighten up and act properly in public. Several times a clinician poked a head through the window and glared out. To no avail. I thought, they want someone to be embarrassed.
Eventually, the female of the group stood, grabbed her stuff and walked through the patient entrance. The youngest boy hurriedly followed with his stuff and was whining about being left behind. The gangly boy, who was left behind, sensed the absence of his family at some point and went to the window to ask where his sister and brother went. I wondered, where are the parents?
The woman, confronted by the deserted boy, instead looked out the window at me, puzzled, and asked, “He’s not yours?”
Last Thursday, I came into the house after plowing the garden. Lunch smoked and sizzled and simmered and my wife said accented things. With her soft little hands and insistent invitation, she coaxed me to sit and eat. I seldom knew what she said but I usually knew what she meant. Sated from an unusually satisfying meal, I headed out. To the couch. For a sit and a snore (this she will tell you). Leaving my worries in the pasture, I began counting sheep.
Later, I heard honking. Insistent. Not like the geese but like a birch trumpet poorly played. Sounds emanating from other than goose. The far front gate beckoned me. Ha. I recognized the iron. The trapezoidal grill. An old foreign relic. Scandinavian, maybe. Feeling hurried, slipping on my clogs, I trundled out to the rumpus. An old acquaintance stood stiff, adding oil to the gas tank. I lurched forward to stop his craziness. Then halted. Oh, yeah, it’s a three cylinder and requires oil in the gas.
The man turned and frightened me with a smile. His familiar face featured a fresh scar, cheek to chin and across his mouth. Speaking slurred, showing only a partial tongue, he either greeted me or cursed me. No, it sounded more like he’s selling me peaches. My well-developed translation skills served me well, despite his alternately pointing and poking a walking cane – at the road and then at my head. I didn’t know what he said but I knew what he meant: Let’s go for a ride.
Scooting in, I wrestled with the frayed shoulder seat belt, finally latching the rusted relic – just in time! As we sped off, I figured I’d feel sorry for this ride later, but I felt safe for now. Even with my window open, there was a foul small. Like swamp. Like a flood vehicle? Was this new car smell from wherever and whenever they manufactured this foreign object?
This fella’s reckless reputation filled my memory. Not for long. Something jolted my inquiring mind back into the present moment. Veering off road and off-roading in a farm pasture. Freewheeling downhill toward a farmer’s stock pond. Several feet from the pond, tires skidded. Wheels stopped. Engine off. Column shifter in gear (now days we have an emergency break). The car pointed down… heading toward the pond. My battle-scarred driver got out without comment. Wobbled across the cow pasture. Sat on a tree stump. What next?
I pushed down on the seat belt latch. I couldn’t figure out any of this mystery auto’s contraptions. My angry elbow hit the column shifter, popping the car into neutral. Tires started to roll. I pushed again at the belt latch. Jerked and yelled for help. My former friend sat agape. Tongue partially tied. In a moment of clarity, I looked down. I saw the decal on the glove box – SAAB. That’s it, I knew it!
I cried noisily, making loud, convulsive gasps. Suddenly, a soft hand reached through the moving open window. The little fingers lifted the latch, freeing me. The delicate hand shook my right shoulder. Then the other hand slapped my left cheek. I heard a far-off voice calling my name. I couldn’t understand the last word. But I knew what it meant:
This past weekend my wife and I went out to dinner with another couple. I asked the guy if he was a native Houstonian (my standard ice breaker question). My friend answered, “Let me tell you about my granddaddy.”
Born up in Nacogdoches. The youngest boy. His eldest brother had married a girl and moved up to Muleshoe. In the Panhandle. Some while after the brother’s move, his wife killed him. My granddaddy’s granddaddy bought a gun. He gave that gun to his young grandson, my granddaddy, and admonished him, “You take this gun and you go up to Muleshoe and shoot that woman”. That grandson, my granddaddy, bought a train ticket to Farwell, and said his goodbyes.
Farwell, Muleshoe’s closest neighboring town, provided the boy with a wealth of information about his older brother. Many people knew of him. Some people feared him. More than a few hated him. He labored at the rail yard about one day a week. He got drunk every day of the week. And he beat his wife. And his kids.
Farewell – This boy didn’t travel to this one-horse s***hole to mourn his brother. But to avenge him. He hopped a freight train headed for Amarillo and jumped off at the Muleshoe junction. He inquired. He walked hesitantly toward his destination. He stopped…watched a rail thin woman carrying wash from perhaps a hand dug well to her rain filled stock tank. She saw him. She dropped her wash into the rinse tub. The well’s ferrous sediments bleeding out into the clear water. At close range…he spoke.
He (ashamed): I’m…
She (relieved): I know…
Neither had any illusions about what would happen next.
She recounted her drunken husband’s cruelty. The wind died. Dead calm. The low prairie grass. The insistent trill of a distant sand crane. Rare moisture in drops… washed out along the creases of swollen eyes. Profuse perspiration in rivulets… stained young, ruddy cheeks. Congealed mucus… in the breathing of two snot nosed kids. His brother’s. His niece and nephew. Squatting. Curious. Feeling protected in the dying shade between that tarpaper shack and off-kilter outhouse.
He noticed a tool laying atop a wooden barrel. Its umbra attempting to hide an irregular stain. The hammer. Visitor to the crime. He imagined those nails. Three cut nails. Accomplice to the passion. He envisioned them protruding from his brother’s resistant skull. This last thought, sobered him to his purpose. The young assassin’s hand recoiled as flesh touched revolver. Each chamber held a fate. Four smooth bullets.
Fare. You can’t go home. Not after this. Not after murder and vengeance and cowardice. It’s not deeds of family that haunt. It’s deeds you choose. My granddaddy traded a near-new gun for a fare to Houston.
I extracted my thoughts on Empathy Burnout from this blog entry on Better Living Through Beowulf
Empathy fatigue results from expending physiological resources to help others with their own emotional burdens.
Stop putting yourself in another’s shoes and let your shoes carry you to do the things that can be physically provided without emotional burnout.
Another’s pain plus your pain does not equal relief but multiplies pain.
Allowing another’s suffering to break your heart is a disease without a cure.
Ingratitude, guilt and sorrow can prove lethal, let them go.
Albert Speer Jr., the architect who tried to overcome his father’s Nazi legacy, dies at 83
The son of Hitler’s architect and armaments minister died recently, click the article below and also read my summary and analysis.
Albert Speer Jr. sought to differentiate himself from his father, Hitler’s architect and armaments minister (aka the devil’s architect) in order to overcome his father’s legacy.
Architects glorify regimes and heroes through monuments and so this proclivity exhibited itself from Nazi Germany forward into today’s Communist China. The Dictator of the Elder frightened the world; the father of the Younger frightened his children. Hitler’s demeanor enchanted both father and son; the former seeing Adolf as a hero and friend while the latter saw the leader of the Third Reich as a kindly uncle with dogs and sweets.
Albert Speer Jr. sought to disassemble his legacy and it became manifested in the innovative stadiums he designed which when disassembled, found resurrection from one regime to the next.
Here is my summation of an article by Clifford N Lazarus Ph.D. on Jun 26, 2012 from Psychology Today:
Sarcasm disguises hostility as humor: a smiling, put down jerk, cutting and hurting his victim.
Sarcasm heightens the perpetrator’s own underlying hostility, while ceasing it brings happiness to self and victims.
One can use sarcasm sparingly to spice up conversation with humor but when overdone it creates emotional bitterness in the recipient.
One creates wit intelligently with cleverness and consideration, ending in appreciation; while one who composes sarcasm simply with anger, criticism, meanness, humorlessness and talentless, ends in bitterness.
In summary, sarcasm hurts because it disguises hostility as humor, while wit hurts none because it delivers undisguised and harmless humor.
Here are your words to shield against sarcasm…
I don’t appreciate your comments because they are veiled hostility and unacceptable bullying.