Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Power Struggle

You confess herewith to gross and continuous acts of counterfeiting, a path you pursued with increasing bravado well past your teens, hitting the equivalent of rock bottom some time in your thirties, even though you did not know at the time that because of it, you had less control of your life than you might have wished.

Control of one's life is a constant issue, motivating the individual to often unarticulated behaviors and agendas.  Because your childhood was of relative mildness in its denouement, your agendas and behavior were thus more temperate and conventional, meaning you had to in literal fashion become an auto-didact in the ways of discovering and embracing otherness as a pole star.

When you were an infant, your cognitive powers developing an inch or two ahead of your hunger or desire to be rid of soiled diapers, you celebrated your membership among the living and as a human by bawling.

In due time, you began acquiring a vocabulary with which to supplement the bawl, making your wishes known through words and sentences rather than yowls and gestures, picking uo through the same means the quo or that thing of currency you were expected to pay for the quid or this, as it related to your wishes.

You were quick to see the quid pro quo of convention, with its hierarchy of power and authority; quicker still to see the range of tickets available to the theme parks of society.

For the longest time, you believed the major priority was to please other individuals.  Were you to do so without fail, you would stand a better chance of realizing your own goals.  The particular fly in this ointment was the hypothesis that if your goals were more rather than less inclusive of the goals of as many others as possible, the greater the potential for them being recognized.

Yet unknown to you as you pursued your way, you were paying grater heed to such philosophers as Horatio Alger and Dale Carnegie (both given to you as bar-mitzvah gifts) than Kant, Hume, Locke, and Hegel, the latter whom you had to discover for yourself.

To show how far you've come on this vector, you are still down with the idea that pleasing others is a desirable thing.  Doing so because you wish to do so is the key here rather than doing so because you felt you'd ought to.  Nothing will happen to you if you do not try to please people or if, in attempting, you fail.  If you try out of a conviction that you owe others, your failure will lead you to frustration and anger.

Anger is better experienced and expressed as the result of observed or perceived abuse to others.  If Fred insults you, so what?  If you see Fred insulting Mary, watch out.  Become involved.  Do something.  Write an invective, a philippic, a satire.

The point here is the duress of power.  As a young person, you have entered a terrain where any number of adults and their conventions or traditions hold some position of power over you, as parents, teachers, employers, advisers, or inspirations.  You must live by their rules, often fearful of their disapproval well beyond the time their power to exert control over you will have ebbed.

In a story, there is a dominant power in each scene.  Often the power structure is unnoticed or lies submerged in a roil of dramatic activity.  Character A, in some form of obligation to Character B, defers, is subservient, opts to please Character B in some deferential way.


Somewhere along the way, Character A makes a discovery that renders Character B a peer or perhaps on a lower basis yet.

This is the basis of humor.  Discovery of some sort, perhaps of hypocrisy, takes away the built-in lifts within the shoes of Character B, allowing us to see that character as vain in regard to height or, if you will, stature.

Different story now.

Discovery of a sort--not so much that you were right and others were wrong as that you were as right as the others and less wrong--makes the story of life different for you now.  You do not have to be a cynic to survive.  You can enjoy sunsets with great gusto.  You can get up early to watch morning phenomena.  You can take naps.  You can do whatever seems fun and interesting as opposed to feeling the drive of necessity to right wrongs or confront injustices. You do not need sandwiches to have a picnic

This does not mean you have any less care for injustices or wrongs; perhaps, in fact, even more so.  Power shifts allow you to approach the matter in different ways.

Irwin Blacker, the then department chair who recruited you into a lifetime of teaching, watched you during your first faculty meeting, telling you the look on your face reminded him of a grandchild who got carsick.  "All these egos, coming into this room, feeling superior in the knowledge of their individual rightness,"  he said.  "That is story, writ large."

Since that time in 1974, you have understood story in ways you had previously not.

You have just received an email from the dean's assistant in your new appointment at UCSB, informing you of two forthcoming meetings of the Literature Programming Committee, giving potential dates and times, requesting your choices.

Thrust into your life, the gift of two opportunities for story.

You write to the Dean's assistant to tell her of your eager availability for any choice for either meeting.  You know story when you see it. 

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