Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Other Subjects

Here are some of the ideas for posts I've had over the last few weeks. None of it turns out to be quite what I am looking for. I have to remind myself that this little enterprise should not be thought of as constituting anything significant in itself, but is supposed to serve as a kind of transitioning vehicle for my mind from the obsolete way of thinking and relating to the world into a form more suitable for functioning in the present and future. As such I cannot expect it will always produce results that are pleasing to me.

I. Why Psychiatric Treatment Has Not Led to More Successful Results With Me--For the same reason that I have not had success in many areas requiring engagement with educated professionals, that I am unable to trust them because they won't, or are unable to engage with me in anything approaching the way I would desire people (especially if I am paying them) to do so. I know I probably make it hard for most people to be able to do that, but I would expect it to be part of a good psychiatrist's job description to be clever enough to pick up on the particular pretensions that a patient desires to have humored, doing which one would think would enable the doctor to more easily tease out the crux of any real and curable problems the patient may have. Also whenever I suggest that perhaps I might benefit from some of the old techniques of psychoanalysis such as you always read about in those psychology books from the 50s, Erik Erikson and Jung and all those people, Freud obviously, the therapists just kind of laugh as if they are dealing with a fool such as is rather beyond hope (Most insurance plans don't cover psychoanalysis anyway; I am usually just trying to throw an idea out there). I don't want to say that the general vibe this field strikes me as akin to a more emotionally/intellectually centered version of visiting a brothel, but the sensation of paying a certifiedly highly intelligent person, who is generally completely disinterested where you are concerned, to allow you to talk all about myself to them for a certain alottment of time before you are hustled back down to the street (and without addressing any of your actual real problems), rather begs the comparison than otherwise.

II. Advice to Notre Dame Regarding Rebuilding Its Football Program. I thought that rather than further downplay their Catholicness and interest in integrating players at least somewhat into the academic culture of the campus in a Quixotic quest to attract freakish athletes--who apparently don't want to go there that much anyway--to rescue their team, that they should actually reemphasize, and proudly so, their Catholic identity first and foremost, which is how they were during most of the era when they were good. Indeed, as recently as the late 1970s, when Joe Montana was the star and they finished ranked #1 in the country, almost the entire team was still made up of Catholic players. If BYU can go 8-4 every year and 10-2 every fourth year with an unapologetically all-Mormon team, surely a team of Catholics, even with a mediocre coach, assuming it takes them 10-15 years to find an outstanding one, could at least match the 3-9 and 6-6 records as Notre Dame has put up the last two years. They might even be able to beat Navy (who, along with Army, was also a national power 50 years ago, but is unable to recruit the most superior football players to sign with them anymore; however, they continue to compete honorably and, in recent years, having had some good coaches, have consistently outplayed their opponents in terms of the supposed quality of talent on each team, Notre Dame most conspicuously). Boston College, the other Catholic college with a Dvision I team, and which appears to have more actual Catholic players than Notre Dame does at this point, manages to go 8-4, 9-3 every year, and has also beaten Notre Dame 6 times in a row. Now is this type of program going to be competitive for national titles with Florida and USC on a year-in, year-out basis in the 21st century? Probably not. But then Notre Dame hasn't won the championship, or even been a serious contender for it, in 20 years anyway, and they have won it once now in the last 30. When they were a consistent top-10 team back in the 60s and 70s, and 40s, they benefited from the demographic advantage that their main source of talent--Catholic high schools attended by students from actual Catholic households--were a much more substantial percentage of the pool of potential players than they are now, while at the same time the southern schools that are the most dominant programs today did not have any black players on their teams at all before 1970, and most continued to maintain a quota of no more than 10 or so black players per team for ten years after that. That kind of favorable dynamic for Notre Dame on a national level is not going to come back, and is exacerbated (for the purposes of fielding a good football team) by the appalling softening/rejection of this same Catholic upbringing and school experience over the same time span...I don't want to go on forever, but I have been to Notre Dame, and known a couple of people who went there of whom I think highly. These people were all of good intelligence, and seemed to have acquired a decent amount of learning and improved understanding during their time in school, with much less detectable arrogance about themselves than I find I encounter generally in the northeast. They do have more to offer high school players coming to their campus than just football, and they should stand fast by that position. If they cannot get enough quality talent with such an attitude to field a team that is not an embarrassment, than you have to consider that maybe big-time football is no longer compatible with the mission of the university.

III. NYT Magazine Article--This was the one written by the gazillionaire Southhampton writer/socialite/fourth wife of an investment banker about using a surrogate mother to carry her child. Some of the attitudes, if you aren't exposed to these sort of people a lot, are pretty breathtaking, and especially in a paper that is widely-read pretty far down the income scale. I only bring it up at all because at one point during her description of the life of the surrogate mother (who was married and had a college degree, for what it is worth) which was made out to be borderline lower middle class and somewhat remote from civilization, as she pondersed how to explain to her son how he came to be born in such a godforesaken spot, she anticipates the question "Where is Abington, Pennsylvania?" Now it so happens that I was born in the hospital in Abington myself, and grew up in the next township over. I am not going to claim that there is anything particularly memorable or spectacular about it, but it quite a bit different from what the article would lead one to believe. First of all, it is located about 3 miles from the city of Philadelphia, and is entirely urban. Secondly, the average educational and income levels in this town must be well above the national, state and area averages in both of these areas. The town has a large Jewish population that is highly active both politically and culturally; in the last twenty years there have also been significant influxes of highly-educated Korean and Indian professionals. Meritocratic, new economy success and high SAT scores are actually more the norm than the exception there.

My point I guess is that there are lots of people there who are much smarter and more accomplished than this writer, and are well-rewarded and compensated for it as well, and I think it is an important point, because one encounters these offhand condescensions all the time that in some cases really should not be allowed to pass. I am not attempting to boost Philadelphia's particular place in the world beyond what it merits so much as trying to understand why the amount of genuine talent and intellect that so obviously exists in a place is seen by people, even some people who live there, as so insignificant and unworthy. I actually had someone tell me once that she had lived in Philadelphia for three years and never found anyone with whom it was possible to have an intelligent conversation. What such a person means of course is that she never found a social circle in which she could move where she was able to have the kind of talk that she likes; and I am sympathetic to that, because I never found my scene there either (nor have I found it anywhere else, really, but that is a matter for another day). But for people to proclaim constantly--as they really do--that there is no cultural, literary, intellectual, social, etc, life in Philadelphia, or Washington, D.C., for that matter, though each of these cities has numerous world famous universities, research hospitals, art collections and other museums, large numbers of foreign professionals who have been educated and have worked all over the world, etc, such that they can find no one worthy with whom to converse or associate with, is really to strain credulity as far as I am concerned.

IV. Movie and Book Reviews on Blogs--I will get back to this another time. My position is that if such things are thoughtful and well-written, then there is value in them. I personally have learned a great deal more about the world from reading book and movie reviews over the years than I have from reading op-ed columns.

V. My Reunion--My high school (in Portland, Maine) did end up having a 20th reunion after all, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and I did end up going to it. I did not have high expectations, which was good, because while I talked to a few people, even very brief encounters took a lot out of me, and I mostly shuffled back and forth between the bar and the catering table. I realized once I was there that I had only lived in town and attended the school for two years, while most of the people had been born there, grown up there, either stayed there or went somewhere not too far away for college, and moved back there when they were done. So comparatively my presence in their lives was very brief. One sad note was that none of my female classmates talked to me or even seemed to remember me, though I told myself that maybe if we could have had the girls from younger classes there someone might have remembered me or expressed some emotion--surprise, pleasure, horror--at seeing me. A few of the women (including a couple that I--er--used to like) I must say looked quite good, considering that we are all 38 now; I was expecting much worse. I thought I was looking pretty good myself when I was getting ready in the hotel bathroom, but in the pictures that have been posted on the web from the event I look, compared to literally everyone else, stiff and unnatural and rather like a walking corpse in every picture. Still, it was a good party, though I didn't participate in it too much. I always liked the people in Portland. They are friendly, but with a little edge to them. They have distinct personalities, and they are fairly comfortable with those personalities, at least around each other. I think most of them just didn't remember who I was.

VI. The Apartment--I watched The Apartment last week, for the 1st time in about 15 years. With my superior critical powers acquired during these years I noticed that the plot is fairly ridiculous, that the ending is a fantasy which has no basis to support it, that some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy, and that the supposedly sympathetic characters are little more virtuous than everyone else in the movie, and are sympathetic mainly for being pitifully weak. All that said, I still love it, and I was sad when it ended and I had to come back to 2008, without even a raucous office party or white collar alcoholic's bar to look forward to going to.

Here are some reasons why I think I like The Apartment so much :

1. It's underrated as a holiday movie. All right, one of the main characters tries to kill herself on Christmas Eve, but this actually enhances rather than kills the mood, because now the main character has a good-looking girl, albeit an unconscious one, staying at his place instead of being alone. The scenario is actually quite appealing, to a certain extent, and to a certain type of boy.

2. The apartment itself, the staircase, hallway, neighbors, etc. Not realistic, but the stuff that makes the atmosphere of people's imaginations. When I used to imagine myself having an urban bachelor pad after college, once I made my big move and all that, I think the apartment in this movie is the exact one I had in mind.

3. The treatment of the girl who has overdosed on sleeping pills is left to the lonely guy, not the professionals. This is an important and often overlooked aspect of the fantasy of movies, books, etc, that people are forced to handle difficulties and unusual situations much more on their own than they are generally allowed to do anymore in real life. The doctor neighbor does come in and give the schlemiel directions as to what to do with the girl but then instead of sending her to a hospital he leaves her in the guy's bed.

4. People are smoking indoors, even in bars! This is a new pleasure, because the last time I saw this movie, it was still actually allowed to do these things.

5. Shirley MacLaine sort of resembles my wife in this movie. She doesn't have the same hair, but there is something uncannily similar in her facial expressions--the squinting of the eyes perhaps, or the set of her mouth--which is pleasing to me.

I think there are more, but I'm going to stop. Here is a good video of the movie's highlights, with the very nice theme music. If you hasn't seen it yet though and are planning to someday it will give away the plot, if that is something you care about.

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