Thursday, February 4, 2016

Start Making Sense

In the course of organizing my papers and so forth (which I blogged about recently), I came across a piece of journal writing I did the weekend I started my dissertation research. It really got me thinking. I've written about that weekend before, about the way a highly intellectual process got an unexpected jolt that turned my labyrinth walk in St. Louis into a more emotional experience than I had counted on. Looking back, I'm still amazed at how bizarre it all was.

Besides doing research, I was also in town for a concert. I know the band leader slightly and had actually seen him and his band a few weeks prior, a little closer to home. I enjoyed that show, in West Virginia, so much that I was eager to have another chance to see them before the tour moved out of the region. Since St. Louis boasts several labyrinths, a maze, and a major labyrinth-building enterprise (and New Harmony, Indiana--home to a famous historic maze--was on the way) it seemed like a decent plan. I believe I asked my sister to go with me, but I ended up going alone.

The hotel was new, in a section of St. Louis called the Delmar Loop (on Barack Obama Way, no less). It had a moon theme, from the decorations in the room to the names of the cocktails and the items on the restaurant menu. It was kind of quirky and fun, and it was the closest hotel to both the concert venue and the first labyrinth I wanted to visit: all were on the same street, an odd bit of synchronicity.

As I recall it, I was leaving my room, probably for dinner. My room was almost at the end of the hall, which was quiet; there didn't seem to be a lot of guests. As I was coming out, the person in the end room also came out, and though I didn't get a clear view over my left shoulder, I noticed that he stopped suddenly, apparently startled. I had the fleeting impression that it might have been Dave, the leader of the band I'd come to see, and I suddenly felt embarrassed. It's one thing to go see someone at a show and another thing to find yourself in a hotel room next to them at the end of a hall. I had always thought traveling performers were segregated from other guests for the sake of privacy, but in this case--maybe the hotel put all its guests on one floor for convenience? I had the impression that the staff was still working out the details of running things, so it seemed like the kind of thing that could happen.

So I had a gourmet pizza across the street, went back to the room with leftovers, and later went to the show. To my dismay, when I got there, I sensed a rather peculiar energy on stage. Dave seemed uncomfortable, I seemed to be getting some strange looks from the female band members, and I pretty much felt that I was persona non grata for the evening. Now, I'm here to tell you that I would likely have chosen a different hotel if I had known the band was staying there . . . and I started to feel really stupid for having come. 

The energy had been quite different at the West Virginia show, although I did sit next to some mildly strange locals who encouraged me to check out a nearby bar afterwards, where, they said, the performers were likely to show up. (I didn't go, but I did run into the same people in the parking lot outside the performance hall, where they seemed highly startled to see me going back inside. I actually had to explain that I was heading for the rest room, but whatever.)

So, there I was, in St. Louis, feeling mortified, without being completely sure why I felt mortified. I knew that a lot of Dave's fans attended shows whenever they could, traveling great distances at times, and I sort of felt that he welcomed that. I had a great regard for Dave and was quite crushed, so even though it was, I have to say, an excellent show, I walked back to the hotel in a very sad frame of mind. A while later, I heard people in the hall and thought I recognized Dave's voice saying goodnight. I didn't see or hear anyone after that but had one of the worst night's sleep I've ever had. 

This is what I wrote in my journal the next day: "I had a really bad dream last night. Dave was in the middle of it. Bad things just kept happening, medical emergencies, accidents. It was one thing after another, like a Shakespeare play or a Greek tragedy. "Judith" (a nurse I know) pulled up in a car, and I thought, thank God for some medical help. I can't even remember exactly what was going on, or to whom, or why. It was like a domino effect."

I left the hotel the next morning for my labyrinth walk feeling gloomy, though it was a bright and fresh Sunday morning. I persisted in feeling like a groupie all through breakfast, while checking out of the hotel (as expeditiously as possible), and while walking around the Missouri Botanical Gardens. I started to feel better after a couple of hours of walking around, regaining the proper "The hell with these people" spirit and reminding myself that I had a lot of research ahead of me. By the time I got home at the end of a long day, I was pretty well recovered.

I didn't know any of Dave's band members and was surprised about six weeks later to hear of the suicide of his fiddle player. While it surprised me, it really didn't seem to be any of my business. In videos I later saw of the band's performances that fall, everyone looked devastated. But it wasn't long after that that I started having peculiar experiences of my own: feelings of being followed, strange encounters on the streets to and from work, sudden appearances of cars with tinted windows, a greasy-looking man pulling into the gas station next to me at night, and other things too numerous to mention.

Well, I had no idea what this was about, but I called my brother and a friend and let them know what was going on, complete with a history of some previous things that had happened at work, to which I assumed all of this strangeness was related. I wasn't sure if either my brother or my friend really knew how scary all of this was, and how disorienting. My brother asked a lot of questions and seemed to think that if I had an enemy at work (which was my conclusion) it would have to be a "rogue" employee. Beyond that, he didn't offer any conclusions. I had my own idea of what was going on, though I wasn't sure what the latest spate of events had to do with what had happened before.

I also felt that I needed to let someone else know what was happening, someone who wouldn't want anything bad to happen to me, since everyone else I talked to seemed to be at a loss or in denial. The only person I could think of was Dave, whom I had formerly thought had some regard for me. I sent him a note on Facebook without much detail in it, just indicating that something bad was happening. 

I sure got some strange looks in the office the next day after sending that note, and most of the weird encounters on the street instantly stopped. In fact, everything seemed to go back to normal for quite a while. I started my blog and my dissertation clock at the same time, things settled down at work, and I assumed (rightly or wrongly) that it was Dave who had stepped in on my behalf. I saw a few of his shows that spring and summer, and while he never said anything, I assumed it was because he wanted to remain in the background. He always seemed glad to see me.

The respite from weirdness only lasted until the fall. I remember a gradual sense that things were getting strange again: that creepy guy at the World Equestrian Games who seemed to be taking my picture; the sudden appearance of cars with skull decals, often directly in front of me as I drove to work, morning after morning; the suicide of someone I didn't even know, a graduate student in history, that seemed to unaccountably unsettle our library assistant (who did know him); the sudden onset of noise, complete with loud sex and some rather evil-sounding music, from the neighbors upstairs; that Facebook connection, supposedly a Pacifica grad, who began posting increasingly peculiar and suggestive messages; a comment by a coworker about how surreal the atmosphere in the office had become; a rather uncomfortable visit to San Francisco before Christmas; people on Facebook who seemed to be speaking in code; a friend who was surprisingly calm when I started telling him about the strange state of affairs in the office (I would have run for the hills if someone had started telling me things like that); a pedicure from hell in which I had the sense that the stylist was trying to cut me (fortunately, no hepatitis, though); and a raft of other things, too numerous to mention.

To what end? Well may you ask! That's what I wanted to know, but if anyone knew, they weren't saying. I actually have a pretty high tolerance for stress, but this was something I had never seen before. I was so stressed that I began to have occasional feelings of disassociation, that my actions were not my own. I didn't even know why that was happening, but I knew it wasn't good.

But proving, I guess, that the show must go on, I somehow managed to get my dissertation proposal finished and turned in. Unfortunately, writing about labyrinths isn't the most comforting thing in the world when you feel you're in one, so I can't say the writing was therapeutic in any sense, just that I got through it. By January, the atmosphere was so strained at work that it was like walking into a battle zone every day. It felt completely unsound, physically and emotionally. Concentrating on anything became nearly impossible, and one day, I just decided I couldn't do it any more. If I stayed there, I was going to lose my mind--if something else didn't happen first. My brother seemed supportive when I talked to him, but I couldn't tell how much he really knew. He never alluded, at least directly, to the things I'd told him the previous year. But no one was being very direct about anything.

After a short stay in the hospital, I went home. The doctor told me what I had experienced was a normal reaction to a very abnormal situation--but then no one ever talked about the "situation" after that. What situation was it? Hilariously enough, I actually considered going back to work, but how could I do that when it was the toxic environment that made me sick in the first place? I used up all of my many accumulated sick days, used my disability insurance, and traveled, hoping to clear my head of the evil memories that lingered from the fall and winter. I spent a lot of money and did a lot of things differently than I normally do; I found that I still had trouble concentrating, a problem that persisted until late in the summer, when the enthusiasm for my dissertation returned. Once I started writing again, it took on a rhythm of its own, and I began to enjoy it.

Throughout that summer and fall, I took in a lot of Dave's shows, in the course of my travels. I still assumed it was he who had intervened on my behalf two years previously. He always seemed glad to see me. There was this, though: I was at a show in Somerville Massachusetts, that summer, and a man I had never seen before, someone in the audience, came up to me after the show and said, "Mary, we've got you covered." Huh? (I'm not making this up; I know I didn't know him, and I know that's what he said.) If that happened to me now, I'd ask him who in the world he thought he was and what he was talking about. It still happens to me that people I've never seen before will sometimes behave overly familiar toward me, but that was a particularly egregious example. He actually knew my name.

I always maintained that if someone had told me what was going on, my stress would have disappeared, but no one ever did that, and I gradually had to try to put it all together myself. It's a peculiar story, to be sure, but all true, nonetheless. Someone said to me that writing about the labyrinth seemed to have constellated it in my life. I'm not actually sure I know what "constellated" means (it's Jungian jargon), but in any case, I don't think that's what happened. It was a coincidence that my topic was labyrinths; I could have been writing about flower gardens, and the same things would have happened.

I see that Dave has a show in our area next month, but I haven't decided if I'll be there or not. I noticed he's got a fan group on Facebook that, to me, has kind of an inappropriate tone, but no one else commented on it when I said so. If those are the kind of people who show up for concerts these days, I'd rather stay home. My pecuniary circumstances don't allow for spending money to sit around with a bunch of louts and neither does my patience.

I get tired of people who act as if they know more about what's going on with me than I do. If there's one thing that makes me cranky, it's a know-it-all, and I've seen a lot of them. You may be thinking: "remind me never to write a dissertation." Oh, well, I wouldn't go that far. I think the real moral of this story is that you have to resist the attempts of other people to tell you what your story is. I've found that telling that story, whether face-to-face or in writing, is the best way to stitch together a seemingly incomprehensible series of events. The art of narrative, for me, really is the art of meaning.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Think I'm Kidding? (Alas--No)

Dear ----,

I received your phone message regarding my response to this month's ---- event. I thought it might be easiest to forward the email I previously sent to ---- and ---- containing the complaint I mentioned to you. ---- responded that, with my permission, he would share the email with ---- and ----, but since you're the head of ---- and say you hadn't heard about it, I think I ought to inform you myself.

My complaint against ---- is, I realize, a serious one. As I told ----, I was at the point of dismissing the problem I had with her at school after our coursework was finished and some time had gone by. That might have been the end of it, except that in 2011, I did quite a bit of traveling and thought I saw ---- several times, though her hair was dyed. The first time it happened was when I attended the ---- event in ---- and thought I spotted ---- in both downtown ---- and at the airport as I was leaving. I had done something I normally don't do and posted to Facebook in advance of attending saying that I would be there. I don't think at that point that I was even connected to ---- on Facebook, but the event invitation was probably publicly viewable. ---- is a large event, and it wasn't out of the question for someone from ---- to be there, though it struck me as odd.

Later that summer, I thought I saw ---- again, and I think it was in ---- at a concert. It looked like her, but her hair was different. Still, I believed I must have been mistaken. During the 2011 holidays, I even corresponded with nearly all of my classmates, including ----, getting and receiving cards from many of them, including her. I had no reason to think I was going to see most of them again.

The last time I communicated with ---- was in the spring of 2012 when another classmate emailed those of us who were completing our ---- to ask about attendance at ----. Because of the unsettling experience of the previous summer, combined with the problem I'd had with ---- at school, I ultimately decided not to attend and emailed back saying I wouldn't be there. A couple of classmates, including ----, emailed me and asked why, and I indicated that I'd had peculiar travel experiences.

In the autumn, I drove to ---- from my home in ----; I saw ---- several times during the trip. Her hair was dyed, which altered her appearance, and she didn't acknowledge that she knew me, but I recognized her. This happened in ----, in ----, and in ---- on the way out. I may have seen her on the way back, too, though I'm less certain of that.

I have told a number of people about these strange experiences, and in many cases they dismiss it or don't know what to make of it. I can't, because it happened to me, and what seemed to be a case of harassment only got stranger when I tried to dismiss it. If I'm not mistaken, ---- works with young people as a ----, and I don't think it's appropriate at all for someone with such poor boundaries to be in a position of trust, especially with adolescents (or really, with anyone).

If you have any questions, I'll be glad to answer them. I expected some sort of response after I emailed ----, and simply to get a call from an intern asking if I intended to RSVP for the event after everything I had said in the email was not the response I was expecting. I should add that even after getting your acknowledgment that I was declining to attend, I got yet another call (from yet another intern) asking me for an RSVP. Her tone even suggested a certain amount of surprise that I wasn't interested in being there, from which I derive the reasonable conclusion that my complaint isn't having the proper effect. I hope that ---- takes the safety of its community (and those beyond its community) seriously, because to do otherwise would not only be irresponsible but negligent.

(Abridged version of original complaint follows.)

On ---- 2015, at 11:23 AM, ---- wrote:

I recently received an announcement about an event for ----. I believe a similar event was held last year in conjunction with ----. I didn't attend last year and have no plans to attend this year or in the future, and I thought it important to give you some feedback on my reasons. I place a high value on the academic and intellectual experience I had at ----, which is why I'm taking the time to write to you.

I'm sure that your office does good work in helping graduates. . . . The ---- event may or may not be beneficial to others, but I don't see it as likely to offer any benefit to me as it seems to be more of a "vanity" event. It seems more useful to me to look beyond the ---- community in promoting my writing and thinking.

I have given one professional presentation to a ---- organization but felt that was only a first step. Last year I presented a paper at the ---- conference, which as you know includes scholars from a variety of fields. I believe communicating to a wider audience was actually a more fruitful experience than simply talking to others of a ---- bent. I actually had some correspondence with another presenter after the second conference; nothing of that kind occurred after the ---- presentation or has done so since then, in spite of the fact that I published what I regard as a very good paper in the ---- journal. I've always believed in the interdisciplinary approach, which the ---- program certainly employed. Staying too narrowly focused seems to me unlikely to result in any new thinking.

Lastly, I have to say that the ---- lost most of its credibility for me when I heard about last year's recipient of ----, ----. I consider her character and ethics to be highly questionable, having experienced harassment from her for most of my years at ---- and knowing of an instance in which another student believed she had ----. I was willing to believe after I left ---- that I might have imagined some of what I experienced as a student, but since then I have seen her several times at places she had no business being, to the extent that I now feel I've actually been stalked. I'm sure that doesn't coincide with the image many people at ---- have of her, nor would I have imagined that possible of her when I first met her. I'm really only speaking for myself right now, but I believe others have also had negative experiences with her.

Since she represents ----, I feel obligated to tell you about what happened to me. In my experience, she is completely lacking in boundaries and morals and not at all someone I would want representing my organization. I attended some programs at ---- within the first few years of graduating but no longer feel safe doing so knowing of her involvement with you. I regret that that's the case, but it is.

Very Sincerely.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

What's With All the Beards?

What passes for a typical day in the life of a blogger/mythologist? You may be wondering, in case reading my blog has ever made you think of trying out the lifestyle for yourself. Just in case, as a public service, I'll share some of my experiences with you so you can decide if it sounds like something you'd ever want to do. (If you do, I'm going to be shocked, but I'll let you make up your own mind.)

Might as well use today as an example. I don't always get online first thing, but today I did, since I had an email to answer and have also been keeping an eye on my wireless connection, which--for reasons the telephone company cannot explain--keeps getting dropped. I was glancing at the Internet news headlines, reading articles here and there, when I saw a Reuters item about the investigation into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB officer who became a British citizen and was working with authorities to uncover the activities of the Russian mafia. You may remember that he died in 2006 after drinking tea poisoned with polonium-210, which he said was the work of Russian agents.

In terms of human interest, that story stood out. According to the article, the British government believes his claim was true, that he was in fact murdered, and that Russian authorities are responsible. I got a little lost after that because, even though Britain is acknowledging that this man was murdered in cold blood, there doesn't seem to be any big move to arrest anyone due to the political situation vis-a-vis Syria, the importance of Russia's role there, etc, etc. Russia is making noise about how pushing the matter is going to poison the waters (pun intended, I guess), but if there's such a thing as international law, I don't see how that prevents British authorities from arresting the men they say did it and pursuing justice. That's if they're as committed as they say they are to punishing the guilty. For the sake of argument, let's assume they are.

Well, that's a disturbing story. Actually, it put me in mind of how, a few years ago, I seemed to have all of these Slavic-looking neighbors upstairs. There were two couples, both consisting of a short blonde woman and a tall dark-haired man, and for the longest time I thought there was just one couple, since they were similar in appearance and both had dogs. That was around the time things got kind of weird in and around my building, back in 2010, and I had to go up several times to ask the one couple (who lived above me) to cool it with the excessive noise. Asking did no good, but eventually they left on their own, sometime the following summer.

Going up to complain is how I found out there were actually two couples. Once I was up there talking to the man, and I could see this little blonde chick through the crack in the door, standing behind the man, though she didn't show herself directly. I had seen the other woman in my hallway once, talking to someone on her cell phone about, of all things, 9/11. She had a rather rude and peculiar manner in my brief encounters with her. Actually, she reminded me a lot of--well, I guess I shouldn't mention any names. I'll just say she reminds me of someone connected with the Western branch of my family. They could actually be sisters.

But I'm getting off track a little. Today, after reading the news, eating lunch (a pear salad with yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese), and taking a shower, I got ready to go out. I was dusting off my snow boots--which hadn't seen action since last winter--in the hall and decided to go back in for my lint brush. When I went back out into the hall, there was someone in the vestibule at the other end, knocking and smiling for all she was worth, and gesticulating that she needed to get in. I proceeded to ignore her. Our door is opened by a security code known to all residents, and if she didn't know it, my assumption is she didn't need to be here. (I couldn't tell if she looked Slavic from where I was standing, but heck, who knows who's keeping track of people reading articles about former KGB agents. Ha, ha--just a little humor!)

I wasn't going anywhere unusual today--just Starbucks. We're expecting snow armageddon, or something close to it, and I had decided to go today because the weather is predicted to make travel risky for the next couple of days. Before leaving, I tried the phone company again to let them know that their re-set of my channel hadn't helped my connection, and I was asked if I have a microwave (I don't) and then told that for a fee, I could get additional technical assistance. Huh? You want me to pay extra to get to the bottom of a problem with the service I'm already paying for? I told the service guy, Ron, that that wasn't my idea of a solution. I guess now I'll have to write to someone on top of making the phone calls--but we'll leave that aside for the moment.

I put on my newly brushed boots, bundled up, and went out to meet the cold. The sun tried briefly to come out while I was cleaning the snow from my car, and it wasn't much, but it was nice to see a little brightness. I drove to Starbucks on streets that were pretty clear but kind of dirty, especially near campus, and had to detour around a traffic jam on Euclid Avenue. Starbucks was less crowded than usual (I was surprised, as it seemed like the kind of winter afternoon tailor-made for a long coffee break) but no complaints about that from me.

I do have to observe that, as is often the case, there were a number of what I call "characters" hanging around. As much as you might want to sit with normal people and just enjoy a simple cup of coffee, the atmosphere there often goes against it. I jokingly refer to the place as the CIA Starbucks (inspired by an article I read about an actual Starbucks in the DC area)--and there certainly is a markedly international flavor to the place.

Hey, I'm not there to make any political statements; I usually just opt for any open seat. Today, I had the misfortune to sit near someone, who, I don't know, struck me as a little out of place, but what do I know? I hadn't been there long, sipping my coffee and looking out the window, when he tried to get my attention. I tried to ignore him, but he persisted, and when I finally looked at him, he said, "Is my music too loud?" (What music?) I pointed to my ear warmers, which I hadn't taken off, and said, "I can't hear anything." I thought of pointing out to him the illogic of asking someone who's obviously not responding to you whether or not you're bothering them, but in the interest of not prolonging the interaction, I decided not to.

So I read a little, watched the world go by, drank my coffee (which I trust was polonium-free), and enjoyed, so far as possible, a little fresh air in the hope of warding off any cabin fever that might ensue over the next couple of days. After that, I came home, fixed dinner (a scrambled-egg panini), and jumped online to check my connection (still not working properly). The rest of the evening will consist of: proofreading my blog, washing the dishes, fixing a cup of tea, and possibly watching a few more sessions of The Fall of the Pagans, the latest Teaching Company course I've been enjoying, before going to bed.

So, a day in the life of a blogger. Not my ideal life (far from it, actually), but I try to record things as they are, not as I wish they were. If you've been eaten up with envy, thinking, "Wow, I wish I could be just like Wordplay--she must have it made!" maybe this will serve as a reality check. I count my pennies and worry about the future. I've always lived a fairly ascetic life, but this is getting into monastic territory. There's very little glamour to it and a lot of aggravation. I enjoy blogging, but it doesn't pay much.

As for the world events mentioned here, I'll point out that I do have an unusually high number of readers in Russia (as I've said before), so I'm not unnaturally taking an interest in them. If I wanted to write a spy thriller in the current climate (I don't want to, but if I did), I might start with the Russian royal family--remember them? The Romanovs. Nicholas and Alexandra were cousins to half the European royals, including George V of England. I learned long ago in World History that they all died, but what if there had been a surviving member somewhere? That would be the stuff of real international intrigue.

Perhaps it's the feeling of living a secluded life that gives me a little sympathy for their final plight. Nicholas was not, apparently, a capable ruler, and as an American, I have no admiration for inherited power. We may not always do well by our leaders, but at least we get a chance periodically to change them and give someone else a try. What makes an accident of birth suitable qualification for leadership? Nothing that I can see. To me, it's a little unseemly for Americans to get too starry-eyed over royalty, when we fought a revolution to get away from all that and to start over with the premise that all men are created equal (glaring failures to put it into practice notwithstanding). Never forget what a quantum leap forward that was. If other countries have a different view of things, that's up to them to work out.

It's probably the fact of all the Russian beards I keep seeing that brings all this to mind, along with those mysterious neighbors of mine and the news in general. The Russian look seems to be very much in vogue these days, and not a day goes by when Russia isn't in the news. I don't write the news, but I do read it. And sometimes I blog about it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"The Truman Show" -- A Fairy Tale for the Media Age

I've been thinking this week about Peter Weir's film The Truman Show. It's been so much on my mind that it seems right, without further ado, to share an analysis of the film that I once wrote for a class. I actually did two papers, one from a Freudian and one from a Jungian perspective. I thought both were good, but I got an A on one and a B+ on the other; the B+ paper is the one I'm excerpting here, with an ending taken from the other paper.

Director Peter Weir's captivating and quirky tale, The Truman Show, tells the story of Truman Burbank, the hapless hero who's totally in the dark concerning the truth of his own life. He's the subject of a 24-hour-a-day television "reality show" dreamed up by director-genius Christof. Truman's parents, his wife, his best friend, everyone around him, are all actors, and his life is a set-up. Viewers all over the world tune in to see Truman deal with such situations as the "death" of his father, his school years, his marital tensions, his job, and his escapades with pal Marlon, all of which are carefully scripted episodes. The real story begins when Truman starts to wake up to what's happening and tries to break out of the role that's been written for him.

At first, it's the dullness of a round of days in which each seems much like the one before that begins to wear on Truman. In the time-honored tradition of a situation comedy, he endures endlessly repetitious set-ups and pratfalls involving the neighbors, the local grocer, his mother, and his wife. Eventually, a series of mischances gives him an alarming realization that things revolve around him in a peculiar way. He's nearly hit on the head by a falling stage light. He tunes into a frequency on his car radio in which technicians and stagehands seem to be talking about him. His unscheduled appearance in a building leads him to a backless elevator and a glimpse of things behind the scenes, including caterers. He begins to put together odd incidents from the past in which bits of the truth are apparent. One day, he sees the man he thought of as his father, supposedly dead, now in the role of an extra walking down the street.

As the director tries more determinedly to keep Truman in the dark, Truman becomes bolder about testing reality for himself. Despite the attempts of the other actors to convince him that things are what they seem to be, Truman executes an escape plan leading to the last place Christof thinks of looking for him: the sea. For Truman's long-standing fear of the water, engineered to keep him from roaming off the set, seems to negate the possibility of his ever attempting to leave his island. Once he manages to break out, he finds that the world is both larger and smaller than he realized--larger in the sense that his life is his own if he chooses to seize it, and smaller because (literally) he has been living his life on a Hollywood set whose horizon is a painted backdrop.

Truman is a stand-in for each of us in our journey toward Selfhood. He suggests the archetypal Divine Child in his obscure beginnings. Though to himself Truman is nothing special, his smallest doings are followed by millions of viewers around the world, so that his power and reach are almost supernatural. He has retained a childlike quality even in adulthood, a sunny innocence in the face of the deceit practiced all around him. If, as Jung said, the Divine Child represents the future, Truman personifies unawakened potential in its purest form.

Truman's push toward Selfhood is nearly dormant in the beginning as seen by his acquiescence to the subtle and not-so subtle manipulations of the director and actors. He has been content to live in Jung's "unconscious identification with the plurality of the group." He is so far from knowing himself that when he looks in the mirror every morning, he doesn't realize he is looking into a camera, on the other side of which are the technicians and directors who are actually running his life. "Do you think he can see us?" asks one abashed technician when confronted by Truman's steady but unknowing gaze.

There is no fear of that yet, since Truman's ego is so split off from his unconscious that he is totally identified with his social role. There's an implication that any mild attempts Truman has made at independent growth or assertion have met with disapproval or even disaster in the past. He is oblivious to all the signs that indicate his predicament until he meets Sylvia, who goes against the script by falling for him.

Before being booted from the show (the director has recognized Sylvia's power over Truman), Sylvia tries to tell him the truth about who he is and what's happening. This scene takes place near the ocean, symbol of the primordial source of life and the unconscious. Truman is afraid of the water to the point of being unable to cross a bridge (representing both initiation and its hazards), and this fact has been largely responsible for his failure to realize that he is living on a set. Even though he and Sylvia are parted, he thinks of her constantly, and spurred by an intense desire to be reunited with her, he begins to dream of leaving Seahaven.

When Truman hatches a plan to escape the set, he goes to the basement of his home, where all of his childhood treasures and relics of the past are kept. It has been obvious for some time that Truman is most himself when he retreats to this private world, and it now becomes the springboard for his escape. Out of view of the camera, he makes a break for it by climbing a ladder. A means of egress between the unconscious, "basement" part of himself and his "daylight" ego has been found and moves Truman toward greater consciousness. But to truly change, he still has to cross the ocean that has always terrified him.

For years, Truman believed himself responsible for the death of his father in a boating accident. His realization that this is false now enables him to see a boat not as a symbol of guilt but as a transport that can take him to freedom. In crossing the sea, he is reborn to a more self-determined life, and the boat becomes a womblike vessel of safety that carries him through a special effects storm. Once he weathers the crisis, he realizes that the sea--as well as the painted backdrop he eventually crashes into--represent only the early stages of his journey. The ocean had seemed limitless to Truman when he stood on the shore, but he is just beginning. When he reaches the stage door, it leads into darkness.

In the act of passing through it, Truman enters the unknown territory of authentic life, where nothing is guaranteed. Sylvia, however, has been watching in suspense along with everyone else, and leaves her television, running out of the house to find him. Truman is about to enter her territory.

Though the imaginary television audience in the film--and we viewers of the film--have been complicit in the conspiracy against Truman by the very act of watching, another truth is revealed at the end of the story. We are each Truman in our own way, and our glee at his triumph expresses our own deep yearning for Eros and a more vital, authentic existence than the one we may have settled for. After all, if Truman can do it, so can we.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mnemosyne's Rules for Making Room

Some people think spring is the best time for cleaning, but I say, why not winter? You're going to be inside anyway, and inclement days provide an ideal opportunity to tackle jobs like clearing out clutter that you wouldn't dream of doing on a nice day (or at least, I wouldn't).

I've written before about the complications that arise from having too many objects sitting around. Lately, I've actually been getting rid of some of them, and while it may not free up that much space, it just feels better to have them gone. The television, for example, I never watched--and to my surprise, you apparently can't even give a TV away, so I just had to throw it out. My old typewriter, which was taking up real estate on a crowded table in the back room, now has the niche the TV formerly occupied. There was also the space heater I never used, and even though I had it tucked away, that's one less thing I'll have to move when dust-mopping.

Last winter, I had gotten my files mostly in order, but there's still some clutter, so I've started going through that, too. Old bills, cards, pictures . . . anything I'm pretty sure I won't be looking at again is a candidate for the dust bin. Several times in the past, I've started to throw out old boxes of letters and cards and found that for sentimental reasons, I hesitated to do so. My feelings about that are a little different now, as I realize that I truly never look at those things, that they are gathering dust, and that dust is itself a hazard.

Last night, for example, I found an old Christmas card in which someone berated me for not including any news in my card and then went on to tell me that they had been in Lexington not long before. The same thought came to mind that had occurred to me the first time I read the card, which was, "Wow, if you really want to know how I'm doing, why didn't you call when you were in town?" The nerve, huh? This time, however, I didn't suppress the thought, and that card went the way of the shredder.

I know there will be more things thrown away by the time I'm done. I've already parted company with videos I have no desire to look at again; I've gone through my books before, but who knows, there may be more that I feel I can part with now. I certainly have plenty of them. Then there are all those "collectibles" sitting around that make dusting such a pain in the neck. Some of them I've had for years, but it may be time now to let them go. It'd be much easier to clean without them.

It isn't that I don't value gifts that people have given me but rather that I want the things I look at every day to speak to me of living affection--in many cases, these objects are like exhibits from a museum of my past, curios collected on an archaeological dig, from people I no longer see. And who wants to live in a museum? It's the relationship with the giver that gives an object meaning--without that, it's just something taking up space. This process will take a little doing, but the beginning of the year seems like a propitious time to start.

On a final note, I've been clearing out old emails and online accounts as well--and while I'm on the topic of electronic communications, this is probably a good time to tell you that Google says people following my blog with a non-Google account will no longer be able to do so in the near future. If you want to follow Wordplay, they advise that you sign up for a Google account and re-follow the blog. I'm not sure how many Openid followers I have, but if you're one of them, this applies to you. I sometimes look at the metrics on my blog and am amazed at the number of readers I have around the world. So many from Russia, for instance--what gives with all those Russian readers, second only to Americans in following my blog? I asked that once before, and someone said that perhaps I have a Russian admirer. I don't think that's it, but it remains one of the curiosities of my blogging life.

You may, like me, be busy clearing out clutter and getting organized for the new year. If so, good luck and smooth sailing. And if you enjoy Wordplay's forays into myth, culture, and everyday life, I'll see you in cyberspace.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Senator Reads His Mail


Dear Senator ----

I don't know if word has reached your office of any malfeasance involving the firm ----, which as you know has offices in ---- and ----. When I worked in the ---- office, it was called ----. I left the firm in 2011 when the poisonous environment there made it impossible to work, even if I hadn't had fears for my physical well-being. I was a good employee with excellent performance reviews, but I began having problems in the office around the end of 2003. It began with an episode of sexual harassment that I was not able to redress despite reporting it to my superiors on several occasions.

Over time, I began to feel that someone was attempting to undermine my credibility and standing in the office, and the situation grew worse when ---- took charge around 2009. After that, I actually began to feel concerned for my physical safety, though I was unable to get my supervisor to acknowledge my concerns.

From things that people have said to me, directly and indirectly, I gather there have been rumors of unsavory activity involving one or more members of the ---- office for quite some time. One of our ---- was shot in the head under mysterious circumstances in early 2008, ---- died of cancer (which someone implied to me may not have been an entirely natural occurrence), and a man with connections to our ---- committed suicide unexpectedly near the end of my time there.

The latter event happened in Fall 2010, coinciding with the onset of a terribly strained atmosphere in the office. I was unsure at the time why I felt so unsafe, but in intervening years, rumors have reached me of something akin to an "adult dating" type of ring connected with member(s) of the firm that involved more than just consenting adults (I think we are actually talking about felony child abuse and worse).

I began feeling concerned about the safety of my locks at home and believe my credit card information may have been accessed by someone at ---- intending to do me harm by setting me up without my knowledge on ---- or a similar sex club site. It seems that people are very hesitant to discuss anything openly, and it has taken me a long time to put the pieces together.

That seems like a lot of trouble to go to over a middle-aged librarian, but I believe I may have been targeted not just out of spite but also because some social acquaintances of mine, without my knowledge, may also have been connected with members of the firm and this illegal activity. I also noted that the atmosphere in the office turned considerably colder after I discussed a book I was reading about the Bush family's relationship with the Saudi royal house with one of our attorneys in 2004.

Lastly, I will tell you that my mother died in early 2007, and that I had been extremely concerned about her because of some strange activity that had taken place at her residence: a suicide next door, visits from a "young couple" she would not identify, and an attempted break-in in her apartment. I felt that something untoward was taking place but was never able to get her to tell me the truth of the matter. The ---- who died of cancer had formerly worked for my mother's family attorney, which was a coincidence I only learned of by accident. I cannot tell you with certainty of the precise way in which these matters are linked, but I do indeed think there is a link.

I continue to be concerned about not only my safety but that of other family members. I recently returned from a trip to ---- to check on my ---- and ---- when I grew alarmed after a long period of silence from my ----. I was nearly run off the road in ---- in what appeared to be a deliberate act and reported it to the ---- State Police, complete with license plate number. Unfortunately, this is not the first time something like that has happened.

I went to local police here in ---- about two years ago to make a complaint, but no investigation was done. I believe that ---- may also have some connection with the matters I'm discussing, and I have no faith in his integrity or that of his administration.

If I'm the first to mention any of this to you, I'm actually rather surprised. I feel that others probably have more direct knowledge of some of these events than I do, but as I know of no one else who has actually spoken openly or reported these matters to anyone in authority, I am doing so. If I can supply any other information, please let me know.

Sincerely.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wordplay's Ghosts of Christmas, Past and Present

By rights, this should be the post in which I write about the new Star Wars film, which has the moviegoing public all agog this holiday season (and no wonder). Except that I'm not going to write about it because I haven't seen it. I heard last year, when an early trailer for the film was released, that George Lucas was distancing himself from the promo. I don't recall the reason given, but that gave me pause about seeing the movie, despite the fondness I have for the original. I know this isn't going to stop other people from seeing it, but, as always, I recommend being a cautious consumer when it comes to any and all media that present myths for your consideration. Just because it's out there doesn't mean you have to buy it.

When I saw Peter Jackson's final Hobbit film last year, it was like an early warning system for mythic mayhem to come. My feeling was that Mr. Jackson was trying to say something in that movie relevant to our times about wealth, greed, power, and evil, that perhaps the childlike story J.R.R. Tolkien wrote turned out to be impossible for a filmmaker with any honesty to tell in the same spirit in which it was written. It was a film with many dark undercurrents. His movie was not, in my view, a propaganda piece, but the same can't be said of everything floating around out there in popular culture. I've already cancelled magazine subscriptions over what I considered extracurricular editorializing and political messaging in both stories and ad content, so let the buyer beware. These things do happen.

A brief glance at the evening news reveals that we are living in strange times. Is anyone in doubt about it? When I tell someone the bare facts about the strange events in my own life, and they say, wow, that's pretty crazy, I want to say, "Well, have you watched the political news lately? Have you seen any of the debates, or caught any of the election action? Have you noticed the demented things the candidates are saying, or the aura of a sideshow that hangs over all things political? Have you ever, in your life, known an election season quite like this one?" I'm constantly caught between a need to stay informed and a healthy wish to avoid getting tangled up in the propaganda, war of words, and general craziness of the political scene. You occasionally hear something worth hearing, from someone worth listening to, but you sure have to wade through a lot of trash talk to get to it.

Christmas is by no means immune to tampering with by those with an agenda to push. Just on a personal level, I was amazed last year to get a black Christmas card from someone I used to know named Steve--and this story illustrates what I mean about the negative potential of symbols. As soon as I saw that card, it disturbed me, for reasons I couldn't quite have articulated on the spot. I just knew it wasn't something I wanted anywhere near me, so I threw it away. This year, when I got a card from the same person, I took it immediately to the dumpster without even opening it. I'm a believer in paying attention to things that bother you and taking them seriously, even if you're not sure why they bother you. Human beings have developed many ways of sensing things they need to avoid that don't fall strictly into the category of logical reasoning. Call it survival instinct.

So here it is, Christmas Eve 2015, a most un-Christmaslike Christmas from where I'm sitting, both as to weather and to mood. It has me in a proper Dickensian frame of mind, thinking about the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. Just for one, there was that Christmas some eight years ago now, when I was in my second year of Myth Studies and taking a break from the books by watching movies on Christmas Eve. In between features, I happened to look out the window, which I do from time to time, just scanning the environment, as the healthy human animal tends to do. I was somewhat surprised to see a gathering of young men on the other side of the parking lot, just standing around outside their cars, which was odd considering the fact that there really wasn't anyone else around. They were all lined up in a row, looking toward my building in a way I didn't quite like. I was debating whether to call the police or not, but when I looked again, they had all gotten into their cars, and a few minutes later, they all left. It was, let's call it, unusual.

Actually, a lot of things happened right around then. The very next week, my then-boyfriend broke up with me. If I'm not mistaken, that was right before the incident in which a former law clerk at the firm where I worked was shot in the head at a party under what I was told were mysterious circumstances. Lots of peculiar behavior in the office and out of it. I recall going to a law librarians' event that week in which the attendees from the other firms acted like the two of us from my firm had typhoid. Odd. I happened to be in Starbucks a week or two later when I saw a former contract employee from our office who had supposedly taken a cushy job in Nashville a few years earlier. There he was, back in town, large as life--but looking, if a cliche can ever be said to be absolutely accurate, like Death Warmed Over. I have seriously never seen a human being look that haggard, as if he had aged 20 years in three.

Then there was the day I was in that upscale sandwich shop, probably only a week or so later, reading about the life of Buddha for a class, when I looked up and saw someone sitting across from me who definitely didn't look like he belonged there. In fact, he looked like a gangster, completely out of place in that yuppie sandwich shop, not doing anything, not even looking at anyone in particular, just sitting there. Sometimes, something is just out of place, and you know it. I got up and left, but not without knowing that something rather peculiar had just happened . . . it's no good trying to say I merely imagined it, though I certainly would rather have believed otherwise.

There was also that neighbor, the young man I didn't know (but who, as it turned out, knew my nephew) who knocked on the door one winter night saying that he had lost his cell phone while out celebrating his birthday and wanting to know if he could use my phone to call his. At that time being mostly unsuspicious of non-dangerous looking neighbors, I agreed. Not realizing that his cell phone number had a long distance area code, I ended up with a bunch of long distance calls on my bill, which I reported to the phone company as not being mine, since I knew I hadn't made them. Only later did I realize that they must have been the calls he placed. I think this happened close to the time of the other events, though I can't remember exactly. That was the one and only time I talked to this young man, and he moved out a few months later, if I recall correctly.

A string of events in the deep of winter eight years ago. I can't say with a certainty that they're all related, but I have the feeling that there is a pattern in there somewhere. Eight years later, with my life having gone in a direction I never would have imagined back then, I'm careful as to my locks, my computer files, and my credit cards (lest someone take my number and sign me up for something without my knowledge). It doesn't sound like a very cheerful way to live, but sometimes you just have to "keep on keeping on" until you get to a better place. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, "When you're going through hell, keep going." Good advice, whether you're caught in the bardo (as I was discussing recently with a friend), stuck on a glacier in a snowstorm in Utah, or merely making your way down the sidewalk in your own neighborhood.

It's not all gloom and doom. I have chocolate peppermint cookies, zydeco music on the stereo, a few presents under the tree (what says Christmas better than socks?), and a dinner to cook tomorrow. Life goes on, but in a somewhat reduced way. I'm not trying to dishearten anyone, but rather to do the opposite--to enlighten. I hope I've done so. Happy Holidays to all my friends, near and far, whether I see you often or not. I sincerely hope that 2016 will be a better and brighter year for us all.