Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Meme, Myself & I

Since I can't think of anything else to post about, I've submitted the infamous meme of four to myself:

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: I've really only had three. Psychologist since 1988, retail clerk from 1976-1988, and mostly unemployed, vapid and shiftless beer guzzling bum from 1973-1976 (and a bit thereafter). However, this Dionysian period proved to be quite formative, laying the foundation for my future interests and passions. That is, the loathsome excesses of my early adulthood led directly to an abiding interest in the possibilities of consciousness.

To back up a bit, I actually independently discovered the concept of Slack quite early in life, and by the age of ten conceived the notion that, whatever I should become as a "grown up," it would never involve full time work. I have hewn to this childish, er, childhood philosophy ever since, although it has of course deepened into a mature eccentricity.

There is something about my edenic childhood summers from which I never recovered. Call it a reverse trauma if you want--an AM-U-ART. I always detested school, and to this very day, I well remember the anticipation of that trackless oasis of slack extending over the sunlit horizon from June onward. No school. No work. No time. Just the day-to-day exhilaration of pure, spontaneous play: of unalloyed being. Wake up. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Sleep. Very Zen-like, don't you know.

So much of our "doing" in life is actually a defense against being. Most people actually do not know what to do with spare time, with nothing, and are immediately compelled to fill it with something, no matter how trivial. The great psychoanalyst W.R. Bion built much of his theorizing around the idea that the mind is something to which we must adapt. In other words, unbidden thoughts appear out of nowhere, causing disturbing ripples on the smooth surface of being. What do we do with them? How do we manage them? If you really take the time to notice, you will see that for most people, their problem is not this or that conflict or complex, but the mind itself. It is a persecutory presence which must be managed by an elaborate network of defenses, instead of tackled head-on.

This is one of the reasons why I was always attracted to the Eastern religions (including Orthodox Christianity), for they too recognize the ubiquitous problem of "thoughts without a thinker," and prescribe definite means to deal with it. Buddhists call it "hand to hand combat without hands," while the early fathers of Christianity called it "unseen warfare." This is a war you must win in order to be able to enjoy being, or life itself, that is, the unqualified joy of simply being alive, prior to "doing" anything: walking with Dobbs at all times.

Four movies you could watch over and over: Funny you should ask. After graduating high school in 1973, I entered college as a business major. But by 1976, I had flunked out. Or to be perfectly accurate, I simply quit going in the middle of the semester. There was no way I was going to pass my classes anyway: accounting, money and banking, statistics. It wasn't for lack of trying. It's just that I had a sort of intellectual ADD that absolutely prevented me from mastering anything I was disinterested in. In other words, I couldn't artificially muster the passion necessary to focus my mind on something I couldn't care less about. Still can't.

But after a couple of years toiling in the market, I decided to try to return to college. It wasn't that I minded working in the market. In fact, I was quite happy working there. I enjoyed the camaraderie with my beer-drinking mates, our proletarian pastimes, those inebriated days innocently frolicking together on heterosexual Brokeback Mountain. And the job actually paid quite well, with medical benefits I could scarcely afford today. (I'm not even sure if such benefits exist today--just walk into any doctor, any time, and they pay for everything.) My thinking at the time was that, if I was going to be a "lifer" in the retail clerks union, at least I'd get a college degree, so people would see that it had been a choice--not something I had to do because I had no other options in life.

The only reason I'd chosen business as a major was that I couldn't conceive of anything else I might do. But a friend in the market was attending the same college (CSUN, the Harvard of the San Fernando Valley), and told me he was majoring in film. Film, you say? You're kidding! You can't go to college and major in something as frivolous as that! But I was wrong. I had always been very athletic, so the only other real possibility was P.E., but now I had found something even less challenging: I'd major in watching movies!

But as it so happened, this was one of those real turning points in my life. I was lucky enough to cross paths with the right teacher at the right time, the estimable Professor John Schultheiss. For up to that point, I had never had a teacher who was so passionate as he was about his subject. But that was not all. The way he could extemporize and pull various strands of an argument together, it almost looked as if he were in a trance, weaving the lecture out of his own psychic substance. This was so different than the typical robotic dullard that presided over a classroom, that it alone awakened something inside of me--call it an incipient sense of a love of Truth, if you want to get Platonic.

Later in life I realized that when anyone does what Professor Schultheiss did in the classroom, it creates an automatic charisma, because one is literally "in-spired" or "en-thused" when speaking in that unscripted but highly informed way. (It's also a lot like jazz improvisation, where one must spend a lifetime of study but then forget all about it when playing, in order for the performance to be fresh and vital. The ability to do that in any field is the mark of a true master.)

As it so happened, Professor Schultheiss's writing assignments were far more weighty and demanding than any other teacher I had ever had, but some theretofore unfamiliar impulse caused me to keep taking his classes--five or six, if I recall correctly. And that is what really began to turn things around for me, because not only did my papers get high marks from him, but on one memorable occasion he actually approached me and asked if I was an English major, because Radio-TV-Film students normally don't write so well. This was probably the first time any teacher had really praised me, and here it was coming from the only teacher I had ever really admired.

Schultheiss influenced me in another way, in that one of the virtues of his lectures was that he brought to bear so many other subjects in his discussion of film, including philosophy and psychology. As such, even though I did not have an undergraduate degree in psychology, when I did later attend graduate school in psychology, I was actually better prepared than my colleagues because of my background in treating "film as literature." In graduate school I later specialized in psychoanalysis, which is a heuristic science that analyzes character along different lines, so it came naturally for me to look at people as victims of their own bad movie that they themselves had unconsciously written, directed, and starred in.

We especially studied a lot of the great, but often unknown, films noir of the 1940's and early 1950's. Many of these film noir writers and directors were indeed influenced by psychoanalysis, and the best film noir captures that eery and preternatural sense of being pulled down into the "undermind," where a different sort of "night logic" presides. Doh! The fell clutch of circumstance!

So back to the question: four of my favorite films are Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, A Place in the Sun, and Night of the Hunter, for each in their own way has to do with the main characters being suddenly dragged or seduced into that murky underworld of being, the dark side of their own selves. It is a parallel world where the logic of the unknown dreamer who dreams us governs the action, and the unThought unconscious is destiny. Back to the idea of our thoughts thinking us, instead of vice versa.

I've already gone on too long with this exercise in self-indulgence. To be continued. Or not.

Still to come:

Four places you've lived
Four places you’ve been on vacation.
Four websites you visit daily
Four of your favorite foods
Four places you’d rather be
Four albums you can’t live without


Ray said...

What a sobering thought. We are actors in a bad play written and directed by ourselves. I need another beer before I contemplate that.

dilys said...

Some of the Coen Brothers' movies seem like well-edited dreams, especially Barton Fink and (my husband's favorite) The Hudsucker Proxy.

My favorite movies are wish fulfillment, a world that gives with both hands, like Monsoon Wedding and Tampopo; or lays its mechanisms bare, like Character and Fargo.

And, hilariously, the word verification below is ar[t]fli[c]k!

jwm said...

Raising Arizona.


LiquidLifeHacker said...

One of my favorite movies is that old classic To Kill a Mockingbird.

Bob...I really enjoyed this post and look forward to the rest of what you share. Hmmmm...and to think I just asked Sig to interview you, well, try to save some good stuff for that but if not, I am sure Petey will tell some secret stuff on ya! Ha Ha