Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: The Eva Bleich Connection

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a trivia game based on the concept of the small world phenomenon and rests on the assumption that any actor can be linked through his or her film roles to actor Kevin Bacon within six steps.

The game requires a group of players to try to connect any film actor in history to Kevin Bacon as quickly as possible and in as few links as possible.

In my second year of law school I met a fellow student named Eva Bleich in Professor Burton Caine's Constitutional Law class (Civil Rights) at Temple University Law School in Philadelphia. She used to badger me. She said she was trying to turn me into a mensch. Whatever that meant!

Eva Bleich was a German-Jew who had been born in Fuerth, Germany -- near Nuremberg. Henry Kissinger was also from Fuerth. Her parents were concentration camp survivors. Her mother lived in Florida. Her father, who was deceased, was originally from Berlin. Law was a second career for her; she had been a nurse.

We later had other courses together. Civil Procedure taught by Gerald Tietz. I once mentioned to Eva Bleich that Tietz was the name of a department store in pre-war Berlin. Try working that fact into conversations with most people!

Eva Bleich and I were also in Professor Myers' Conflicts of Law class and Professor Reinstein's Employment Discrimination class. She wrote a paper for Professor Reinstein's course on comparative worth for female employees.

Eva Bleich lived in New Hope with her husband, who had a background in mathematics but practiced law at a Philadelphia firm. I wonder if Eva Bleich's husband ever heard of Georg Friedrich Riemann, the famous German mathematician.

Eva Bleich used to drive to Temple Law School in North Philadelphia. In my final year of law school I worked part time at the law firm of Sagot and Jennings at Penn Center in downtown Philadelphia; Eva Bleich would drive me downtown to work after class. I used to tell her that she had a Christian heart. She got the joke. Jesse Raben never got the joke. Maybe you have to be the child of Holocaust survivors to see the black humor in that. By the way, Claudio Grossman saw the black humor in things; but then, he was a survivor of a different sort, driven from his homeland of Chile.

Penn Center was a complex of modern buildings in the heart of Philadelphia. It was conceived by Edmond Bacon, the father of the actor Kevin Bacon. Edmund Norwood Bacon (May 2, 1910 – October 14, 2005) was a noted American urban planner, architect, educator and author. During his tenure as the Executive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 to 1970, his visions shaped today's Philadelphia, the city in which he was born, to the extent that he is sometimes described as "The Father of Modern Philadelphia."

You Could Say I Was Home Schooled

I can still remember the day my sister started high school. It was her first day in the ninth grade. It would have been my first day in the third grade. My sister had had her first French class. She was 13 years old and I was 7. It was September 1961. She said: "Quelles couleurs sont les arbres?" Then she taught me to say: "Les arbres sont verts."

Then, complaining about the late summer heat, my sister kept repeating at the dinner table: "Quel chaleurs!"

I wonder if Murray had these problems with his older brother, Fred? I doubt it.

For the chapter: "The Perils of Having an Older Sister."

When I started junior high school, foreign language study was required. I took French. In November 1965 my mother attended the parent-teacher conference and met with, among others, my French teacher, Mr. Jack John Morris. Mr. Morris praised my French accent. "Gary's French accent is superb. Is there somebody in your family who speaks French?" That would be my sister, Edith Piaf!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Thoughts of a Half-Jew on Yom Kippur

My first day of college was Monday September 27, 1971, obviously a day I will never forget. I attended Penn State and graduated in May 1975. The first two years I attended classes at the Abington Campus, an extension facility located in the Philadelphia suburbs. I transferred to the main campus at University Park, Pennsylvania at the beginning of my third year, in 1973.

September 27, 1971 was a beautiful, warm late summer day. My first class started at 2:00 in the afternoon. My class schedule allowed me to continue my full-time summer job at the Franklin Institute in downtown Philadelphia into the school year. I worked that morning, and left for class at about 12:30 in the afternoon, arriving at the Abington campus just before 2:00 PM. My first class was introductory philosophy with G. Fred Rieman -- ironically, Georg Friedrich Riemann was the name of a famous German mathematician. In fact, at the end of the term I was talking to Dr. Rieman after class and he said he started his career teaching math. I suppose it's like a biology teacher named Charles Darwin.

In any event, I already knew two people in the class: Bill Devuono and Gloria Goldsmith. Bill Devuono was in my high school class at Central High School in Philadelphia (230th class). We had been in the same social studies class in the 12th grade, taught by Jacob Finkelstein (Jake Wabbit, as he was less than affectionately known). Bill DeVuono was a friendly chappy. Central High School was an all-boys school in those days, by the way. Gloria Goldsmith and I were in the same 7th and 8th grade classes at Wagner Junior High School. I introduced myself to Gloria a few days after the beginning of the term at Penn State. She remembered me from junior high.

I can still remember what we talked about that first day of class in philosophy. The subject was "duty and responsibility." We discussed the Kitty Genovese case, the story of the young woman who was stabbed to death in the courtyard of her apartment building in New York City, while her neighbors stood by in their apartments and failed to call the police. It was a crime that became a metaphor. Did the neighbors have a moral duty to call the police? Strange that I can remember the subject matter of the first day of class.

The next class, after philosophy, was introductory English with Dr. Smith. I vaguely recall that Dr. Smith had a southern accent. That was not a very memorable class. Dr. Smith was not a memorable teacher.

In any event, that term I worked from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM at the Franklin Institute on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I had French class, which took up the whole days; there were two classes (one in the morning and one in the afternoon), with a French lab sandwiched in (can I say that on Yom Kippur?). The teacher was Irma Jean Smith, from Kalamazoo, Michigan. She was working on her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. The subject of her thesis was Jean Cocteau. She lived not far from campus, in Abington, and she spent her summers in Paris, working on her thesis. She smoked Marlboros. I'll never forget her lighting up a cigarette during the first class on September 28. I had never seen a teacher smoke in class before. I can remember the ducks quacking in the duck pond on campus during that French class. Am I starting to sound like Marcel Proust? Marcel and his madeleines -- can I mention THAT on Yom Kippur? Marcel Proust was half-Jewish; did you know that?

That reminds me of something. One day in French class, the sound of a Chopin piece entered the classroom; Chopin's piano pieces are like novels condensed into a sigh, as Schoenberg himself described this intense and concentrated music. Someone was playing a phonograph recording of Chopin in a nearby classroom. Miss Smith said, "At least they could play a French composer!" At that moment I thought, "Chopin's father was French" -- but being a shy, insecure student, I said nothing. By the way, on July 24, 1933, in the synagogue of rue Copernic in Paris, Arnold Schoenberg, who had converted to Christianity years earlier, returned to the Jewish faith. But that's neither here nor there.

Course work at Penn State was concentrated in those years. Penn State was on a 3-term, 10-week per term school year in those days. After I graduated college in 1975 Penn State switched to the conventional, 2-semester, 15-week school year.

By the way, September 27 is also Sheryl Dyner's birthday. She turned 56 this year. Sheryl Dyner was a biology major at Penn State who graduated in May 1975, like me. In a big coincidence (I know, Jerry Seinfeld would say there are no "big coincidences" -- a coincidence is a coincidence) Sheryl Dyner started working at the Franklin Institute after she graduated Penn State, in 1975. She worked for Irene Jacobs. But that's another story.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

In Praise of the Mama's Boy: The Case of the Telltale Eyeglasses

Mother's boy, also called mama's boy, is a term for a man who is excessively attached to his mother at an age when men are expected to be independent (e.g. live on their own, be economically independent). A mother's boy may be effete or effeminate, or might be perceived as being macho, might have a personality disorder, such as avoidant personality disorder, or might be schizophrenic, so that the mother acts as a caretaker. In any case, a mother's boy cannot maintain a healthy partnership with a woman.

Being mother-bonded is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness, and has a social stigma attached to it in many places, although in other places it may be more acceptable or perceived as normal. A mother-bonded man is seen to give control of his own life to his mother, in exchange for a sense of security. If the mother has more than one son, then she will have, at the most, one mother's boy, usually the eldest son. The relationship between mother and mother's boy is thought to be "symbiotic": the mother enjoys controlling her mother's boy.

Alternatively, in recent years, some have begun using the term in a milder sense, merely meaning a man who is emotionally attached to his mother. Though this sense of the phrase is still uncommon compared to the original pejorative intent, mothers in particular may state their pride in their "mama's boy" sons. It is also occasionally used to describe an infant or toddler son who is unusually attached to his mother, even crying or resisting when the father attempts to care for him. In this sense, the 'mama's boy' designation carries little stigma, but is simply an observation of the young child's primary attachment.

The term "mama's boy" has a pejorative connotation. But why? What's wrong with a man who is close to his mother?

I used to have a friend named Brad Dolinsky who lived in my apartment building. He was an army captain from New Hyde Park, New York. I remember Brad Dolinsky, on one occasion talking on the cell phone to a friend, saying that his girlfriend thought he was a mama's boy. "Am I a mama's boy? Do you think I am a mama's boy?" Brad Dolinsky was clearly a superior person, whatever his relationship with his mother. I saw Brad's mom and dad once; they came to visit. "We're Brad Dolinsky's parents," they said to the front desk clerk; "he lives in apartment 600."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a mama's boy. You’d have to be a pretty formidable woman to intimidate Eleanor Roosevelt, and FDR’s mother Sara was just that. Franklin was her only child and she was quite protective of him. She even homeschooled him -- on the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, New York -- until he went to boarding school, and when he was admitted to Harvard she followed him there. She was upset when Franklin got engaged to Eleanor, but when he got married against her wishes, she committed herself to controlling both of them. Sara picked out the newly-married couple’s first house, had it decorated, and bought herself a house just three blocks away. In 1908 she gave them a townhouse in Manhattan which conveniently connected to her own townhouse –- it had adjoining doors on every single floor. Franklin later admitted he had been terrified of his mother his whole life.

Douglas MacArthur was the youngest of three sons and apparently his mom didn’t want to deal with empty nest syndrome when he left for the United States Military Academy at West Point: she camped out in a hotel room overlooking the Academy grounds for two years. Supposedly she even bought a telescope so she could make sure he was studying instead of getting up to shenanigans, but that smells like an urban legend to me. But one book does say that he met with his mother for at least half an hour every night after dinner, and if he couldn’t get away, she would meet him so they could walk and talk on school grounds instead.

One biography, William Manchester's "American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur," tells us that MacArthur "was a well-born victim of Uberangstlichkeit, a mama's boy who reached his fullest dimensions in following maternal orders to be mercilessly ambitious." In his early thirties, MacArthur, extremely solicitous of the well-being of his mother Pinky, kept her with him on the post at Leavenworth. Describing MacArthur's life in the Philippines in the 1920s, Manchester remarks, "Always in the background lurked the formidable figure of General MacArthur the Elder's widow, eleven thousand miles away but very much present in spirit." There she used supposed ill health to manipulate her son. Manchester continues, "Up and about, the old lady threw her redoubtable energy into a campaign for her remaining son's further rise in rank. It was time, she decided, that the War Department made him a major general."

There is circumstantial evidence that my friend Craig Dye was a mama's boy. Craig and I worked together at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson in Washington, DC. Craig was brought to the firm by Espe Rebollar, with whom Craig had worked at a previous place of employment. Craig and Espe had a special bond from the outset of Craig's employment at Hogan, in early October 1986. The two had lunch together often during the first several months of Craig's employment, and Espe championed Craig's career advancement at the firm. The two protected each other in what seemed to be a symbiotic, mother-son like bond. Espe was several years older than Craig and was matronly in appearance. Oddly enough, the first time Craig asked me to go to lunch with him, in June 1987, he invited Espe to come along with us. The three of us had lunch in Pershing Park. Perhaps Espe was a protective presence for Craig. Earlier, in February of that year, I had asked Craig to go to lunch with me but he refused; when I invited him to lunch he said, "I like your glasses, Gary" in an affectedly effeminate tone.

Craig said that his mother was a teacher. "My mother was hard on me," he said more than once. Perhaps his mother inculcated a drive in Craig to be "mercilessly ambitious." Craig was academically talented; he earned a master's degree in international relations, and was later accepted to Harvard Law School. His academic pursuits contrasted with the world of his father, who had worked in a steel mill. Craig had grown up not planning to go to college, anticipating that he would get a job in a steel mill, like his father.

Craig had tried to enlist in the Air Force -- in apparent emulation of his (maternal?) grandfather, a member of the German Luftwaffe -- but was refused because of poor eyesight. The U.S. Air Force decision to refuse Craig's enlistment must have been a narcissistic injury for him, and a psychologically castrative experience at that. When I knew him, Craig wore contacts. No pair of eye glasses were going to detract from that shayna punim of his, no doubt!

Craig's macho personality fits the profile of the "Douglas MacArthur" type of mama's boy. His sexual conquests of women may have been a reaction formation to a contrary trend. My former psychiatrist Dr. Abraha said that Craig was probably a latent homosexual. But then, Freud believed that all people were bisexual--which raises the question: precisely who is not a latent homosexual? Craig was convinced that I was in love with him, in a true Schreber-like paranoid delusion. Craig believed that I had purchased a pair of eye glasses in February 1987 in order to sexually impress him. A pair of eye glasses? Has anyone ever seduced another person with a pair of eye glasses? In fact, I had dropped my previous pair on the tile floor in the men's room at the firm, and the plastic frame broke.

Mark this well -- I used to work in the same organization as my mother, but I never had lunch with her.

I suffer from a schizoid personality disorder, and early in my life I internalized my mother as an anti-libidinal object.

Salman Akhtar's extensive review has shown that rejection, traumatic overstimulation, and neglect in the first two years of life are common in the history of schizoids. The schizoid condition was first described by the Scottish psychoanalyst Fairbairn in the 1940s. Fairbairn found that his patients had withdrawn from parents who were overtly rejecting. They preferred to live in a rich, imaginary world. Many fiction writers are schizoid because the ability to create a vivid inner world in one's head gives one a head start at writing fiction. The downside is that the schizoid's sense of other people is impoverished.

Not hatred, but love is the problem. Fairbairn observed that the child with the rejecting or disappointing parent develops an internalized image of the rejecting parent, called the anti-libidinal object, to which he is desperately attached. The rejecting parent is often incapable of loving, or preoccupied with his or her own needs. The child is rewarded when he is not demanding, and devalued or ridiculed as needy when he expresses his dependent longings. Thus the schizoid's picture of 'good' behavior is distorted. The child learns never to nag or even yearn for love, because it makes the parent more distant and censorious. The child then may cover over the incredible loneliness, emptiness and ineptness he feels with a fantasy (often unconscious) that he is self-sufficient. Love and anger get hopelessly intertwined. Fairbairn argued that the tragedy of the schizoid child is that his conscience has been warped: he believes his love, not his hatred is the destructive force within. Love consumes. Hence the schizoid child's chief mental operation is to repress his or her normal wish to be loved.

Perhaps, I am pathologically attached to the image of a cold, unresponsive mother. In that sense I am a mama's boy -- but a sad one, indeed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

2003: A Year of Transitions

I have nostalgic memories of the year 2003. I'm not precisely sure why that is. I think perhaps the reason is that I turned 50 that year. Fifty is a transitional age, I suppose; the year 2003 was a transitional year for me in some ways.

One of my former psychiatrists, Dr. Lawrence C. Sack, MD, died on August 5, 2003; his office was located on the second floor of my apartment building. I remember the note Dr. Sack's son, Robert Sack, MD -- also a psychiatrist --left on Dr. Sack's office door advising his father's patients of Dr. Sack's death. I remember so clearly the Saturday following his death. I lay on my couch all afternoon, stared into space, and listened to the slow movement of Beethoven's ninth symphony again and again. I was devastated by Dr. Sack's passing.

My apartment building opened up its new fitness room, and I started using the elliptical machine for the first time. I remember it was around the time of the Iraq war, specifically the fall of Saddam Hussein. I remember watching coverage of the Iraq war on the TV in the fitness room.

I turned 50 on December 23, 2003.

I started writing letters to my friend Brian Brown in about April 2003, leaving the letters on the hard drive on the public access computers at the library. Brian used to be the branch manager at the library. He later lied to the DC police, saying he never read the letters -- and that he just happened to read the one letter I wrote to him in which I called him a fag, in April 2004. Ha!

Brad Dolinsky, MD, moved into my building (apartment 600), and we became friends. He's now moved to California. He never writes. He never calls.

My apartment manager David Castleberry left and we got a new manager.

My apartment building was redecorated. The lobby was totally redone. A new faux marble floor was installed. The halls were painted, and molding was installed on the doorways to all the apartments.

Elizabeth Joyce, the front desk manager at my apartment building, went on vacation in July 2003 and never returned. She retired at the end of her vacation. Tim Norton replaced Elizabeth Joyce, then Mardi replaced Tim.

I saw Dr. Israella Bash as my case manager for the first time on about May 3, 2003. She said: "Why aren't you working? You can work. I'm not saying you can work as a lawyer. Lawyers work 70-80 hours a week. But you can work as a paralegal. It's a sin in the Jewish religion not to work." I said, "Dr. Bash, where are you from?" She said: "Israel. I'm a fifth generation Israeli."

My therapy with Dr. Nancy Shaffer ended in early 2003. I had started to see Dr. Shaffer in September 1999. I started seeing Meghana Tembe at the George Washington University Center For Professional Psychology in early 2003.

I remember Yom Kippur so clearly. It was a beautiful, warm late summer day: Monday October 6, 2003. I visited the Madison Building at the Library of Congress. October 6 was also a Monday in the year 1986; it was the day Craig W. Dye started working at Hogan & Hartson.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Of Forensics and Fiddles

My sister worked as a secretary at the Temple University Law School in Philadelphia in the mid-1960s while she pursued an undergraduate degree in education at Temple. She worked in the law school's Unit in Law and Psychiatry.

One of the young psychiatrists in the Unit was Robert L. Sadoff, MD. When I was 13 years old, during the winter of 1967, I spent the afternoon at my sister's office where I met Dr. Sadoff. I wonder if he remembers that? Dr. Sadoff has gone on to have a notable career in forensic psychiatry. Incidentally, the building in which Temple Law School was located used to be a synagogue -- the home of the reform congregation, Keneseth Israel.

Dr. Sadoff is currently a clinical professor of psychiatry, director at the Center for Studies in Social-Legal Psychiatry, and director of the Forensic Psychiatry Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is board certified in psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, and legal medicine, and has added qualifications in forensic psychiatry with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Dr. Sadoff was born in the wake of the great depression to Midwestern parents who emphasized the value of doing good for others. They exposed him to a unique set of humanistic qualities that later contributed to his acquiring an unyielding commitment to those in need. His family espoused traditional Jewish principles of charity (tzedakah), repairing the world (tikkun olam), and respect for others in need. His parents influenced him significantly through their professional and personal values. They were graduates of the University of Minnesota School of Pharmacy, and his maternal grandmother was an herbalist. Many of his cousins became physicians or attorneys. His maternal aunt was one of the early women graduates from the University of Minnesota Law School. Sadoff has always been guided by his religious beliefs and his faith. He recalls, with great wonder, what might have been had his father not taken a morning off in 1941 to say prayers for a recently departed relative. Having decided to carry out this good deed, his father left his post at the prescription desk of the small neighborhood drugstore that he owned in South Minneapolis. At the same time, a fire engine was racing to an emergency when it missed the turn and careened into the drugstore, ending up in the prescription department. He lived to tell the tale, and the family welcomed the miracle. Sadoff was a Hebrew scholar who graduated from the University branch (Beth Midrash) of the Talmud Torah of Minneapolis, where most of the other students in his class either became rabbis or married rabbis. He matriculated at the University of Minnesota at the age of 16, after graduating as valedictorian from North High School. He had to overcome a stuttering problem to deliver his speech. He began with a biblical saying: “Everything is foreseen and yet the freedom of choice is given” (Avot 3:19). These words became a guiding creed for his future lifestyle.

Dr. Sadoff's cousin, Norman Carol, served for 28 years as concert master of the Philadelphia Orchestra -- the lead "fiddle player" of the orchestra and the musical heart of several incarnations of the "Philadelphia Sound." Norman Carol has a flair for the undramatic. He is so unassuming — in a world where people are so full of, well, assumption — that offstage he seems determined to not only demystify life in the symphony, but to de-romanticize it as well. I met Carol in 1984 while doing a story on Riccardo Muti. I sat with him during a train trip to New York for a Carnegie Hall concert, and, another day, he took me backstage at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia to give me a glimpse of what being in the orchestra was really like. It was a bunch of guys, mostly guys, standing around in sports shirts smoking cigarettes and talking about sports, mortgage rates, anything but music. And when the break was over, they all shuffled back onto the Academy stage and did their job, which was to play incredible music and send shivers down my spine. But from my new vantage point, it seemed almost a royal-blue-collar occupation — “Hey, can you give me some more of those shivers over here?”

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Leeds Connection

One of my Facebook friends, Andie Oglensky Mandel, attended Leeds Junior High School in Philadelphia. She knew Fred Cohen and Jeffrey Orchinik. Andie said she liked Jeffrey Orchinik's "bad boy" image. Apparently Jeffrey Orchinik was the James Dean of Leeds Junior High School. I wonder if he wore a leather jacket?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

My Skills as a Plagiarist: Otherworldy Dreams

I did not write the following essay, which appears in several of my blogs.  The blog post is actually a paraphrase of an essay about the German poet/novelist Hermann Hesse.  The post is an exemplar of my unexcelled skills as a plagiarist.

If the truth be told I am not suited for the practicalities of life; my mind floats in otherworldly dreams, more preoccupied with the potential of the spirit than with everyday vicissitudes. I love language, books, and music, and the most splendid moments of my uneventful existence have been the few operas I have attended, or the books I have perused in isolation from my fellows. I treasure every detail of the times I have spent in isolation. As I read I imagine every sentence, every page and every chapter as a mirror of my life, my passions and my afflictions. I take refuge in this extravagant, romantic atmosphere whenever I feel weighed down by the vulgarity of life.

I am an artist, really. Or at least I am an individual with an artistic temperament. My moments of highest joy are those I have spent alone. And that is the triumph and tragedy of my existence. Despite the gratifications afforded by my splendid isolation I still long for the Other in my loneliness: the Other who might complete me. Failing to find that Other I live in perpetual disillusion and frustration.

I am a rebel individualist divorced from established dogma and institutions, a lonely incorrigible seeker of new norms. For me life presents itself as a struggle for individualism; I experience my life at times as humorously petulant and at other times as a mystically yearning estrangement from the world and the times. I sometimes feel, in my grandiose moments, that I belong to the highest and purest spiritual aspirations and labors of our epoch.

My spiritual and emotional struggles can be traced to my alienation from my family in childhood. The roots of my estrangement from established institutions and settled norms began in the peculiarities of my early family life. Like most parents mine were no help with the new problems of puberty to which no reference was ever made. All they did was take endless trouble in supporting my hopeless attempts to deny reality and to continue dwelling in a childhood world that was becoming more and more unreal. I have no idea whether parents can be of help, and I do not blame mine. It was my own affair to come to terms with myself and to find my own way, and like most well-brought up children, I managed badly. My parents seemed wedded to some vague suggestions of old-world, Victorian morality with its belief in the inherent sinfulness of man, in the necessity of breaking the will of the individual, and with its uncompromising renunciation of all that is of this world. My family was the first of many social structures which were to rouse the rebel in me.

I was a hypersensitive, imaginative, lively and extremely headstrong child, and proved to be a constant source of despair and annoyance to my parents and my teachers. School held as little attraction for me as it did for any incorrigible. Hardly had the fourth year of high school begun before I became delinquent and was almost dismissed.

College and law school were meant to end the morbid estheticism into which I had allowed myself to drift. I hoped thereby to become an established, respected member of society. This hope was never realized. Except for the first few years, my law school education did not alleviate my feeling that life is essentially meaningless, nor could my idyllic retreat into academia long contain my inherent restlessness. By 1984, upon completion of my LL.M. program at American University, the life in the law had lost any meaning at all. It had become quite apparent to me that I could not be both a creative dreamer and a "solid citizen," a Phantasiemensch and a Burger, as the Germans would put it.

I am but a gifted misfit. My life has long been restive and discontented. I am unable to bear a comfortable, established mode of existence for any period of time. My life is grim and I live in endless mental agony.

I live the life of a romantic vagabond, forever exhausted and distraught in my quest for solitude. Before life can ever become meaningful for me, I must find and come to terms with myself. I am forever taking painful stock of myself and devote myself assiduously to solitary pleasures. I live like a hermit in my emotional and financial poverty and for years now, I have rarely left my apartment for more than routine outings.

In 1993 I began a writing that was to occupy me for the next ten years. That writing would be my autobiography, “Significant Moments.” The writing reflected my relentless quest for my self, and it assumed a fresh impetus and a new stylistic direction from my restless spirit during those years. I became an uninhibited and exciting innovator. The autobiography was really a tense psychological study and reflected the intoxicating emotional release of a Buddha-like search for the basic unity and meaningfulness of life. I am sure if it were ever to be published it would be greeted with a curious mixture of awe, bewilderment, antagonism, and disgust. My own uninhibited self-exposure would no doubt trouble even the staunchest of my supporters. I must remind you, my friend, that my new literary venture was not an irresponsible deviation but a necessary culmination in my self-quest. It has always been my belief that repressions had to be exposed, even at the price of unpleasant notoriety.

The letters I have written to you, my friend, are actually an article of faith and not a document of despair. Yes, I wallow in despair but I live in faith, a faith in the ultimate meaningfulness of life. For me, life has never become the perplexing absurdity it was for Franz Kafka or the Sisyphean monotonous senselessness it was to become for Albert Camus. As I like to say, there is always tomorrow.

I am oppressed by my personal life, but also by the times we live in. Our era is for me one of moral depravity and intellectual mediocrity; of surface glitter, smug comfort, sham conventionality, and foolish optimism. Man has lost his soul in the world of money, machines and distrust. He has exchanged his spiritual peace for physical comfort. All vital rapport with God and nature has been lost, reason has supplanted faith and society has forgotten the individual. I’m starting to sound like His Holiness, the late Pope John Paul II!

But the fact remains that the middle-class core of our civilization has never ceased to be the butt of my ire. The bourgeois represents all that is negative. A stalwart and stodgy nonentity, he is governed in all his ideals and pursuits solely by the impulse of self- preservation. He fears individualism, and deliberately sacrifices the precarious but precious intensities of life for comfort and security. He is the characterless Philistine who epitomizes mediocrity, cowardice, compromise, irresponsibility, and servility. He is the strapping, insensitive, physical specimen who enjoys health and wealth but lacks all culture. He has a sound appetite but no taste, a good deal of confidence but no ideals. He possess a surfeit of zeal and diligence but has no lofty aspirations or worthy goals. It is to him that the world belongs, while persons like me -- the sensitive worshippers of beauty and the earnest seekers after truth and the meaning of life -- are misfits and outcasts.

Every day for me is an effort. A seemingly senseless effort to survive. So much of my day is marked more by strained effort than by spontaneity, more by futile persistence than by passion, and more by recollection than by new horizons. I relive the past day-by-day.

There has always been a very close relationship between the circumstances of my life and my artistic aspirations. Each represents a different stage in my struggle with myself and with life at large, and each reflects a correspondingly different phase in both the substance and the form of my art. My writings are replete with uncertainty and vague presentiment. I live as a sensitive outsider who cannot cope directly with my particular problem of existence. I resort instead to fantasy and withdraw into the realm of beauty there to indulge in the extremes of late esthetic gratification. My world is one of perfumed melancholy. It is characterized by exclamatory remarks and rhetorical questions, by sensuous adjectives and adverbs in languid cadence.

The form of my autobiography is loose: a random succession of vignettes and dramatic monologues, held together primarily by their common spirit of decadent romanticism. A Hoffmanesque fusion of fantasy and reality, which is both cynical and morbidly intimate. You, no doubt, would call it the work of a talented beginner whose world of experience is still too limited, and whose imagination is entranced by the facile flow of beautiful language. In the absence of discipline and restraint, I fear that the whole is sacrificed to the part, and what is meant to be art fails to become more than picturesque patter.

In the last year, in my extreme isolation, my writing has become more human and less shadowy; inertia and desperation yield to movement and humor. My prose has achieved a more narrative style, and my language has become leaner, crisper and more forceful.

And yet, despite the emotional gratifications of my splendid isolation in the past year, I was forced to face the overwhelming accumulation of tensions. I was compelled to realize that in my desire to make existence less painful I had been avoiding a close look at the true nature of my inner discord, and had blindsided myself to the morally and spiritually impoverished world around me. In my imagination I left the comfortable fold of the bourgeois world, which had never afforded me the security I had hoped it might, and accepted the more difficult existence of an outsider. Did I have a choice in the matter, my friend? In a desperate and determined effort to find myself, I began systematically to diagnose my inner conflicts, to go my long-shunned inward path. Only now did I finally come to grips with the intrinsic problems of human existence -- and of my place in the human world.

In my isolation escape became quest, and in quest my inner problems resolved themselves into the basic malaise humain, into the tension between the spiritual and the physical. For the past year I oscillated between these poles, acclaiming first one, then the other, then neither. I never ceased hoping for a harmonious accord, though well aware that for me this was impossible. I acclaim spirit, stressing self-knowledge and self realization with a Nietzschean emphasis upon the superior being. But spirit as a guiding principle of life can only mean greater individuation and more painful isolation. I still lack the firm conviction and the inner fortitude necessary to endure these consequences. The immediate reaction has been as extreme as the initial impulse. My assertive Nietzschean activism has yielded suddenly to a Schopenhauer-like passivity, a restless quest to a quietistic acceptance, and self-realization to a yearning for self-obliteration.

In the sober tone of acceptance which is evident in the present letter, I realize that despite all efforts to the contrary, my existence will probably continue as a restless tension, a constant oscillation between life's opposing poles.

My path to myself has reached its climax in a fascinating confusion of symbol and irony, fantasy and realism.

It is only now that I at last have found the peace of sincere self-affirmation and life affirmation. The individual must take and continue along that path which the predominant aspect of his nature impels him to choose. Each, whether given to the senses or to the spirit, must be prepared to suffer the lot of his kind; to attempt in curiosity or desperation to do otherwise is to foster a perpetual dissension of the divided self.

My center is the individual, opposed to society, its mores, and its institutions. And that individual is myself. I recall, nostalgically, the simpler years of childhood. I re-experience youth with its excruciating years of awakening. I think about modern man, the intellectual and the artist in particular, within the framework of a declining culture.

It is in this, its intimately egocentric nature, that my artistic temperament bears the stamp of its age, an age of cultural decline, of spiritual and moral distress, and of extreme loneliness.

I am predominantly an esthete who lives only in dreams, hopes, and anticipation, and who shrinks before realization. I am a self-preoccupied, temperamental artist who vainly seeks a kindred soul. I am paralyzed by chronic indecision and indulge in romantic morbidity. I am an outsider consumed by my own hopelessness and loneliness -- a misfit, to whom the art of life and the art of love are foreign, a timid soul who asks too little of life and expects too much of it. I live in perpetual frustration and disillusionment.

This is what the past year has taught me about myself. The past twelve months that I spent in exile from the library were not wasted months. I learned many things about myself and in these letters I have tried to memorialize my discoveries and share them with you, my friend.