The Confessor of Littlefield
by R.J. Hoffman
My language creates itself. It is reason. My intellect controls through my will but it gives into mood. All circumstances are circumscribed by my emotions. Yet, the existential coincidences that bind me to Being contain the ingredients of my own catharsis. The internal person seeks association with others, while the external person seeks solace in self; inner and outer circles ever pulling each other into something greater. The bisectional body, aware of self, pulling together all of the data and and making it comprehensible; right and left body, right and left brain, with the tripartite values of thesis, antithesis, and awareness; it is here that life begins. Material aware of itself.
This story is titled the Confessor of Littlefield, and the main theme is the language of self, or material communicating with itself, and how that language remains steady while changes are constantly being made in the environment. I distill this project into the pragmatic terminology of I, Me, and We and the first, second, and third person as a simple way to present a coherent structure to the narrative.
I am a creative writer, not a philosopher or academic. I read philosophy to find ideas and associations for my characterizations and personifications that represent contradictory human nature. I like to play with patterns, matching and juggling symbols with different contexts and narratives. I also try to append the perspectives of period, attending to the historicity and psychology of time and place.
Idealism and the noumenon and phenomenon dichotomy of self and others concerns me most in the Confessor of Littlefield. The story is told by a common person from a small town of the Great Lakes. The main character is a self employed illustrator, a 44 year old American man of Puerto Rican/Chinese descent who grew up in foster homes with strict religious parents of both, the Calvinist and the Catholic persuasions. The study of his own identity contributes to the epistolary novel he is writing. The psyche of an author creating and interacting with his creation jumpstarts the narrative, providing the Platonic spark of deep structure forms that contribute to the theme of the fluidity of identity.
Walt Whitman’s persona in Leaves of Grass is a fictional self, created and promoted for recognition, a homunculus that became greater than its master. I explore how everyone is cognizant of the role they play and the pretensions made of the self; the dichotomous yet symbiotic I and Me dialog observed by its own third person. Everyone conspires with self, uses thesis and antithesis to drive awareness. The contradictory coincidences that create the fiction of our every day life and the internal I with its opposing, yet symbiotic forces seeking harmony, help create the Me, the engager of both the We and the I. The We is the community that seeks harmony with an individual (I) by creating a second person Me; a fictional category such as that used in propaganda to brand someone for the pleasure of the others. The third person observes how the I and the Me are perceived by others and the first and second persons observe the third person observing them.
We engage in patterns of personification of ourselves hour to hour, resulting in the waitress playing at being a waitress instead of being a waitress; both laborer and wanderer within the self enclosed unit of the human anatomy; both a subject and an object. All objects are internalized, arranged flickering on a mirror, like ticker symbols streaming across the screen until they become subjects. “I Am” cannot be defined because it is fluent, always in flux. Kant wrote of a synthetic truth; the arrangement of symbols to construct understanding, which is ever fluid. All truths are slippery enough to slip through the evolving language structures of the self contained unit labeled “human being.”
This first half of the novel is about a middle aged man’s Kantian encounter with Hume, not as an intellectual but as an experiencer struggling with the “I Am” and Idealism. He is the author constantly creating himself and the environment he imagines. It is the study of the multiple identities with which we perceive ourselves throughout our lives; the personas we appropriate for any given circumstance; the language we use as our narrative while playing the part; waiter, boyfriend, clerical worker, programmer, policeman, teacher, construction worker, etc. It is the process of the writer coming to an understanding of his characters.
The main character examines his I and We while recreating the I’s and We’s of several generations in a small town of the Great Lakes. The historicity of period allows him to jump from character to character to explore the evolving consciousness of the individual and society. Rupert in the 1910’s, stationed in the Phillipines and in Littlefield, in 1985, as an old man; the woods and cabin Bill lived in during the 1950’s contrasted with the 1980’s; the salvage yard from the 1950’s through 1985. Economic expansion changes the small town but individual identities remain the same. Bill sees his father through the window and doesn’t know him but thinks that the neighborhood isn’t safe for such an old man. Rupert isn’t quite so sad as he is appalled at how the building structures that symbolized prosperity in his youth had been trampled by the generations.
By presenting the allegorical narrative of mind and body, I wish to make no claim for a “ghost in the machine”. By using terms like empiricism, God, devil, spirit, divinity, I am making no such claim as to my personal convictions or nonconvictions. It is small town, everyday language that creates a bridge from author to reader. The writer needs to be more expletive when presenting his work these days, compared with the middle part of the twentieth century. Today’s reader cannot be taken for granted. In today’s culture there are no stars and constellations. The reader presents his own context and merges it with the author’s. Everyone alive communicates with idea. I say I don’t believe in an outside authoritative entity called God but I also refer to a “mind” which I use to conceive ideation, induction and deduction.
“There is no “physical mind.” I once asked my neighbor, Professor Cliffnut, “isn’t that belief, faith; that this mind is you? But there is no “you.” It is made up.”
“References, tags, associations. The mind building its interpretive faculties, mending and redrawing its physical structure within the brain.”
“Then mind is a creation of the brain’s awareness. Can I call this “mind” my ghost in the machine?”
“If you like. Material comprehending itself. The mind is its own homunculus.”
“One self needs another “self” to hold a mirror to itself,” I question with uptalk.”
“We ARE two halves physically, including the brain.”
Thus begins the story.
This begins the story of the narrator, a 44 year old American of Puerto Rican/Chinese Ancestry. He would’ve been born somewhere in the Great Lakes between 1965 – 1975. The prejudice and bigotry in the language he experienced as a foster child of mixed descent in a rural white community finds its way into in his own narrative self. He sees so much of what he despises in others he despises in himself and questions the language of the self and how it was acquired. As the story advances, the narrator gradually separates himself from the story and becomes the diviner.
“The mind tells the body it is getting up now and it has to. My entire life revolves around plans for my body because it doesn’t want to do anything, or a whole lot of nothing. Still, if I refer to the ghost, the other, or whatever, the wizard of Oz behind the curtain I become just a version of myself.”
“And fiction becomes psychological relativism,” I say, meandering. “Thanks to pop psychology, everyone is a fucking artist. Everyone who looks at a work of art thinks they are reading a Rorschach of the artist himself. At least, that’s how I feel. I mean, I just draw pictures of things because I like to and I get paid for it. I barely make enough to survive but I don’t care. I am as happy as I am going to be and I am content with it.”
My conversation is circular. I am not an analytical thinker. I have to remember in patterns. I am adept at spelling because I recognize patterns in the structure of words but I cannot remember mathematical formulas.
“I have been told women don’t like my dark eyes looking at them because I look like a crow that is scowling at them. They react to that look, regardless of what is going on in my head. They know absolutely nothing about me. They just see a body with an appearance they don’t like. Since the scientist says the mind is the body and isn’t apart from it, it follows that it doesn’t have its own conceptualization; that other person is exactly as I think it is. It doesn’t have a thinking process that is separate from its face. Its face shows what it is thinking. And since the mind and body are one it cannot be distracted by its own mind. Its mind is what its face says it is. Every face it makes, even if it has no idea of my presence, can only be in union with its mind and its mind is not its but mine. It is not me but my homunculus whom I am deriding when I imagine him. I see the community as a group of model homunculi from which I draw the straw others I describe. In my eyes I am one of them and I am not. In their eyes I am one of them and not.
“Everyone is a writer as they watch the others. Everyone else’s mind must match the appearance of stereotypes. The body language shows anger. There is an angry man. I don’t like his look and I’m gonna do something about it. It’s fucking kindergarten thinking, Professor! The damn guy might just have a pebble in his shoe. A person isn’t “uncomfortable” with that other for his appearance; just feels the need to assert him or her self into a competition with that person. And does, if the situation allows for a passive aggressive attack. It is stunning to evaluate the way people talk to one another for the first time; all of the prejudices and preconceptions packed into their words. And what is ironic is that I am describing myself. It is I who am feeling that way toward the others. I think. So I am projecting myself onto them, on the highway and in the supermarket. But I know that they are also doing it to me by their reaction to my appearance.”
“Ghost in the machine is an epithet for belief in an immortal soul,” I ramble. “We compose diatribes against the silliness of Christianity, or the immorality of atheism, depending on the context. More often than not, a statement meant as an anomaly produces a knee jerk response of one of the ubiquitous feel-goody folk sayings that don’t mean anything specifically; just sort of douse everything with salt; the “ya jus’ gotta” crap. Straw people talking to straw people, seemingly oblivious to the natural mind of everyone because it is just a part of the body, right? If you think it, everyone does with some minor exceptions. There! That guy is dirty, old, drives an old car; looks like he couldn’t care less for appearance. That is disrespectful to us We folk, right? (And here I visualize a 19 year old blond girl behind the counter of a tanning salon saying, “I know, right?” And with a toss of her wavy and perfumed hair she dismisses with a sneer anyone who would think differently – though she doesn’t exist. She is a stereotype personified. And then I react when I see a young woman at a counter talking and making dismissive faces and flippant minuets with her hands.)
“Everyone talks to straw people when they look into each other’s eyes, when they read each other’s words; even the professor who doesn’t read your paper but tells you what you wrote and argues as though he is making a presentation to you; just saying exactly what you wrote but for some reason his head is on something else. He is the baseball umpire calling a ball on a pitch right down the middle; his the last word. Well, that was the end of my academic career, Professor. It was then that I became obsessed with this idea that everyone is walking through the dark, arguing instead of having dialogue.
“I am always being accused of being confrontational. Well, I don’t fucking want to be! That professor pissed me off from the Humanities for good, at least I thought. I showed him repeatedly, every thing he said was something I worded almost precisely in the paper and I told him where to look; even got him to admit he didn’t really read the paper but he refused to raise my grade. On principle I can’t let someone get away with that. There is something wrong with a University hierarchy that treats students as though they are in kindergarten and not grown adults who either pass or fail. The instructor should be in the hire of the student. The student is an adult, not a truant. If you don’t show up for a class it’s your deal. These are adults, not children. If the teacher is wrong, I say, “I am not doing business with you anymore; and please, keep the authority diatribe to yourself.” It isn’t because I don’t understand the social structure at work that I reject it, it’s because I DO understand. It is YOU who is out of line!
“Okay, Professor. How about baseball then? I like a good baseball game too, but it is just bonehead silly to not admit a human umpire’s job is to help shape the game; to not call a strike on a pitch right down the middle now and again (or 7 in a row in the 9th inning), or calling a strike when it isn’t. I mean, is that the REAL reason why baseball doesn’t have a 3D strike zone with laser detectors that are 99.9% accurate? It would be easy for the human umpire to be removed from all plays. Gloves and balls could be laser tagged and all contact read by a network of cameras with software that disseminates the data into multiples of value in an instant. Everyone would see the up and down fluidity of the strike zone. A hologram of home plate would extend above it and the strike zone would bob up and down depending on the the batter’s lead elbow and front or back knee. It would be impossible for a ball hitting a 3D hologram extending above the plate to be anything but a strike. No more home field calls to make sure fans have a reasonable chance of going home happy. No more Red Sox advantage.” (The Prof is a Red Sox fan.)
“Hah! Well, there was some mention of it. One umpire said he didn’t think the machine could get the strike zone right because some balls go around the plate and might be a strike or a ball and the computer would call it a ball.”
“He’s thinking in 2D; home plate is a three dimensional plane. A three dimensional plane isn’t like putting a sheet of paper in front of home plate and telling the pitcher, “hit me, baby!” If a ball hooks around the edge of the plate but nicks the back of a 3D plane even by a millionth of a centimeter the light would go on: strike. No strike zone where the ump chops off the bottom or top, or extends it half a plate outside; a ball is a ball, a strike is a strike. It isn’t a difficult thing to wrap your head around unless you don’t want to.”
“You don’t like umps or professors much, do you?”
“Haha, Professor, sorry. Had to get that off my chest. Guess I wasn’t cut out to be a student. It’s just that to me Zen is the biggest bunch of bullshit. It’s the language of the noble savage; you’re supposed to think it’s more profound than it is. “If you can describe something you can’t conceive it.” It’s just fucking stupid. An Asian teacher said to tell him how an Asian thinks. In other words, he is saying, “tell me how I am thinking.” What anyone is thinking can only be relative to them. My appearance, or straw value to him is what becomes of the hours of work I put into that paper.”
“You got a bad grade.”
“I got a B-.”
Shakes his head and smirks.
“Professor, I have been to temple with Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Laotions, Thais. I have sat with their families and ate, discussed Buddhism and the things they do during the day. Someone in the discussion invariably says, “you probably know more about it than we do. With us, it’s just the way we live.” Zen, for them, is just the way they live. But the professor says if I can describe it then I don’t understand. I said, “this is just a bunch bullshit and you need gullible people to think it’s more than what it is.”
“He didn’t like that. He liked it even less when I said that a Zen monk living in a cabin, tilling his garden, keeping his mind to the simple calculations of bodily needs sounds like a simpleton who nonetheless lived a contented existence. It could be a wealthy person in a mansion, or a poor person in a cabin. Buddhism; don’t get me started. Trungpa Rinpoche found talking about enlightenment so delightful that he drank himself to death before he was 50, just to tell himself that there was no difference between the mind and body, I guess.
“Professor, that ISN’T schizophrenia? It’s isn’t addressing another with sincerity and induction but by categorical deduction to win an argument. It’s no different than posturing for position by correcting word pronunciation and grammar. Passive aggressive elbow rubbing; people attempting to put one in another in their place and to avoid the other doing the same. It is simpleton stuff.”
The Professor is watching me with mute calculation, like a medical doctor looking for signs of infection.
“I don’t know, academic papers aren’t the same as fiction. Fiction can be anything we want it to be but academic papers are argumentation. They aren’t the same thing. Reality cannot be proven; it’s not systemic, logical, deductive, or inductive.”
“Reality is the language of the self making general observations to itself. That would be your thesis statement.”
“With my straw men against their straw men. The We language for my straw men is different from the We language of their straw men.”
“Heh heh heh. Okay. But you can’t do without others; like in the Sartre play No Exit.”
“No. That’s the damnedest thing, Professor Cliffnut. I just wish they didn’t give me the impression that they have no use for me except that I know my role as they see it. I had a teacher in middle school; hairy basketball coach/gym teacher/history teacher; that was his favorite saying, “know your role.” Fucker said it all the time. Imagine being a disinterested observer and hearing this ape man with his ape gestures, forming all the young minds for the ape world. Wouldn’t you want to stop him if you could?”
“I don’t mean that as a question; just an assertion.”
“And all mass communication has done is bring this irritating disconnect between human beings to every damn interaction of life. I would almost welcome an Orwellian big brother if it stirred others to more inductive thinking about others instead of deduction based on some fear etymology or whatever.”
“Induction instead of deduction?”
“I know you have to start with some sort of structure of forms to jumpstart a deduction, though. Maybe I just like to juggle the forms to show that we are all just using the same set of forms. In the process I come up with stories that amuse me. I mean, it isn’t reasonable to assume that I know something because I can categorize it. It would be nice to let art be art again; you know, language. Let language evolve, not devolve into a relativist Rorschach, or some spartan business school summary.”
“Mmm hmm mmm hmm,” the professor is used to listening to the hurried talk of a student asking him a quick question.
“And semicolons draw a scowl from the culture of relativism and its social mass media, with its penny ante assertions and juvenile, confrontational news designed to pit people against each other. I suppose it’s the nature of both the I and the We, one of thesis and antithesis.”
“Dialectics; all social thought is part of a push and pull that drives itself,” says the professor. Thesis and antithesis. When one side is unstable, so is the other; both have a small amount of each other in them; yin and yang.”
The professor gives a mischievous smile because he knows how much I dislike hearing anything about Eastern philosophy.
“Good one. What about the guy on an Amazon “review” of a classic literary work? A ditch digger’s view, anonymously given, is equal to a physicist on the subject of artificial intelligence.”
“What if the ditch digger is another Einstein?”
“Highly unlikely. It’s far more likely that he wishes to be a writer and has mistaken his ability to put words into fiction for the ability to understand science he doesn’t know.” Fuck, you’re saying the same stupid stuff people say to each other on social media.”
“I’m too old, I guess. My students are always trying to get me to start a page for my courses. I get along just fine without it. If I was younger, maybe. But I mostly do research. I just want to be left alone in that regard. Social media research is nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of gathering data and artifacts for a paper that is published in a peer reviewed journal. Although reading a Wikipedia article is a lot easier than having a ten volume set of encyclopedias on hand like you and I in our childhoods. But I don’t want to show the world the inside of my home, or pictures of my dog and cat. I am not going to share with everyone when I am leaving the house. Those are the things I want to keep to myself. If you want to see those things I have to let you into my private life. I am not going to offer myself as data for mass consumption.”
I was listening to him, though it may not have sounded like it when I followed up with, “the cop decides how he performs, with the police union bullying the mayor through the media when she publicly questions the actions of the police force. Everyone has to become everyone’s popular children’s character, or be views as psychotic . I mean, fuck, Professor…and let’s not even start talking about the term “sociology” being hijacked by congregational political spew.”
Professor Cliffnut sat looking at my face during this entire harangue, then he smiled. “How about some lemonade?” he said and got up from his chair opposite me under the awning of the pool patio and came back with a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses. He poured us each a glass and then sat down. Then he took a pack of cigarettes from his pants and offered me one before starting by saying, “you know, why I teach intellectual history is that it allows me to find common ground with ideas. You touch on some interesting things. The opposites you speak of show a mind trying to settle things, shake the ingredients into place. It’s a creative process for you, a logical one for me; we use a different language for ourselves and spend a lifetime editing it. Everyone feels out their existence with their own individual story. And in your case you have the added dimension of the author being aware of his creation, aware of playing with character types, stereotypes, slogans, rituals.
“I envy you, you can write whatever you want to. There is always the illusion of a self that you can establish with meta narratives, while I am pretty much stuck to formula. You have description, metaphor, allusion, foreshadowing, innuendo and hyperbole to play with; I have to be careful when using such devices. You can engage with colloquial language, introduce fluidity of identity despite time and place; construct a novel with aphorisms. We should discuss Nietzsche’s Zarathustra sometime; and Rabelais; Voltaire’s Candide. Some of the things you’ve said about Emerson and Nietzsche makes me believe you write aphoristically. In other words, your chapters lay like a scrapbook, a spatial rather than a linear narrative. Yours is a familiar theme; maturity and the inevitable middle aged recapitulation that makes us a little more skeptical about life. You are 44 years old, still marveling at the dreams of youth. One is always somewhat deflated by hopes deferred as one gets older.
“Of course, some of the venom you don’t hide for religious intellectual thought could be seen from a different perspective. I just want you to put aside your personal experience for a moment to imagine what I am saying. During a semester I like to give my students six papers covering three topics. Of those three topics they must present a paper of two opposing values. A scholar should be able to give a paper of equal argument to questions like, “Freedom or Determinism?”, or “Ethics or Morals?” You said you were worried that your narrative doesn’t lay out like Hawthorne but your mind is working with its own devices. Hawthorne’s stories are linear, they follow a direct path from start to finish. You have to lay yours out in a circular way. I can tell by the way you talk. You have to create patterns. You like the sound of words and you like to play with the sounds.
“You told me the story, now tell it to your readers. Yes, they are going to tell you if it is bad, but it is because they want something to expand their vocabulary of themselves. They’ve taken the time to engage what you have written. Just ask yourself if you waste your time with things that you don’t find particularly engaging? There are too many things in life to engage without using some discernment. We all engage the things that are important to our own internal narrative. You have a strong identification with Calvinism from your childhood but others might not like how you assert things.”
“It’s only because Calvinism is what I am familiar with and it’s the voice of my super ego. It was the dominant voice of the social structure of my home town and the spiritual logic behind its Conservatism. I don’t want to make any statements about Calvin, or atheism or politics really; I just want to explore identity, the psychological make up of life; the language taught us and how we use it to perceive with such deep structures of prejudice. I am just thinking of how we create ourselves and the things we convey with signs and symbols, sights and sounds.
The professor looks like a bushy eyebrowed owl as he keeps an almost displaced wide eyed stare on me. I recollect a similar stare on a schizophrenic at the bus stop who would assure me every morning that the new medication was controlling his tick. Most of the time it was. I lost my train of thought so I start in on whatever comes to my tongue.
“I just don’t like the thought of being analyzed personally through the dialog of my characters or their descriptions, no more than a pop songwriter wants to be psychoanalyzed through the sissy lyrics he writes for money. I just to try to explore why I hold some of the values that seem more like impulses rather than the actual way I think. Shit, I don’t dislike Calvinists for existing, I dislike the ideology that insists that I agree that man is fundamentally depraved. It is a just a way of viewing things from self preservation. I mean, it would be gullible of me to think that everyone doesn’t have a side where they seem to lack a conscience; everyone is just a thought a way from being unpleasant company. But I think more like Jung; we all develop our own shadow. It isn’t going anywhere. I make it and it makes me. It is neither bad nor good.
“Both God and homunculus would have to recognize me in the crowd if they already know me privately. But in public, both turn out to be Hal telling Jack, in Henry IV that he rejects him as lowly when the two are to be seen in public. For me, Calvin, Augustine, Aquinas, all show how to win a debate while still being wrong for society.”
“How is that?”
“Calvin, the Pope, all religious authority. It doesn’t matter what the system, creed, rules, or regulations. It’s like this; I had a white dove; had it for nine years. It died on my birthday a few years ago. White dove + death + birthday. Some people hear me tell this and add up the symbols and then have to be persuaded that it isn’t a bad omen. Why can’t it be a happy thing? The dove dying on my birthday was a sign by God to say, ‘thank you for taking care of this creature.’”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Thing is, though. I had another bird that had a bad wing and didn’t like to be handled. She died on Mother’s day.”
“Okay. Did you take care of that bird for long?”
“Six years. It was a mature bird when I got her and I don’t know how old she was.”
“There are things in everyone’s past they just have to let go of. “
“That’s what everyone is doing; just trying to let go of something and I should, too?”
“Sure. It’s your experience. They know nothing at all about you but language, yours dropped into their basket and translated into their language. You are just an object conveying language that has no meaning to them until they translate it for themselves.”
“To switch the subject; Reinhold Neibuhr talked about the wrong of making the Emancipation Proclamation a blanket justification for moral superiority, with technology and education used to justify the actions of those in control. He said that it was wrong to base our actions upon moral superiority. And Foucault wrote about the structure of authority; public schools, hospitals, and prisons in Discipline and Punish. Despite what political party is in control, these public institutions are instruments for subjugation. The great serpent that swallows the Aztec when he dies is the public hospital system.”
“The system has to maintain some sort of control over death. The function is neither good nor bad, as you say. No one is favored or appointed by God. But don’t you wish there was a place you went to after you died, where angels were at your disposal 24 hours a day and available to you to do anything as long as it involved educating yourself and not harming yourself or others?”
“Sure, but then what? The idea of an invisible agent leading men instead of men – that should be laughable, but somehow, it is still important to me. I just don’t see worship as having anything to do with debasement; I feel the need to do something with what I have. I assume that since there is no indication of existence outside of the body we have to create our own immortality. If we are to be resurrected it is because we will have developed the technology to conquer the elements of space and time; conquered the gravity that degrades them. And we will be able to disseminate all DNA that ever existed. We will each have the ability to recognize and manipulate any molecule in our environment and have the ability to recreate, or regenerate the DNA of any animal with a DNA sample. We will be able to regenerate the things of the past by being able to read backwards the evolution of all molecules and particles that ever existed.”
The thing I love about the Professor is that he harmonizes with me in conversation. He doesn’t try to take over. He’s nodding quickly as I let loose my spiel and when I come up for air he interjects:
“Or what if some of the String theorists are right; we live a fractal existence simultaneously in many different universes at once. If we had this knowledge and figured out how we engage each of these universes we would have to know how to be on earth and in a totally different time and place. We wouldn’t need to be resurrected.”
I was thinking something similar earlier in the day.
“I suppose, Professor, a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, whatever, would all find this kind of talk appalling. I mean, I am sure Emerson would as well, but I like Emerson. And maybe his Calvinist background is why I can fit God into my thinking. He echoes Bishop Joseph Butler to me. Love for yourself is virtue. I was in a Catholic foster home for a few years. My parents said the rosary every Friday night, went to confession twice a year. To think like Butler or Emerson would’ve gotten me stern lectures. But I liked the pageantry and the the pipe organ, the incense; it’s just that I can’t be asked to take seriously the idea of a piece of bread being turned into actual blood and flesh. Out of respect, I can understand an occasional ritual to help you remember the sacrifices others have made. I get that. It’s just, I won’t say that I have faith that, because a priest has chanted some words at an altar, a wafer is now the actual body of Christ.”
“Were you baptized as Catholic?”
“No. I was with the Rader’s for two years. They were waiting for a younger child to adopt and I was 14. They just took me to church with them.”
“Hmm. Ok. Sure. If it were just a play, something delightfully engaging, that is one thing; folk mythology.”
“Yes, it was kind of like the Asian families at the Buddhist temples with their ancestral genies and, out of respect, giving a priest an offering for a prayer. It was just a custom they kept even if they didn’t really believe in the power of a ghost. But there are some who are faithful, just as in America with Christianity.”
“Do you believe that the professor who gave you a bad grade was predestined to do it?”
“I don’t think he was aware at all that I was an individual person.”
“I didn’t say that. Do you believe that his interaction with you was supposed to happen?”
“I don’t see how it could’ve happened any other way than it did. I am always feeling for some sort of profundity in daily existence; I can’t help it. For me, it’s how I engage my craft. I have to see patterns of things over time in order for them to connect with me; gardening, reading a novel; contentment is is all I really want anymore. So I order the world I need to in order to be content.”
“Sure. Isn’t that the moral of Candide; till one’s own garden?”
“No competition, no rubbing against another, as you say?”
“Why does everyone have to be confrontational?”
“Yeah. All right. You got me there.”
“Thesis, antithesis. You have to be true to yourself. Sartre had an example of two different waiters; one was true to the act of being a waiter; the other was playing the role of being a waiter. Some people do their jobs as though they were a race car driver at 200mph and making adjustments with skill and fluency on the fly, while others don’t think ahead a few steps at a time, not even to realize the presence of others around them. A good waitress can juggle several orders while listening to others shouting at her. You might say, “ I could never do that,” but you would be capable of doing it if your mind and body really were the same with it.
“Maybe some of this I/We stuff in your head is your mind not at one with the things of your body. To your mind, the body’s work is drudgery and you disengage your creative mind in order to live with the body’s dull daily operations. Your mind is always at work, ushering a cyclone of thought into pattern. I can see why you’d be seeking contentment. You need to get in the car and go 200 mph; throw things against the wall; feel your fist against something hard.”
“I definitely would not go that far.”
“Just a figure of speech.”
Then the professor told me about the salvage yard that used to be down the street, and the drive in theater across from it. There was once a train stop across the street from the Cliffnuts, and a cafe. My brain followed a path down the street to the 1950’s. The imagery and symbols were probably borrowed from movies like American Graffiti and Rebel Without a Cause; or even The Outsiders. My brain was stewing on those images when Connie Cliffnut emerged through the sliding glass door and told her father his supper was getting cold. She said she needed a ride and Professor Cliffnut said, “why don’t you ask our friend, Mr. Uhhh…., sorry. I forgot your name.
“Umbrian, Adam Umbrian.”