Just Because: A Response to a Review of Loser Comix #2

“As learned commentators view
In Homer more than Homer knew.”
Jonathan Swift
from “On Poetry,” 1733

Before responding to the review in question (hence, the title of this little waste of time), I’d like to say an honest thanks to Rob Clough for actually taking some time to look at the book.  No one else bothered to do so, not in any critical sense, and what he said, inasmuch as it is accurate — and, to be sure, there is plenty of truth in what he wrote — is useful for me.

Alien eyes on your work and an honest report back what was experienced and judged is worth more than gold to an artist.  There is no anger or recrimination in what I’m about to say (however slightly sarcastic it may sound).  In fact, I highly recommend his blog, HIGH-LOW and many others do as well.  It received an award for being a top 75 comics blog and I have absolutely no argument with that: he earned it.

The link to the review of LOSER COMIX #2 and other books, 20 March 2017, is here: http://highlowcomics.blogspot.com/2017/03/short-mini-reviews-dzender-tyamamoto.html

By all means, read it and his other reviews.  I do so.

As you can see, gentle reader, I quoted Swift at the start, so one could get some notion that I don’t completely agree with the review.  In fact, it is mysterious to me how it came to be reviewed by Mr. Clough at all.  he reviews mini-comics; this is NOT a mini-comic.  And I didn’t send it to him.

LC #2 was published in 2014 — it is now 2017 and I’ve moved far beyond the  approaches in that set of works… most of which were made prior to 2014.  So, who knows why anyone would send him old, (in some senses) obsolete work that doesn’t fit the category of books he reviews?

Perhaps as a favor; perhaps as a sort of insult.  Who knows?

And who cares?  I don’t.  It’s simply odd.

But it does call for some sort of response as that is now hanging around on the internet and people read it and may have walked away with an impression that, while partially true, is partially problematic.  As I am interested more than bothered, I thought I’d say a few words… with pictures to illustrate my points.

I will quote liberally from the review as this, too, is a review and I make absolutely nothing from these essays… in spite of the donate button.  Internet = “free,” it seems, so, there you go.

Mr. Clough writes:
Loser Comix #2, by Richard Van Ingram. These are underground comics in the tradition of Robert Crumb and Skip Williamson, full of heavily-rendered drawings that parody pop culture and politics. This issue was the end result of a Kickstarter campaign and it shows, with high production values and full color throughout. ”

Yes, these ARE underground comix in that tradition, especially that of Skip Williamson.  Less Crumb whom I find extremely talented yet overrated.  He believes his own press and feigns a sort of self-deprecating humility in his works.  As for sexual weirdness, S. Clay Wilson was so bizarre as to be hilarious – Crumb is a pale imitation and, often, not hilarious but disturbing.  Either way, none of my books thus far contains much sexual weirdness, not that I am opposed to such — it’s just not my shtick.

Feh.  Actually, I am for more influenced by Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, Jaxxon, Dave Sheridan, and any number of others.  The list is very long.

Yes, I often crosshatch.  No, I didn’t learn it from Crumb – he didn’t invent the technique.  I’m influenced by Hogarth and Goya’s print work; I have a degree in printmaking as an intaglio and relief printer (and an advanced degree in philosophy, but who cares?).  At this point, I’m pushing 52 years of age.  I learned to draw with pens as a very, very small child, not pencils.  50 odd years with pens in hand.  So, there we go.

The book was printed after a Kickstarter campaign that was more successful than I could dream — so I did have good printing.  As an object, the thing looks good.

LOSER COMIX #2, Richard Van Ingram 2015
LOSER COMIX #2, Richard Van Ingram 2014

[First tip – this drawing was made in 2012.  One can clearly read the date – as one can on all the work in the book.  Many of the things in this book were years old by the time they saw print in ’14.  Welcome to poverty and indie-publishing.  But keep that fact in mind as we go: It’s somewhat important.]

Mr. Clough writes:
“There’s a plague story that’s a thinly-veiled political allegory that has some genuinely funny lines and a densely inked, horrific quality to the art. Van Ingram’s visual sense is perhaps a couple of steps ahead of his ideas,….”

Well, yes, there is such a story — chapter one of “RETURN OF THE PLAGUE.”  I’ve never published the rest of it, so it remains to be seen whether and what I have here is an allegory, thinly-veiled or not, and whether or not, taken all together, what one has is a deeper set of symbols with much more than a simple or simplistic political meaning.  I think that’s a reductionist reading that comes from skimming, not really paying attention to the references in the piece, and not mentioning that it is one chapter, not the whole story.  In fact, I’m afraid one of the drawbacks, if not the main drawback in Clough’s review is that he skimmed the comic and didn’t really read it.

Yes, this may be my fault — perhaps my writing is horrible or trite.  But as comix are primarily a visual medium and the meaning comes from synthesizing any words with the images, I’d hope my visual sense is primary.  Whether it’s ahead of my ideas – as the visuals are the concretization of the ideas — I find difficult to accept.  We’ll see.

[First, a splash page. Yes, there’s a nude. We’ll get back to that.]

OK. There’s “RETURN OF THE PLAGUE” Part One.

Some notes:
On the down side –
a) I experimented with fonts. Some are too small; others not easy to read once printed. There are a couple of mistakes when I typed, and I didn’t catch them, either.
b) The whole thing – this story and the entire book – was an experiment.  A variety show; different styles, different approaches; different techniques.  I keep the styles and techniques consistent, as you will see, within each story or vignette, but there is no overall unification in approach.
c) This was on purpose, but I’m not sure it was good judgment.  I wanted to see, by feedback, what viewers wished to see more of and what they wished to less of in future work. I have no idea, myself, without asking and showing. But it does make the book a sort of 1960s-’70s variety show of comix.. by one person.  This is an inherent weakness.

On the up side –
a) This story is far more subtle than the obvious surface reading.  A closer reading would reveal:
b) There are three major themes at work. 1) The nature of reality as mediated through beliefs (and technology, which is a sort of reified belief system) – e.g. why is this woman viewed as an enemy because she had a cough? 2) The power of false and true stories we tell ourselves, the nature of lie and truth, the difficulty of interpretation, the necessity of doubt, dogmatic certainty as the origin of atrocity and dehumanization. 3) Death is our universal fate.  How best to live in the face of it?
c) The title is a tip off.  What is this “Plague” that is returning?  It’s a reference to Albert Camus’ novel, THE PLAGUE.  Also, the old man is the captured Heavy Metal Kid — a reference to William S. Burroughs… and his theme of “The Word Virus.”  This is referenced in the newscaster’s narration at the beginning of the story.

These would be played out as the story unfolds in future chapters, but the basis is all there as hooks… if you think about what I’m doing.  Which would require reading and thinking, not skimming the story.  Whether I pulled that off is one thing; whether the reviewer gave it a fair shake is another.  Decide for yourself.

I’m not a “conceptual artist” which, itself, is a disease in contemporary art — the substitution of a mysterious backstory to justify an impoverished presentation.  In fact, such artists just need to write down the backstory as an essay and leave off the visuals as that’s really all there is.

I’m not doing that, so one sees what is there symbolically and metaphorically or one doesn’t.  In this case, the failure is either in the viewer or in the artist, or both.  I remain unsure after the review.

Mr. Clough writes:
“Van Ingram’s visual sense is perhaps a couple of steps ahead of his ideas, like the Loser Tarot. It’s a funny concept that’s beautifully-illustrated, but the actual ideas “The Ex-Wife”, “The Republican” are on the bland side.”

If those were the only two images in the satirical tarot, I might completely agree.  Yet, they aren’t and, taken together, they are a sort of story in flashes of encounters; nor are they the entire set: it’s an ongoing project I began in 2004 (though I didn’t mention all of that nor need to do so):

A Tarot deck is many things at once; a satire of a tarot deck could be many things.  In this case, it is, as is traditional, a journey; the journey of The Loser into the world and all the things The Loser passes through and is changed by, must face, in the journey of experience.  That’s just basic tarot interpretation.  “The Loser” is, in part, me as a symbol for my generation, Gen X, (I am on the prow of that generation).  It uses some autobiography as a jumping-off point for universal and topical situations and experience… and private, absurd jokes.  I was raised in the US American South so images like “The Republican,” while stereotypical, are also ubiquitous and true.  Bland? Show that thing to a white trash Republican and tell me how bland the reaction is.  Good luck.

Mr. Clough writes:
“The Peanuts parody Chunky Brown is tedious at best, turning Charlie Brown and Linus into loser hipster types, Lucy in [sic] a capitalist femme fatale (in one panel, her nipples poke through her shirt for no discernible reason) who sends them to work at a used bookstore. ”

First, the title of the Peanuts parody is Chunky Brownuts.  Again, a sign someone skimmed and did not really read the “tedious” thing.  The title has been Chunky Brownuts has been since about 1980 and is written plainly everywhere in the book.  Secondly, there are four Chunky Brownuts stories in here in four styles, the latter two stories featuring the talking dog and his overgrown, anxiety-ridden rooster side-kick.

The Lucy-ish character does have nipples in one scene — she’s an adult, a femme-fatale,  and this is a damn underground comic!  “No discernible reason…” for nipples?! I’d love to see Clough talk about Crumb, Williamson, or nearly any other undergrounder.  Plus, Lucrezia (Lucy) is an archetype of laissez-faire capitalism (and a reference to Lucrezia Borgia, the poisoner) — it’s all a swindle that draws one in by looking appealing and then spits one’s corpse out after extracting all value.  As obvious as can be.  Nipples, indeed.  Plus, by this point in the book I’ve featured two nude women.  Suddenly, this bothers the reviewer?

We’ll look first, talk later.

That was Story One.

That’s Story Two. If that title isn’t large enough for a blind person to see, I don’t know what to do.

[Actual major flaws here: I should have lettered it with a nib.  The art could be much better – I was looking for a style and dropped back to how I drew in the 1980s… in high school.  Out of self-serving nostalgia. Bad move.]

Story Three. Notice, I switched focus to Skip Dog and Weirdstock.  Are these the “hipster losers”?  Most hipsters I observe have money to waste on all manner of stylish things: Hence, “hipsters.”  At best, these guys are slackers.  Losers to be certain, but read the title of the comic book.  I advertised nothing but.

[These are the offending nipples.  I apologize on behalf of Deity for creating us as mammals with interesting body parts and shapes I see little reason in pretending don’t exist.]

[Oops. More cartoon nipples. Beware.]

Here we go: Is this just an autobiographical bit (and autobiographical comix are too, too often tedious as hell.  If you aren’t a Justin Green maybe you should avoid them)?

As Clough writes, “…[They go] to work at a used bookstore. That latter development was clear [sic] Van Ingram’s way of getting back at his awful used bookstore job, which was probably cathartic for him but not especially relevant for the reader.”

It’s partially autobiographical, but it’s much more about intelligent adults working retail – or any other job – while being treated as serfs by authoritarian little Napoleons who’ve Peter Principled their way into managerial positions.

Is that relevant to any reader in the USA?  Beats me.  Clough doesn’t think so and is rather dismissive about it; perhaps it’s been awhile since he had to go take a shit job.  Or has just forgotten the experience, or had a better one.  They do exist.  But pleasant experiences don’t make for drama or humor.

“Tedious”?  Maybe… maybe not.  Again, the reviewer didn’t get the title correct and conflated four stories.  This suggests it just wasn’t his cup of tea, he skimmed along, and gave a superficial response more than a critique here.

I’m unsure.  But I am sure there’s more here than he strongly suggests.  It may not be any good — “good” in this medium has much to do with effectiveness.  You judge.

Mr. Clough writes of this story:
“There’s an accurate but tedious bit of social commentary about a yokel voting against his own interests by supporting Republicans.”

That’s it?

First, I’m from the South, born and raised in Southern Appalachia.  That “yokel” is a cartoon representative of the people I grew up with – and my sympathies in this comic are with him, oddly enough.  He believes in his country, sacrifices his kid to war, works like a dog – because he’s taught hard work eventually “pays off”; his sick wife is exploited by a super-wealthy church, they can’t afford to live like humans… yet he has been propagandized by a party of fucking liars who’ve sold him an empty bag of promises and cliched slogans all his life.  And he believes because he is a good person.  He’s trusting.  He doesn’t believe the flag and bible waving bastards would screw him over and use him for slave labor and could care less if he lives or dies.

Secondly, if The Stinkin’ Rich Dough Boy isn’t a prediction of the coming of Donald J. Trump & Company, I’ll give you a quarter.  He’s also a commentary on the materialist direction of The USA since Reagan and the rape of average working people.  His story is also a humorous primer on the 2008 economic collapse and the aftermath.

I did this in 2010 or ’11.  It was previously published in another magazine and received good reviews.

But it, too, is “tedious.”

At the mention of that word in Clough’s writing for, like, the tenth time, I was ready to send him a thesaurus.

Finally, Mr. Clough writes:
” Van Ingram works best when he works briefly, like a hilarious strip about Richard Nixon seeing the future and the Partridge Family sending a message from 3013 to 1973, thanking them for their help in ousting Nixon and establishing a utopia. A serious strip about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson wouldn’t have been out of place in World War III Illustrated, and here Van Ingram’s dense but colorful style and page design perfectly encapsulates the desperate quality of his text. Van Ingram has a great deal of talent, and it’s clear that he’s trying to find the best way to use it.”

Here, I have nothing to disagree with at all.  In fact, it’s flattering.

These were, chronologically, the last pieces I did before printing the book.  Factually, the Ferguson incident fired me up, to say the least.  It pointed the way for most of my work since 2014.

Epilogue
Why Did I Care Enough To Write This?

There is a unifying theme to this book, which is, at best, a potpourri; at worst, it is a hodgepodge.  That theme is antipathy to injustice, intolerance for intolerance.

It’s not a book to be read at one sitting — it’s dense.  It has diverse approaches.  It flips from one perspective to a radically different one.  It has intense sections and lighter sections, darker and more humorous ones… it is all horrific, in some sense.

And maybe that’s why Mr. Clough, with limited time, wound up skimming most of it (which is my guess): Perhaps he attempted to read it all at one sitting as one does a mini-comic.  It’s not a normal comic in that sense and, obviously, NOT a mini.  It demands some time and attention and consideration.  Whether it deserves such is another judgment; maybe it doesn’t and, if not, that is its failure.

Since then, I’ve changed my approach.  This was my first serious foray into comix since 1995 — the entire approach and market and audience has changed radically since ’95.   So radically, I’m bewildered.  I’m also older and isolated.  So, this was an attempt to sound out an audience as much as anything.  Comix is not a matter of “build it and they will come.”  In some sense, one has to attract an audience, but to do that, one has to understand the audience.

Attention spans and background knowledge are not what they were, once upon a time.  I thought my audience would be in its 20s; turns out, it’s largely 45 and over.  Surprise.  And folks in their late teens and into their 20s-30s are not the most politically/socially/philosophically interested bunch, as a group, it seems.  They talk, they protest: they do not read.

The line,  “Here we are now, entertain us,” was prophetic; and a pure Gen X  epitaph for a new generation yet to come of age.  But it has arrived.  It is Gen Y, The Millennials, a generation with interests that differ from my own, a different historical mission and outlook, a generation as multitudinous as mine is minute.

My work is vaguely entertaining, but only for a niche audience.  I don’t attempt to please everyone, can’t.  While my work is pop culture, it won’t be popular pop culture.  Making this book taught me that.  It’s aptly titled.  Proudly.

19-20 July 2017

Richard Van Ingram

Many of my books can be read, free, at:
https://comixunderground.tumblr.com/

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A Remnant of a Remnant

Every instructor, adjunct, teacher, professor probably has a sort of “Dark Night of the Soul” now and again.  There arrives that class — that one roomful of students the majority of whom could care less if they learn anything, even to the point of willfully failing and not even attempting to make a passing grade no matter how many chances they are given.

One cannot teach anyone who has no desire for it.  Should anyone arrive before someone who could help them on their journey with the attitude they are already fully equipped with all knowledge and are the images of perfection itself, regardless of the apparent reality which is says quite the opposite, what can be offered they will want?

Any questioning of their beliefs is experienced as “disrespect.”  In our age, “respect” is owed simply by turning up — it is not hard-won, it involves no labor, no self-doubt, no wonder and no wandering in search of a better way to live and be.  Oddly, the instructor who may well have spent her entire life in pursuit of such things will, in turn, not be shown even the formalities of respect due the position.  For the instructor is thought of by such “students” as merely an equal, at best, or an inferior — the employee, the hired-hand whose function is to bow, scrape, and dole out the demanded grade.

A grade owed simply by gracing a chair in a classroom (once in awhile) with the aristocratic glory of the employers’ (i.e. the students’) butts.

My journey in education as a perennial student full of doubts and questions, a traveller in search of better, of ways to be better as a human, has been long, difficult, demanding — as it should be, or else I’d have no right to stand before a classroom.  Aristotle once said, “It is better to deserve honors than receive them” and I’ve really sought no honors other than the few that adorn my life by labor.  And by sharing what I’ve learned.  My honors — irreplaceable, invaluable — come when students from past classes return to me and tell me I made a difference in their lives which happens frequently enough to keep me going.

I really haven’t had that class, the baffling students, before this month after years of teaching philosophy and ethics.  It truly made me doubt whether I had taught the class effectively.  Perhaps the problem lay within myself — my first thought, usually, when things don’t flow or work out in the normal way.  Certainly, I’ve had individual students who didn’t care, were resistant, or who took an instant dislike to the subject and transferred it to me.  Philosophy and ethics runs against the grain for many — but after some work, some jokes, some explanation, even many of these usually come around if just to make a grade.  They may well hate my guts when all is said and done (as if they know me, much less my innards), but they pass and move on.

But this month of a compressed semester — I’m not certain what lesson to take away.  I have some excellent students who are on top of things and learning.  But the majority in this one class are either openly hostile and resistant in a way I have difficulty believing — these are all adults in their 20s and 30s, some acting like petulant little children, others just drifting and barely responding, never working.  I have certain expectations of adults, as should we all, and some of these folks appear to have been emotionally arrested around the age of 9.

I don’t know.  It’s going to take me months to analyse this and abstract anything intelligible from it, if there’s anything there to grasp.

All I can hope is this is not a sign of the future and this class was a fluke, a bad mix and an unlucky draw.  Because I care too much to stand before a roomful of people who are starving for the little I have to offer and who, in their delusional omniscience, refuse to even take a nibble from the banquet table of questions and ideas our ancestors bequeathed them as their birthright.  They know all and Google has filled them to the brim with information — they do not need to know how to feed their own minds with their own experiences and think creatively.  Not one bit.

I do not enjoy watching even the most hateful of these people starve because they starve of a learned ignorance — they have a specialized knowledge in one thing, their job, and have the common opinions of a ditch digger about the underpinning of life, culture, meaning…. Why they thought they needed college, I’m not sure, except for the piece of paper, signifying they arrived perfect and left untouched.

I am a remnant of a remnant.  A stranger in a very strange land… one of the final witnesses to a bygone age.

20 September 2015

Richard Van Ingram

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To Write or Not to Write?

Learning a new thing is uncomfortable and something about us flees from the uncomfortable preferring to live only where we feel at home.  This is the case even if “home” is miserable and squalid.

Isn’t that a strange thing?  A sad, strange thing.

Refusing to adjust oneself to circumstances, accepting them even while looking to influence, even change them as much as is humanly possible leaves us in a terrible state.  For things will be as they will regardless of whether I accept them: they will continue to impose themselves and seize me by the neck whether I believe they are doing so or not.

I cannot understand what I will not accept.  I cannot influence what I do not understand except in the most haphazard, awful manner.  For the worse, not the better.

One often does not understand how fortunate one has been until the situation changes significantly and one’s circumstances present a new feature or remind one of a constant feature one has been allowed to avoid for an extended period.  So… the world rearranges itself and I am left to make sense of it again and again or face things I imagined I’d escaped or overcome.

My primary mode of extended communication with most people is writing.  This may strike the reader as an oddity and I freely admit that it is not usual in this world.  Certainly people have taken to social media and texting and the 150 word summation of existence — little of that, for me, is what I call “writing.”  Writing is an extended serious examination of self and world in confrontation, both together, neither apart.  Perhaps all of the examination does not occur all at once; it’s more a process of feeling one’s way through reality, interior as well as exterior.

My interpretation of this process is always happening, an exertion, as I understand so very little and find my experience of reality has been narrow, hermetic, mainly interior and intensive.  And unshared.  Eventually it boils up and I attempt, again and again, to throw my version of the world into words, symbols, and images.  Each is a fractured piece or perspective that, when added together or overlayed, begins to present a sort of autobiographical record; not in the form of exhibitionism for its own sake, but as revelation of my peculiar encounter with being.

Otherwise, all of this would be pointless for me and I’d speak even more rarely.

I write to my students.  If you read this website, you see that I write to my students regularly, thoroughly, seriously aside from the day to day necessities of getting someone’s attention or handing out assignments.  There is something of myself and my struggles in those silly essays, hard-won truths, small but not insignificant.  Truth, inasmuch as a human confronts it and makes it her own, is never insignificant.

This semester, I find the situation in my classes shifted as the structure of my courses was changed: a new circumstance.

Part of that new circumstance is fewer students read my e-mails; thus fewer care to hear anything I have to say and expose before them to do with as they will.  It is dismissed without a hearing.

Not a new thing on planet Earth, certainly not a new feature of my life.  A common experience.  But what is the appropriate response?  In my circumstance, a great deal of the richness I add to my courses has suddenly been amputated, its effectiveness negated.  There is a feeling of injury and rejection in it on my interior as well.

Nothing pleasant in the least.  I’m not sure I fully comprehend it… but I never fully comprehend much of anything.  Certainly not all at once.

My normal action taken in the face of an uncaring audience is to go silent or stop sharing anything with that audience until a need for it from their side is demonstrated.  Not out of spite; not in the least, but partly out of self-preservation and partly to stop wasting time I do not have to spare.

I have spent much time in my life — an inordinate amount — writing to and for audiences that, truly, could care less.  What I had to say was a passing amusement for them, one among many, not better than others, and once the words ended, for whatever reason, I ended for them.

The fate of a writer — to never know if there is any lasting meaning shared between oneself and others through the sad, fragile medium of the word.

Worse is to know the words went unread, the message unheard because not needed and unvalued in the first place.

It is wounding to know that this may be because one is incapable of writing in the first place, ineffective; that one’s choices of terms are unshared by the reader, one’s style is difficult or laborious, or that the whole apparatus of the essay is not transparent but opaque and ungainly, a monstrous birth:  A horrible thing deserving of no attention and unfit to bear the weight thrown on it as its designated burden, a distraction in itself.

An artist, a writer, has at least one requirement: for the audience to meet him where he is at the time — but he owes the audience a clear path, as clear a path as can be cleared out, to come meet him.  The journey for others will be difficult enough — to go out of oneself to meet another is a grave difficulty if seriously pursued.  But the construction of the pathway — the writing — itself is all the more a labor, not that the labor is shown or noticeable at completion.

That, itself, is a significant fraction of the work: to hide the difficulty.

Does one risk the exhaustion such work demands in creating a thing that goes forth stillborn or poisonous, as far as the intended recipients are concerned? Many, many others before me have, but I am not of their calibre; yet, how will I even approach the worth of such people unless I try with no mind for “success”?

I do not know the answers here.  They will come to me in their good time and they cannot be forced.  That much I do know.

12 September 2015

Richard Van Ingram

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Just a Man

I suppose that some days I am “more human than human.” Memories are all we have of the past and they are always reconstructions that we make anew each time we call them forth — how many of them are fully what they seem? How real? How many are “more human than human”?

They are, in their effect on me, real enough.

They are always colored by where I am and who I have become and are expanded, contracted, reinterpreted, edited, changed by this and more… my feelings — the part of me I understand the least, trust the least — who knows how much they color and affect memory? All I know is that memories summon up feeling, even memories of theories and ideas and discovering or creating these.

I recall sitting at desks reading and thinking and considering, pushing hard to gain an understanding of myself and my world, years of it; years of reading, sitting alone in many places, some academic, some domestic, some underneath trees on campuses, some in the wild, some on the steps and porches of old buildings built in the fashion of Roman temples.

Anywhere I’d be alone with the old ghosts of dead people, communing, listening intensely, questioning them, often hearing silence but sometimes hearing their words, their answers, and their own questions.

I remember reading and walking streets of my “hometown” alone — more town than home where I was an alien in familiar territory; reading and sitting alone thinking, thinking, thinking in the abandoned homes of my great-grandmother and then my great-great uncle Charlie… a man I never met who died a decade before I was born but more real to me than my own parents, me and his ghost in communion in that old house, that photographer and tinkerer and man of technology who was more akin to me than my living relatives.

I have memories of him, too, and he was present in his absence, in the stories my great-aunt told me, my grandmother told me.

And the people I knew, grew up with… they are always in my memory, close to me, and people I’ve met and learned from along the way, many with no knowledge I learned anything from them, noticed many things, collected their words, their styles and mannerisms, their habits of belief and expression, their approaches… they are all there in my silence, my deep interior. Some were close to me in life, others not close at all. Some appearing close but forever away, dreams… some within my dream world, my fantasies, my guesses. Some enemies, some who opposed me and gave me something to avoid or push back against with all my limited abilities.

Some fully aware of their status as friend or enemy, some never conscious of it in the least. The judgment was within me and my choice. Most who’d not care at all what I thought and felt.

How odd.

The judgments toward myself… sometimes I’ve been my own enemy, less friend than others have been, less caring for my self; I’ve hated and abused myself more than many on the outside, or I replayed the small slights from the outer world, the harmful messages, or the physical and mental abuses, the terrible, barely tolerable situations I thought would never end, over and again until they became everything, became a reality I wrestled with constantly in my own self-constructed hell — the dead and gone returned to drag me to the depths within my own Inferno.

I heard the preachers I grew up with telling me I deserved my hell and more to come in a never-ending afterlife where God Himself would cast me down for my questions, my doubts, my interests in the beauty and wonder of women.

My memory is filled with pulpits and sermons and screaming.

I remember walking with a girl at school on the playground, admiring her intelligence and humor and how pretty and unlike — yet like — the Caliban she’d chosen to spend her time with, in her own exile; in later years I’d wonder about her interior world, too, too late to know much about it. But I was quiet and ashamed, never good enough for her in myself — part of it they call “introverted” to a maximum degree, part of it is shyness, a persistent loneliness and terror of reaching out for fear of rejection and the pain… too much for my young companion who needed a companion, the girl who would grow to womanhood and required a real companion, not a devoted worshipper and idolator. I became her brother, not companion, and we remain forever like those stars that remain circulating side by side but never touching, never, forever, and travelling a parallel path through space and time.

That is as it had to be.

And she faded into the dreamworld with time.

Fate.

Fate is a large portion of my reality, and I learned to accept her, too, as neither friend nor foe, but just the ever-present. She goes through her life as I go through my own, and her life is not mindful of a small thing like me. She was not made to care but to act.

And I must act in return and build a life from what I am given to work with, not rail against it. If my choices are not good and affect others poorly, if they do not make for me a good life and of me a good person, the fault is my own, inasmuch as I had choice. This much my thinking and worrying and the life in communion with history and the dead has delivered up.

Regret… will remain ever-present. Another companion of my own construction. Regret at poor choices in the past. It reminds me not to squander the present. To show care to the people I love, to be a companion and friend to my wife, to be as much of a friend to people who care for me as possible, to be a good teacher and guide to my students, to make art of some effectiveness, to labor at it and not make shoddy things, though none of this is ever quite good enough… but at some point, some days, I must be satisfied with the “good enough.” Aiming at perfection I will never attain cannot stop me from arriving at the “good enough” I can accomplish for today, and the “a little better” I might get to tomorrow.

But all of this, for me, requires a greater measure of solitude than for most people. My life includes my fate, and my portion of fate is to spend the greater part of life on the interior before I can come outward in action and do anything of worth.

My angel, my destiny, is inside me, and there I wrestle him for my true name.

I am only good for some at a great distance. My habits of life are not for many or most. not tolerable, not interesting. Not many can bear the intensity of me when I come “out” into the world from my interior of contemplation, study, and self-torment. I must shield them from it in carefully chosen words and images, like the burning sun passing through stained glass — no one can “look into the eyes of the sun” but most can tolerate the eyes of the sun looking at them through a lens of subdued colored glass silently whispering a story.

It is not my superiority to my fellows that make me intolerable and difficult, but my inferiorities and flaws, the stuff from which I’ve made myself. One’s weaknesses and defects can be exploited to advantage, given time and labor, the way the Greeks made their rough coastal world a marvel or the Irish monks those forbidding little islands like Skellig Michael a place for protection and a rich, beautiful life. Complex cultures and and even civilizations have, with time and labor, been built up in even the least life-affirming portions of the world.

Memories are real enough. Good enough. I either build something from them or fate will take and work them into something that does not care for me or anyone else. They are not hers to play with until I am gone and only then in the form of whatever evidence I leave behind, for good or ill.

More human than human.

Not the Overman, but just a man.

Richard Van Ingram
15 August 2015

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“Are You Out There?” Instructor’s Letter, June, 2015

[I write my classes a letter every month toward the end.  I don’t know why — I feel compelled to do it… I always wished someone had done this for me, I suppose.  But I went to university in a different time, place, age.  I choose to do it because it seems right and will til I’m ordered to stop, whether anyone reads it or not.  Like the song says, “It doesn’t matter” — not to anyone but me, unless they choose to read and care.  Same for you, whoever you are out there.]

Students and Scholars,

I do this at the end of each semester — it’s a sort of summary of experiences and observations from my point of view.  It may or may not be helpful to you now or in the future:  As is anything you learn or don’t.  The same goes for me as well as I’m speaking for and to myself when I speak to you all.

***

“Therefore make up your mind before it is too late to live as one who is mature and proficient, and let all that seems best to you be a law that you cannot transgress. And if you encounter anything troublesome or pleasant or glorious or inglorious, remember that the hour of struggle is come, the Olympic contest is here and you may put off no longer, and that one day and one action determines whether the progress you have achieved is lost or maintained.

“This is how Socrates attained perfection, paying heed to nothing but reason, in all that he encountered. And if you are not yet Socrates, yet ought you to live as one who wishes to be a Socrates.”

Epictetus, from section 51 of ENCHIRIDEON

“I see my future shufflin’
A shaky step at a time

I got no choice but careful

Thank God I’ve done my crime

The tools I see on tv

Can’t stand it when they fake

A prick’s a prick at any age

Why give one a break?

“I wanna live a little bit longer

I wanna live a little bit longer, now

I wanna live a little bit longer

I wanna live live, live, live, live….”

Iggy Pop
from “I Wanna Live”

The end of the semester is always a sad time for me — a month is never enough for me to get to know people and, prior to being students, you are all unique people with your own worlds, beliefs, approaches, and attitudes.  I learn as much from you, probably more, than you learn from  me, both from what you say and how it is said and what you refrain from saying.

One thing I have learned in my years seeing classrooms of college and university students from this side of the podium is that each class has its own personality, its own social order, its own spoken and unspoken understandings.

Most all of you except one or two are of a different generation than me which means you have a completely different generational mission than my own.  My generation was known as Generation X — I am at the prow end of it: It began around ’65 and ended with people born at or just prior to 1980.

We were “X” because we are an unknown and quiet bunch, on the whole, except in pop culture; the smallest generation born in America — our parents were the first to have access to birth control and the notion of the Sexual Revolution; the first generation that will economically be less well-off than the one before it; the first generation to come of age under threat of AIDS; the last generation to consciously grow up under Cold War fear of instant  nuclear annihilation –

The first generation to almost completely raise itself — everyone was at work or busy (the term “latch-key kids” was invented for us) — we are the children of what became the “Me Generation” of the 1970s (one of the experiments the Post World war II Boomer generation went through) –

The last generation to have teachers and professors who were old enough to give us a smattering, at least, of an old-style “classical” education; the first generation to be taught by younger ex-hippies; the last generation to see the remnants of old legalized institutional racism; the first generation to live with the hope we might actually make our country a more equal and free place for all in terms of human and civil rights and civil liberties – and culture –

The first generation in modern times to see the return of “free market” deregulation, the loss of the social safety net, the rise of libertarian and laissez-faire economic ideologies….

As you know, I could go on and on.  I won’t.  The point is: I come from an entirely different world than most of my students.  Sometimes it is difficult to put myself in your places, inside your lives — even vaguely — to understand from your point of view what the world appears to be.  And without a background in history, philosophy, sociology, art, and practical psychology… you cannot put yourself in my shoes even abstractly.

So each semester, I have to re-learn who my class is, individually and as a group: To begin with you where you are, who you are, in your place, and share the little I know and suspect from my standpoint and experience, my learning and my ignorance… my failures.

I work at this very hard.  If I can’t reach you in language you will understand, if I can’t identify with your general direction — individually and as a group, if I don’t warn you what I and others better than me see dimly up ahead, I can’t begin to prepare you for the world and life.

And all this class is, in the end, is a preparation for learning how to live the right sort of life, to look around and see where we, as a nation and world have been, where we are, and where we might head.

Where we might head, gentle, patient reader, is up to you.  It’s your choice, in your own life privately and as a generation of citizens who will choose to lead… or choose who will lead you and where.

Perilous, those words.  Life, yours and mine, is always perilous, in a time of crisis (obvious and not so obvious), But crises are always times of choice.  The Chinese pictogram for “crisis” is a combination of two more basic characters, one meaning “danger” and one meaning “opportunity”.  Two paths.

Always there are at least two paths and you must become creative enough to find the right one for you and turn what seems disastrous on the surface to your advantage.

“The thing that matters is not what you bear but how you bear it,” said one of those old Roman Stoics (Seneca), along with “…disaster is virtue’s opportunity.”  [Those are from his writing “On Providence” if you ever wish to read the whole thing.]

I have shown you, but only just barely, some of the weapons for your struggle and which will always break or tend to mislead and which, if used well, will increase your ability to truly turn disadvantages to your benefit — at least to bear the trials life will hand you and emerge on the other side intact, with integrity, whatever “the other side” might mean…:  In work life, in private life, in social life.

I have shown you, just barely, ways to apply the theories and which theories are being applied by others, even if they don’t understand what they believe or why they believe it.  I’ve shown you the tools to become more conscious and conscientious and careful…. If you choose to do so.

Yes, my lectures are “heavy,” yes my words in class are many, yes my e-mails sometimes are long or pestering.  I always communicate with class as if this will be the last time we might speak with one another (one never knows these things).  We only have roughly four weeks together, I want you to pass.  Above all, though, I want you to walk away with more to think about and an approach to how to discern true from false and good from bad.

Yes, you are supposed to have more questions in your mind at the end of a class like this than at the start.

Questions are a sign you are beginning to understand you have a need.  If you need to know, you will ask, “why” about everything important and won’t be satisfied until you lay hold of a better way than you may previously have been following.

That takes a lifetime and working that out is practicing “philosophy,” in the ancient, deepest sense.

I can point out many possible directions.  I can challenge you.  I can warn you where some directions are liable to send you if followed consistently.  But I can’t live for any of you; I can’t take your place or perform your special mission in life that is your calling.

But I can tell you how important it is you choose well as possible and pick yourself back up when you make a mistake or are manipulated.  You are important and I’ve no proper words to explain how important you are: important for your own future, the future of your families, your communities, your countries, your world.

Each of us does our public and private work, whatever it will be, and we each create a part of the future.  Your action and your inaction creates the future you will leave for others whom you will never know as well as creating the present.

What else do we have in this world as human beings more important than recognizing the gravity, the value, the quality of our choices for ourselves and one another and generations of people yet to be?

(Here is one of my infamous asides; skip it if you’re bored: My entire life has been a very strange experiment in trying out ethical theories to find out what sort of life one gets from them because I began directionless and obsessed with finding a good way to live; I do not recommend you ever do this without mature forethought and advice from many wiser, smarter people or looking to their example.

I say this as my life has also, at times, been a string of disasters I did not know how to “turn to my advantage.”

 When I talk about terrible theories and why they are terrible, I used to believe and live them.  When I talk about better theories and ways to think, it’s because I’ve tried those, too, and still make use of them or see the use of them in a good life.

This, in large part, is my destiny — to learn things the hard way and come back, if I get to come back, to share with others, to give warnings and evaluations. Take them or leave them: I must do this.)

I am hardly an example of an upright and good person; I am as imperfect as anyone, more so than some, and a little dense sometimes.  You can do better than I’ve done.  I learned to try and to try hard — but you can do better.  I have faith you and your generation will; your voluntary willingness to return to school at this stage in life tells me you have the desire and drive to have a better life, a better future.  And this is good.  I was not so intelligent or able at your age.  (Maybe I’m not now: it’s possible.)

Live your own life, but live it to a high level of intensity by following values that are truly valuable, as a sailor navigates her way by the trustworthy stars at night.  Make those values your own and put them into effect in your own life, in your own way, with your own style.

The future is not mine: it’s yours.  Over time, you will learn to do well with it — again, this is my faith or else I wouldn’t teach.

I’ve compressed a lifetime of experience and learning into one heavy, dense chunk and handed it to you over the past three weeks.  After next week, you’re done with me and you can all be relieved.  But you are not done with morality because it is tied to human choice and life is nothing but time and choice.  What we choose and the quality of the choices is who we are and who we become.

Please, choose well.  Continue to teach yourself — a bachelor’s degree means you are prepared to learn and grow maturely as well as pursue a career, which is part of that.

And that is the most I will say from this point forward.

“Manifestly, no condition of life could be so well adapted for the practice of philosophy as this in which chance finds you today!”

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, philosopher, in his tent after a day of battle and decisions in his older years, writing to himself… and you and me.

MEDITATIONS, Book Eleven, section 7, Penguin Classics.

19 June 2015

Richard Van Ingram

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“A Year Passes Like Nothing”

A Year Passes Like Nothing

Or, Misty Watercolor Memories Are Keeping Me Awake Again

A Brief Meditation On Memory

OUR DOCUMENTS ARE USELESS, OR FORGED BEYOND BELIEVING.

PAGE FORTY-SEVEN IS UNSIGNED, I NEED IT BY THIS EVENING.

IN THE SPACE BETWEEN OUR CITIES, A STORM IS SLOWLY FORMING.

SOMETHING EATING UP OUR DAYS, I FEEL IT EVERY MORNING.

DESTINATION, DESTINATION.

IT’S NOT A RELIGION, IT’S JUST A TECHNIQUE.

IT’S JUST A WAY OF MAKING YOU SPEAK.

DISTANCE AND SPEED HAVE LEFT US TOO WEAK,

AND DESTINATION LOOKS KIND OF BLEAK….

The Church

from “DESTINATION”

MEMORY HAS ITS PECULIARITIES, ONE OF WHICH IS: IT DISTORTS. BUT, IN LIFE AS IN MUSIC, ALL DISTORTION IS NOT TO BE AVOIDED AND NEITHER IS IT A BAD THING. WE TEND TO REMEMBER THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO US, THAT INFLUENCE US, AND OUR MINDS ASSIST US BY EXAGGERATING AT TIMES OR PAINTING UNCLEAR SCENES IN LARGE, BOLD, UNAVOIDABLE STROKES. MEMORY’S DISTORTION, THEN, ISN’T SO MUCH A SUBJECTIVIST LIE WE TELL OURSELVES; RATHER, IT IS TRUTH, IMPORTANT TO US, TOLD TO US AS A STORY, WITH ITS OWN MAGICAL EDITING PROCESSES.

SOME SCHOOLS OF PSYCHOLOGY MAY DISAGREE WITH THIS THEORY AS MUCH AS THEY WILL, BUT IT REMAINS A HUMAN FACT THAT MEMORY, OUR HISTORIES, OUR AUTOBIOGRAPHIES, OUR STORIES, OUR PRIVATE MYTHOLOGIES ARE BOTH REAL AND NECESSARY TO OUR EXISTENCE AS PERSONS, NOT MERE DATA COLLECTION MACHINERY. PERHAPS SOME IN THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY LAMENT WE ARE NEITHER INFORMATION STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYSTEMS NOR MERE ANIMALS OF INSTINCT AND IMPRESSION – THESE ARE EASIER TO STUDY – BUT I DECLINE TO JOIN THEM.

AS USUAL.

I AM A PHILOSOPHER. A HUMAN’S “THING-NESS” – IT’S RESEMBLANCE TO THE INANIMATE OR INARTICULATE WORLD – DOES NOT INTEREST ME OVERMUCH. A HUMAN’S “PERSON-NESS,” MY OWN “PERSON-NESS,” THESE HOLD MY ATTENTION.

Beginnings and Destinations

 

IN A FEW DAYS, GOD WILLING, I WILL ARRIVE AT THE COMPLETION OF MY 44TH YEAR AND BEGIN MY 45TH ON PLANET EARTH.  IF I HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE OR IF I HAVE BEEN ELSEWHERE, I KNOW NOTHING OF IT.  SO I HAVE NO HOPE OF BEING HERE AGAIN, AND A SMALL, FERVENT HOPE OF LIVING ON IN SOME FASHION AFTER MY LAST DAY IN, I PRAY, BETTER CIRCUMSTANCES.

 

AROUND THIS TIME EACH YEAR, MY MEMORIES START FLOODING BACK UP; THERE IS NO DISCERNABLE ORDER TO THE FLOOD, JUST A RUSH OF SCENES AND STORIES, EPISODES FOR ME TO PIECE TOGETHER AND FROM WHICH TO MAKE SOME SORT OF SENSE.

 

I THOUGHT OF WRITING ALL THESE DOWN, BUT IT’S 2 AM AND YOU, GENTLE READER, WOULD PROBABLY CARE LESS ABOUT ANY OF THEM, THOUGH SEVERAL YOU WOULD FIND AMUSING.  THAT, AND I HAVE TO GET UP AND BE ABOUT MY BUSINESS IN A FEW HOURS, SO I THREW THE LIMITATION ON MYSELF THAT I’D SPEND NO MORE THAN ONE HOUR TYPING AND TALKING TO MYSELF PUBLICLY FOR YOUR EDIFICATION AND TO SILENCE MY OWN HEAD.  ONE HOUR’S WORTH OF MY DRONING SHOULD BE ENOUGH FOR ANYONE, INCLUDING MYSELF.  BACK WHEN I TAUGHT, IT WAS CERTAINLY ENOUGH FOR MY POOR STUDENTS.

 

WHICH MEMORY TO DISPLAY, THEN?  ONE THAT MAKES ME OUT TO BE A HERO?  ONE THAT PORTRAYS ME AS A ROGUE?  ONE THROWING LIGHT ON MY SENSE OF HUMOR?  ONE FILLED WITH SADNESS?

 

I’M GOING TO TELL YOU A STORY, GENTLE READER, NOT AIMED AT DOING ANY OF THESE THINGS.  I AM NO HERO, NOR ENTIRELY A NE’ER-DO-WELL, NOR ALL FUNNY, NOR CRYING INTERMINABLY.  I AM AND HAVE BEEN AND DONE ALL OF THESE THINGS AND MORE, AS HAVE YOU, DOUBTLESS, AND PROBABLY BETTER.  BUT ONE THING I HAVE BEEN GOOD AT IN MY NEARLY 44 YEARS IS LEARNING AND TAKING LIFE AS A LESSON AND A TEST.  OH, I FAIL THE TESTS OFTEN ON THE FIRST, SECOND, AND EVEN HUNDREDTH TRY, BUT WHAT I AM, WITHOUT QUALIFICATION, IS STUBBORN.  I KEEP TRYING.  I KEEP WORKING AT THINGS, TURNING THEM AROUND AND AROUND AS A DOG WORRIES A BONE TILL HE CRACKS IT OPEN AND GETS AT THE MARROW.  I HAVE WORRIED WITH SOME PROBLEMS LITERALLY FOR DECADES TILL I CRACKED THEM OR SPLINTERED THEIR SHELLS TO GIVE UP TASTE OR SCENT.

 

WHY?  WHY NOT?  I’VE NOTHING BETTER TO DO WITH MY TIME.

 

I WAS IN THIRD GRADE, MRS. DOWDY’S CLASS.  SHE WAS AN OLDER, HEAVY WOMAN WITH HEAVY GLASSES, WORE SKIRTS THAT LOOKED LIKE THEY WERE MADE FROM THE PRINT 20 POUND FLOUR SACKS THEY USED TO SELL.  MAYBE THEY WERE.  IT WAS A SMALL TOWN IN A LARGELY RURAL COUNTY IN THE FOOTHILLS OF THE APPALACHIANS – HER HUSBAND WAS A FARMER AND A PREACHER AND DROVE A SCHOOL BUS.  I DOUBT THEY HAD MUCH.  MOST OF US DIDN’T, REALLY, BY COMPARISON WITH PEOPLE IN CITIES.

 

BUT MY PARENTS ALWAYS GAVE ME 15 CENTS FOR ICE CREAM EACH DAY.  THEY HAD ENOUGH FOR THAT, AND I LIKED ICE CREAM.

 

THE GIRL WHO SAT NEXT TO ME WAS NAMED AUDREY.  SHE HAD SHORT, BLACK HAIR AND BIG, BLUE EYES AND CARRIED A LITTLE PURSE OF SOME SORT.  AUDREY WAS NEITHER FRIEND NOR ENEMY – SHE WAS PART OF THE FURNITURE OF MY WORLD.  COME IN, SIT DOWN, LOOK LEFT, THERE’S AUDREY TALKING TO HER FRIENDS.  SHE WAS NICE ENOUGH, WHICH MEANS SHE DID NOT SAY BAD THINGS TO ME OR MAKE FUN OF ME, BUT THAT’S ABOUT ALL.  I WAS FURNITURE IN HER WORLD, TOO.

 

THE ICE CREAM PROCEDURE WORKED LIKE THIS: AFTER LUNCH AT SOME POINT, THE TEACHER WOULD LINE UP EVERYONE WHO HAD THE MONEY FOR THE STUFF, WALK US ACROSS THE HALL TO THE LUNCHROOM WHERE THERE WAS AN ICE CREAM FREEZER.  THE TEACHER WOULD TAKE OUR DIMES AND NICKELS AND, IN RETURN, WE PICKED OUR TREAT.  THEN WE ALL WENT TO RECESS.

 

ONE DAY, AUDREY WAS LOOKING FOR HER DIME AND NICKEL WHERE SHE’D LEFT IT IN HER PURSE DURING LUNCH.  NO DIME, NO NICKEL, NO PENNIES, NO NOTHING.  SHE COULDN’T FIND IT.  I WAS SITTING THERE WATCHING HER DRASTIC PANTOMIME BECOME MORE EXCITED UNTIL SHE COLLAPSED IN HER CHAIR AND BEGAN CRYING.  BIG TEARS ROLLED OUT OF HER BIG, BLUE EYES, AND SOMETHING IN ME HURT FOR HER.  EVERYONE IN CLASS JUST SAT THERE LOOKING AT THE GIRL, DOING NOTHING – NO ICE CREAM FOR AUDREY TODAY.  I COULDN’T STAND IT.  IT DIDN’T SEEM RIGHT.  YES, I LIKED ICE CREAM, BUT I DIDN’T WANT TO SEE AUDREY CRY BECAUSE SHE COULDN’T HAVE ANY.  MY MOTHER HAD RAISED ME BETTER THAN THAT – TO SHARE WITH PEOPLE WHO DIDN’T HAVE WHAT YOU HAD.

 

FOOLISH ME.  I ACTUALLY LISTENED TO AND BELIEVED THINGS LIKE THAT.  I’M SURE ALMOST EVERYONE SITTING THERE STARING AT AUDREY HAD, TOO, BUT THEY WEREN’T MOVING.  SO I STOOD UP, REACHED IN MY JEANS, AND TRIED TO HAND AUDREY MY 15 CENTS.  I COULD DO WITHOUT ICE CREAM ONE DAY TO MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, I SUPPOSED.

 

MRS. DOWDY YELLED AT ME.  SHE WAS WATCHING FROM THE FRONT OF THE ROOM.  SHE MADE ME STAND UP AND ACCUSED ME OF STEALING THE MONEY.  I SAID, “NO, I DIDN’T, I JUST WANT AUDREY TO FEEL BETTER.”  THE TEACHER INSISTED I TOOK THE MONEY WHILE WE WERE OUT AT LUNCH AND THEN MY CONSCIENCE HAD GOTTEN THE BETTER OF ME; SHE INSISTED I ADMIT IT TO THE CLASS.  THE STUBBORNNESS TOOK OVER.  “NO,” WAS ALL I SAID.

 

“THE GREAT EYE IN THE SKY IS WATCHING YOU AND KNOWS WHAT YOU’VE DONE,” SHE SOLEMNLY PRONOUNCED AS ONLY A BAPTIST PREACHER’S WIFE COULD HAVE.

 

I WAS THINKING, YOU’RE RIGHT.  HE KNOWS WHAT I’VE DONE AND WHAT YOU’VE DONE, TOO.

 

I FELT DIRTY.  I FELT HUMILIATED.  AUDREY WOULDN’T LOOK AT ME AND I DON’T THINK SHE EVER SPOKE TO ME AGAIN EVEN IN PASSING TILL SHE MOVED AWAY.  I SUPPOSE THE REST OF THE CLASS THOUGHT I WAS THE ICE CREAM MONEY THIEF AFTER THAT; EVEN IF THEY DIDN’T, THEY DID FOR THE REST OF THAT ONE DAY.

 

I DIDN’T BUY ICE CREAM AND I THINK I QUIT EATING IT AT SCHOOL, FOR THE MOST PART.  TO THIS DAY, ICE CREAM HAS BAD CONNOTATIONS FOR ME.

 

OH, WHAT GREAT LESSON DID I LEARN?

 

I THINK THAT DAY I BECAME A PHILOSOPHER.  A REAL ONE, NOT JUST SOME JABBERING SCHOLAR WITH AN ARMLOAD OF DEGREES.  I LIVED WHAT I BELIEVED.  I HAD INTEGRITY.  I REFUSED TO BACK DOWN AGAINST AN OVERWHELMING FORCE WHEN I KNEW THE TRUTH, AND I REFUSED TO BLASPHEME AGAINST THE TRUTH – AT LEAST THAT DAY.  I LEARNED THAT STANDING UP AND DOING THE RIGHT THING IS OFTEN REWARDED WITH NOTHING BUT ABUSE AND EMBARRASSMENT – AND THAT YOU’VE STILL GOT TO TRY TO DO THE RIGHT THING ANYWAY, BE THE PERSON YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE, NO MATTER WHO OR WHAT OPPOSES YOU.  IT’S BETTER TO SUFFER FOR DOING SOMETHING GOOD THAN TO SIT IN COMFORT, UNWILLING TO STAND UP AND DO ANYTHING AT ALL.

 

I LEARNED THERE IS A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN APPEARING GOOD AND ACTUALLY BEING A GOOD PERSON, AND THAT TRULY GOOD PEOPLE MAY, TO THE MISINFORMED OR OVERLY SUSPICIOUS OR PREJUDICED, LOOK LIKE BAD PEOPLE.  AND I LEARNED THERE IS VERY LITTLE ONE CAN DO TO CONTROL ANYTHING ABOUT ONE’S REPUTATION – ONE’S REPUTATION IS AT THE MERCY OF THE MOUTHS OF STRANGERS; ONE’S TRUE WORTH IS KNOWN ONLY TO ONESELF AND TO ONE’S GOD.

 MAYBE NOT EVEN TO ONESELF.

 

I LEARNED SOME OF THOSE LESSONS THAT DAY, MY HEAD HANGING IN MRS. DOWDY’S CLASS.  OTHERS TOOK ME DECADES TO REASON OUT OF THAT INCIDENT AND OTHERS LIKE THEM.  I BECAME, OVER TIME, ALMOST PROUD OF THAT LONE KID WHO STOOD UP TO AND TRIED TO COMFORT HIS CLASSMATE FOR NO BETTER REASON THAN SHE OUGHT NOT TO SUFFER SO OVER SO LITTLE.  I BECAME A BIT PROUDER OF THE KID WHO REFUSED TO ADMIT WRONG WHEN NO WRONG WAS DONE, WHO DIDN’T COWER IN THE FACE OF ABUSED AUTHORITY, WHO SPOKE SIMPLY AND CLEARLY, FOR ONCE IN HIS LIFE, THE TRUTH, AT A MOMENT IT MATTERED TO SPEAK IT.  THERE’S NOTHING HEROIC IN IT – IT’S WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD DO IN SIMILAR SITUATIONS, AS A MATTER OF COURSE.

 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INDULGENCE AND FOR MAKING THE TRIP THROUGH ONE OF THE MEMORIES THAT MAKE UP MY WORLD, ONE OF THE BETTER ONES.  AN HOUR HAS PASSED AND IT’S TIME TO STOP.  MAYBE NOW I CAN SLEEP.

 

RICHARD VAN INGRAM

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN 5 FEBRUARY 2010

[Addendum, 7 June 2015

I apologize for the capital letters — I’m too lazy to re-write the thing and I’ve no idea what possessed me to do that in the first place.

One continues to learn throughout one’s life — if one works at it.  More experiences, more consideration, reconsideration.   More study, more experimentation, more mistakes, more learning… if we’re fortunate.

I’m pushing 50 now.  I’ve made some progress since I wrote this — but this piece of writing seems to stand as is, with a couple of minor alterations for wordiness.  It’s no great piece of meditation, but the theory and ideas are solid.  As are the beliefs in me these powered, the standards, the values, the actions, overall.

Hopefully one can take something valuable away from this aside from the impression I am, at times, self-indulgent.  But I am no exhibitionist — my personal tales are chosen for one purpose: universalizability.  That’s all.  Nothing else.  Individually, I am unimportant and very boring; but some episodes in my life, I’ve found, resonate with some people.  So I choose to share those openly.

The real me:  I remain a mystery.  To you and to me.

RVI]

"Between Time and Death," Pen and ink, Richard Van Ingram, 1994,  owned by an anonymous collector
“Between Time and Death,” Pen and ink, Richard Van Ingram, 1994, owned by an anonymous collector

 

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A Question for My Readers

I’ve thought about doing this for years, but was never certain anyone would listen.

If I created a weekly/bi-weekly podcast, would any of you listen?  An answer yes or no will suffice.  Just write a message to this post at the bottom.

Of course, I speak English, USA version, and would use my lecturing voice and attempt to be clear and entertaining.  An episode would be 15 minutes or 30 minutes — 15 if bi-weekly, 30 if weekly.

Second question, if I did a podcast, what sort of content would you appreciate?  The sort of things I express here?  Commentary on a particular sort of topic?  Give me some feedback in the message if you would.

That’s all for the moment.

Thank you,

RVI

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A Message

I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel
I was staring in my empty coffee cup
I was thinking that the gypsy wasn’t lyin’
All the salty margaritas in Los Angeles
I’m gonna drink ’em up

And if California slides into the ocean
Like the mystics and statistics say it will
I predict this motel will be standing until I pay my bill

Don’t the sun look angry through the trees
Don’t the trees look like crucified thieves
Don’t you feel like Desperados under the eaves
Heaven help the one who leaves

Still waking up in the mornings with shaking hands
And I’m trying to find a girl who understands me
But except in dreams you’re never really free
Don’t the sun look angry at me

I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel
I was listening to the air conditioner hum
It went mmmmmm..

Look away…
(Look away down Gower Avenue, Look away….)

Warren Zevon

“Desperados Under the Eaves”

There was necessity in my leaving — unspeakable, literally things I can’t discuss; partially because I don’t have all the words and partly because I’ve yet to sort it all out.  Six years and I still live in a mystery; but this is nothing new as I’ve lived within an enigma since 1966.  As soon as I think I’ve laid hands to it, grasped the reality I inhabit, it slips through like smoke.  One never fully contains existence in action or thought — it outstrips everything human.

Like God, we only approach it through a veil of symbols, metaphors, poetry, indirectly.  That much I’ve ascertained.  There is something of Deity interpenetrating everything and everyone, yet not anyone or anything in particular, so, one supposes, everything and everyone partakes in an element of Divine Mystery.  And saying that much, too, is poetry.

I had to flee my state of origin — enough of that has been explored in previous posts and there’s no point in rehashing it.  As with so many before me, I “went West” to the only place and person who offered refuge to a wayfaring outcast.  Now, I have to make up my mind to settle down physically, even though my mind and psyche will forever wander in this world, a stranger in a strange land, never quite at home, never quite belonging.

I have found myself since the beginning “off center,” eccentric, outside the tribal fires and forever sitting at the gate of the city, never within, an observer, a witness who sees events and others from a peculiar perspective.  To say the least.  Diogenes and I would occupy neighboring wine barrels, I fear, though I lack his courage.  Each has her gifts.  Belonging nowhere, I belong everywhere, anywhere — alien to all allegiance to place and people, I recognize all as my brothers and sisters, all who strive to become human.

An unpopular calling.  Which is fine, but it leaves me wounded — I’m unsure why.

Introverted to an extreme, I yet require friendship, an audience for my stories and ideas, though most of what I say is just echoing and re-echoing through the binary code winds with no ear to catch it, no soul to respond.  Look at the messages on this site: 98% pure spam and hustling.  No one is truly giving a real, thoughtful reply to any of this.  I appreciate those who are truly reading and taking any of this in, but the reality is, most replies are people hopping a ride on my all too short coat-tails.

Even on my own blog I am outside the thing I am creating.  I’m just sitting here listening to the air conditioner hum… though I’m unsure I’m making music from it.  That judgment would have to come back to me from an audience responding to what I write and think, not trying to advertise their wares on my blog.  For free, no less.

If I keep this up long enough, my audience will come and some will feel the need to respond in kind.  That is my hope.  When one has nothing, all one can do is hope — it keeps the fingers moving across the keyboard and ink and paint across the illustration board.  For all I know it’s wasted effort, but it wouldn’t be the first time I wasted a great deal of effort on a lost cause in the name of hope.  Just a sliver of hope, a chance something better might come of the labor.

That gypsy might be right and I lost from the start.  But I don’t know that.  Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius would expect better of me, expect me to try anyway; and Jose Ortega y Gasset is looking at me from somewhere telling me that just bearing the burden is nobility in itself.  Success is in the attempt not in the outcome.  I understand that much as well.

Yet it still hurts as I am merely human.  I have to honor that as well.  That burden was also given to me to bear as best I can, not let it rule me or overthrow me.  The same for you, assuming you’re reading.

Though we are not our biology, we have a biology, we can be partially studied from the perspective of biology, and from that point of view we have social needs, whether we embrace them fully — maybe too fully — or whether we despise them and flee.  They go with us, nonetheless.  I went West but my need for community, even a small, fractured, spread out community went with me.

Yes, I have friends.  I can number them easily and in a hierarchy of sorts, some closer, some further from myself.  I love them all and value them.  Many don’t even know and never will know that I love and value something of them.  They are my imaginary community, though I am positive I fit barely on the periphery of most of their lives.  I am too difficult to have closer and, I fear, I make it that way on purpose.  It doesn’t pay to become closely involved in my chaos unless one is constitutionally prepared for the storm.  Many aren’t and I am not one to make a burden of myself.

Just meet me in my words and my art.  That will be enough for you, I promise.

A better part of me is to be had in the words, the pictures, the creations.  You don’t need or want the rest of me.

Just do me a favor and meet me there, in that place I create in order to be met.  That’s asking both a lot and, yet, not so much.

And so it is.

1 June 2015

Richard Van Ingram

Self Portrait watercolor dec 2014

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A Meditation on Capitalism

It’s just heartbreaking
I should have known that it would let me down
It’s just a mind aching
I used to dream about this town

It was a sight to see
The place to be,
Where the living is easy
And the kicks can always be found

It’s such a shame about it
I used to think that it would feel so good
But who’s to blame about it
So many creeps in Hollywood

I’m in this dumb motel
Near the ‘Taco Bell’
Without a hope in hell
I can’t believe that I’m still around

Ain’t nothin new in my life today
Ain’t nothing true it’s all gone away

I’ve had too much cryin’, seen too much grief
I’m sick of tryin’ it’s beyond belief
I’m tired of talking on the telephone
They’re trying to tell me that they’re not at home….

SUPERTRAMP

from “GONE HOLLYWOOD”

Breakfast In America

There’s the events that get on you and then there’s the events that become you, become a part of you.  You can wash the first sort off eventually, but the latter won’t be leaving short of carving the meat off your bones and grinding the bones to molecules — and the history of it will remain forever.

History remains even after we forget and are forgotten.

I learned long ago, that though my dramas and comedies are everything to me, that is because I am housed within them — and no one else.  The players in my reality, at best, inhabit their own worlds on the periphery of mine just as by reading this I become a minor, and brief, visitor for a moment on the outskirts of yours.

They and the world are not me — they do not live my existence thus my dramas and comedies are not as intense or are nothing to them at all.

Should I leave anything behind for you, it will be an impersonal idea that might, eventually, be incorporated into your beliefs and, thus, become a lens through which you interpret reality — but then it will be your belief, part of a constellation of such that is yours, not mine.  Not subjectively, but perspectively.

Be careful which theories you take in and believe.  Those become part of who you are and make you who you are by motivating your vital faith and judgment.  Show care for who you are.

But my ideas and beliefs arise in the course of my comedic drama that is my living.  Just as yours do.  We do not share the same experience and thoughts and dreams, but our lives as humans does have a similar constitution and structure, abstractly.  We are not wholly alien one to the other — each of us is, as Ortega y Gasset taught, an “alter ego” — another “I.”

Or, as the Stoics of old taught, we are each a spark off the Fire, lights from Light, brothers and sisters all for all our individual and cultural differences, each due respect, each due care, mercy, justice, each due many things or the right to pursue our destinies with a measure of due freedom.

Authoritarianism, capitalism, fascism, racism, even communism when it becomes totalitarian and departs from its democratic socialist roots and becomes purely materialistic in every way — all these “isms” are ideas, theories, invented by humans, imperfect humans.   And they become matters of faith every bit as much dogmatic and oppressive as any religion at its worst.

Some ideas are so deeply flawed that to put them into effect in any way will inevitably lead to the destruction of one’s brothers and sisters who instantaneously are redefined as wholly “other.”  Some will do this by inspiring direct action and violence in some form, such as fascism and communism did in the 20th c.  and capitalism at times still does and has since the 18th-19th c.

Authoritarianism and American capitalism, now approaching laissez-faire levels of libertarianism again, also do violence to those caught within their grip by substituting materialist values for ethical virtues, materialistic myths and aspirations for spiritual aspects and the psyche of humans, control and repression for free inquiry and doubt (the mother of all questioning, seeking).

Rather than the gulag or the firing squad, we find ourselves almost literally ignored to death and marginalized by poverty or ostracism if we stand apart from the dominant system and seek something better, even if we have no notion at the start of our search what would be “better” — only that this way is not conducive to a good human life, a life of living together while, at the same time, being ourselves.

Where and when I live, the system is designed, by default, to crush one’s existence and assimilate one into the mass aimed primarily at the production of capital by any means and protecting those who have amassed a great deal of it.  We are sold glittering lies and promised fame and glory if we “cooperate” and work hard; and most of us, in spite of our original dreams, our vocations — our destinies, our particular call from Fate — wind up selling out in order to merely survive, to have insurance, food, a place to live, a small measure of stability, the possibility of not experiencing our final years in utter poverty and misery.

We are enslaved and we enslave ourselves to an economy elevated to the status of a god.  Moloch walks amongst us in these days, Pluto-Hades bringing Hell to Earth and he has many priests and priestesses to see his work is done, his commands are spread – by commercialism, consumerism, by television, by internet, by technology, and, if necessary, by the barrel of the gun.

An idea — capitalism — that was to serve humans for the betterment of human life has taken on a life of its own, using us to keep itself functioning and growing; what Georg Simmel would have called the “more-than-life.”  Every other “ism” did the same and largely failed or had to be combatted by means of literal weapons and war — but capitalism is far too devious to be abolished by war.  It lives off war, profits by death as well as by the enslavement of the living.  It commodifies everything and everyone, and if it cannot appropriate the values of life, it opposes them, creates a shining substitute, or renders the opportunity to actualize such nearly impossible.

Revolution is too late, always was,  and is led by the power-hungry or the foolish, the “true believers,” the dogmatists who, themselves, promise an impossible shining future “at some point” far-off in the imaginary future to the desperate, who are cannon fodder.

This thing run amok will not be combatted by blowing oneself up, worse ideas, past “isms” that were stillborn or never deserved to see light of day, religious extremism and enthusiasms, or any similar self-destructive nonsense.

We must reform ourselves, as humans, and learn whom to become, the right people to be, and begin to take off the chains of corrupting beliefs  we voluntarily submit to.  This is a process that will take decades and decades of labor, education, and example by taking on and bearing burdens, responsibilities, and we must do it by choice, not any other way.  Slowly, deviously perhaps, we must slip the chains of restraint and enslavement around the capitalist beast and make it do what it was designed to do: serve human needs, values, lives — actual humans, not abstractions.

This is a great work with much detail to be filled in, not merely by me (who am I alone), but by you and as many of us as are capable of using and employing our creativity, our imaginations.  This state of affairs was imagined into being; it can only be undone by imagining it into a different form.  Theories, ideas, beliefs serve us and are for the good of all humans — not the reverse.

So, there you have my thoughts fore this day.  Make of them what you will.  It’s your choice.

It was always, and always will be, your choice.

31 May 2015

Richard Van Ingram

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