The Freedman Archives: Part II

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Earth's Constricted Life


Hey, buddy. I pen you another missive from my constricted cell--my six-by-eight foot writing hut--attired in the metaphorical garments of the prisoner-of-fantasy that I am.
How are you bearing up under the strain of our falling out? Breaking up is so hard to do, they say. Of course, I've never used a cell phone. (Who would ever call me?) So I have no experience with breaking-up. But I've heard about the phenomenon. Not pleasant, so I hear.
Breakup or not, my epistolary relationship with you continues. Did you foresee that? Did you foresee that I would continue to communicate with you by letter, or did you assume these letters would stop with the end of our physical relationship? Oh, the questions! So many questions.
Did the British authorities anticipate that jailing Mohandas K. would transform a garden-variety Indian malcontent into the future Mahatma? Did "The British Powers That Were" foresee that Gandhi, from his prison cell, would pen the blueprint of Indian autonomy? Probably not.
With me, as with others of my ilk, you always have to take into account the uncertainty principle. One never knows how I will react to a stimulus; and how my reaction will stimulate others, in turn, to act. I suppose that when I was terminated from my position at Akin Gump--(the world that dances to an interminable three-four rhythm)--The Powers That Be assumed that I would continue on my way, pick up a job at another place of employment and never be heard from again. Little did they know or foresee that I would assume the identity of a One-Man Warren Commission, turning my job termination into the crime of the century, assuming the role of Dick Tracey without portfolio--tracking down the malefactors who had denied me a place on the dance floor while the band played on: Um-pah-pah, Um-pah-pah.
Mortality and Immortality. These themes have plagued me since the end of last year, when I turned 50 years of age. What have I accomplished, what remains for me, how will future historians--the Michael Beschlosses and Doris Kearns Goodwins of this world--treat my legacy? Will my work be treated fairly, objectively? Or will my name be blackened by the "nattering nabobs of negativity," as Spiro Agnew would put it?
Like all great men, or potentially great men, I ponder and I worry about my legacy. I ponder how future generations will see me. Future generations must know-I must see to it that they know--how I lived, how I suffered, how I survived. They must know my thoughts, and the ego structure that housed those thoughts, as Stanley Greenspan--the Levittown of psychoanalysts--would say.
Do you wonder about these things, buddy? Do you wonder about your own legacy? I suppose the childless individual is more likely to ponder, and be preoccupied with, his place in the future than those persons who are fortunate enough to have sired biological heirs. Persons who have children see those children as carrying on their seed, and rightly so. For them biological continuity and biological destiny tend to subsume concerns for historical survival. One has a son and assumes that that one individual, at least, will, in the narrowest literal sense (but also in the wider metaphorical sense) "say Kaddish."
I didn't say Kaddish for my father. Where would I have found a minyan? It's hard enough--a near impossibility, in fact, for me to find a single other--let alone nine others who will share some physical space with me. And for that association of ten men to continue for an entire year is beyond the realm of possibility. In fact, my uncle--my father's older brother--arranged that Kaddish be said for my father.
I always wondered about that. About my father's mindset. He had a son, but what did he expect of that son? I had no Jewish education. My Jewish observance was virtually non-existent. What did that mean to my father. A man raised in an orthodox background looks to the son--at least one son--to carry on his name: in the narrow (and in the larger metaphorical sense). Certainly in the real, literal sense, my father passed on little if anything to me to carry on.
But in the realm of fantasy--unconscious wishes, conflicts and prohibitions--as they say in Levittown, perhaps my father passed something on to me that I carry as a burden (not as a cross, to be sure) but as a burden. The lumber, shingles and fixtures of the mind--as Stanley Greenspan would say. Psychoanalysts believe that, you know. The parent passes on to the child not simply conscious beliefs and behaviors, but also the underlying "blueprints" of unconscious mental life.
According to the analysts--and I've read this in Meissner and Erikson--unconscious beliefs, values, and fantasies from generations past will be passed on to future generations. Perhaps for me the burden of the past is so powerful, in some consciously-unrecognized way, that that cause, that burden, that responsibility outweighs any concern I might have about my own personal, biological immortality, and any responsibility I might otherwise have for biological procreation. It is, perhaps, as if The World of My Fathers have spoken: "You will be our servant. You will do a great deed, not for yourself, but for us. You will tell the story of our Wandering. You will pass that story on to your fellows and future generations. That--that--will be your life, that will be the purpose of your existence. You will have no children. You will devote your creative energies to The Word. Our Word. Do this, our son, and you will do all that is required of you!" Perhaps that is my responsibility, my destiny, and my legacy. "You will preserve in Words the World--the unconscious mental World--of your Fathers. And for that deed you will be blessed, Our Son!"
In this sense, I suppose, I resemble the Designated Survivor: for the Designated Survivor "The Word" vitiates the imperative of physical generativity. Perhaps it is this role--the role of transmitter of The Word--that dominates my anguished and tormented existence. At some deep level of the unconscious, properly speaking, the Superego, as Erikson would say, I live out the role of one who knows, who understands, who possesses a gift and responsibility for transmission of The Word. The Word of "The World of Our Fathers," in Louie Howe's phrase.
Knowledge and Memory. These are my tasks, perhaps. To know and to transmit The Word. My physical task will be complete upon publication of The Word. My physical existence has one purpose, and not to procreate my kind, but to preserve The Memory of the Past--the World and experiences of those who have passed. That is the sole task of the Designated Survivor. What is the Designated Survivor? Despairing of physical immortality in the form of continuity of the generations--biological immortality--the elders imposed on one individual the duty to survive for one purpose alone: to communicate The Word.
Suffering. I suffer my role, if that be my role. I seem to live for one purpose alone. That role is instinct with duty and guilt. I feel the burden no less than Goethe's fictional creation, Faust. But while Faust saw no purpose to his torment, I see purpose in mine. To wit: to turn dross into gold--to give permanence to the insubstantial, to transform the idiosyncratic into a universal medium of exchange. Faust despaired because of his lack of awareness. He saw his pain as personal and therefore devoid of value. He gained the ultimate transfiguration at the point he became parable, a parable of universal significance. The alchemist of matter became the "alchemist" of the universal human struggle. The dross of Faust's human existence was transformed into the gold of universal meaning: but only after Faust's death.
My suffering is Faust's suffering. "In every garment, I suppose, I'm bound to feel the misery of earth's constricted life. I am too old for mere amusement and still too young to be without desire. What has the world to offer me? You must renounce! Renounce your wishes! That is the never-ending litany which every man hears ringing in his ears, which every hour hoarsely tolls throughout the livelong day. I awake with horror in the morning, and bitter tears well up in me when I must face each day that in its course cannot fulfill a single wish, not one! The very intimations of delight are shattered by the carpings of the day which foil the inventions of my eager soul with a thousand leering grimaces of life. And when night begins to fall I timidly recline upon my cot, and even then I seek in vain for rest; savage dreams come on to terrorize. The god that lives within my bosom can stir my inmost core; enthroned above my human powers. He cannot move a single outward thing. And so, to be is nothing but a burden; my life is odious and I long to die." Thus said Faust. But Mephistopheles replies: "But somehow death is never quite a welcome guest." And isn't that true!
Goethe wrote: "Man errs so long as he strives." Another truth! Attempt to change your lot or even carry out a task, and you will fail. Allow the stormy seas of life to carry you, and eventually you may be carried back to shore. Am I becoming too philosophical, or perhaps too bathetic for your taste? I have a strong bathetic side that I try to conceal with humor. Yes, humor--but there's little humor in this letter, I admit.
Brian, people say to me--they stop me on the street and say: "Don't you despise Brian for what he did to you? Calling the police and all that? The embarrassment of being caught out as an icon manipulator, or perpetrator of the lesser-included-offense of icon tamperer? Yes, I despise that. I hate you for that. But I see you as my Mephistopheles. A devil, but not simply a devil. I see everything that comes my way in life as an opportunity. You, buddy, summon the darker forces, like so many before you: but that--that--compels me to light a candle in the darkness of my cell (May I admit that I am in a dark place?) How's that for a novel turn of metaphor? Eh, buddy?
I no longer struggle against the current. I've learned, like Goethe, that it's pointless to fight the tide: to attempt to strive. Let the current take you where it will. Let the devil tempt and destroy. I will make an opportunity out of the infernal forces you, and the other powers of darkness, foist on me. I remember President Nixon's ruminations in the darkest days of Watergate, when "The Great Resigner" faced the real--all-too-real--possibility of criminal conviction and imprisonment. He opined: "Some of the greatest political writing has been born out of the experience of the prison cell. I will be like Gandhi. I will welcome my imprisonment as an opportunity to create--in words--a new vision." Yes, that's what Nixon told Garment--Garment who was so constricted in the legal options he could offer his client, the President. "There are worse things than jail," Nixon said. "There's no cell phone there. There is, instead peace. A hard table to write on. The best political writing in this century (the 20th century, to be sure) has been done from jail." Nixon mentioned Lenin and Gandhi to his lawyer, Leonard Garment.
Here I am imprisoned in my cell, my writer's hut, my one-room closeted compound--and I play with words. Perhaps not great words or ideas. But who knows where these meandering thoughts will lead. I face the currents and let them carry me to unknown shores. More bathos! But not mere bathos!!
Yes, I'm in a bathetic -- if not pathetic -- mood.
So how will future generations remember me? Let's say one of your kind--a librarian of this wicked world--a librarian of the 25th century were to write my biography. What would he say? How would he open the account of my sordid life?
Perhaps you can "bank" on his "opening the account" as follows:
IN EARLY TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY America there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here. His name was Gary Freedman, and if his name--in contrast to the names of other gifted abominations, Saddam Hussein's, for instance, or Kim Jong-Il, Osama bin Laden's, The Waltz King's, etc.--has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Freedman fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, to wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of icon manipulation and the dark world of the hard-drive. (Pace, Patrick Suskind).
Yes, Brian, that will be my legacy. I am, and will forever be remembered as, an icon manipulator--a shameless and tactless icon manipulator and hard-drive tamperer. And you found me out. You discovered my lack of Icon Tact.
But I had an intimation of your discovery--the discovery you made that would lead to your act of perfidy in calling out the law against me. Yes! Tuesday April 20 ("The Day Before," so to speak), a date which will live in infamy, I noted your lack of Eye Contact. I knew you knew. I sensed the impending disaster. I knew the jig was up.
Like the Big Jew in the Sky, I knew I was about to be betrayed by my own Apostle. The Apostle of Doom. Say what you will about my lack of icon tact, buddy, but I've always had the guts to look you straight in the eye. I always make eye contact. Can you say the same?
Who knows, Brian? Maybe a great friendship will be born out of our legal tussle. Did you know that for Gandhi, opposition and conflict were sources of friendship? Claire Hirshfield will bear me out on that. The chief concomitant of "non-violence" for Gandhi (what Gandhi call "Satyagraha," or truth force) was loyalty to the opponent. You must tell your opponent what you are going to do, precisely and without the faintest deviation from fact. ("I am in a dark place. I will not take medication. I will avenge my pain and suffering.") You must accept your opponent's course of action, which you yourself have foreseen and chosen. Did you think that I--Freedman--didn't know that there would come a point in time when you would react to my provocations? Are you that naive, silly boy? For Gandhi, asking the maximum penalty from the authorities was a form of this. You must never deceive your opponent or take unfair advantage of him. He must always be aware to the full of what you intend. He is, in fact, your friend, from whom you are temporarily separated by a disagreement, but you must never forget that he is your friend. It has often been noted that many of Gandhi's opponents--jailers, policemen, detectives, jail doctors--(perhaps even librarians)--became his greatest friends.
How sad, I must say, that the two bothers who interrogated me--the two African-American policemen--could not see the similarities between me and my struggle, on the one hand, and, on the other, the tactics employed by Martin Luther King, Jr.! It is so sad, really. The police I dealt with seemed to take offense when I, just like Dr. King, offered a hand of friendship to them. They didn't even seem to know of their own heritage!
Do you think my comparison of myself with the Mahatma and Dr. King is a tad overdone? Well, I'm a grandiose narcissist. That's how I earn my living. By my psychopathology. Some make their way in the world by their wits. I make my way by illness.
Well, buddy, it's time for me to move on--to the leering grimaces of the life that await me.
See you later, Brian.


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