The Freedman Archives: Part II

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

Monday, May 24, 2004

An Epistolary Madness


Hey, buddy. This weekend was a total washout. I slept most of the time, and made a brief trip to the supermarket for oatmeal and powdered milk, although I have about a six-month's supply of both in my pantry. But like I always say, you can never have too much oatmeal and powdered milk.
It's like these letters I write. Letters, letters, letters, letters. I can never write enough letters. I live to write letters. As Ellen once said: "Of even vegetarian kreplach, one can get too much." To which I would reply, "No, Ellen. You can never get too much kreplach. Yes, there may be a limit to how many kreplach you can fit into your bowl of broth. But you, yourself, can never get too much kreplach."
What does letter writing mean to me? Why are letters my chosen form of communication, my chosen form of human interaction? I suppose because letters allow for a certain kind of intimacy, or even just the illusion of intimacy. It's a very controlled kind of interaction; there's a grandiose quality to letters. You never have to worry about the reactions of the person you are communicating with. No frowns or intrusive sighs emanate from the other party. One is free to blather on and on, without regard for the boredom or disapproval of the other party.
The psychologist Lillian B. Rubin put it so well: "Contact that takes place largely by letter allows for a peculiar kind of intimacy in that we can write about deeply felt matters while we are also protected from the unexpected or unplanned messages conveyed in a face-to-face encounter. If I am speaking directly to a friend, I watch for signs of his reaction to my words, just as he watches my facial expressions and body posture to fill out the message my words withhold. But the letter protects both of us. The signs of his approval or disapproval, restlessness or boredom, and so on, are not visible to me; the symptoms that would signal depth of my distress not accessible to him. Letters, of course, provide even less possibility than the telephone for an immediate or unintended response, therefore more control and more protection for both participants.
Such long-distance best friendships based on the exchange of letters share some of the qualities of the therapist-patient relationship. Both permit intimacy while, at the same time, preserving distance, both allow discretion in what is revealed, how much and when; both promise safety from well-meaning but unwanted intrusions
We can confide a personal problem to a therapist or to a long-distance friend with some certainty that intimacies revealed are safe from the immediate circle of friends and family (assuming I had either), without fear that we'll run into the confidante in the supermarket and have to face the question, spoken or unspoken, "Is everything okay?" We can share something of our fears and fantasies with some assurance that we will not confront a reaction that's difficult or painful. The responses of both will be safely hidden from view--the therapist's because of training, the friends because of distance." Lillian B. Rubin, "Just Friends: The Role of Friendship in Our Lives."
Of course, Lillian Rubin omits any consideration of the paranoid recipient of the letters, who sees dark meanings in the written communicator's references to dark places, recompense for pain and suffering, and the individual's failure to take actions (namely, ingesting medication) that he has no legal duty to do. No, Brian, Lillian Rubin never met you, buddy. You put a whole new spin on the dangers of letter writing. "The paranoid recipient" of letters saved to hard-drive on a public computer. Maybe Lillian Rubin needs to add a chapter for 21st century readers -- a chapter on the danger of letter writing on public electronic facilities.
At my meeting with William and the good offices of the Metro DC police, Officer Williams questioned my procedure of letter writing to you, buddy. "Have you ever had a friend," he asked? "Letter writing is not a way to make friends," he admonished. "The way to make friends is to talk to a person face-to-face."
Well, like my response to Ellen's views on vegetarian kreplach, I have to respectfully disagree.
The fact is there are all kinds of friends, all types of friendships. Some friendships, even great friendships, start out as letter-writing relationships and progress to face-to-face contact. Some friendships remain primarily, if not exclusively, letter writing relationships.
Look at the great, and ill-fated, friendship between Dr. Eissler and Jeff Masson. It started out as a letter writing relationship. The young Jeffrey Masson, a trainee at a psychoanalytic training institute, certainly wasn't going to show up at Dr. Eissler's Upper West Side apartment and ask the old sage of psychoanalysis out for coffee. The only realistic way for Masson to approach Dr. Eissler was by letter. Eissler was a formidable figure in the world of psychoanalysis. Kind of like you, buddy, in the insular world of the D.C. library system. The great Brian Brown, sage of Macomb Street!
Masson writes: "When I first read Eissler's books, shortly after I applied to the Toronto Psychoanalytic Institute, I felt I was entering a world of long ago and far away. It was a feeling that appealed to me, because it recreated the sensations I had had when reading European scholarship during my student years in Paris. I had felt like this when I read the great Buddhist scholar from Belgium, Etienne Lamotte, for example, or the works of the French Indologist Louis Renou. The excitement of seeing genuine scholarship in psychoanalysis provided a link to my own past. I decided to write to Eissler about historical matters in psychoanalysis that had already begun to interest me early in my training. I was surprised and delighted when he answered me and took my questions seriously. I wanted to know about Daniel Paul Schreber (!!!), and more about Wilhelm Fliess, and about Freud's early case histories. I greatly looked forward to getting to know him (that is, Dr. Kurt Eissler)."
So that's how the friendship between Jeffrey Masson and Kurt Eissler began. I'm still waiting for a letter from Lieberson. I'm thinking any day now, Jeff Lieberson's going to write me a letter asking about Don Zimmer's crotch-scratching proclivities. "Mr. Freedman, I presume? I'm Jeff Lieberson."
My point is, there's no one way a friendship can arise. There's no one way a friendship can blossom and bloom--or even be maintained.
Ellen and I were talking the other day--over some eggplant kreplach--about the great Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. -- Ellen's old mentor. Ellen pointed out that Holmes' personal relations were marked by barriers and distance. The archetypal Holmes friendship was a correspondence friendship, with the other participant being inaccessible to Holmes except for occasional visits. Even the most persistent of his correspondents, such as Harold Laski, rarely got beyond a certain level of intimacy. When Laski proposed, after many years of letters, that he call Holmes by his first name, he was summarily rebuffed.
Ellen pointed out (I call her Ellen, but she herself once said to me, "Freedman, it's 'Judge,' to you, buddy") that much of Holmes's communications with others was at the level of intellectual abstraction, though he also had an earthy, bawdy side, which punctuated his talk and occasionally his writings and revealed itself in his covert private life. Much of the distinctiveness of Holmes's style came from his juxtaposition of earthy or homely language with abstract ideas; although he held the two impulses apart in his activities, in his thoughts they easily intermeshed. "I wonder," he once said, "if cosmically an idea is any more important than the bowels."
Or as Goethe once said: "In the end, every idea is just a fart." I suppose great minds run along the same paths. Everything is just a collection of body functions. As David Duchovny once said about acting: "The human part of acting is all about basic body functions. Basically, the less complicated you are, the more primary your motivation is, the better actor you are. You take it down to the basics: eating, pissing, shitting, fucking. Those are the kinds of emotions that read. They're strong and good. They come across."
I guess, in the end, I'm looking for an intellectual relationship. A friendship with an intellectual guy, -- maybe Ivy, like David Duchovny -- someone with whom I can discuss abstract intellectual ideas. You know Duchovny got his B.A. in English from Princeton and was working on his Ph.D. at Yale when he went into acting. His dissertation at Yale was going to be titled: "Magic and Technology in Contemporary American Fiction and Poetry." Now that's what I'm looking for in a friend. A healthy taste for the intellectual and abstract.
Not that there's not another side to Dave: a homely, earthy, bawdy, Holmesean side. A world of eggplant and penises.
Here's a description of David Duchovny eating lunch during a break in filming a movie, back in 1999:
He's wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He is relaxed, affable even, playing a guy shooting the shit with a friend in a corner booth of a diner. He probes the contents of a Styrofoam container, the daily special from his favorite vegetarian restaurant, driven by special courier to the set, near a national park in Calabasas, an hour northwest of Hollywood. "Oh, my God," he says with mock horror, poking at a large eggplant, skinned, in a viscous brown sauce. "I think I've found John Holmes's penis!" That's John Holmes, the porn star -- not Oliver Wendell, although exactly how covert Justice Holmes's private side was remains a mystery. He might have done some porn in his day, though not videos, of course.
Duchovny's humor is your typical elevated Ivy humor -- Princeton, Yale, Skull and Crossbones humor -- wry, abstract, witty and urbane. A typical Duchovny joke: "I don't want to brag about the size of my cock, but I just got a sex change and a guy was fucking me the other day and he said: You have the biggest pussy I have ever fucked!" That's real Captain Vagina, Columbia University humor, buddy.
Yes, that's what I'm looking for in a friendship. Wry, urbane, witty asides offered up amid intellectual abstractions concerning eggplant and penises. It's just so hard for me to find friends I can commune with on my level. Besides, eggplant is out of season right now.
Check you out later, buddy. And we can continue this great discussion.


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