With college basketball coverage silenced temporarily on my in-laws’ massive television, I settle in and watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. Gonzo the Great stars as the work’s author Charles Dickens. Christmas is a time of gift-exchange, the film reminds us. It ought to be a time of global Jubilee. In Leviticus, Jubilee is a time when slaves and prisoners are freed and debts are forgiven. But darkness is cheap, and the Scrooges of the world like it. Time for their minds to encounter chain-rattling dancing Marleys. Come, all ye Scrooges — there is much to see. I’m often deeply divided in my resolve regarding education and discipline. How does one make time for these meditations while parenting? It’s a matter to which mind is applied, I suppose, a gift of attention. Do it: wash some cookie trays and settle atop a bed in a pile of pillows and read hippie modernist poet and potter Mary Caroline Richards’s Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person (1964), a book Richards published more than a decade after her departure from Black Mountain College. Through this book, Richards instructs us in how to materialize “as force in the world the unifying energy of our perceptions” (3). Discipline is something the book struggles “with, toward” (5). This is what allows it to express and convey a “whole person” — or as Richards translates, “mankind as many-membered being” (5). Richards asks us to contemplate a moral question: “How do we perform the CRAFT of life? How do we love our enemies?” (5-6). This craft requires discipline — though not a kind involving toughness, not a “tough love,” in the words of conservatives, so much as a “firm, tender, sensitive pressure which yields as much as it asserts” (9). I look forward to sharing Richards’s book in my course this spring and discussing her ideas with others.
I imagine myself as unconscious author of or at least central cause for all characters in my life narrative. This is the scene where we don’t know where we are. This is what it feels like to get yanked out of a tree. Reach out and touch a universe of signs predicting system shutdown, life finding its way amidst racing velociraptors. I switch on the light and laugh my way through a double-take of Laura Dern’s bizarre style of acting in the classic 90s fear-drug stimulator flick, Jurassic Park.
I imagine viewers of the film participating in a testosterone cult initiation ritual. Kids are taught here to believe in computer technology as part of the way they can rescue themselves from their parents. A few people get eaten — always — but always, the kids survive. I was from an early age not just a kid, however, but a kid who wandered off from his parents. What can I say? I have always despised Superego personas like Judge Judy. The Christmas season reiterates itself as a time of moralism and worry about parental accountability. Keep eyes unfocused, says the experience, and trust in closeness to family, and the healing power of psychedelics. Sitcoms like Seinfeld, I realize, are portraits of a cultural psyche: the apartment as interior of the skull, like the control room from Inside Out. Personas interacting within a single brain. The anxious one, the lackadaisical one, the clumsy one, the peculiar one — the whole of it unrehearsed and at least spontaneous-seeming. I am ready to dream the future, says the one who sits before the screen. I am ready to prospectively live out in my nervous system my imagination’s greatest, most optimistic hopes for the species as a whole.
From a small Dansk teacup I sip hot mulled apple cider, my head absorbed in idle abstraction, even when I act politely in accordance with convention. Experience vacillates between perception and performance, knowing and doing. With amazement, though, I arrive at the realization that there are ways to enjoy all of it. Cartoon eyes and mouths emerge from chrome shelving units covered in succulents. I contemplate the face of a playing card, a jack of clubs designed in the English pattern. Plug it in and the face transmits bursts of character, like a furnace breathing air into a home during a snowstorm. I listen from a basement as floorboards creak beneath the feet of my kith and kin. Refusing to be kept, I march up and out into the cold northeastern air, plying my boots atop snow-covered streets. One can be in a place without knowing where one is or what is going on, I conclude, for a bomb was dropped to stop heads from making sense of their condition.