“The Gang’s All Here”
I’ve always liked to be in situations where the whole gang was here. In Hilltop, the summer place of my childhood (memories revived in “Kid Stuff”) we had a small but true-hearted band of playmates to whom I gave names taken from Kipling’s Jungle Book : Kaa the python with his ageless skin and wisdom, Baloo the brown bear with his shaggy but warm-hearted nature, Bagheera the black panther with his agile, knowing arts of living. I was Mowgli of course. Us all being there, alive, well, fun and ready to play, was no fantasy. It was a fact about the real world.
When I was in Paris on a Fulbright grant, we were a small band of American friends, allies in a combat to maintain our American kind of youth in the face of the pressures beating down on us from the City of Lights, la plus belle ville du monde, the most beautiful of cities, as the French named it.
When I was fired as an Assistant Professor, a small, hardy troop of junior colleagues suffered that fate with me. We fought what we took to be an unfair job termination.
An academic firing has a sacred aura, somewhere between the unfrocking of a priest and the dishonorable drumming out of an officer from military service. It was very scary. You might never work again, in your chosen line of work.
That said, it was also fun! We were young, irreverent, and we thought, so much the worse for our exalted contemners! And, whether we win or lose, we’re having more fun fighting the good fight together than they’re having, sweating to explain why all of us – regardless of previous standing — deserved to get fired simultaneously in the context of a badly polarized academic department.
We didn’t win, as a group. (Only I won.) But while we fought, the gang was all here.
These days, I live in a locale that does not often offer me the sporting chance for gangs of that kind to form, or to last. There is, however, cyberspace. Adhesive group alliances now arrive across far distances. From Britain comes a request, from a first-rate analytic philosopher, to send comments on a chapter of his book-in-progress. From Jerusalem, a request to review a classy book, whose author I am privileged to know in cyberspace. From the biographer of a well-known critic, a copy of a poetic lament written after the critic’s close friendship with my father was at an end. Did I have any comment about the lament by my father’s former friend?
It’s not got the physical proximity, or the high jinx, of earlier fights when the gang was all here, but one can still hear the calls to arms and the distant drums. That much is like the old fun, even if more intellectual and somber.
Meanwhile, however, two unsettling events are crowding round, not mediated by moral sympathy nor buffered by distance.
The first is the final editing of the main text of my Confessions of a Young Philosopher. The Preface and the Aftermath are now in place as “bookends” for the main text. They are the most recently written parts of the book and show the influence of other things I’ve written lately, including “Dear Abbie.” The way I write in these weekly columns is the reverse of academic writing. It works on me the way journalistic training worked on writers like Hemingway. Nobody who reads you in a blog has time for Germanic sentences encumbered by multiple subordinate clauses.
If you’ve got something to say, say it.
As I go through final editing, I feel the effect of that training, like chiropractic on the spine.
Get those discs aligned!
The editing shifts — of emphasis, words chosen, vision — are very slight, but all tend toward precision. One would think that this increase in clarity would make the text more dry and detached. The opposite occurs. As we see clearer what is happening, a floodtide of feeling storms in. All the drama returns to life, all the shocks, all the uncertainty of a future not yet filled in. It’s like visiting a life I lived in a previous era and feeling it as still here, still part of the currents of the present time.
Once again, it seems, the gang’s all here, but there are more of them “here” than I have room for.
Another crowding aspect of my days comes from the publication of Jerry’s God: an Autobiography, as told to a philosopher. Although a book that spiritually consequential can be expected to draw fire as well as appreciation, emails have started to come in from friends of mine, who see clearly my part in the story Jerry tells and also begin to take in the God story in depth.
I am not used to the people in my life being that near. Just as — in this final editing of Confessions — I am not used to me being that near to me.
Normally, I move through a surround of relative anonymity, neutral space and safe distances. As a woman with not much thickness to her skin, it’s been a means of survival for me.
Now suddenly, from within and without,
the gang’s all here
and here close up. It feels like a change of habitat, like moving! Nobody likes moving, but it’s at least possible that this’ll be more like