My Therapist is a Horse

My Therapist is a Horse

By that I don’t mean that it’s healthy for me to relax and do something different, rather than “think” all the time.  I mean Cali [aka California], a tall pinto, is my therapist.

Last Friday, I was having my lesson in natural riding.  Cali decides what path to tread going round the arena.   This time, she was traveling in small, intricate loops that frequently changed direction.  This in contrast to the wide arc, circling the whole arena, that her path normally describes.

My trainer’s intelligent assumption is that the horse is reading Abigail accurately.  When Cali stopped in her tracks, my trainer asked me what was going on in my life just now.

Inside the arena, I’ve learned to respond from the heart.  So I mentioned the cascade of tasks now summoning and descending on me from every quarter.

I’ve connected with a wonderful designer who can prepare the MS of Confessions of a Young Philosopher for publication.  She’s reading the book now and we had a lengthy conversation about the sorts of readers I should seek and related matters.

I want it to have illustrations, like the books I loved from youth – nineteenth-century novels like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre or Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.   Why do I want that?  Because I think words and images go together naturally.  Words don’t dwell in empty space.  They live in worlds.  Pictures help locate the world for the words.

Besides preparing the MS, there are things one does nowadays that give the author what is called a “platform.”  One tries to get to be familiar and recognizable to people out there in the great world.  (In contrast, the Bronte sisters, Anne, Emily and Charlotte, disguised their sex by pseudonyms, and I’m with them.  Jane Austen pretended she was writing letters, and I’m with her.)

Be that as it may, one writes to reach people.  At the present time, that means being heard over the pervasive static.   Today people get to be alone when they’re driving.  In their cars, they listen to podcasts.  So I’ll be putting this column on podcasts.  For that you need background music — for the preamble and the “outgo.”  There’s a 1954 French rendering of les feuilles mortes, “Autumn Leaves” that I like.   There’s a whopping fee for the permits.  Otherwise, the French will have you guillotined, just for openers.

Meanwhile, how about a video labeled, “About Abigail Rosenthal”?  How ‘bout that, Currer and Acton Bell (Bronte pseudonyms)?

So why is Cali doing these intricate to-and-fro loops?  Because, my trainer inferred, while you’re being drawn left and right in your efforts to reach readers out there in public space,

DON’T FORGET WHERE YOU’RE HEADED.

What a deep, deep insight!  The human therapist who could match it could name her fee!

The trouble is, I’ve spent a lifetime staying out of public space.  I had work to do.  I had no time to be “a success.”

Don’t get me wrong.  This is not sour grapes.  I “coulda been a contender.”  Omitting tell-tale names, there was the esteemed French philosopher who was clearly looking at me throughout his crowded lecture.  Nothing prevented my going up to make friends after the lecture.   Since I was a beginner in philosophy, I had nothing to tell him that would’ve been worth his valuable time.  If he had other reasons for his interest, I didn’t want to know what they might be.

Thanks to my mother’s cousin, who was Israeli ambassador to Paris, I could’ve met Charles de Gaulle.   I managed not to, since I had nothing to say to de Gaulle.

I shared an office with future opinion-shaper Susan Sontag when we were both assistants at the Columbia Religion Department.   Together we went to a Fair Play for Cuba Committee meeting, back when I was a fervent Fidelista — me and Susan and her friend Irene.  I stopped being Fidelista when the mass executions started, and I don’t recall how Susan parsed that one.  By then I was transferring to Penn State where I finished my graduate studies in a more interesting Philosophy Department than Columbia’s, though it had sub-zero prestige at the time.

When I was an assistant professor of philosophy at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, I got an offer from a senior colleague, a man whose shoulders were heavy with international honors.  It was a gig directing a program in feminism.   I said (truthfully) that the gig was not my style.  He answered (truthfully) that I was being “very foolish.”  Golly, when I think of it, I could have spared myself the seven years that followed, fighting to get my job back!

During the seven-year job struggle, a collegial friend introduced me to Hannah Arendt.  She was very cordial and clearly well-disposed.  When my name was mentioned to her later, she recollected me as “that lovely girl.”  I believe she would’ve been happy to take a nice Jewish girl under her wing.  But I wasn’t going under the wing of a public intellectual who had written a book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil, that whitewashed the Nazi official charged with implementing the Holocaust while blaming his Jewish victims.

Being a “success” is a full-time job.  I didn’t have the time.  I needed to seek the truth of my life through the medium of philosophy.  For that, it was vital to keep my molecules together, rather than dispersed into the public arena.

Given all this, my present efforts to reach a wider public are a reversal of the whole strategy of my life.

Well, my trainer commented, you need to find the rhythm that will include time to recall and renew your real purpose.  You ought not to drive yourself in a way that neglects any present sources of rest and refreshment.

Cali noticed that we had arrived at a good understanding.  Accordingly, she resumed her

supple,

stretched-out,

wide-arc stride

round the outmost circle of the arena.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Her next book project will be Conversations with My Father, the "Genius" Among the Giants. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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