Ways of Thinking — Introduction


This must be a way of thinking common to ruminative people:

You are semi-conscious of a thought that has floated in the miasma for a long time; but you have never required it to materialize itself until finally you want one day to explain it  to someone else.  You want to put it in words, so for the first time you must see it clearly yourself.  At the same time the thought loses some of its freedom to continue transforming itself.  It becomes more concrete, and will be from now on a little less malleable.

This just happened to me regarding what I might uncharitably call my growing inflexibility and loss of humility.  For most of my life my calling-card included a strong dose of self-doubt.  My family were social pariahs; and in my youth I actually perceived myself as in a sense having been born into a lower form of existence than my peers.  In a way this was the truth.  The one word that describes it best is squalor – physical, emotional, and intellectual.  But I insist on my right to acknowledge that I was born with a certain intellectual capacity and other high-order advantages; and that I have never stopped relentlessly growing.

I will further claim that I have become a worthwhile person, and that I have realized my highest hope, that I can believe that the world will be a better place because I have been here, and more important still, because my children, and now my grandchildren, have been here.  Each of us has an ineffable spark.  I know this.  And I have demanded of myself utmost honesty, and have largely achieved it.  I know this as well.

Having said all this, I must say further that I know full well that none of it is my “fault” – my doing.  To whom, then, must I be grateful, since I’m quite sure that nothing supernatural is involved?  First, the genetic sift.  Of all the infinite number of possibilities, we each get our finite subset.  In mine I was extraordinarily lucky (except for my extreme emotionalism, which may yet kill me).  The other is this vast culture that we are heir to – the treasure to which Emily Dickinson referred when she said her life was laid away in books.

I celebrate books.  My parents were sadly inadequate.  Ken Kroger, my friend’s father, modeled goodness for me in a way I will never forget; but as to the world of culture for which I blindly hungered, I had no mentor to help me find its doorway.  I found it myself, instinctively, and have been burrowing through its cornucopia ever since.  So I stand humbly and gratefully on the shoulders of the giants I’ve encountered there.  It is they who have sustained me through lonely and perilous times — and have overmastered me.

I was told when I was twenty that I had the IQ of a genius (149 — junior grade?).  The only model available to me in the popular culture then was Einstein, and I knew I didn’t find his obsessions in physics and mathematics that extraordinarily interesting, so I had no wherewithal to help me assimilate the idea.  If I had known anything about Shakespeare then, I might have fared better, because “Big Bill” had my competencies, although infinitely superior to my own:  intimacy with the English language, and amazing clarity about human motives and behavior.  (Harold Bloom is his most effective modern advocate:  “‘How was he even possible, 400 years ago?” To me, it is almost unimaginable.

I became obsessed with the same things, and wondered:  Why did so few care about language the way I did?  And why did so few seem able to see, as I did so clearly, that so many behaved so badly, and why they did it?  After seeking other explanations for most of my life, and in spite of my deep distrust, as I have said, of my perfidiously human mind, I have reached a (provisional) conclusion:  perhaps I am, after all, a “genius, j. g.”

I have lived a long, eventful life, and have learned a lot from those events.  Whenever I experience something significant, I think about it until I can wring nothing further from it.  It’s a compulsion of mine.  Now, as “The Shadow” says (in the voice of Orson Welles), I know many things!  I have read widely and watched carefully, and believe that I may know things now that have not yet been written.  I know with certainty, at least, that my life itself has been unusual.  I have decided to tell the story here, in case others find it interesting or useful.  It will be my attempt, after profiting from my absorption of our culture my whole life, to put something useful – my infinitesimal grain of sand – into it.  I feel an obligation to try.  And I am aware, yes, that this may be simply the product of grandiosity, and that I may indeed be a pompous ass.

We are all mice in this labyrinth. Mice.

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