The written word is a passport to the soul through which you receive jolts of inspiration and information. If the language speaks to you in the right moment, your perspective goes BOOM! Yet in literature, as in love, we are often surprised by the choices of others. Paradigm shifts can occur after reading a few well-crafted sentences- and I envy such writers who can explain my thoughts better than me! Why are we so surprised to realize other human beings not only feel similarly, but use language as an arrow of potent truth?
Suddenly we feel less alone and more connected again, beckoned by luminous souls and brutally honest muses filling enough pages to conquer our lazy, apathetic and distracted selves. Our silly egos incorrectly assumed we are the only ones who feel as we do. Thanks to Mary Oliver, Matt Licata and Cheryl Strayed, and the hundreds of relatively or obscure authors who nourish and delight me with their work. I have life-changing books by authors that I wouldn't even know existed if they weren't languishing on shelves in my blue room... the one with The Perlmutter.
Do fame, popularity or notoriety increase value?
We idolize and demonize our fellow humans, based largely upon opinion and what we have heard. How much do we acknowledge the human capacity for empathy or cruelty within ourselves? We project onto famous people, and speak of them with familiarity, like we know "them". As if we own a piece of that being. I can tell you from experience that public personas and private lives can be vastly different. How much does it matter that your favorite celebrity, icon or guru embodies his or her work?
For example, take Kanye West. Suffering from delusions of grandeur, Kanye appears obnoxious, but can we still enjoy his music mashups? What about Woody Allen? He slept with, then married, his adopted daughter and his entire family accuses him of molesting his other daughter. Are his movies still worth watching? Consider Michael Jackson. Do his Neverland slumber parties- with ugly dyfunction including children- render his music less enjoyable? Hillary's email, Weiner's weiner, Bikram's perversion, Hemingway's booze, Reagan's parenting, Duchovny's libido, Cruise's Scientology, Polanski's boundaries, etc...
A notorious philanderer, Bill Clinton, is both a Rhodes Scholar and former U.S. President, who balanced the National budget and created jobs. Pitchforks emerged on the horizon in his second term, and taxpayers were forced to spend forty MILLION dollars on an investigation about a blow job in The Oval Office. Does acting like an immature frat boy and serial misogynist negate the good he has done?
While we're on the topic of Bills... Cosby was drugging and raping dozens of women while maintaining a facade as the quintessential family advocate, promoting literacy and kindness via The Electric Company and Fat Albert. Cosby represented fatherhood as a Huxtable and broke barries by depicting a middle-class African American success story in mostly white prime time. He spoke of cultural anomalies within the black culture with righteousness. Are these accomplishments worthless?
As Governor of NY, Elliot Spitzer, was one of many politicians sharing the same group of escorts regularly, but as soon as he dared to expose white collar crime, his sex life was made public. American enjoys a good public shaming about sexual activity, especially in cases of extreme power.
Recent activity in our pantheon of shame makes Nixon's Watergate seems benign as a scandal. We are telling our children not to watch any news for good reason. The public humiliation of a Scarlet Letter is sport for political adversaries, and citizens are eating it up. C-SPAN's live feed is akin to watching paint dry, until a scandal comes to Washington. America loves a good reality TV show! It's the only way to see what is happening in real time, without the filter of bias.
Tar and Feather them all! OK. Then what?
As my garnet blood is pulled from the nurse's needle into thin vials marked "Kennedy" for the lab, I consider what it means to be human (and wonder what to eat for lunch.) My blood joined in the strict lines of the phlebotomist's cart appears identical to the other vials. Blood is a lovely color, yet lacks the beautiful variation in shades of human skin. Diversity enriches everything and can be celebrated, but the fact is that humans have more in common than we may realize. Most of the names and labels we use are constructs of mind that only divide and separate us from one another. Reading beyond the Western canon of literature has informed me of a world past my own nose.
Literature and quotes offer glimpses of humanity's shadow and light. This isn't new. Throughout time, creative figures have given us beautiful and inspiring language come from historical and cultural figures throughout history. We get to decide how much it matters that there be congruence between their persona and personal life. We've mentioned two notorious Bills, and The Incredible Hulk's David Banner might have a few things to say about the murky side of human nature. Shadows can be hard to distinguish in certain people, until they turn green... or something.
Just for fun, can you guess who wrote or said each of the following quotes? (Consider before scrolling to the bottom to reveal the author.)
1. "An action committed in anger is an action doomed to failure."
2. "A person who is guided by God will never be misguided . . ."
3. "Faith moves mountains, but only knowledge moves them to the right place."
4. "Can a nation be free if it oppresses other nations? It cannot."
5. "The writer is the engineer of the human soul."
6. “Countless millions who have walked this earth before us have gone through this, so this is just an experience we all share.”
7. "I have noticed that the people who try hardest to impose moral code on others (not in self-defense) are often the least careful to abide by that moral code themselves."
8. "As long as you have love in your heart, you'll never be alone."
9. "It takes less courage to criticize the decisions of others than to stand by your own."
10. "May God Almighty give our work His blessing, strengthen our purpose, and endow us with wisdom and the trust of our people."
Genghis Khan, Osama Bin Laden, Joseph Goebbels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Ted Bundy, Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson, Atila the Hun, Hitler.
These individuals could not handle the raging spirit that dwells inside all earthly beings. They carried out acts of violence against humankind with intention and a sickening level of perseverance. Terrible... but not terribly unlike many politicians in every nation do by adding and removing rights. They did not start out so different from the ones they hurt and tortured, but through their duality, they became monsters. Human capacity for creation and destruction has not changed since the beginning of existence.
Can you tame your duality? Perhaps you should ask David Banner/The Hulk, a la Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, St. Vitus's Dance/Parkinson's, or DP (Dr. Parkinson)/PD (Parkinson's Disease). These characters evoke the qualities of ancient Indian deities, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Like anyone with an incurable and progressive brain disease, we understand destruction is certain and that creation becomes absolutely necessary for survival. David Banner is not the only one well-acquainted with duality and impermanence. The choice is ours, in each moment.
One more notable example:
Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Peace Prize philanthropist, also created dynamite. He wanted to leave a better legacy than just BOOM!
"Nearly two years of concentrated research, hard work, and the very real possibility of curing my... problem... seems at last to be here." -Doctor David Banner, just before he turns into The Incredible Hulk in his own laboratory.
David Banner playlist:
A BIG THANK YOU to Liz Eisinger Lande for her excellent editing!