Wednesday, November 13, 2019

#23 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (KE #e)


“A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it, but there is less of you.” (Margaret Atwood)

There is so much to admire about the sensibilities, imagination, courage, creativity and downright prophetic wisdom of Margaret Atwood. Nevertheless, 32 years after leaving a marriage, I profoundly and humbly contest her contention.

It is not that there is no trauma arising from the moment of the decision, from the conversation with a spouse about the finality of terminating the marriage, from the moment at which you pull the U-Haul up to the driveway, open the back end, and proceed to put those basic things like a broom, shirts, slacks, luggage, shoes and a few books, a frypan, a saucepan, a lamp and a pair of skates and a squash racket into the cargo carrier. It is a moment, no matter how diligently and even respectfully arranged, when no one is home, when there is not a sound, nor the sight of another person on the street, in the front yard or even passing by, on a late August afternoon.

And yet, what led to this moment?

After twenty-three years, three bright and generally happy and healthy daughters, successful professional careers for both partners, a substantial modern home, and, to all appearances, the ‘perfect marriage,’ what could possibly have gone so wrong?

First, from a private perspective, I had been working up to sixteen hours each weekday, beavering away at marketing, public relations, attempting to retain and to grow the market share of the community college after decades of obsessive-compulsive working as a secondary school teacher, basketball coach, free-lance journalist. Without having clarity of my own "driveness," I knew that to pursue a doctorate, I would be expected to read books and write papers, two activities I had confidence I could do. It was to "look inside" and to "reflect" and to "pause for critical self-examination" that seemed to be required if the past was not to continue as prologue for the next few decades. Just maybe, I thought, perhaps naively, innocently and somewhat idealistically, in seminary I might be directed, coached, mentored and supported in a journey into the unconscious, into the kinds of memories and cultural as well as psychological impulses that had been and could continue to hold sway if I were to continue hell-bent on the pursuit of what is now clear to have been "applause" and "respect" and "honour" and what is generally included in the gestalt known as "okayness". Many have written, so I later learned, about how "our" (humans') first half century is dedicated to the pursuit of extrinsic success: career and income, family, home, status, and public recognition whereas the second half-century is dedicated to the pursuit of intrinsic values: relationship, imagination, creativity, ideas, beliefs and ultimate meaning and purpose.

With respect to my then perception of the "landscape and culture" of the marriage, I intuited a deep sense of emotional, psychic and relational dryness, something vaguely felt along the bones, inside the veins, and certainly deep in the imaginative heart, without knowing a) what were the primary causes or b) whether or not the situation was likely to change.

After I declared anxiety about the potential for the union to dissolve, we went into therapy, with a Lutheran clergy who concentrated on Frankl’s logotherapy. After a few sessions, it was apparent that one of the partners was somehow less engaged in the process than the other. The question, “Are you concerned about the future of your marriage?” from the counsellor, prompted my then spouse to question his competence. “Of course, otherwise I would not be here!” was her interpretation and conclusion. Reading for two people who had both graduated in English was prescribed without prompting the anticipated dialogue about the matters and questions raised by the writing.

Time for reflection when considering a major life decision takes on a greatly exaggerated and intense real time application. If the potential decision, whether to stay or to leave, matters, (and how could it not?) then all of one’s faculties, sensibilities, memories, hurts, resentments, and even the “good times” take on an aura of a kind of permanence that does not accompany everyday decisions, revisions, hiccups, and wrinkles. Now, more than at the time of the marriage ceremony, (when we were both in our early twenties) a decision to dissolve that union seems much more significant. It is not only the kids and the apparent stability, the accomplishments, and even the projected future that includes more weddings, graduations, grandchildren and the potential of travel, reading, and growing old together that rise to consciousness but something very different.

We all have a memory gestalt that portrays patterns, patterns and their potential predictability that seem to have come from seeds in the earth-garden-memory of previous arresting, discomfiting and potentially threatening moments. An invitation to host a couple for pizza, met with an unforgettable moment of fear, a litany of theatrical/movie/television/literary experiences leaving memories of unfulfilled shared reflections, another litany of “not enough money” anxieties that eventually coalesced into a predictable and enervating chant, a persistent anxiety if and when the prospect of a new job in a new and different city reared its head, a decisive electric jolt of considerable voltage about the perceived prospect of a marriage ripe for abuse from within, taken together provide an emotional landscape for which no one individual can be charged with responsibility.

What was it about my participation, my person, my attitudes, perceptions, beliefs and actions that contributed to the malaise that can only be described as an emotional sand dune, dry, deflecting all winds, and rejecting the ‘water’ of engagement to remain and grow the flowers of connectivity and appreciation before dissipating to the unconscious water table below?

Here is where those predictable, only on distant reflection, qualities of the Knight Errant with which any and all others have inevitable and serious difficulty in tolerating, and certainly of adopting to come into play. Recall a few of the cogent and pertinent observations from Hillman previously noted:

“The Knight Errant follows fantasy, riding the vehicle of his emotions; he loiters and pursues the anima with his eros, regarding desire as also holy; and he listens to the deviant discourse of the imagination. His arguments make use of the ‘straw   man;’ he personifies, makes the other position come alive so that he can meet it as body and not only as thought.” …But the Knight Errant is also an outcast, a renegade wandering like Cain, never quite able to return within the structures of literalism, seeing through their walls, their definitions and so excluded by their norms…The Knight Errant of psychology is partly picaresque rogue, of the and underworld a shadow hero of unknown paternity, who sees through hierarchies from below. He is a mediator betwixt and between, homeless, of no fixed abode…Or his home is in the ceaselessly blowing spirit…”(James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p. 161)

For anyone to adjust to the vagaries of such a being, whether male or female, requires a monumental commitment, even to begin to accept such wild and seemingly unreasonable, illogical, emotional, fantastical and irreverent perspectives. And from a conventional perspective, rational, reasoned and pragmatic foundations can only be at odds with such a rogue. It follows too that the rational, reasoned and pragmatic point of view rises to the level of public respect, responsibility and maturity. The latter perspective warrants such public acclaim, especially when one is focussing on “unwed mothers” from the desk of a social worker engaged with rural Ontario.

The chorus, “There is not enough money!” for a trans-continental trip, planned in the narrow window between an early teen (likely to reject such adventures in favour of friends and a summer job) and a kindergarten sister, in order to take advantage of such a sliver of time, is one poignant and pertinent occasion when the two perspectives collided. The decision to make the trip with the kids, with or without their mother, seemed enough of a catalyst to provoke compliance and an agreement to join the trip. To all appearances, all five of us seemed to enjoy the experience.

Fear and the intrinsic apprehensions, social, financial, intellectual, spiritual and especially relational, have a silent, imperceptible non-odorous, tasteless evanescence in any ethos, whether of a family, a school, an emergency room, a courtroom, and especially a church. And the Christian cornerstone of “original sin” is easily and readily and tragically transferred to deep, ineradicable and persistent incarnation and utterance in a plethora of observations, contentions, boundaries and beliefs. On reflection, after more than three decades, it is reasonable to assert that “fear” was a third party in our marriage, whether or not that fear was deliberate, conscious, malicious or unconscious, inadvertent and merely unfortunate. Fear of risk seemed to be palpable for one partner; fear of suffocation, stagnation and repression was visceral for the other.

For my part, having been raised in a family of origin in which the mother’s tyrannical turbulence seemed to be the prevailing “west wind” blowing off the ‘Big Sound’ through the house, with neither prevention nor abatement available from her partner, there is little doubt that I was more than a little sensitive to the dominance of the negative animus. It is  also more than likely, without adopting a clinical stance, that I was “hard wired” in opposition to excess female control and power: I was unlikely to behave as I perceived my father had, in the face of such attitudes.

Whether or not these seemingly irreconcilable differences could have been reconciled remains mute all these years later. Brief glimpses of a word or two here and there from two of the three daughters would suggest their general acknowledgement of the conflict within the marriage, while they persistently have resisted acceptance and agreement with the “how” of the break. To their concern, there are no “user manuals” outlining how one is supposed to carry out a marriage breakdown, nor are they, nor can anyone, really comprehend the depth of the terror one experiences within and immediately following the event. These are not excuses, merely a pencil sketch of context.

The Atwood quote above provokes only push-back, given the personal, professional emotional, intellectual, psychic and even social intelligence that can only accompany, follow and result from the life-changing, deeply penetrating and highly energizing (almost by necessity) requirements of walking alone into the dark night. Divorce, for me, has been and continues as a defining, and provocative moment whose gifts continue to unfold all these decades later. Such an unfolding would, of course, be inconceivable without the support, empathy, acceptance and love of my wife of eighteen years, Michelle. Andrea Bocelli's lyrics, Because we believe, succinctly capture both the moment and its meaning in my life:
Once in every life
There comes a time
We walk out all alone
And into the light
The moment won't last but then
We remember it agin
When we close our eyes

Also, I found this passage in James Hillman's The Soul's Code, that quotes the poet Rilke:

Rather than blaming fathers for their absenteeism and the concomitant unfairness of loading extra burdens onto mothers, mentors, the schools the police, and taxpayers, we need to ask where Dad might be when he's 'not at home.' When he is absent to what else might he be present? What calls him away?
Rilke has an answer:

Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East
And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,
dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.

(James Hillman, The Soul's Code; Grand Central Publishing, New York, 1996, p. 81-82...
quoting Rainer Maria Rilke, Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans.by Robert Bly, New York,, Harper and Row, 1981

The question of leaving a marriage to enroll immediately in seminary, has seemed to many to be eminently paradoxical, irreverent even sinful and clearly unforgiveable. Church officials, former friends and colleagues have spoken, directly and even more behind my back, vociferously and vehemently against my decision. Undoubtedly, many of those continue to hold me in contempt for such a decision. Certainly, there seems to be a controversial and irreconcilable position of the church with my decision, which I nevertheless, clearly reject. The issue of reasons for and background behind the marriage breakdown and the potential for reconciliation were never raised by a single member of the church hierarchy, formally or informally, at any time in the rather deliberate and complex process of entering the stream for holy orders. I did have a brief conversation with a clergy prior to leaving, on my own initiation.

Whether a decision to submit my name for candidacy in a process known by the acronym ACPO (Anglican Committee on Postulants for Orders) months ahead of the originally designated date (by the same presiding bishop) was an overt or unconscious attempt to deter my candidacy remains mute today. Nevertheless, surprised, and a little dismayed, I began the process of preparing the requisite biography, immediately upon receipt of the decisive phone call. It came a mere 30 days following the marriage breakup, while I was enrolled in the first year of theology, now living in a two-bedroom apartment with a young male dentistry student. Biography, like other forms of self-realization is never without its unsettling unearthings of details some of which would normally be withheld from people seeking to determine acceptability for holy orders, if one were anxious of the outcome. I held no such anxieties, and disclosed whatever I deemed relevant. Before submitting the document for official review, I forwarded it to a clergy friend, who, upon reading it, phoned to tell me she had wept while reading. Surprised, I asked whether or not I should edit the material, and was dissuaded.

It was, however, at the weekend, north of Toronto, in late October, when each candidate was scheduled to be interviewed by three interviewers. The last of the three ended the interview with this statement, “After I read your bio, I was afraid to come into this interview!” Shocked, then, and even today, I responded, “I am sorry to hear that; I am here to answer whatever questions you might have.”
“I have no questions, except that I wonder if you would like to have a fourth interview, given that you are barely out of a marriage,” she responded.
“While I do not seek an additional interview, I remain open to one, if the committee deems it appropriate,” I replied. On the final day of the committee’s deliberations, I was given an “orange” light, translating, “not at this time” is it appropriate for you to be admitted to the process for holy orders.

I returned to study, and for the next few months, attempted to make sense of the decision, and its implications. Shortly after the Christmas break, I received a visit from the Bishop and his Chaplain for candidates at the college. The Chaplain, a former military chaplain, blurted, immediately when I entered the room, “Get out of here and get back to your home town and into therapy!” He immediately departed the room, without waiting for a response, leaving me alone with the bishop, who, uncomfortably, asked if I wanted a coffee, which I irreverently declined.

In a class of some dozen potential candidates for the ministry, seven of whom were openly and assertively “born-again” conservative fundamentalists while the remaining five of us were dubbed “liberals”. Not either encouraging or nurturing the friendly accommodation to their religious view-point, the liberals were essentially considered “less than” worthy of even entering the ministry by the “fundies”. At one point, in a field ed class, one of their number uttered what turned out to be one of the more identifying and, in my view, contemptible utterances: “The Bible says Hitler will not be in Heaven!”

His statement was instantly countered by one of the liberals, a strong feminist, recent graduate in philosophy, mother of three, recently divorced from a local police officer. The class erupted into an open conflict which brush painted me and other liberals, as “difficult, irascible, and contentious.” Only following a term in Chaplaincy training in Scarborough, when I returned to discuss second year with the Dean did I learn of his recommendation that I consider an additional unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (C.P.E.), likely in Toronto, since such a unit was not available at the University Hospital in London. Connecting the dots, back to that Field Ed class was not difficult. In fact, it was obvious that the Dean wanted me out.

Fortunately, Trinity College Dean was most welcoming and my application was accepted, as was my application to the Toronto Institute of Human Relations for a unit in pastoral counselling. Trinity proved a very different scholastic institution, more liberal, and in church terms, leaning toward what the church considers “high” church as compared with “low” church in London. These terms mean very little to any man on the street; “high” means concentrating on liturgy, homiletics, and hierarchy, while “low” refers to a more informal liturgy and more evangelism, as compared with the more intellectual tendencies at Trinity.

To be continued  

Friday, November 8, 2019

#22 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Knight Errant #d)


Let’s now return to a brief narrative of events that tend to sketch the outlines of an  albeit unaware, and also somewhat hard-headed knight errant.

And here, on reflection, is an example of a moment in which what I would now term scrupulosity seemed to arm the KE-columnist in a review of the situation concerning the Economic Development Committee in a small town in northern Ontario. Of course, the Chair of that committee was, and likely still is, a member of the city council. Facilitating any and all inquiries from prospective industrial and/or commercial principals in their research into the potential of locating a new venture in the city, the chair would be the first to learn about such inquiries.

As it turned out, the Chair at that time was also a local realtor. There was no evidence that he had used his chairmanship to foster and enhance his own business interests by following up on inquiries without declaring a conflict of interest, or without deferring to another realtor. Nevertheless, it appeared to me as I surveyed the ethos of the local municipal government that this person had a potential, and certainly a perceived conflict of interest. I wrote about that perception in a weekly column, which upon his reading the piece, apparently impelled the councillor/ECD Chair to pay an angry and vengeful visit to his lawyer. Desiring to sue the writer, he was, so I was informed, cautioned by the lawyer that there was no evidence in the piece of libel, slander, or defamation. I had specifically written about the total lack of evidence of any wrongdoing yet I cautioned that “not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” Needless to say, the councillor/EDCChair never again agreed to be interviewed by this columnist.

Also, in another incident that only the universe could unfold, that same man, who also operated a local motel, got a measure of revenge at my expense, while watching a live TV interview with a different candidate for local council on the night of a municipal election. There had been a ‘melodrama’ of quite superficial conflict between the candidate and one of his opponents for a seat on city council. The opponent, a local campaigner for a separated new province of Northern Ontario, had been a thorn in the shoe of several not only for the substance of his agenda, but also for the manner by which he pursued it. The incumbent alderman, my interview subject, had taken to some off-colour language to criticize the Northern Ontario cheerleader. As a long-term, highly respected civic leader, in addition to his considerable reputation as a cross-examiner in criminal trials, my subject warned me not to ask about the “language” issue, prior to appearing on live TV, in the middle of election night. My own rebel, not one given to tack around such a head-wind-warning, asked directly, on camera, if the incumbent alderman-criminal lawyer’s low standing in the evening’s polls could be attributed, at least in part to his use of off-colour language. And without skipping a breath, he retorted, “I told Mr. “D” it was too G-D bad, and I say the same thing to you here and now!” My response, “You have already had too much time on air; back to our host!”Of course, my blood was “heated” and as I walked past the cafeteria where the candidates had gathered, I heard a raucous laugh coming from the alderman/EDC Chair, who thoroughly appreciated the put-down. Years later, while sitting in a local restaurant, I saw that same alderman/hotelier who had long-since moved to Florida, enter, note my presence and deliberately walk by in silence. I smiled at the memory.

Another chapter, on reflection, that illustrates a rather detached, deliberate and somewhat sad career turning point emerged after an invitation to leave the secondary school system and join the local community college. The first invitation came in the summer of 1983; the second in the summer of 1984. The first, I turned down. The second prompted a family meeting on the beach on Parry Island where we then had a modest cottage, constructed as a class project by “shop” students from the school in which I taught. Strongly urging my rejection of the second offer, our fourteen-year-old daughter protested, “But you’re a teacher and I do not think you should go!” All her life to that point, she had known her father only as a teacher. Envisioning such a career change would naturally have been somewhat unsettling to her. Others, were more restrained when I uttered words to this effect: “I know that I can teach, I do not know whether I can do the job in public relations at the college. And, of course, I would like to find out, by accepting this challenge.”

What was not referenced in that “beach” conversation were deep and lasting perceptions and observations and quite sad reflections on having to waken students in a grade twelve English class, immediately after they had been sleeping in another class. Whether or not my “judgement” of that other teacher, summed in the rhetorical question, “How could students be sleeping in his class?” was warranted or not, I felt strongly that it was my job to teach Literature and not to have to wake students up from their previous class. Sounds highly judgemental? You bet! Sounds arrogant? probably! Sounds impertinent and impulsive? I’m not sure. Was I getting tired of the faculty fatigue that seemed to be smoking the corridors of the school and concerned that I could also be overtaken by that dynamic? Quite possibly. I had witnessed other teachers who had held on far beyond their prime,  and bored hundreds of students in both the public and private school systems.

Teaching is a highly demanding, challenging and occasionally demeaning profession. It is also a very honourable calling. Working with adolescents, themselves facing the turbulence of their own biology, the mixed messages of many of their parents and seasonal employers, questions about post-secondary career and program choices, and even at that time (‘70’s-80’s), without all of the current temptations of weed, alcohol, economic disparity, helicopter parenting, and sky-high expectations on the part of parents and grandparents, is filled with variety, stimulation, high hopes, and occasional deep thoughts. Chalk-filled fingernails, dust covered jackets or sweaters, the prospect of some 180 young minds and bodies processing into and out of one’s classroom and their respective moods, and questions of how the questions and outline of today’s lessons might “go over” are just a few of the memories and reflections of those decades. Setting a primary goal of “helping kids learn to like and appreciate Literature” (and all of the implications of that simple goal: reading, writing, conversing, listening, critiquing, without losing sight of the “vision”), served as a lighthouse beacon in often ambiguous times when my own motivation was either flagging or distracted.

Of course, my own English instructors had modelled their own enthusiasm for Literature, an enthusiasm that easily flowed into my imagination. Having written about them elsewhere, I will merely mention their names here, Ken Fulford, Bill Hughey, John Wichello Graham, and Joan Laird (O.C.E) and Clyde Armstrong (Ministry Inspector)…and writers like Northrop Frye, Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Arthur Miller, William Golding. To be able to walk on their respective shoulders, while making a living, is an honour and a privilege for which I remain humbly grateful. The capacity to discern the “wheat from the chaff”   in the tsunami of bullshit to which our contemporary culture is being subjected, mostly from political “leaders” and “talking heads” is a muscle we all need to exercise. My own teaching, while I was also as much a student as a teacher, has served more than I ever would have imagined to energize daily life for decades, in the mid sixties when I began.

So…having accepted a post as a staff  (not a line), worker in an organization chart of some 500 employees and 2500 students, I quickly learned that “staff” served the line functions, positions held by those responsible for executive decisions within the organization. As Information Officer/Assistant to the President, I was thrust into a political maelstrom of competing personal and career agendas and ambitions. Who “liked” or “hated” whom was as much an integral component of the ether of the place as any decision about salaries, appointments, curricular proposals, organizational changes and long-term funding. In the mid-eighties, smoking was beginning to be viewed in such public places as politically  (if not yet a health crisis), undesireable. “Project SMOKE-less” was a program including faculty, staff, students and administration, without imposing strict, enforceable rules and regulations. The president, likely as a test case, asked if I would “head” it up. Debates with student government reps., interviews with the college television operation, and facilitating meetings that monitored the program were among the duties of the committee.
In this highly politically charged atmosphere, I though it might be a reasonable notion to “introduce” faculty and staff to each other, from a perspective that might knit a little appreciation and respect between and among the people. The newsletter, then defunk, was revived, offering plenty of opportunities to shed light, for example, on accountants who had studied in art school, following high school, to the surprise of many who thought they already knew that person as a “bean-counter”. Hiring a local realist artist as artist in residence was another of the more happy memories of the three years’ stint I enjoyed there.

However, having taken a leave of absence from the public school board, and having accepted employment at the local community college where the assistant registrar was also the Chair of that same school board, I learned one morning that the “Chair” had been bad-mouthing me in public following a board meeting at city hall. The news came from a colleague who taught at the college, who, allegedly, was not supportive of the slam she had heard. “She called you, Jesus Atkins!” was the direct quote from my source. Our “information” office was charged with collaborating with both the Registrar’s office, responsible for direct recruiting, and the Media office, responsible for designing and printing all publications, for which our office was responsible for the content and proof-reading. So we had already had some tense moments with suggestions of new classroom posters for high school recruiting initiatives, themed covers for calendars/posters, and also the purchase of a trade centre booth. The charge from the Chair/Ass’t Registrar, although unattached to any specific behaviour, comment or incident, had naturally inflamed my person, and provoked a vehement and contentious argument between my secretary and me. Her position was to “leave it alone” given the political repercussions that confrontation would produce. My view was, “This has to be nipped in the bud!” and after a few days of back and forth, I stormed out of the office, like a radioactive bull in heat. Bursting into the office of the Chair, I exploded, “Don’t you ever again refer to me, in that or any other tone, in a public place!”  And, immediately I departed her office, never to hear about the incident again.

The scenario that conflated to result in my leaving the college had several influences. Organizational changes which the president had recommended had created a couple of new hiring opportunities, among them Director of Marketing and Dean of Students. Looking into the medium future, the president had already served from the college’s inception in 1977 and would be seeking a legitimate and highly merited retirement in the near future, and naturally his replacement would want a new assistant.

Additionally, the president, telling me he preferred me to remain in his office, had decided that he did not intend to appoint me to either of the other two positions, that he would be seeking outside applicants. It was this last information that prompted my retort: “It is important that not all new executive appointments come from outside; the college needs to signal to current employees that they merit serious consideration.” As in previous situations, sensing my own anger and intuitive determination to leave combined with a healthy level of disappointment that I would not be offered one of the new posts, I knew then I had to submit a letter of resignation. It was written and submitted at six a.m. the next morning in March, using a termination date of June 30. When I was called into the president’s office to discuss the letter, he volunteered to amend the termination date to August 30, providing two additional months of salary that I expected.

Throughout those three years, I had made it a point to inform the president if ever there were a situation in which I had ruffled feathers that might face him unexpectedly if he happened to enter the same space later. Alternatively, I had refrained from promoting and advertising moments in which others had expressed appreciation and/or support for some gesture or advocacy that I had been able to extend. Only after I resigned did I learn that others, unknown to me, and certainly unprompted by me, proffered sincere and authentic support for my service to the president. I did not have an opportunity to express gratitude for their welcome support. Nevertheless, I did then, and continue today to feel very humbly grateful for their appreciation.

……To be continued

Thursday, November 7, 2019

#21 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Knight Errant #c)


Before we get too deeply immersed in a reductionistic version of “Knight Errant,” especially if considered a merely heroic characterization of any psychological model without complications let's pause. In his brief outline of archetypal psychology, James Hillman suggests paradoxically that rather than “having” the archetype, the archetype itself “has” the individual….and resists clear unambiguous definition. In his Revisioning Psychology, Hillman writes these words: (elucidation found by this scribe after six-plus decades of wondering, wandering and considering this life path as one dominated by misunderstanding, mis-perception, alienation and personal conflict)

From Revisioning Psychology, Harper & Row, 1976, p.161-162:

The Knight Errant is a wanderer, and his path has been deviant even since Parmenides* decried loose-limbed wandering as the way of error, deceptive opinion, going astray….The Knight Errant follows fantasy, riding the vehicle of his emotions; he loiters and pursues the anima with his eros, regarding desire as also holy; and he listens to the deviant discourse of the imagination. His arguments make use of the ‘straw man’; he personifies, makes the other position come alive, so that he can meet it as body and not only as thought….But the Knight Errant is also an outcast, a renegade wandering like Cain, never quite able to return within the structures of literalism, seeing through their walls, their definitions and so excluded by their norms, ---like Bellerophon#, who having fallen from his white winged horse of direct ascent, limped through ‘the Plain of Wandering,’ having to move on, from hero to vagabond to rogue. The Knight Errant of psychology is partly picaresque rogue, of the underworld, a shadow hero of unknown paternity, who sees through the hierarchies from below. He is a mediator betwixt and between, homeless, of no fixed abode…(Or) his home is in the ceaselessly blowing spirit, as Ficino place the home of thought in soul and the home of soul in spirit. ‘That is why man alone in this present condition of life never relaxes, he alone in this place is not content. Therefore, man alone is a wanderer in these regions, and in the journey itself he can find no rest’…(Ficino, Theologica platonica, II, cap. 14, 7 as translated by Trinkhaus, Image and Likeness)…On the road like the Knight Errant and the picaresque rogue, psychologizing is always questing after something while it wanders without goal; the narrative of its process is episodic and not epic. All the while it sees through the hypocrisies, the fixed positions of every convention…through family and charity, through class and money, through religion and love. This wandering spirit within becomes the private teacher of the negative learning, and none’s psychopathy is given a psychic function….It is he (KE) within who is driven out of stable connections, who cannot settle, cannot conform, because he is driven to unsettle all forms. But this fugue of the soul need not be condemned to play the antisocial criminal, since precisely his mordant insights are those that can awaken the callow unpsychological innocent---who also lives within us—to discern among ideas, discover new perspectives and survive. This the rogue can teach—psychological survival. Thus may our psychological shadow become a guiding psychopomp and bring about a reformation of the innocents from below, through the shadow—of the lamb by the wolf.

Was it the hours of hearing deep dark judgements of anyone and everyone whose public face evoked scorn in my mother that sewed the seeds of the KE (Knight Errant)?

Was it the incarnate hypocrisy of her abuse cast on the landscape of her public and perfect persona that nurtured a perspective that “appearance is definitely not the whole of reality?

Were the ‘hollywood’ performances of a picturesque garden of flowers, warm dinner dishes delivered to mourning families, winter coats delivered anonymously to impoverished nursing students and the extensive attention to the details of interior decoration and smocked dresses the stuff of a public face and performance, that lay bare the details of family violence and self loathing?

Did the chant, “You’re no good, you’ll never be any good, just like your father!” echoing off the walls in this diminutive saltbox of a brick house implant a belief that only through such a perspective would the truth be uncovered?

Did the “Hollywood” mother who envisaged her son performing in Carnegie Hall (not metaphorically, but literally) embed visions of inflated potential and the solitary path of stardom, in her vicarious pursuit of value, meaning, purpose and identity through her offspring, actually engender that Knight Errant, the picaresque odd-ball who never fit in?

Did ‘her’ pretense of upper-class superiority, especially compared to her spouse’s church-mouse poverty and perceived classlessness and glaring lack of professional education, (read worthlessness) forge a divided family ethos of Manichean reductionism? (Quote: “Only after you have a degree behind your name will you be welcome to debate me?”)

Was the inescapable and visceral competition between ‘her’ and her sisters-in-law (also practicing professional nurses with highly challenging and responsible positions in large urban hospitals) fodder for a kind of inherent perceptive insurrection within the family?

Were the images, sounds, wardrobe and attitudes of the nun-tutored R.N. so loud, heroic and incompatible with social norms that indoctrination on the aphorism, “If everyone jumps off the town dock, are you going to join them?” seemed mind-numbing until mid-adulthood?

“Don’t read, do something!” as a paradoxical maternal mantra, resulted ironically in a modestly successful career as an English instructor, in a parallel manner to the much later ‘education’ of the psyche, giving glimpses into an identity-pattern of a similar dark-to-light process: from hero to wanderer to rogue.

Through the fog of history, loss, misadventure and wandering, the image of the Knight Errant is slowly and hesitatingly casting both its light and its shadow into its own memory diary, as well as into the immediate present and the impending future.

“As a defense mechanism, projection is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. A common form of projection occurs when an individual, threatened by his own angry feelings, accuses another of harbouring hostile thoughts.” (Britannica.com) However, such an insight is available neither to an adolescent in the 1950’s nor to his mid-fifties father.

Clearly, after decades of reflection, rumination and discomfort, it seems reasonable to characterize many, if not most, of the untenable, unsupportable, unconscious, viscous and irreconcilable statements, platitudes, judgements, observations and cracker-barrel epithets uttered by our mother as projections. Whether they emerged from a sense of self-loathing, and/or a box-car, solitary childhood, and/or an authoritarian(father)/creative(mother) parenting pattern, some mix of genetic materials, and/or a dichotomized religious life (protestant/Roman Catholic), or more likely some fluctuating, flowing and ebbing river of influences, seems only speculative today.

However, similar waters, especially about the perspective of scepticism verging on iconoclasm and suspicion toward authority figures and the institutions they serve have shaped many of the perspectives that have informed many of my encounters with people in those roles. Looking back, I can count on one hand the supervisors whom I did then and still do today hold in high esteem. And those I revere are universally painted, in my imagination, with a palate of colours including courage, intelligence, compassion, empathy, creativity, high ethics, and a perspective of the eternal in time. Conversely, anality, narcissism, perfectionism, dogmatism, obsequiousness, scrupulosity and self-righteousness are some of the flags to which I seem highly resistant, if not downright hostile.

Of course, the second list is the one for which I must accept a considerable share of accountability. At my worst, I fall into the very trap I hate, in a pattern shared by many humans. Living in the “in-between” between the first and the second list of attributes, has the short-term advantage of being able to “intuit,” (in that 30-second first impression phase) a “comfort with” or a “resistance to” both situations and the people fronting them. However, resisting the binary, and the Manichean characterization of both people and situations, one still has to start somewhere. It is only through a continuing process of questioning both my own perceptions and the actions, words, attitudes and associations of others that first impressions shift.

From the closet of memory, especially of those who have incarnated many of the traits in the first list, I recall English instructors in both secondary school and in undergraduate courses. Mentors, too, have found places on the pedestals of “value” sin my imagination. And sadly, friends have been few and far between, primarily from a perception that few if any have indicated a willingness/capacity to share need. Holding to a bar far too high for convention, as well as too high for reasonable expectations of others, I have paved my own path over with my own resistance to full engagement with friends, whether professional or personal or both. However, after sharing what I have considered a reasonable need, and waiting for another to express even a hint of need/vulnerability, I have actually had to announce the end of a then-growing relationship, especially with another man, given the silence of what I considered reciprocity of shared need. If men especially refuse to share their real and authentic needs, (not dreams, escapes, or highest and loftiest ambitions), my contention is that we/they sabotage ourselves. However, the risk in sharing such needs is that other males will consider me weak, effeminate, unmanly, and especially frivolous and thereby immature.

Friendships, however, seem to require, if not demand, disclosure of fear, disclosure of frustration, disclosure of discomfort, embarrassment and private moments. And such disclosure is not exclusive to our female partners, friends or colleagues. Or at least it need not be. Wrapping our male ego’s in armour of steel, iron, or the suit, the robe, the scrubs, the clerical collar, the executive title, the BMW, or the corner office, is a short-sighted, self-sabotaging strategy and tactic.

We men are a lot more than a “role” playing a scripted part in some other person/organization’s drama. Kant reminds us that we are not to be the means/agents for another’s ends. And such a caveat is also not exclusive to men or women. We are not a revenue-generating widget in a profit-sharing scheme of the corporation. We are not merely the agent of new sales, new prospects, new recruits, new adherents, new converts, as if “to market” (pitch, sell, present, convert to the sale) is the primary purpose of any job description.

And our compliant tilting the playing field, the ice, the court in favour of the behemoth organization (whether for profit or non-profit) while surrendering, if not actually abdicating our whole persons, including our needs, our fears, our insecurities and our aspirations can and will only generate our own exacerbated insecurities, neuroses and even psychoses, whether we are prepared to acknowledge that prospect or not.

If men could/would unlock our fears, needs and anxieties, at least to those (other than our spouses) in whom we do have confidence that we will not be betrayed, and with whom we are not in open or secret competition, we would all breathe more deeply, see more fully, experience others in a new and more complex perspective and evolve a sense of both empathy and compassion as gift to ourselves, our families and our medical practitioners.  



*Parmenides held that the multiplicity of existing things, their changing forms and motion, are but an appearance of a single eternal reality (Being), thus giving rise to the Parmenidean principle that “all is one”. From this concept of Being, he went on to say that all claims of change or of non-Being are illogical. (Britannica.com)


#Bellerophon, in his arrogance, decided that he could ride Pegasus to Mount Olympus and visit the gods. Zeus quickly put an end to his trip by sending the gadfly to sting Pegasus and dismount Bellerophon. He survived his fall, but was crippled. He spent the rest of his life wandering the earth. No man would help him because of his offense to the gods. He died alone with no one to record his fate. (greekmythology.com)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

#20 Men agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (knight-errant/warrior #b)


Warrior archetype is the archetype of destruction, yet in full expression “only destroys to make room for something new and fresh and more alive.”
His is an act of creative destruction—he doesn’t tear things down simply for the pleasure of doing so. (from artofmanliness.com)
Knight-errant has broken away from the world of his origin, in order to go off on his own to right wrongs or to test and assert his own chivalric ideals. He is motivated by idealism and goals that are often illusory. (Wikipedia)

While I concur with Frankl that humans are not driven by archetypes, nevertheless, these metaphors are relevant in helping to parse patterns of behaviour, even if those patterns are not “visible” or even conscious at the time they are being deployed. There is also considerable seeding of life patterns that takes place, both consciously and unconsciously/inadvertently, in one’s family of origin, and the length of the respective shadows of various parenting modelling patterns varies on the virulence/hope engendered by parental attitudes and behaviour, and how we perceive them as children, adolescents and young adults. That is the long way of saying that our biographic history plays a significant part in how we live our lives.

From a very early age, I was made aware of a profound contrast between the person of my mother and the person of my father. A retail manager, responsible for supervising a staff of some dozen, higher in summer when tourists infused the local economy, lower in winter when local business relied on a shrunken market, my father exuded a kind of equanimity, good humour and dependability both at home and in the workplace. On the other hand, my mother the nurse, exuded bursts of high energy and intense anger, bitterness and harmful judgement of others that would never have found a place in my father’s consciousness. Superficially, and stereotypically, my father’s image was of sensitivity, compassion, integrity and dependability. On the other hand, mother’s was of turbulent, industrious and judgemental tempermentality.

Trying to find a path between my family’s Scylla and Charybdis,* I found nooks and crannies of difference, very early, between each of them and me. On one hand, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the prodigious whirlwind of baking, sewing, gardening, talking and cleaning that stemmed from each of my mother’s days. On the other, I warmed to time with my dad, joined in his love of sports, especially Saturday night hockey on the radio with Foster Hewitt, and respected the way those who worked for him spoke of him. Conversely, I thought that my mother’s perfectionistic pursuit of cleanliness had to have come from the operating rooms in hospitals where she trained and later worked, believing the two sites were not valid comparisons. Similarly, as far as my father’s reliability, dependability and persistently rising sales curve was concerned, I deeply believed that his income, without profit-sharing, company shares, incentives and enhanced responsibility could and should have been amended, if only through his more assertive and confident self-advocacy in annual negotiations with the company owners. I also intuited that at least a portion of “her” anger and disappointment resulted from his passive/aggressive tendency; and his self-effacement could well have emerged in part from his close and turbulent association with “her” overpowering, even frightening threats, withdrawals and emotional storms. Certainly, I believed then in my adolescence, and continue to hold all of these years later, that my father failed, by omission, to take reasonable steps to negotiate a more significant status for his contribution to the success of the hardware store in such potential instruments as profit-sharing, shares, incentives and even potential partial ownership.

Memory fails to generate precisely the first time I objected to something ‘she’ said or did. I do recall protesting her engaging in smoking DuMaurier cigarettes (I recall the red package!) and my protest, “I wish you would not smoke!” to which she replied, “If God did not want us to smoke, He would not have created tobacco!” My incredulity gagged any response; only later did I deeply regret not have countered her flawed argument, that ‘God also created’ poison ivy, for example, and that was not ‘good’ for anyone.

At about the same time, I recall an incident which, on reflection, conjures images of the early incubation of that knight-errant/warrior. In grade nine, I had received a poor grade of 63 in the Christmas exam in history, a mark I knew would cause repercussions of anger, disappointment and punishment from ‘her’. Also, coming from Toronto to visit over the holiday, my father’s sisters, my aunts, were a welcome interlude of kindness, generosity and likely calm in a season that was frequently, if not normally, turbulent as a direct consequence of what could only have been a combination of fatigue and tension given the complexity and extent of the preparations mother undertook alone. Putting the convergence of the holiday, the upcoming hope implicit in the visit and the predictable explosion should that “63” be announced prior to the day, I decided to withhold disclosure until after the aunts had departed. On the day of the discovery both of the mark and the withholding, my mother’s anger boiled over. I had received a new Spalding nine iron as a Christmas gift of which I was in ordinately proud and happy. Immediately upon learning the fullness of my “failure” and “withholding,” she picked up the golf club, bent and then broke it over her knee and pitched it down the cellar stairs.

Of course, I was heart-broken, angry, disappointed, and probably instantly vowed revenge. Privately in my room, I penned a letter to those Toronto nurse-aunts, detailing this story, my disgust at the kind of family and treatment I was experiencing and wondering, in ink, what I should/could do. Of course, I informed neither parent of my action in both writing and mailing the missive. And also naturally, the moment ‘she’ found out about my “betrayal” of her, especially to these two women with whom she was in a private and personal competition, she exploded again, this time in physical, emotional judgement of my “deceitfulness”. As whistle-blower on the woman known as mother, I had ventured into the fraught territory of disclosing a family secret. At no time then, or at any time for the ensuing half-century did ‘she’ ever acknowledge her ‘part’ in the drama, nor did she ever offer an apology. Decades later, those aunts resurrected that letter, returned it to me with the comment that they were resistant to taking action by invoking the family services agency, fearing both the direct impact on me and the indirect impact on them of my mother’s potential reaction. Clearly, whistle-blowers take considerable risk, even if and when their cause is both honourable and just.

I have already noted, earlier, the story of my knight-errant/warrior departure from the church, provoked by the bigoted homily from the Balleymena bigot. It also had serious and potentially professionally sabotaging repercussions. (see #19 in this series).
During a one-year stint at the first school in which I was hired following the move from my home town, I participated in a teaching model that involved three English teachers, each of whom were assigned to one class of grade thirteen students. Weekly, in what was then an innovative “Large Group Instruction Room” (the LGI), one of the three instructors lead the three classes in what was advertised as an introduction to large classes in university and college, where many of those students would study in their next school year. The topics selected followed closely the outlined curriculum, although occasionally, a slight variance, a kind of spontaneity, was permitted and even encouraged. One such variance came my way when I was given the opportunity to surprise both faculty and students. I chose the theme of “isolation” and alienation, and brought three pieces of literature into the discussion: Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, W.H. Auden’s The Unknown Citizen, and T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men. I mention it because I fully appreciated the students’ engagement throughout the class, and the deep mark the class has left in my more happy teaching-moment film in my mind.

It was in another of these LGI sessions that the Head of the department was proceeding with his prepared notes, already three-quarters of the way through the process. These classes were two periods in length, requiring student concentration for extended time periods. At this moment, the principal of the school walked into the classroom. Instantly, not only did the teacher welcome the principal to the session, a completely appropriate gesture both for his professional reputation and for the sake of letting the students know of the presence of the authority figure. It was what happened next that triggered my anger, and my knight-errant/warrior. This “head” was overtly and unabashedly ambitious, intent upon impressing the power structure that prevails in small town education establishments in the hope of his own future “success” in attaining additional status, responsibility and income. His return to the opening of the class, and then proceeding to “bring the principal up to speed” by outlining the totality of his then hour-long presentation, and thereby subjecting those ninety-plus students to the boredom and the insult of having to listen to the whole lesson a second time, for  his personal ambition’s needs, completely unnerved me. I stormed out of the room, and burst into the office of the assistant head, decrying the obsequiousness of the ‘head’ and vowing, privately, to take the first opportunity to transfer to another school that came my way.

Easily bored, and knowing I needed conversation, discussion, debate and the pursuit of ideas, both inside the classroom and outside among neighbours, colleagues and friends, I perceived a dryness in the absence of a social life in our then family. Having attempted to introduce such people and concepts as Rotary exchange students into the family, in a belief that people from other countries could and would enhance the experience of teen and pre-teen daughters, and failed dismally, and having also failed when proposing dinner invitations to friends, I recall uttering words to this effect: I cannot exist with only sixteen-year-olds in my life; I need the association of adults, and am therefore going to work in the Man’s World on evenings and weekends. Another act of rebellion, another expression of the knight-errant/warrior, I was proposing a solution to what I perceived as a personal need/scarcity, without, at least as I considered it, risking the continuation of the marriage.

As a unilingual English speaking sales clerk, I ventured, periodically, into conversing in French with the occasional customer whose first language was French, in a store in which no other worker could/would take the risk. I have often joked to now fully bilingual daughters, (the beneficiaries of French Immersion classes from grade six onward, two of them having completed French undergraduate degrees also, a third who practices her second language in a secondary classroom of her own) that I once “sold suits in French” in their youth. Their embarrassment and modest ridicule at the disparity of my French accent, compared with their proficiency, evokes memories of that risk-taking that seemed only normal in the doing.

The invitation to pinch-hit for a colleague about to take a sabbatical from his teaching post and his part-time television interviewer/reporter work came while I was engaged in the haberdashery business. A lunch interview complete with an offer of $5 per interview and $10 per meeting ushered me into the television station, as a free-lance, obviously untrained, and “green” reporter/interviewer. That began a dozen-plus-year adventure into municipal politics, the occasional interview with provincial and national political figures, a newspaper column and several years’ writing and recording radio editorials for airing in four stations. The ‘water-mitty’ character inside my imagination had already found expression when I entered basketball coaching in my first year of teaching at Appleby College. Again untrained, without a single course in Phys Ed., with only a single year’s experience as a high-school player, I accepted the challenge of coaching the junior varsity team, where expectations of both coach and team were quite limited.

Naturally, writing critiques of local municipal leaders’ decisions, or their failed opportunities, plus interviews with, for example a federal politician whose government faced protests from Alberta about the existence of French language on the Cornflakes’ boxes (Canadian history keeps repeating itself, without abatement of racism, perceived victimhood, and perpetual perceived injustice, no matter how valid!), or protesting the building of a retail shopping centre on the bypass, as opposed to the downtown core, focused the development of a clarity, and a muscle of political empowerment that I could not and would not have found if I had been elected to some office. Specifically, in the middle of the public debate over the proposed shopping centre, when I was loudly vocal in my opposition to that bypass project, the radio station manager “took me for a walk” our behind the building. It was a May afternoon, and I recall it as if it were yesterday. “You have to be taken off the air immediately. The company is about the lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue, if you continue. The person representing the Northgate Square project has threatened to withdraw all advertising if you are not silenced.” Of course, my personal circumstance and this threat were never disclosed publicly. The public likely could figure it out, anyway, given my obvious disappearance from the local airwaves.

The referral of my name as a “news source”, unbeknownst to me, and certainly without my consent, to the producers of W5 at CTV by a downtown businessman, following the construction of the shopping mall, in order to pursue what was then considered by some to be “illicit” money in their project, resulted in an interview with one of the hosts and his producer in the Windsor Arms dining room in Toronto. I invited the then deputy mayor, a local criminal lawyer, to accompany me to the luncheon and departed after brief introductions. The story never aired, we were told, because network lawyers considered it too “hot” for airing.

Similarly, and still with local politics, I had to testify in a local courtroom, in a trial in which the elected mayor was being tried for election abuse. I had been offered a permanent position as Public Relations Officer in a joint proposal between the local hydro, the local school board and the city, the whole idea merely a figment of the then mayor’s imagination, as a bribe if I would commit to write all of his campaign material. No such position existed, nor was such a position even in discussion. No one had even before, or since, spoken of such a proposal. Nevertheless, a clear quid pro quo it was and remains. Unfortunately, the lawyers acting on behalf of the claimants against the defendant mayor never rehearsed any interaction I had had with the defendant and so, they never asked me the pertinent questions about that interaction. Whether it would have been cogent to their case, is mute today. My brief appearance as a witness, however, seemed so benign and insignificant that even the defence attorney refused to question me.

To be continued…