Natalia J. Garland
Since I have some long notes for the month of March, I will start
without much introductory conversation. As often seems true of
our current societal and political dynamics, narcissism plays a
major role in how people view the world and relate to one another.
My first note deals with what seems to be a progressive unfolding
of narcissism in public life.
Have you ever given a gift to a
narcissist? Or received one from a narcissist? Recently, there
was controversy over the gift exchange between the President of
the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The
gift given by the Prime Minister was much greater in monetary
value and in depth of friendship. This unequal exchange prompted
me to think about gift-giving, and about the number of gifts I
have given and received over the years--especially at office
feel entitled to receive gifts? Do they underestimate the
value of others' gifts and the significance of the relationship
with the gift-giver? Do narcissists appreciate only gifts which
reflect their grandiose sense of self-importance? In other words,
a gift which represents historical or emotional bonds might not
reflect the narcissist's self-absorption. An ability to identify
with history and to engage in friendship would require the
narcissist to affirm others as equal or even superior (or to
accept the inferior as nevertheless a worthy human being).
(particularly political narcissists) probably prefer gifts that
can be worn or displayed as an indication of personal importance.
Designer jewelry might be preferred over a hand-carved marble
statue of...oh...Winston Churchill who helped win a world war.
Knighthood or a medal of honor might be preferred over...let's
say...a letter-opener made from the old oak tree in Churchill's
If it is better to
receive than to give, then narcissists are probably stingy
gift-givers--unless they feel vulnerable to the approval of
someone whose status is regarded as a flattering reflection of
their self-inflation. For example, I remember an office Christmas
party at which I was given a lovely etched-glass paperweight. I
felt esteemed until I turned it over and found the price tag still
on it. The paperweight had been bought on sale at a drastically
Now, I knew the
gift-giver very well. Her manners and etiquette were impeccable.
She would never, never, never leave a price tag on anything. The
tag had been left there on purpose. The underlying message was
that although my co-worker was obligated to buy me a gift because
she had drawn my name, she regarded me as inferior. She knew me
very well, too. She knew that I would put the paperweight on my
desk--thereby reflecting her good taste--and that I would always
feel the cheapness and embarrassment of the tag's message. It was
a masterful setup and I was too polite to expose it.
There is nothing
wrong with buying things on sale. If my co-worker had removed the
price tag, the gift would have symbolized her regard for our
professional relationship. It would have been a statement of
respect and equality. Even if I had later found out that she
bought it on sale, the thoughtfulness of the gift would have
remained intact because of the integrity of the presentation.
Instead, the inclusion of the price tag enabled my co-worker's
pathological narcissism to remain intact and dominant. [NOTE: The
descriptive details of this section were modified to prevent any
identification of real persons and situations.]
sorry for a president
Should Americans feel sorry for
any President of the United States? Should we sympathize with the
problems he may have inherited from former presidents? With
regard to governing, I do not feel sorry for any president. Since
Obama is our current leader, let's use him as an example.
Obama wanted and
sought the job of President of the United States. He should
behave with dignity and command respect at all times. He cannot
blame any former administration for the problems he now faces.
Those problems belong to him now, and he must find solutions. If
he did not want to inherit those problems, and if he cannot find
solutions, then he should not have sought the job. Every
president inherits the problems of his predecessors, as well as
the advantages of historical hindsight.
If President Obama
broke his leg, or if he lost his favorite pen, then I might feel
sorry for him. But I do not feel sorry for him because he has
encountered extreme problems--that's his job. It is not about
misfortune, but about qualifications. The President is not a
victim. He is, or should be, a protector of the nation.
Purchasing a new computer is stressful. There
are so many different models and prices, and a range of prices for
the same computer at different stores. Since I have not found
one with which I am completely satisfied, I decided that I might
keep my old computer until the next version of Windows is
released. Until then, in order to update my old computer, I spent
a small fortune on accessories. I got a USB port hub, a media
card reader, a wireless mouse, a bluetooth dongle, and some extra
RAM. Whew! And, in anticipation of my new computer, I also got
an external floppy drive.
While shopping for
these items, I came across an attachable light for laptop
computers. It connects via the USB port, has a coiled and
flexible aluminum neck that can reach around the computer, and
shines a small but adequate lightbeam on the keyboard. I bought
two. It is guaranteed to provide 3 years of light before it burns
out (the LED light is not replaceable). So, I figure I will have
a lighted keyboard for a total of 6 years.
My eyes are very
sensitive to bright lights and glare. I generally turn on one
lamp in a room, and sit several feet away from the lamp. I am
comfortable and can function with this soft light, or with
filtered daylight from a window. However, I do have difficulty
seeing my keyboard at night when all the curtains are closed.
The attachable light is perfect for illuminating the keyboard
and preventing typing errors. It's a little weird-looking, but
I'm glad to have it.
Although James Michener (who died in 1997) is
a popular author who wrote many novels, I never read any of his
works. Recently, I came across what is probably one of his
lesser-known novels, Journey. Written in 1988, the story
takes place during the gold rush days of Alaska. It seems like an
appropriate novel for 2009 because it is about money: both the
adventure of obtaining wealth and also the conflicts which arise
when people are motivated to amass wealth from character qualities
of greediness and selfishness.
There is an extra
treat at the end of the novel. Michener includes a chapter on
writing novels in general, and specifically on how he went about
writing Journey. The following is excerpted from pp.
A manuscript is a
subtle affair, and long ones such as those I most often write
need to be carefully constructed; components that appear in an
early episode are established there to be put to effective use in
the latter part of the book, and incidents which seem almost
irrelevant may have considerable meaning because they create
values which become important later.
I do not mean by
this the use of contrived clues, as in a detective story. I mean
the inherent components of storytelling, whose proper use is so
essential in establishing style and winning reader confidence and
participation. And I mean particularly the phenomenon of
component of a narrative, adroitly used, can produce resonance.
novel is an interwoven series of freighted words and images, of
characters who behave in certain ways, of a physical setting which
carries its own unique identification, and of the narrative which
can be strengthened, or foreshadowed, by comparable incidents that
have occurred earlier. I try constantly to introduce words,
phrases, incidents and meanings in one part of the narrative so
that when they reappear later they will do so with intensified
significance. One of the joys of reading is the friendly
recognition of these resonances.
to the great advantage of any narrative, when the reader comes
upon a phrase, a complete thought, a character or an incident with
which he or she is already familiar. The reader then enjoys the
pleasure of recognition or the thrill of renewed acquaintance or
can admire the aptness of the passage.
I have thought of
my novels as seamless webs which could start anywhere, end
anywhere, and that, I suppose, is why some have felt that my
concluding chapters are unsatisfying. The criticism is justified.
I do not tie loose strings together; I do not want to imitate
certain composers of symphonies who start to end their music some
four or five minutes early and proceed with a noisy series of
crescendoes until they finish with a titanic bang. I prefer to
have my novels wind down at exactly the same place I used in
starting them, as if to let the reader know that the basic
situation goes on and on, and since it can't all be of maximum
intensity, I am forced to stop my orchestra
[End of quote.]
Those of us who grew up with books (and only
books) might have a cultural advantage over those who are growing
up with computers. Let me make it clear that I enjoy and depend on
my computer and the internet. I enjoy having worldwide
communication with others whom I could never have met otherwise.
And, I depend on smooth access to vast research materials which
would be much more difficult and time-consuming to find in
offer a different kind of pleasure: the opportunity to follow a
particular author's thoughts through successive publications, the
joy of discovering a new author (such as Michener mentioned above,
even though his works are relatively old), and the ability to
pick and keep books as physical objects. My personal library
provides me with great comfort. I have bought books which I have
never read. But there they are, on the shelf, waiting for me like
ripe fruit that never spoils. There is a satisfaction in the hunt
for books, the acquisition of and organizing of subjects and
authors, and the reading and re-reading of the printed word on
paper pages bound together.
It is difficult to
read articles on the internet because computer screens are hard on
the eyes (I know, my age is showing). I usually visually scan an
article and if it fills my needs, I download it and print it later
on. This process does not carry the resonances of which
Michener spoke in the above quotation. The literary processes of
words, phrases, paragraphs, plot and characters do not stir my
mind in the same way as a book held in my hands. It is difficult
to imagine an intellectual or creative life bereft of browsing
bookstores and libraries. Perhaps the key to a literary life is to
blend the convenient and communicative aspects of technology with
the ownership and relationship aspects of books and authors.
It has been reported that, as the economy
worsens, more people are joining or re-enlisting in the military.
It is a way to make a living as well as an act of patriotism. In
addition, more young men are enrolling in seminaries. The
priesthood is regarded as a vocational opportunity in these
seminarians sincere? Perhaps an unexpected benefit of the current
economic crisis is that people have to be more creative about
survival, more soul-searching regarding values, and more open to
developing other parts of their personality. What is surprising
is that multitudes of people had not already flocked to the
seminaries, monasteries, and convents. It would seem that our
decaying culture would have stimulated a genuine spiritual revival
a long time ago.
There was an
increase in church attendance after 9/11. However, the economy
seemed stable at that time. Anyway, most of us kept our jobs and
did not lose our investments. But then church attendance
diminished as the shock of 9/11 also seemed to subside. Denial,
rather than spirituality, became the coping method for many
people. It is more difficult, however, to deny the economic
crisis. People experience it directly and see it all around them.
For some there is unemployment and deprivation. It is not a
one-time shock, but an ongoing struggle and worry.
Will more people
continue turn to God for mercy? Will some turn to totalitarian
governments in which idolatry of the leader replaces worship of
God? Let us hope that the influx of new seminarians will help to
restore faith, hope, and charity in America.
As detainees are released from the
Guantánamo Bay Prison, President Obama apparently wants
them to sign a pledge that they will no longer participate in
terrorism. How will these individuals uphold their pledges when
they return to terroristic countries or communities, or to
whatever country will accept them? Will terrorist groups not
track them as they leave prison? Will they or their families not
face persecution if they do not rejoin terrorist groups? And,
after spending years in prison, would some of them not seek
revenge on their captors (i.e., by resuming terrorist activity)?
believes that imprisonment and/or torture are ineffective and
unjust--as a matter of personal principles and values, rather than
military strategy and national security measures. But why does he
believe that an anti-terror pledge would be effective? Where is
the evidence or what is the argument to support anti-terror
pledges as an effective way of stopping or preventing terrorism?*
problems are greater than political problems
cultural dynamics or political tactics that cause oppression, or
a combination or sequence of both? If society (or the various
cultural groups composing a society) approve of the oppression of
people who disagree, then those oppressive practices can become
laws. We see this today as extreme multiculturalism finds virtue
in all the world's religions except Christianity. Christians are
regarded as haters because of their moral beliefs about certain
beginning to live in fear in America because of the oppression of
their personal moral values which are perceived as contrary to
tolerance and to the general welfare of the nation. However,
perhaps with the exception of their anti-abortion stance, most
Christians do not attempt to translate their beliefs into laws.
Christianity is a free choice. But, extreme multiculturalism is
becoming increasingly regulatory. Prayer, the crucifix, and even
Christmas trees are targeted as actions and symbols of
at risk of losing their rights: free speech, assembly, worship,
and the pursuit of happiness. Whether in the workplace or at
school, some Christians feel inhibited to identify themselves as
followers of Christ and to voice their worldview. Unless
Christians assert their rights, influence society by
appropriately role-modeling biblical teachings, and vote for
officials who correctly interpret the Constitution, then they
will have to attend churches underground or face persecution.
It is not an exaggeration to say that someday certain social
themes could become illegal as sermon topics.
in the parking lot
There are a lot chips, scrapes and
scratches on my car--all of which were gotten in parking lots. I
do not remember, years ago, that cars were so relentlessly
mistreated by other drivers. As I tried to figure out why people
slam their car doors and shopping carts into the car parked next
to them, I considered the following possibilities: (1) There used
to be more parallel parking, (2) Parking spaces used to be painted
with diagonal lines, making it easier to pull into a space more
evenly, (3) Perhaps the spaces were also larger, leaving more room
Then it came to me.
Slamming one's car door into another car is an expression of road
rage. It's quick, easy, and anonymous. The perpetrator never
gets caught. Angry people can unleash some of their hostility by
marring the nice car next to them, and by imagining the pain they
caused the owner. Oh well, looking on the bright side, I suppose
I would rather have a multi-chipped car than to be rammed on the
highways. America: drive safely!
Today's essay is
not finished. I had a few more topics outlined and ready to be
written up. But, perhaps like Michener, I do not feel (at least
for today) the need to bring everything to a refined completion.
I will simply end rather than finish. I write will other essays;
perhaps a novel. (Written 03/16/09: bibliography available.)
[*ADDED NOTE: As of
October, 2010, The Director of National Intelligence has reported
that 150 of the released prisoners (out of 589) have returned or
are suspected to have returned to terrorist or insurgent activity.
In reaction to this, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman
Christopher Bond (R-MO), said:
latest numbers make clear that fulfilling a campaign promise to
close Guantanamo Bay is overriding what should be the
administration’s first priority—protecting Americans from
terrorists. It is unacceptable to continue transferring these
dangerous detainees when we know that one in four are confirmed or
suspected of returning to the fight. If one of these dangerous
detainees attacks our troops or civilians, I don’t know how the
administration will explain to the American people that we had him
in custody, knew the risk he could return to the fight, and let him
[End of quote.]
One can only wonder
if any of the 150 had signed Obama's anti-terror pledge. As I
wrote in Hatred Complex and Self-Hatred Sequence,
there is a difference between terrorist honor and
civilized honor. One cannot expect a terrorist--at least,
without some form of rehabilitation--to behave according to the
rules, standards, and values of Western Civilization.]
Until we meet