Branden and Rand Together Again?

 

credit: graphics8.nytimes.com

Apparently I missed the news that Ayn Rand’s former lover and protege, disciple or sycophant, depending upon your tolerance for Ayn Rand, Twentieth Century philosophy and/or cults, died. Luckily, I have friends looking out for me, so I was tipped off to the story, which I found, among other papers’ accounts, the L.A. Times article summary of the life, death and love affairs of Nathaniel Branden (formerly Blumenthal).

Of course, the article focuses on the most famous and all encompassing love of his life, Ayn Rand, best known as author and purveyor of her own brand of philosophy, Objectivism, and someone long embraced and cited by Conservative Republicans, most notably in recent history by Paul Ryan in the last presidential race. In fact, she is one of the “staples of the modern Conservative canon,” according to Beverly Gage of Slate.com in her intriguing August, 2012 article entitled, “Why is There No Liberal Ayn Rand?”

Fortunately and unfortunately for Nathaniel Branden (he changed his name to include “rand” in it), his life’s sum and legacy is dependent upon Rand. His story is only interesting by virtue of his involvement with her as first fan, then disciple, then lover, and finally nemesis. According to the Times, when Branden and Rand found themselves in love, the ever rational Rand insisted that their spouses be sat down and informed:

In 1954, Branden and Rand, who was 25 years his senior, started their affair after summoning their astonished spouses to a meeting.

“We’re not Platonists,” Rand reminded them, in Branden’s account. “We don’t hold our values in some other realm, unrelated to the realm in which we live our lives. If Nathan and I are who we are, if we see what we see in each other, if we mean the values we profess — how can we not be in love?”

How Rand. Reading the above passage in the Times article, I was caught once again in Rand’s net: that simple, affirmative, rational and adult-like composure to fiercely defend natural human want, desires of the flesh and the heart–by the head. I was very drawn to her ideas, her promoting the will of the intelligent, rational being as prevailing above all, when I read the Fountainhead at age 14. I was not aware then of her philosophical agenda.

For Rand and Objectivism, the here and now (the real world, the one that can be perceived with the senses) is all there is and the ultimate moral objective for humankind is each individual’s rational pursuit of his or her own happiness:

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute (Atlas Shrugged)

She spoke out against anything remotely ‘socialist’, which is what she considered the payment of taxes (one of the three pillars past of Republican principles: taxes, defense, and anti-Communism); she was for anything diametrically opposed to the communism of her descendants’ Cold War Russia. Thus, the Republican lure.

Politics aside, of course it makes sense that two people would fall in love if they are passionate to the point of obsession about a cause, an idea. And isn’t Rand to be applauded for her forthrightness and honesty to tell the spouses, hers and Branden’s, about their intention to engage in a love affair and the reasons? How mature and insightful about the human condition. After all, people get married at specific times in their lives to others who fit their needs. But needs change. Partners do not always change together, keep their goals the same. Those facts should be clear and common sensical. So why not acknowledge that as just another fact of the human condition? Why not acknowledge the unreality of monogamy as a viable institution, right? If folks were just practical…

The couple announced they wanted to be alone in Rand’s New York apartment for one afternoon and one evening each week. Over the next few years, Rand’s husband, Frank O’Connor, started drinking heavily and Branden’s wife, Barbara, began having panic attacks.

Ultimately, both couples divorced; Branden and Rand went through their final, searing rupture after he revealed his intense, secret relationship with Patrecia Scott, a young model and aspiring actress he later married. She acted under the name Patrecia Wynand, a surname drawn from “The Fountainhead”.

Well, there are good ideas, and then there are behavioral realities. How does a philosophy work that is based only on what the rational self can produce? Whose rationality? Rand would dismiss the idea that there is more than one rationality, that there is no such world produced by individual minds, only the one physical world. But that does not jive with lived experience. If you asked my brother and me the story of our childhood, he (2 years my junior, same parents and home) would bemoan the poverty and deprivation, missed birthday presents, whereas I would express gratitude for a carefree, want-for-nothing childhood. Whose reality is the real one?

My egocentric young teenager self was attracted to Rand’s thinking, deliciously indulging my belief ultimately in my own intelligence, strength and determination as the tools for my future success (Tomorrow, Pinky…the world!). But there was an unease, a coldness about that rational world that even I could not fully subscribe to or believe. In fact, Objectivism, it occurred to me later in adulthood, was only appealing to me as an idealistic, selfish adolescent inexperienced in life’s ass kickings delivered by human beings with diverse interpretations or completely devoid of rationality, reason and/or logic.

Even Branden, a psychology student and PhD, finally figured it out: that the world would be great if we could all just sit down like rational adults and reason this affair thing out–but that’s just not the way it works–especially if some other hottie comes along to derail your principles and your rational lover and guru turns irrational (but logically so) in a rage of vindictive jealousy as a result thereof.

I guess that’s why in the articles I read, Branden’s successive work, after Rand, published books on self esteem, gets footnoted almost, with a hint of an ironic wink, a chuckle and a nod.

And I suppose that’s the fate of the mistress, sometimes, when he/she is caught or even up front about the ‘other.’ People may get hurt in the schism between reason and emotion. Certainly society’s eye will sneer and smirk at his/her downfall.

Obsessive-Compulsive Narcissism

creidt: psychassignment.weebly.com

Two terms were hurtled at me this week, one from someone who knows me fairly well in terms of years and intimacy, and the other from one who doesn’t know me at all except through what others have said or written about me or by my blog. One term was compulsive and the other was narcissistic. One I was a little puzzled by and the other made me bristle a little, both reactions triggered most probably by my disposition toward the accusers. Both terms can be seen pejoratively or neutrally. Neither seemed flattering.

Upon hearing (or reading) that a friend thought me compulsive, my first reaction was “Really? Let me think about that because it does not resonate with me.” Then I thought about certain “compulsions” I have had like running marathons, collecting educational degrees, teaching 11 classes one semester, and reading nearly every book I could possibly read in 9 months about pregnancy when I was pregnant the first time.

Then there was the training or more aptly the studying my first marathon. When I planned to run my first marathon in 1992, the L.A. Marathon, I read everything I possibly could about training, form, schedules, journaling, and nutrition. I hit Galloway on schedules and form, Fixx on mental attitude and Higdon on shoes in Running Times and Runner’s World as well as countless books, including the Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I read Brody on nutrition and a host of others who have ever taken to the pavement in running shoes. I read and trained for a year, from the very first step of running ever to the last step of the marathon.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I read all about schools of thought on labor and delivery from Spock to Lamaze to Bradley, physician-led births to laboring couple directed births. I read parenting books from Spock to Sears, two physicians from opposite ends of the spectrum, one advocating traditional AMA-endorsed practices and parental control/conditioning, the other advocating Attachment Parenting with child-led weaning from breastfeeding and family bed. Soon after my baby was born, sleep-deprived and shell shocked, I suffered advice–some of it was painful though I listened to it all with urgency and respect–from my mother and mother in law and other veteran moms who often advocated letting the baby cry it out (instead of picking her up) or scheduling the baby’s feedings (instead of feeding her each time she wanted).

But I was a La Leche League devotee and read everything on their and other breastfeeding websites that supported a philosophy of breastfeeding and letting the child decide when it was time to stop breastfeeding. I remember so many looking askance at my breastfeeding toddler, including those who would ask outright in obvious discomfort or barely contained disgust, “How long are you going to let her breast feed?” My smart ass reply was always, “Well, I don’t know of any college bound breast feeders…” And I ached too hard to hear my babies cry.

When my kids were growing up, I read every book mothers in mommy and me groups were recommending about behavior and parenting practices, including Raising Your Spirited Child and a book called Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting. When it came time to vaccinate, I read the AMA’s stance and unofficial websites of advocates of choice, citing the connection between autism and vaccinations, plugging anyone I encountered in park groups or toddler-focused activities, relatives and friends, for information and experience. I read. I asked. I listened. And I respected others’ ways of being a parent but, in the end, quietly followed my own learning and instinct. Still do, only now flying by the seat of my pants with teenagers.

But back then, I wanted to know it all. So maybe I was compulsive. Compulsive or obsessive?
Wanting accuracy and clarity about the word ‘compulsive,’ I went to the dictionary online and found the following:

com·pul·sive
kəmˈpəlsiv/Submit
adjective
adjective: compulsive
1.
resulting from or relating to an irresistible urge, especially one that is against one’s conscious wishes.
“compulsive eating”
synonyms: irresistible, uncontrollable, compelling, overwhelming, urgent; obsessive
(of a person) acting as a result of an irresistible urge.
“a compulsive liar”
synonyms: inveterate, chronic, incorrigible, incurable, hardened, hopeless, persistent; obsessive, addicted, habitual; informal pathological
2.
irresistibly interesting or exciting; compelling.
“this play is compulsive viewing”
synonyms: fascinating, compelling, gripping, riveting, engrossing, enthralling, captivating
“it’s compulsive viewing”
Origin
late 16th century (in the sense ‘compulsory’): from medieval Latin compulsivus, from compuls- ‘driven, forced,’ from the verb compellere (see compel). Sense 1 (originally a term in psychology) dates from the early 20th century.

Okay, so obsessive is a synonym for compulsive. Obsessive may fit. Still, I don’t think the definitions of compulsive apply, though I cop to two terms, one in the synonyms offered and one in the etymology at the end: persistent and driven. Those two terms seem true. While the drive to read everything–everything–I can about a subject may be obsessive, it is not unconsciously so nor uncontrollably so. The need to be not just informed but thoroughly informed may grow from insecurity, perfectionism or thirst. But I have never felt like I had to read everything, just wanted to. I love to read and learn as a teacher and student all my life.

Teaching 11 classes in one semester, insane as that was, did not derive from an addiction or unconscious desire to destroy myself, but from the need to test limits. If there is one tag line I can ascribe to, it would be to test limits when you can. Not that I am a huge risk taker, but I do like to see what the climate will bear in many situations. And I won’t consciously do something that I know will bring unnecessary suffering to me or my loved ones, or anyone for that matter. I am a mindful and conservative risk taker, at least for the majority of my days so far. On occasion, I have gone too far and risked too much.

However, I don’t believe as a general rule that when I am healthy and in my right mind I am overrun by habits and unconscious drives, though how am I to know? It’s hard to analyze the self accurately. I do battle with tobacco, an on again off again kind of fencing with a destructive force, but again it’s limits testing. I toy with the idea of controlling the poisonous intake by measured doses, a cigarette a day phase punctuated by long stretches, months sometimes, years sometimes, of not touching a cigarette. Then one day out of the blue I will smoke a half a pack. All right, I’m not sure who or which has the control: Am I playing with tobacco or is tobacco playing me?

Maybe I have a few compulsions, but am I narcissistic? The fact that I am writing about myself in a long-winded journal entry that I may possibly publish to a blog would indicate the truth of that accusation. The very act of writing–revealing the self–for others to mirror back in some fashion whether relating to or denying the author’s words may very well be narcissistic, if I think of the term as looking for mirrors. What does narcissistic mean?

nar·cis·sis·tic
ˌnärsəˈsistik/Submit
adjective
adjective: narcissistic
having an excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.
“a narcissistic actress”
synonyms: vain, self-loving, self-admiring, self-absorbed, self-obsessed, conceited, self-centered, self-regarding, egotistic, egotistical, egoistic; informalfull of oneself
“she was never happy in the narcissistic life that her press agent and manager had crafted for her”
relating to narcissism.
“narcissistic personality disorder”

In writing about myself now am I excessively interested in myself? I have a blog, so does that count as excessive interest in the self? I guess it depends upon what I write about. If my blog were one that solely gave recipes or tips on how to get a house clean, I probably could not be accused of narcissism by the pure donative nature of the blog alone. However, my blog is not exclusively an open journal like some I have read, which are diaries of the day to day events in a life. Something in between, I say.

I don’t offer advice or tips, but gather others’ advice, experience and opinions. I offer what interests me in writing styles, art and ideas, in the hopes of providing readers enjoyment, inspiration or thought. There is no question I subscribe to some viewpoints that I push for like tolerance and compassion, and thus blog more about some subjects, i.e., labeling, than others.

On the question of the mistress in its most common or popular understanding, the woman on the side, not the expansive definition of whatever owns you or is owned by you–people, ideas, predispositions, traits, habits, desires, etc.–I simply provide all sides and viewpoints, or at least aim to do so.

The ‘mistress’ is a complicated affair and concept and makes us all focus on the nature of relationships as well as challenges our notions of fairness, honesty, ethics, love, suffering, marriage, children and sexuality. My experiences as a divorce lawyer, spouse, mistress and human permit me to offer and question the topic, which encompasses the deepest and highest of all that is human. That is why the topic interests me and hopefully interests readers.

When I teach college students how to write essays, particularly narratives of the self, identity pieces, I tell them above all to be charitable: to be generous, to give to and be considerate of the reader, to show not tell the reader what happened and who you are, show the reader what you did so the reader can decide for him or herself who you are, to write with the reader in mind so that every detail, every word is written for that reader. I tell them to ask, “Will my reader understand me given that the reader has never lived behind my eyeballs? Is this a journal entry written to myself for my own pleasure or do I have something to share with one human being from another, something that taps into the universal human need, concern or condition? That is the job of the writer: to share, to give.

Now, the writer (and I mean nothing more than someone who writes) may again sound narcissistic, egotistical, to think a writer is in a position to give anything to anyone else, but lived experience, anyone’s experience no matter what life that experience is derived from, is valuable to another by virtue of it being shared even if only to provide commiseration, understanding, connection and companionship, a momentary relief from aloneness, let alone insight or education.

Am I conceited, self-centered, self-loving, egotistical, and excessively interested in myself, erotically or otherwise? Sometimes, sure. Other times, I am under-appreciative, insecure, self-doubting, self-deprecating, self-defeating, and many other self-(supply destructive term of choice). It took me 54 years to let anyone read a poem I had written, so sure I was that it wasn’t good enough.

Am I narcissistic because I write an online blog and not in a locked journal? Some might say so. One did. Perhaps, I am. And so.

Is it compulsive to carry on about it for this long? Probably. But I will leave it to the professionals. According to one Dr. Sam Vaknin, who wrote Malignant Self Love on narcissists, in FAQ#30, “The Compulsive Acts of a Narcissist“, writing a blog post questioning others’ judgments does not appear in his list of behaviors. Certainly, the extreme familial, genetic, behavioral and environmental factors discussed in the article are inapt for my narcissist label.

Somehow, I suspect, however, if I read compulsively on the subject, I would find that I could be a compulsive narcissist or a narcissist with compulsive behaviors. But I’d much rather scour my Facebook page for cat videos.

For Your Viewing Pleasure on a Gender Bender Thursday…

image

Thanks, Jim, for sending this link my way: illustrations that kill two birds with one stone, to be perfectly cliche. They continue the conversation about the human labeling gene, particularly regarding gender, and expose my old nemesis, Disney. We have history.

Raising two daughters, I always felt it was me versus Disney. I did not want them to be sold into the slavery of gender typification and message moralizing packages Disney style, so I swore they would not see any Disney movies when they were little. They were to be raised on a steady diet of wholesome, no commercial educational programming that public broadcasting had to offer. And this in the middle of a cul de sac in a Southern California suburban neighborhood. Yeah, right.

When I could no longer sequester them and Mattel as well as Disney princesses kicked the crap out of PBS and Amy Tan’s Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat, I had to choose the first Disney video I would play for my nearly three year old. Having long, long ago viewed it, I chose Bambi for the nature theme and the great animation I remembered, not the cheesy fewer-celled productions that later emerged or even the digitalized stuff now.

So, on the appointed day of induction or indoctrination, my little one and I were perched in our favorite viewing receptacles, her in a furry, pink (her choice, yes) toddler-sized soft armchair and me on the psychedelic flower power play room couch, enjoying the lisping Thumper and the adorable Bambi, when that scene emerged. The one that starts out benignly in the field…Bambi…his mother…then the dark figure…

And then I remembered, but just a half second too late. Oh right! The mom gets….BOOM! Shit! My heretofore innocent little blue-eyed, tow headed girl slowly turned to me with the look of shock characteristic of someone who just learned that he was accidentally switched in the hospital at birth and his parents were not really his parents–except worse.

“What happened to the mommy?” She asked at first rather calmly. “What happened to the mommy?! What happened to the mommy???!!!!!” she repeated with increasingly feverish pitch.

Yeah, Disney, you owe me one. That was the day I decided to put a dollar a day in the therapy jar for my kids so that when they were 18 they could go off and pay their therapists for such bad mommy moments. I still blame Disney for the sadism of that movie.

So here’s to you, Disney: undermining the world of Disney for art’s sake.

Stop and Wonder

Sometimes you wake up and the world seems awry, like the picture on the wall is slightly askew and it has startled you into a momentary disorientation as to whether the world is tilted or the picture. This morning was such a morning. I woke up with the distinct sensation of unease like a throbbing under the seams of everything was palpable.

Then I saw this image, a painting by Francis Bacon, on a friend’s Facebook page:

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My first impression was of a human body with a rabbit face, the eye being the first thing that caught my attention. Perhaps it was the closer detail of the eye in comparison to the rest of the impressionistic style of slashes of drab color. The friend who posted it saw an elephant immediately, which makes sense given the grey trunk-like extension in the middle of the image. It also comports with what is on his mind according to many of his posts, which support the eradication of ivory poaching and elephant suffering globally. So why did I see the rabbit face when another side of the optical illusion is the human bent in desolation matching the dread of the colors chosen? The rabbit eye is actually an ear that draws the viewer’s eye to the hidden face obscured by the angle of the painter’s view vis a vis his subject.

Of course the greens and browns that hit me immediately may have associated nature scenes to me, evoked from the colors alone. Maybe that’s why rabbit was conjured up before human. Or maybe I am feeling more like the rabbit these days, skittish and hunted, vulnerable. But the rabbit head atop a human-like body is the original dissonance–a nauseating angst of discord–I experienced in the nano second of mis-recognition, something in accordance with the strangeness of the day, a flash of something barely seen at the periphery of vision that flies past, something threatening and ugly.

That must be why I saw the rabbit atop the man and why my friend saw an elephant. It is what we imposed on the image from each our separate mindsets at the very moment of the eye’s placement on and registering of the image.

We do that to people too, obviously. We see them for the first time or for the four hundredth time and color them with the preoccupation or mood of the moment. We coat them with our predispositions and attribute motivations and traits to them based on the colors of our own palettes instead of seeing who they are in that space of estrangement, like mistakenly seeing a rabbit head atop a human body, which causes the looker to stop, readjust her vision, and focus more closely to actually “see” who stands before her.

I am not Susan Sontag

credit: eventival.eu

 

The eyes of a writer are dark and driven,
sharp shivers of light penetrating to bone,
the intensity of her luminosity formidable.
In her wake, I am merely a shadow writer.
My dull gleam, the murkiness of my eyes
is rimmed in an orb’s golden girdle of rust.
I have no choice but to flap in fretted strife
as an eaglet’s first flight from an aerie safe
but without promise of heights unimaginable,
a mere tepid air surf on a breezy spring day.
To battle mediocrity is like banging my head
through the whiteness of the plaster walls;
it hurts and damages but doesn’t kill,
the painful truth a worthy ache,
a limitless loss of dreams.
I will never be great.
I have little to say.
It’s all been said.
I’m not brilliant.
But I can write
so I can think.
There is love
for my words,
a mind leakage,
sometimes in rivulets
sometimes in mighty falls.
And I will wrestle with doubt-lies
and count the small triumphs in pride.

When I was young I was her outrage,
a porous proud and sure of art sublime.
It seduced me to the eroticism of death
I found in my coffin of burying books
and songs of elusive presence of love.
Where there was struggle there was life.

The residue of a retiring prize fighter,
bruised invisibly and inevitably, is envy.
I cannot withstand the rigors of the ring
and so stand aside to watch others box.
I am not old yet I am not young enough.
All that is left me is the drift and paddle,
drift and paddle.
Until I die.
And I will die.

So What if a Couple Agrees to Have a Little on the Side? Chris Ryan on Marriage

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The loosing of restrictions outside of marriage might help the institution as a whole, argues Christopher Ryan in his Big Think interview. When our culture responds negatively to natural urges, like seeking sexual satisfaction outside marriage, the results can do more harm to marriages than good:

And one more for the revisionist thinking about the marriage institution in this Big Think interview entitled “Income Inequality Helping to Build ‘Generation Single” with Chris Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships. His words are excerpted above, but the three minute response in the video portion is worth a listen as he radically asks, “Whose business is it if a couple decides they’re going to allow a little casual sexual behavior on the side…it lets the pressure off.” He maintains that marriage has loftier aims and satisfies larger needs like child rearing, sharing a life and getting old with someone. The reality of who we are biologically–titillated erotically–and the expectations of lifelong fidelity, he says, are at odds and marriage expectations need to be changed to reflect the reality rather than “shoehorn” lives into the mold of a marriage concept.

He does not intimate that marriage is doomed. In fact, he specifies cogent reasons for marriage, which are the long-standing reasons anyone gets married: to share a life together. I know I will be reading his book to find out more.

“The 9 Most Overlooked Threats to Marriage”

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Kelley M. Flanagan’s Huffpost article isolating the most threatening issues to a long lasting marriage is interesting, hopeful and thoughtful, even if somewhat obvious and common sensical. I especially like the introduction as she reminds me how humans are short cutters and labelers in nearly everything. She comments that communication always takes the rap for failed marriages, which is untrue.

When I have my students write an essay on marriage and counseling, the parroted mantra is marriage breaks down for lack of communication. Counseling helps couples communicate better. Well, that always seemed to be broad to incomprehensibility as well as reductive. Whenever two people show up in a room it’s more complicated than that let alone show up to a supposed life-long commitment.

I particularly like the point she makes about marriage and loneliness:

Marriage doesn’t take away our loneliness. To be alive is to be lonely. It’s the human condition. Marriage doesn’t change the human condition. It can’t make us completely unlonely. And when it doesn’t, we blame our partner for doing something wrong, or we go searching for companionship elsewhere. Marriage is intended to be a place where two humans share the experience of loneliness and, in the sharing, create moments in which the loneliness dissipates. For a little while.

As a 34-year marriage veteran, I can speak to the greatest advantage of marriage, regardless of the perceived strength or quality of the union, which is the frequent haven from loneliness even as couplehood sometimes increases loneliness or at least puts that human condition in sharp relief. Flanagan reminds her readers that marriage is neither a panacea nor a merging. When she goes on to point out the shame baggage marrieds bring to a marriage, she hammers home that point that–and I’m extrapolating a bit–the union is of two individuals not a solitary unit.

The rest of the article underscores the more obvious and familiar about boredom, blaming, not taking responsibility and the like. She does mention another item that resonates with me, two actually: marriage is life and empathy is crucial to survive and thrive in both. True?

Cicisbeo’s Courtly Cell

credit: cinebazar.it

You live in a whisper, cicisbeo.
Your love is near and dearly so
but you are her shadow partner
a puppet and a beloved though
you will inherit nothing but her
gratitude and safely warm hello.

She more needs and adores you
than anyone else in her retinue
and so keeps you soft and close
inside cued cries and shrieks too
and you obey as you she chose
to wear on her arm like her jewel.

You have her secrets and her lies
told in an ear’s warm breath flies
from lips of painted hues so red
the color of her heart’s true sighs
that never you share in her bed
for she wears comfort at her side.

Are you her friend and lover too?
A scepter in her hand to rule you
are you satisfied with ether love?
Gather your pride in vain pursuit
and wear her need like the glove
of your cold killer hands so cruel.

She is dead to you now in mind
she, being blind to your design
Using another’s need as a pet
is the willful way of all her kind
and opposition none she’s met
with the force of a love sublime.

My mistress has met her a match
in circles of a scheme unhatched
come back to bite a cold remorse
in blue eyes of the candle’s catch
sweet and sorrowful loves endorse
the knife in you, the itch scratched.