In Which We Autistically Begin Our Career In Surgery

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Showing Appreciation

by ELEANOR MORROW

The Good Doctor
creator David Shore
ABC

thegooddoctorposterShaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) is a functioning autistic surgical student. In the first episode of The Good Doctor, he flies from Wyoming to San Jose, California to begin his first residency. Both places are much the same to him, and really to us, since we have never been to San Jose or Cheyenne, and there is nothing in The Good Doctor to recommend either.

When he lands at the San Jose airport, he witnesses a severe accident. A plane of glass falls on an African-American boy. Shards lodge in the boy’s abdomen and enter his bloodstream; his neck is also slashed. A well-meaning doctor tries to help, but Shaun can see that he is doing it wrong, because autistic people have superpowers much like Superman’s x-ray vision. Shaun immediately recalls information from medical textbooks he has pored over. He creates a makeshift valve to allow the boy to keep breathing, but not after stealing a knife from a gaggle of TSA agents.

After they see that their son has been saved by this weird white man, the parents of the boy give him a soft hug. Shaun is neither excited or disturbed by their outpouring of emotion. He does not seem to understand it at all, an unlikely reaction for a functioning autistic. Then again, if he bristled at their touch, how sympathetic would he be in the scenes that follow?

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Shaun’s benefactor is Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff). He is president of the hospital to which the African-American boy is dispatched. Shaun follows, begging the doctors attending the case to give the child an echocardiogram. They won’t do it, probably because they are racist. Or maybe not racist, since most of the residents at this hospital are individuals of color, but racist against autistic people.

In many other countries, individuals with developmental disabilities are being eliminated before they are even born. I would like to think that in America, we value genetic diversity, but The Good Doctor puts the lie to this entire concept, since Shaun’s supervising Mexican-American surgeon Dr. Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) tells him, on his first day, that he will only be doing suction.

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While it is certainly nice to see a hospital full of doctors from a diverse variety of backgrounds, The Good Doctor sort of writes itself into a political hole here. It is not really appropriate or convincing to identify these various individuals from disparate life experiences as all united in their intolerance of a white man. I say, “not appropriate,” because it implies that coming from a particular place gives you no particular understanding of what it means to be an outsider in every context. I think that’s a lie.

As it happens, the actors who play Shaun’s immediate superiors on The Good Doctor have a very specific background. Hill Harper, who portrays the head of surgery at the hospital, attended Harvard Law School. Gonzalez, who stars as the arrogant surgeon meant to be Shaun’s supervisor, spent time at Oxford. I do not believe any of these people in real life would be intolerant of someone with autism, and it feels somewhat wrong to force them into positions where they have to pretend this.

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Shaun’s character promulgates this contradiction in a scene with another resident, Claire Browne (Antonia Thomas). (Thomas is an English actress, borne of a Jamaican mother and a British father.) He says to her in the hospital’s cafeteria, “The first time I met you, you were rude to me. The next time, you were nice to me. Which time were you pretending?”

In flashbacks we see that young Shaun (Graham Verchere) was essentially raised by his brother Steve (Dylan Kingwell). They live in a school bus for some reason, which seems slightly implausible, but not for Shaun, who asks if they can get a television. Steve says that they can’t because they live in a school bus. Steve might be annoyed sometimes by his brother’s autism, but in general he is remarkably good-natured about it.

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In this inverted world, certain people are surgeons. Maybe it’s great that they are, maybe some of them shouldn’t be. It is not up to us to judge, whether we are white or Mexican-American or African-American, since we can never truly know the subjectivity of another person. We must only show our appreciation, our happiness that another person, who exists at the behest of something larger than ourselves, lurks behind the mask of the everyday. In this regular-ish place, superpowers are always secret.

Or maybe the only superpower that Freddie Highmore’s character actually has is that he is white, and the rest is just a distracting backstory.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Wait Longer Than Is Really Necessary

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi,

I recently met a great girl who I will call Lauren. Eventually we got around to talking about past relationships. At first she became somewhat quiet, and then explained something that was difficult for her.

She said that she was engaged to a guy named Kevin until she found out he was gay. When confronted, Kevin confessed and the wedding was called off. This was all fine if a bit unusual, but Kevin is still a big part of her life. She also shared he was not the only gay guy she has been involved with.

I don’t know exactly what kind of red flag this is, but I sense that it is one. Can you parse this better than me?

Lane R.

Hiqfo2C

Lane,

If this is something that happened when she was fairly young and didn’t know any better, then I’d be inclined to give her a pass. It is completely reasonable to have a boyfriend who isn’t demanding of you sexually if this is an area in which you are hesitant or possibly sensitive.

Imagine some guy places himself inside you and it hurts like hell. On a conscious ir subconscious level you might think about dating a gay, too.

If this episode in her life is occurred at a later point, it is likely reflective of some larger dysfunction. The fact that she still has a relationship with this person isn’t the greatest sign, but maybe she just doesn’t have many friends.

If you see the two of them together, you’ll know quickly how much of a problem it is. If you are still concerned, then you can blow the whistle. So early on it’s probably not the best to demand she cut off important people in her life she might need if and when you bail.

Hi,

Recently I was seeing a guy named Javier. Things seemed to be going well until we had sex. After that he ghosted me but very slowly, making up an entire litany of excuses before finally not responding. We waited a month before fucking and it seemed like forever. What is the best way to handle sex in the early stages of a relationship?

Kyoko E.

Dear Kyoko,

If a guy isn’t interested after sex, there could be a variety of reasons for this. It is best to not fixate on any particular one. Of one thing we can be completely sure: if you had waited another two months, it is extremely doubtful the result of the relationship would be different.

It is usually not the sex so much as how it happens. If Javier was coming off a relationship, intercourse that approximates this will remind him of his past. In this case it is better to have sex spontaneously in an unfamiliar place. If he is more of a flighty kind of guy, make him express some significant emotion before getting more intimate. Many people don’t know what exactly they are feeling until they articulate it.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

 

In Which We Delete Our Subjective Reactions To Events

My Binaries

by ANGELA LIPSCOMB

Kyle had this quiz he thought each individual should administer to themselves at important moments in her life. He always asked himself the following:

Who do I want to be with right now?
Where do I want to be with them?

It is not that he did whatever it took to make this happen. But if his current conditions did not match his desires, he became profoundly upset. After a year with him, it occurred to me that this was the only way he ever knew he was not happy.

The sociologist Alfred Schutz divided the reasons for behavior into two possible spheres — one is the in-order-to motive, the ostensible reason for an act, and the other is the because-motive. This reflects whatever incident in the past is inspiring that behavior. Kyle had both — he was, after all, a human being — but whether he was unable to relate the second, or purposefully kept it hidden, I don’t know.

Sex with Kyle was like this: imagine the top of a wave. You think it’s coming down. It is going to crash, obliterating you. Instead of a loud noise, a crushing impact, all is silence, and your head knocks against a rock.

This is therapy for me, both because I cannot afford to see an actual therapist like my friend Susan, and because I cannot imagine telling any of this to an actual person. It would just hang in the air, like a thought balloon in a comic.

Susan has been very concerned for me, so she runs my situation by her psychologist. This woman who advises her likes to frame most human situations in a binary, since that appears to be the only way that people with a graduate degree in the humanities are able to understand the world. She always asks the same questions: What are you giving? And what are you receiving?

I like to do this when I am checking out at Banana Republic, or riding the Metro. It reminds me that some people think every situation is like the one they are in, and other people think no one could ever be exactly like them.

In fact, I know there are other men like Kyle. I know there is a way to operate from impulse alone, and I even value that, and probably envy his modality to some degree, but above all, I do not really understand it. It may be that we need more of that — of acting without knowing why we are acting. Or maybe, Schutz writes, we just think we know why.

I still see Kyle quite frequently. He went back to working as a waiter — he was too used to the money and I have to admit he is good at it. I wave at him when I walk by Cafe Almonte and he gets this screwed up look on his face, like he is thinking really hard.

Last week he actually came over. “I just want to talk” is what he said, for what felt like the thousandth time. At sunrise he woke me up by playing my guitar. Well, not playing, just plucking at the strings.

I just read back what I have written so far to Susan. She told me that he does not sound half-bad. I will try harder.

You see, a because-motive is necessary for me in everything that I do. I think of the first time I was ever humiliated quite often. It was in second grade, when I refused to wear my eyeglasses. I can’t help but think it is highly relevant that I was shamed because I could not see clearly.

There is this woman he knows — I want to call her a girl, but she is even older than I am. She buys him things. She bought him a nice watch when we were dating. I said, “Doesn’t it feel weird to accept a gift like that?” He took the watch off his wrist and handed it to me.

What are you giving? What are you receiving?

Of course he was with other women, but at the most cynical times, like when he told me he wanted something else instead, or suggested a short break. I remember him asking me if I thought we were too close; I never felt farther away. Schutz actually believed it was easier for us to know other people better than we know ourselves, since we were able to observe their subjective reactions to events.

Lately I feel I know what he meant.

Angela Lipscomb is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Washington D.C.


 

In Which We Pick Up Where Everything Else Left Off

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The Most Boring Cultural Relativism

by ETHAN PETERSON

Star Trek Discovery
creators Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman
CBS

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“My people were hunted, farmed,” explains a science officer of the Federation somewhere in the painful two hour premiere of Star Trek Discovery. His face looks like a waffle. Everyone looks on sympathetically.

The plan for this resurrection of the Star Trek franchise was as follows. Here is what people enjoy about this moribund intellectual property: Klingons and Vulcans! Nevermind that we spent the last thirty years minimizing them and expanding the diegesis of Star Trek to include you know, actual other races and peoples. There are really only three, and who cares if they are boring and simplistic exaggerations of a peaceful and war-making race? It is going to be like Star Trek meets Orange is the New Black. We’ll get Bryan Fuller to come up with story ideas — who else but the man who made cannibalism unexciting?

While Star Trek: The Next Generation was great until Brannon Braga took over, the original Star Trek series was utterly miserable to watch at the time. It only succeeded because the other only thing on television was Walter Cronkite suffering through his monthly period. A return to that era is equally distressing, a problem Bryan Fuller solves in Star Trek Discovery by showing us ten minute long scenes of the Klingons communicating with each other in subtitles about how afraid they are of the men who come in peace.

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Who can save this utter trainwreck of a television production? How about the soft, loving relationship of first officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh)? Well, no, since Star Trek Discovery is one of those shows that pretends to be risky with its casting but then delivers on the most conventional set of characters imaginable.

That’s why making this a prequel is so fucking dumb — you are married to this weird 1960s version of reality, and by 1960s I don’t mean free love, I mean the people who were sick of reading about free love and seeing it on television, so they changed the channel.

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Martin-Green’s stupendous acting is the only thing that makes Star Trek Discovery even halfway palatable. She never mugs for the camera or any other dumb shit like that. She could easily fall into such bad habits, because god knows everyone else on this scattershot cast makes faces whenever they can. Bryan Fuller cast Jason Isaacs as the white captain who has faith in the woman who started the Klingon-Federation War, and the two of them are so subdued throughout Star Trek Discovery that I began to slip into a deep sleep.

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I guess they couldn’t get Michelle Yeoh for the full series, since they kill her off rather quickly. It’s a shame since the relationship she has with Martin-Green’s first officer is the only interesting narrative aspect of the show’s pilot.

There are other positive aspects to Star Trek Discovery. The show’s budget does not appear to be catastrophic, but they put it into the right touches. Fuller is a genius of set design and aesthetics, if not actual storytelling, and boy is this the genre for his skills in the field. This is by far the best Star Trek has ever looked, and that includes the J.J. Abrams version, which wasn’t half-bad visually and had the advantage of spending a substantially larger sum of money.

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The show’s mix of sleek retro design and excitement over the standard technology makes Star Trek Discovery a joy to watch on mute. For some reason, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman was brought onto this project to contribute the most wooden dialogue imaginable. Star Trek Discovery is such a chore to listen to. You almost can’t reconcile both of your senses watching it: it looks so good and sounds so completely bad.

For all the show’s diversity in its cast (and it really is not actually much outside of the choice of an African-American lead), the commentary on contemporary race relations has all the nuance you would expect from the white men writing the show. Putting Martin-Green’s character in jail was a good idea, but the show never actually does much with that, and since you know she will not be there for long, you don’t feel for her.

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Bringing an actual long-term plot and characterization to the Star Trek universe was long overdue, but outside of an exciting makeover for the Klingons costume-wise, all the mystery has long been sapped out of these concepts. We know, for example, that peace between the Klingons and the Federation will eventually last for centuries, and that the Klingons are not really much of an enemy.

I recently rewatched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Commander Riker was doing a semester abroad on a Klingon ship. He ate their food, which seemed vaguely Ukrainian. They seemed like a sincere, hearty people. “This isn’t about race,” Martin-Green says at one point. “It’s about culture.” Then it’s good you can choose your culture, since I never want to be a part of this one again.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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In Which We Lie Down Next To Those We Love

Leonard Cohen In India

by DAMIAN WEBER

After leaving Mt. Baldy Zen Center, Leonard Cohen went to Mumbai, India to hear Ramesh Balsekar talk.

Ramesh was a teacher of Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, who held a daily satsang at his apartment, answering questions. These sessions weren’t meant to convert and sometimes he would chide someone if they came too often. One of his main teachings was to get on with your life, to not be obsessive. “Don’t you have anything better to do? My main message to you is that God is everywhere, so you can’t just focus on religion, you don’t keep meditating your way to God.”

Ramesh was a general manager at the Bank of India until he was 60. After retiring he followed the sage, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, translating his works. Before Maharaj died, he instructed Ramesh to start giving his own talks. Ramesh’s talks were transcribed into books and one of those books, Consciousness Speaks: Conversations with Ramesh S. Balsekar, was given to Leonard when he was living on Mt. Baldy. It caused him (called him) to leave his best friend and love of his life, Roshi.

This branch of Hinduism taught a type of mysticism (please forgive me if I misunderstand) where we don’t seek to join with God because we are already joined with everything. In Consciousness Speaks, Ramesh said, “Before the final understanding arises, all sorts of concepts come into play. It is assumed that it is up to the individual to make efforts to join himself with God. At that level of subject and object, nirvana and samsara are treated as two. Therefore, they speak in terms of the sea of samsara, misery, which has to be crossed. The jiva has to cross it and it can do so only by doing sadhana of one kind or another. So the seeker goes through sadhana, the whole series. For years he practices. For years he watches what is happening, and finds himself in a state of pride and self-conceit. Ultimately, when he settles down in contemplation, he throws aside everything. As the Sufis say, there is a sort of ceremony, a burning of all that he has learned and all that he thinks he has achieved. So, in the third stage, it is realized that the world is both real and unreal. When that understanding arises, the knowledge settles down and in that organism where enlightenment has taken place there is no longer any active desire to tell the world about it, to change the world.”

Sounds like Roshi’s Buddhism.

Leonard wrote a note to Roshi that read, “Dear Roshi, I’m sorry that I cannot help you now, because I met this woman. Please forgive my selfishness. I send you birthday greetings, deep affection and respect. Jikan, the useless monk, bows his head.” Leonard made a drawing on the note of the Hindu temple dancer—a woman. But Leonard didn’t slip out with only a note—no he told him months in advance. And Roshi wasn’t the type to be heartbroken—he was Buddhist. (That note is in his book of poems, Book of Longing, which was written on Mt. Baldy by a Buddhist monk still getting beat by delicious desire.)

Leonard Cohen said of leaving Roshi, “We are very close friends, Roshi and I. We were the two oldest guys up there, even though there were many years separating us. I had been cooking for him and looking after him for some time. So when I asked his permission to leave … disappointment is not the right word. He was sad—just like you would be if a close friend went away. He asked me why I wanted to leave. I said, ‘I don’t know why.’ He said, ‘How long?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, Roshi.’ He said, ‘Don’t know. OK.’”

Roshi taught at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, 50 miles outside LA, a form of Japanese Buddhism called Rinzai. Leonard lived on Mt. Baldy for six years, acting as a cook for Roshi, a secretary, and travelling companion. Leonard thought the time was right because Roshi was almost 90 years-old—might be his last chance. Roshi lived to be 107.

“I went up to the monastery in 1993, after my last tour, with the feeling of, ‘If this works, I’ll stay.’ I didn’t put a limit on it, but I knew I was going to be there for a while. Also, I was there because I had the good fortune to study with Roshi. He’s the real thing, man. He is a hell-raiser—there’s not an ounce of piety about him. This guy is smart enough to be rich, and yet he lives in a little shack up there in the snow. He’s a very exalted figure.”

Also, the time was right because Leonard was reeling from the break up with actress Rebecca De Mornay—they were engaged to be married. But he would never have said that was the reason he was depressed.

“The truth is I went up there to address the relentless depression that I’d had all my life. I’d say that everything I’ve done—wine, women, song, religion, meditation—was involved in a struggle to somehow penetrate this depression, which was the background of all my activities. But by imperceptible degrees, something happened at Mount Baldy, and my depression lifted. It hasn’t come back for two and a half years. Roshi said something nice to me one time, he said that the older you get, the lonelier you become, and the deeper the love you need. Which means that this hero that you’re trying to maintain as the central figure in the drama of your life—this hero is not enjoying the life of a hero. You’re exerting a tremendous maintenance to keep this heroic stance available to you, and the hero is suffering defeat after defeat. And they’re not heroic defeats: they’re ignoble defeats. Finally, one day you say, ‘Let him die—I can’t invest any more in this heroic position.’ From there, you just live your life as if it’s real—as if you have to make decisions even though you have absolutely no guarantee of any of the consequences of your decisions.”

“You can read the life you’re living but you cannot change a word.”

Life on Mt. Baldy started early, before sunrise, to meditate and cook and clean and shovel snow. He lived in a little cabin with a bed, a desk, a pile of notebooks, and a keyboard (Technics KN 3000). He said that the monks were a social group, and that Roshi would always have a glass of cognac ready, to be hospitable, that his hospitality was impeccable. “There is no one here who is not, in a certain sense, broken down, who has not found that he doesn’t know how to deal with the things you have to face in ordinary life. So they come here. It’s not at all an isolated situation. In ordinary life down the mountain sometimes you finish your day’s work, you go home, you shut your door, you watch the TV … and you’re really alone. Here you’re never alone. There’s little private space, very little time to yourself. There’s a saying in Zen, like pebbles in a bag, they polish one another. We’re doing that all the time here. So one doesn’t have the sense of isolation here.”

“A monastery, of the kind Roshi runs in any case, it’s more like a hospital. And he’s the doctor. He cures the illusion that you’re sick. And he was successful in my case. He cured the illusion that I needed his teachings.”

But Leonard was still Jewish. “A lot of people who think that I’ve changed my religion look very suspiciously or even scornfully or even express great disappointment that I’ve abandoned my own culture, that I’ve abandoned Judaism. Well, I was never looking for a new religion. I have a very good religion, which is called Judaism. I have no interest in acquiring another religion.”

“My father and mother, of blessed memory, would have been disturbed by the description of me as a Buddhist. I am a Jew. For some time now I have been intrigued by the indecipherable ramblings of an old Zen monk. Not long ago he said to me, “Cohen, I have known you for 23 years and I never tried to give you my religion. I just poured you sake.” Saying that, he filled my cup with sake. I bowed my head and raised my cup to him crying out, ‘Rabbi, you are surely the light of the generation.”

He would read Jewish scriptures and light candles for Sabbath every Friday evening. “I was never interested in Buddhism. I had a perfectly good religion but I was interested in Roshi’s remarkable and unusual interest in other people because I didn’t feel I was at home anywhere. So I wanted to avail myself of that hospitality. If he’d been a professor of physics at Heidelberg, I would have learned German and studied in Heidelberg but he happened to be a Zen master so I put on the robes and I entered the monastery and I did what was necessary and appropriate to be able to enjoy his company.”

When Leonard was ordained, Roshi gave him the monk name of Jikan, which is Japanese for “silent one.” Leonard said, “Since his English is very poor, I never really found out what that means. It’s got something to do with silence, but normal silence, not special, holy, righteous, renunciated silence. Just ordinary silence. Or the silence out of which everything evolves, the silence at the center of things.”

“Since Roshi doesn’t speak English, it’s almost impossible to discern what he means.” Roshi spoke in a stilted English like a verbless koan. “As he said to me in one of our first personal encounters, ‘I not Japanese, you not Jewish.” So, Roshi not Zen master, and Leonard not Zen student.”

“If you have an appetite for that kind of simplification in your life, to hang out with a guy who doesn’t really speak good English, whom you like very much, is a good way to discipline your speech or writing. You’ve got to get very, very clear if you hang out and drink with somebody who doesn’t really speak English. So the conversation gets very intuitive and very clear. And to be able to write that way is a great goal.”

Roshi’s teisho were similar to Ramesh’s satsang, not only in style, but in content also. Leonard said, “Roshi doesn’t discuss. He’s not interested in perspective or talking. You either get it or you don’t. He doesn’t give you any astounding truths that we come to expect from spiritual teachers, because he’s a mechanic—he’s not talking about the philosophy of locomotion, he’s talking about repairing the motor. He’s mostly talking to a broken motor. Roshi is direct transmission.”

Ramesh too. Sylvie Simmons wrote in I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, “Ramesh was a straight-talker. He dealt with his satsang audience much as you might imagine he would his employees at the bank, imparting information and instructions in a direct, no-nonsense manner.”

In Ramesh’s Consciousness Speaks, he said, “Silence is what I needed with Maharaj. If I were alone with him, that’s what he would give me. Silence is the most powerful medium for transmission of this knowledge, for this knowledge to arrive intuitively. Silence is the most potent medium, but in many cases it is not enough. In the spiritual evolution a certain amount of guidance is necessary, and for those who needed this guidance Maharaj would use various concepts. Incidentally, silence doesn’t mean not talking. Silence is silence of the mind. Silence is absence of questions, absence of thinking, true meditation. That is the most potent medium for this understanding to take place. When the inquiring mind, intellectually creating problems, gradually comes to the understanding that the more problems it creates the more veils it creates between the Self and the understanding, then there is silence.”

Jikan, the silent one, stayed at a two-star hotel called Kemps Corner, in south Mumbai, with a bed, a chair, a desk, and a TV. He left in the morning to go to the satsang, which lasted two hours, and the rest of the day was his. He usually went swimming and then back to his room to read, meditate, and write. Usually books either written by Ramesh or recommended by him. He ate vegetarian. He visited the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. He didn’t sightsee.

The satsang were held at Ramesh’s apartment, where less than 40 people could fit. The question and answer session was in English and would begin with Ramesh asking a newcomer why they had come. Leonard spoke up the first few times but remained silent after. The sessions would end in song, followed by tea.

Leonard won’t say that it was India, or Hinduism, or Ramesh Balsekar that cured his depression. But he said, “by imperceptible degrees this background of anguish that had been with me my whole life began to dissolve. I said to myself, ‘This must be what it’s like to be relatively sane.’ You get up in the morning and it’s not like: Oh God, another day. How am I going to get through it? What am I going to do? Is there a drug? Is there a woman? Is there a religion? Is there a something to get me out of this? The background now is very peaceful.”

Before he left Mt. Baldy he had a revelation that he didn’t have a spiritual goal, that he was done being a seeker. “I found with a sense of relief that I had no gift for the spiritual life. I didn’t have to seek for anything. And with the search, the anxieties attendant on that search ended. I don’t know if happiness is the word to describe the feeling; maybe applied indifference.”

Leonard stayed in India for five months that first trip. After returning from India, he visited Roshi again, and lived on Mt. Baldy for a time. They drank cognac — Roshi’s hospitality was always impeccable. “When I came back he invited me up to the mountain and we had a formal dinner. All the senior monks were there. And after they left, he said to me, “Jikan, when you left, half of me died.” I just winked at him and he winked at me back. Because these are just words. Nothing really changed between us.”

They did not talk about India or Hinduism, nor did they talk about Zen Buddhism.

“My association with the community, of course, doesn’t end. I see Roshi a lot. In fact, he was down in Los Angeles. He wasn’t feeling well so I made him the chicken soup that he likes.”

Leonard went back to India several times over the next few years, and he visited Roshi also, but more and more he lived in L.A. He recorded a new album. He fell in love with Anjani Thomas. He lost a lot of money and made it back by going on tour. He didn’t even mind touring this time. His friends were amazed how happy, serene, he was. His friend Nancy Bacal said, “he was like a kid when he came back from Baldy—suddenly he could come and go as he pleased, do whatever he wanted. It took him a moment or two to figure that out, but when he did, it was a delight to see him so happy and so joyous. Baldy was wonderful for him. Now it was time to take the next step.”

“It’s lovely to sleep in past three o’clock in the morning. It’s a delicious feeling, although I often get up at three just out of habit. But that kind of discipline I never lacked. I was always disciplined in regard to my work. It was the wider sense of a life and I put on a pretty good show. My cover story was pretty good. It looked like my life was orderly because it revolved around writing and recording. But the interior sense I had was of deep disorder and that’s one of the reasons I went up to Mount Baldy and why for thirty years I would spend a part of each year up there, just to depend on the routine so that I could stop having to improvise. It was the improvisation of the life that finally got me. But we began to work almost immediately after I came down. So the days have been very, very structured.”

Back in L.A, Leonard went to the Jewish synagogue of Rabbi Mordecai Finley, who said that Leonard “grew up in an ambience of deep, serious, Jewish study. He was up-to-date, he knew who the great Jewish thinkers were and understood their arguments. There are obscure parts of Kabbalah that we actually differed on and sometimes we would be talking about one thing and come back to that thing, ‘Here we are again.’ He could be a great teacher of Judaism. If that were his thing, to be a rabbi, he had it in his power to have been one of the greatest of our generation.”

“Modern students of Kabbalah are very interested in Leonard’s work, because they see Leonard as not a professor of Kabbalah, not a theologian, but someone who really understands Kabbalah from within—the best poetry on the Kabbalah they’ve ever read. He gets the inner ethos of brokenness and healing and the tragedy of the human condition, in that we’re not particularly well suited for this life but you still have to find your way through.”

“He’s deeply well-read, very committed to understanding Kabbalah and—in a very similar way that I do—is using the Kabbalah not so much as a theology but as spiritual psychology and a way to mythically represent the Divine. If you understand that human consciousness is basically symbolic, then one has to find some kind of symbol system that most closely articulates one’s understanding of all the levels of reality.”

(Leonard is buried in Montreal at Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery next to his parents.)

Buddhism and Hinduism have many forms, many branches, but Leonard found two teachers who taught him what he needed—to be himself, to not meditate too much, to let go, and to be happy.

“Lighten up — that’s what enlightenment means — that you’ve lightened up.”

Damian Weber is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find his website here. He last wrote in these pages about Dark Side of the Moon.

 

In Which We Return The Favor Almost Constantly

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

I have never enjoyed performing oral sex due to a bad experience I had with a previous boyfriend.

It seems like a lot of guys expect this and if I’m not into it, they think I’m not into them. It’s just a personal preference, but I can’t seem to find a way to express my revulsion towards the act in a way that makes them feel accepted.

Can you advise?

Harley B.

Harley,

You may want to first consider the fact that people do not usually repeat experiences they do not find pleasurable. It is what entered you into this situation, and it can probably quite easily get you out of it.

Still, for some people even a bad kumquat is delicious, and we can only hope you have not met one of those.

An honest conversation, preferably one where you sob at length, is ideal for defusing this situation. If you need to make vague promises about getting comfortable and revisiting things down in the future, feel free. It sometimes takes people a substantial period of time before they learn to accept the fate life has bestowed upon them.

Hi,

Is there anyway to know if you should give up on an on-again, off-again relationship. It seems like we always find our way back to each other, but at the same time the instability is a bad sign, right?

Teresa P.

Dear Teresa,

No.

Wait, what was the question?

Yes. Instability is a terrible sign.

It’s just when I hear someone explaining away some defect in their relationship with a romantic notion they probably digested from a Jane Austen novel or Friends, I reflexively shout no. It is the same thing I do when someone tells me that they are really excited for Wisdom of the Crowd.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.


 

In Which We Find Eric Gill Among Some Old Books

The Antidote

by MARK ARTURO

As years go by, Eric Gill becomes more, not less, unsettling.

Fiona McCarthy

Art is not an aesthetic but a rhetorical activity.

– Ananda Coomaraswamy, epigraph to Eric Gill’s essay “Art”

The natural world is God’s present to himself.

Eric Gill, Last Essays

Eric Gill would fuck anything: family members, strangers, a dog. It might seem strange, then, that he wrote essays praising Christianity, specifically Catholicism. I don’t know that he even was admiring Christianity as much as he lived in wonderment at the pleasure of believing in something.

Eric Gill never worked a regular job — he spent most of his time working on sculptures. They became more and more erotic, since he was obsessed with the carnal pleasures of the body. But even so, he had the temerity to write an essay entitled “Work.” (Why is it the people who don’t work always have so much to say about the meaning of it?) He wrote:

We must return again and again to the simple doctrine: physical labour, manual work, is not in itself bad. It is the necessary basis of all human production and, in the most strict sense of the words, physical labour directed to the production of things needed for human life is both honorable and holy. And we must remember that there no exceptions.

What is man? Is he just an animal for whom earthly life is all? Or is he a child of God with eternal life in view?

I honestly don’t know which answer is worse.

Eric Gill kept a vial of poison in his workshop, just in case the mood struck him.

Quite naturally, Eric Gill made the act of creating art into a heavenly task. Perhaps he never imagined it would be democratized to a willing populace.

Eric Gill designed only one home in his long career. It was utterly normal-looking.

Eric Gill’s nudes in particular are disturbing, given the various harms he perpetrated on his daughters. He found no boundaries in life, and since he was good at one thing, he felt it justified his pursuit of many others. You can find a similar quality in public figures. Moreover, they never apologize for their behavior, and take every opportunity to continue doing what they enjoy.

Eric Gill writes, We are ourselves creators. Through us exist things which God Himself could not otherwise have made. Our works are His works, but they are also in a strict sense our own, and if we present them to him, they are our presents to Him and not simply His to Himself. They are free-will offerings.

Do you understand why this is not a good philosophy?

Let me give you an example. I once knew a writer who was completely paranoid others would steal his precious ideas. He had this idea — I can share it with you now, because I think he is a priest or something like it, and gave up writing — about a murder mystery that involved a chase across the Andes. I don’t know why he thought this was such an original concept, although it might have made for a nice story. When I tried to talk to him about it he put his fingers in his ears.

He also loved Eric Gill, and introduced Eric Gill to me. His name was Ben.

In a diary of his trip to Ireland, among other insulting things, Eric Gill writes, At Ballinasloe saw the first people either distinctly Irish or distinctly beautiful — two girls. Otherwise, all the people ugly as in England.

Do you understand why this is not a good philosophy?

The world of men lasted for quite a long time. It was a natural extension of a philosophy that there was a reason why some things were beautiful, and a reason why things were ugly. Because if you think at any length about this, it is more a trick of the mind than an actual perspective on events. Therefore, objectifying women was morally correct for such people, and Eric Gill.

By 1930, Eric Gill began to suffer from intermittent amnesia. Even in this forgetful state, he knew he had done awful things to people he should have cared for, even beyond how much he cared for and loved himself. Life had completely proved his view of things wrong, and the creeping sensation of this infected what remained of his existence, as well as his writing.

He wrote:

I believe in birth control by the man by means of:–

(1) Karetza.

(2) Abstinence from intercourse.

(3) Withdrawal before ejaculation.

(4) French letters.

I don’t think 3 and 4 are good. I don’t think abstinence from orgasm is necessarily a bad thing. It depends on the state of mind and states of mind can be cultivated. (Anyway there’s no point in ejaculating seed into a woman who doesn’t welcome it – they can jolly well go without, if they don’t want our spunk they needn’t have it.) Let us talk about Matriarchy next time.

In 1934, Eric Gill went to Jerusalem for the first time. He saw all the usual tourist sites, with the wonder of a child. He began wearing a long, black robe and a head cloth, in a demented parody of Jesus, a man he admired. He was so happy, and then God bestowed upon Eric Gill a painful toothache. I guess sometimes God gives himself a gift.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan.