A Reflection on: the Passing of Michael Jackson
From: Ron Price
05.07.2009 15:34:09
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ARE YOU WITH-IT?

One of the more interesting patterns of life is the degree to which one is with-it, in it or out of it. In primary and secondary school, for the most part, I was with-it, in it, part of it. A conformity, an almost total consonance, being with-it implies a conformism just a little ahead of oneís time, a bit of a trend setter. This was not a dominant part of my day-to-day ethos in those pre-puberal and adolescent days. But there was enough of this inner comfort station in my location to allow me to say I felt at home, part of the scene, at ease.

This was true until I was eighteen, when in the early months of that year I moved to another town where I knew noone.  I began here, quite seriously, to feel out of step, out of spiritual affinity with my world. That inner vibration that is in tune with the outside disappeared and there it stayed for ten years. I felt ill-at-ease, with a sense of complaint, of fret, of uncomfortableness, of estrangement, of anomie. And here I stayed, in varying degrees of intensity, until I was twenty-seven. These years coincided with the first ten years of my experience as a pioneer in the Bahaíi community.

I was no longer cheerfully and significantly with-it. These were the years 1962 to 1972. These were the sixties, the decade of the great break out from the past: rock-and-roll, Kennedy, Vietnam, assassination, human rights, women and race, sexual freedom. Well, I had a taste of a lot of this, but it was in an emotional climate of discomfort, of out-of-it-ness. I was without a TV for about nine of these years, lived in places like Baffin Island, had a massive attack and three minor attacks of manic-depression and was involved in a new religion which I found immensely attractive.  Sadly, I found that none of my friends and relatives were at all interested in this new interest of mine.

Then, suddenly, in 1972, when I began to teach secondary school, I became famous and popular overnight. It was exhilarating after a decade out in the bleachers, as they say in baseball, out on the perifery of the universe. I was a flower-power kid whose time had come; a man from the counter-culture who was cheered and greeted with various enthusiasms by hundreds of students. My ego was drenched in popularity. I remained with-it for six years, at the top of the charts, loved by adolescents from wall to wall. I sometimes suffered: when my marriage fell apart, when I lost my job, when I had another attack of hypomania, when I felt morally hypocritical. But the with-it, the centre of the stage, feeling stayed with me for six years as I scaled the heights of success and acceptance.

Then I took a tumble. Out in the doldrums I went. It was 1978 and my bipolar illness got the better of me and this great sense of discontinuity stayed with me until 1982; it returned again in 1985 staying until 1987 before some middle ground was found, a middle ground that has remained for the last ten years. I donít try any more to be with it, except at a minimal survival level because I teach one hundred and fifty students every six months. Here I have to do a lot of talking; I must possess at least a minimum of pretensions to culture, fashion, social life if I am to do my job as a teacher.  If a teacher is too unendowed with points of contact with the everyday he or she will get eaten alive.  Some general line of conformity, familiarity, of common language, must be part of my lingo, my style, if I am to survive.

There is an inward pioneer who must accompany the outward pioneer,  says Bahiyyyih Nakhjavani in her Four On An Island, if the ďendurance and faithfulness are to convey life and joy to the community in which he serves.Ē  Being with-it comes to take on special meaning for the pioneer. To maintain a sense of perspective, one must cultivate a detachment from oneís surroundings. I donít mean to imply this is easy, as this deceptively familiar phrase rolls off my lips. Life has so much to involve the pioneer. I have found the hosts of divine inspiration descending on me, at least that is an apt phrase for a process that has been truely invigorating, that has recreated me with a conscious sense of the process beginning in 1972: a gnat into an eagle, a drop of water into rivers and seas, and an atom into lights and suns. One still suffers, but one senses that there is meaning below the surface of the kick you are getting in the teeth.

There is so much news, so much to read, though, that being with-it in a cultural sense is not that hard as the years go on. One learns to define this with-it-ness in a new way, with just enough of the popular isms, wasms, the quotidian, to play oneís part on the stage, on the show, in the theatre of life.  I donít feel the same with-it-ness I once did. This time the edges are softer; the detachment is much more pronounced. The inspiration of the artist, which has descended on me as if from some secret source, is palpably perceptable. There is a touch of humility, a sprinkle of sacrifice, enough trust to provide that leven to render the matchless gifts to God in return for the abundance that has been showered my way by the rains and tempests in this dark heart of an age of transition.

I can now be with-it and still drop out when I want. I rarely read newspapers any more; I watch little TV, see few movies. If a book is popular and being read by many it is unlikely that I will read it. I garden little; indeed the things that keep most people busy most of the time seem to be far removed from my agenda. I nibble around at the edges of this vast brontosaurissmus society: I sit with my wife and son and watch NYPD Blue and ER where the pictures go so fast the mind canít light on anything too long to think and get bored, like one of those slide programs you used to see when you were young. But this time the slides are shoved through so fast noone can complain of mental fatigue. I occasionally sit and watch a little sport to preserve some continuity in life from the time I watched my first baseball game in 1953, when I was nine. I usually stay for 5 or ten minutes, just enough to give me a feeling of sharing with my family.

Once upon a time when I was really with it I used to read two newspapers a day and at least one news magazine a week. I was proud of my intellectual pretensions when I read The Guardian Weekly, or my efforts to be part of the community by reading the Whyalla News or the West Coaster. Now I browse hurriedly through the West Australian following the rule of prostitutes in Athens: never, never on a Sunday. The latest serial killer in Perth, or LA, or the most recently traded football players at the beginning of the season might as well be nameless and faceless Klingons, guys from where Worf comes, a whole unknown race really.

Iíve been getting with-it in a small coterie of people I find in books. Instead of this mass consumption of popular culture which seems to have been progressively turning me off for decades now, I get about twenty books out of three libraries and consume as much of them every week as I can stand. I donít recommend this to everyone. Watching Roy and HG on Saturday night, or a good movie or video would be much more entertaining and easier on the eyes, especially after an exhausting week in the fast lane, in some office, or even driving a truck, or a bus. But over the years Iíve caught some disease; you could call it printitus. I seem to require my mind to be stimulated rather than my eye. I know the two cross over somewhere and that Amusing Yourself To Death, the name of one of the latest books on TV, is not all that happens when the videot machine is going full blast. But there it is. Iíve become some kind of book worm. It seems to be an essential preliminary to writing poetry, which is not everybodyís sport.

Mind you Iím not studying. I donít have to remember the name of the latest ephemeral revolutionary party in Chile, or the names of the Russians or Yugoslavs with long and tortured polysyllabic identifiers. The prices of coco in Ghana, whatís happening on the Hang Sen, Nikkei Dow, the FTSE100, Dow Jones: I leave all of this and just consume print that seems to say something to my mind, my values, my understanding of life. I donít expect everyone to find this sort of thing a turn on. We all get with-it in different ways. Stories about agriculture, about economic indicators, about fashion, about trips to Nepal, about cars, bikes and machinery in general I have virtually eliminated from my repertoire. Most of the stuff about ďmoiders, scandals and disgusting acts of rape and tortureĒ, recipies for good books, I have studiously avoided for years now.

Names of movie stars, members of parliament, who is or was in the Senate, the comings and goings of the latest entrepreneurs, the latest clever turns of phrase in TV ads-have all left me far, far behind in not-with-it land. Perhaps all this is just a sign of getting older, getting closer to death, seeing so much of earthly affairs and their media agenda as unimportant, part of the vanity and empty of so much of the day-to-day round bearing only the mere semblance of reality. So much of this stuff seems trivial if you have cancer of the esophagus, the colon, or the liver, or your child, now married, has a carpet which smells pervasively of a combination take-away of pizza and urine. Somehow it seems irrelevant to me, a man in my 60s, the life and activities of Michael Jackson. Sylvester Stallone turned sixty a year or so ago, says the TV magazine.

I think what is happening to me now as I have turned the corner of the mid-years(65-75) of late adulthood(60-80) on my way to old age(80++, if I last that long, is a decisive change of sensibility, character, part of it generational.  This change makes it impossible to participate in much contemporary culture except in a peripheral sense. There are so many forces at work on us now, so many fronts to cover, if one is going to have at least some pretensions of being with-it.  I seem to have discovered somethings that I donít want to change; maybe this is the core of something I call me, that has no desire to be with-it, in-it. It is something I donít want to change, to accommodate my personality to, much of self-improvement and the how-to section of bookstores hold no attraction for me any more.  Iím out in the cold with my own well-worn but comfortable and not-so-comfortable out-of-it notions.

I take a wide range of truths to be self-evident and they form the structure and centre of a life. I try not to impose them on others, but live them quietly from day to day. It is these truths I want to be with, in, for, above, over and out. I sift them through an orgy of reading and living and they are presently helping me to sail through middle life and- one day-old age. I acquired them when in my teens and they have served me well. They have helped me decide what to be with and when to be out of it. I donít mean to imply the process is easy, far from it. For there is an element of restlessness in the psyche that will not leave us alone but continually asks for more. Iím still hungry:but now itís for the phoenixes of beauty that cannot die. There is, too, a fragrance in the air that can nearly be tasted. Life is often not tranquil and it would seem, rarely am I with it.
11 May 1997
Replies to this message:
 05.07.2009 15:36:13 – SÝren Rosenlund Frimodt-MÝller – "Re: A Reflection on: the Passing of Michael Jackso"