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Dickens, Thought Leader

Habits of Highly Successful Sociopaths

Charles Dickens, Thought Leader for Our Times

From Syria to to Russia to the U.K. and good ol’ U.S., it seems ’tis the season this year for giving free reign worldwide to human socio-pathology. Scrooge might feel right at home today in his unreformed state. Dickens himself had his shadow side1, one that exists in all of us. Perhaps we should view A Christmas Carol less as propaganda illustrating a heartwarming epiphany and inviting smarmy, unrealistic expectations of human behavior, than perhaps a guide to contemporary life. We Americans love self-help books, DVDs and advice web sites. Herewith are suggested affirmations staying with the spirit of the times and finding your inner sociopath. Use them for making your own list and checking it twice, if you are so inclined. N.B.:  This is a parody. If you don’t get the joke, ask for a sense of humor for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Saturnalia. If you celebrate Festivus, you presumably already have one. – DA

  • Start the day with a plan
    • Practice Vulcan mind control
    • Make faces in a mirror like your favorite business executive or recently-elected political figure of your choice
    • When tempted to give money or sympathize with the poor and homeless, hit your head with a hammer. Better yet, hit the poor and homeless with a hammer. It’s their fault for making you feel that way.
    • If you must give, give worthless items to charity that can be written off for exorbitant amounts (e.g. – dysfunctional computer systems (e.g., ‘the cloud’), worthless real estate, obsolete airplanes, ). Do this in an ostentatious  manner while humblebragging
  • Never doubt yourself.
  • Be the best you can be
    • Update your Facebook page. Lie. Take every comment personally.
    • Update your Ok (Stupid) Cupid profile. Lie.
    • Stay up till four in the morning monitoring social media feeds and responding in an obsessively petty manner – despite the fact that you will soon be responsible for the safety of the free world and need your rest.
    • Add or subtract four inches to or from a part of your anatomy of your choice. For women, this could be the bust size. For guys — you get the idea.
  • Friendship is for losers, but it’s helpful to fake it. A few tips:
    • People will put up with a lot to be able to say they have friends
    • Everyone is lonely. It’s a fact of life
    • Saying you have friends at work is pathetic and delusional or a lie
  • Remember the sky’s the limit on what you can get away with.
    • People’s capacity for wishful thinking and self-delusion is unlimited.
    • Recent studies say there’s no free will. Everything we do is determined by genes and neurochemistry. Therefore —
    • It only counts if you’re caught — and then you couldn’t help it
    • If you insist on believing in God or some other Higher Power, you might check out predestination. Start with Martin Luther, world’s worst Catholic.

1Also see Carl Jung on what the shadow knows.

It’s a Wonderful Lonely Life

The search for community and love with our fellow human beings (at least the ones who are not trying to kill us) is a hallmark1 of the season. This accounts for the popularity of films such as It’s A Wonderful Life. Nevertheless, the effort to pathologize normal human emotion and behavior marches on. On December 1st the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported a 3-million dollar CMU study funded by the NIH on ways to help older adults feel less lonely. In the same issue it reported a federal suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for improper incarceration of mentally-ill prisoners; including the use of solitary confinement. There is some connection here — or perhaps disconnection.

It is part of life to lose friends and loved ones through death, time and alienation. But apparently the way to address the problem in this age of connected isolation2 is no longer to have people who know and accept us to talk to us, pat us on the back, share a cup of coffee, kiss us on the cheek, or more (if we are romantically inclined). It’s to learn to meditate the loneliness away. Quoting David Creswell, the expert overseeing the CMU study, the Post Gazette states:

… the number of lonely older adults may be increasing, putting their overall health at greater risk, but the way to help them isn’t necessarily to connect them to more people.

The Carnegie Mellon University associate professor of psychology, funded with a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health announced Monday, hopes that training people in better relaxation and coping techniques will reduce their perception of being lonely.

Each of us is wired with a different need and capacity for being alone. The solitude of Thoreau and Muir and eastern religious mystics is not for everyone. Indeed, in this hyperconnected age of crowdsourcing, solitude itself has become suspect. Therefore, it’s enlightening to know that a problem that philosophers like Buddha and artists from Nietzsche and Kafka to Van Gogh have struggled with for thousands of years is simply one of perception. 

You’d think the widespread adoption of social networking applications like Facebook and Twitter over the Internet would help. But, as Olivia Laing writes in The Future of Loneliness in the Guardian:

 … the contact this produces is not the same thing as intimacy. Curating a perfected self might win followers or Facebook friends, but it will not necessarily cure loneliness, since the cure for loneliness is not being looked at, but being seen and accepted as a whole person – ugly, unhappy and awkward, as well as radiant and selfie-ready

It can be difficult enough to endure or learn to accept loneliness if we are mentally whole and emotionally intact (a relative proposition). How much worse if we are imprisoned and isolated with schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder. Yet in the absence of community resources and adequate policy, the mentally ill are generally shunned by society3. Mentally prisoners who have completed their sentence in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania often remain in jail. Some have been placed in solitary confinement.  

The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania announced the suit Monday on behalf of Stephen Kline, 25, a onetime Allegheny County resident who now is an inmate at Mifflin County Jail; Gabriel Gamble, 30, a patient at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County; and Matthew Christy, 26, a patient at Warren State Hospital in Warren County… 

The suit claims the state does not have enough beds in community-care programs for all of those needing autism and mental health services — more than 1,000 are waiting — and that people in jails and state hospitals face special obstacles to community care.

In 2013, the Disability Rights Network sued the Department of Corrections, alleging that the state misused solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners. The state took corrective action..

Literature and popular culture abound with references to the plight of loneliness: 

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Alan Sillitoe
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Alone Again, Naturally, Gilbert o’ Sullivan
Only the Lonely, Roy Orbison

Have we forgotten Robin Williams and his death only last year? As his character The World’s Greatest Dad states:

“I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”

We conveniently overlook the fact that gathering to celebrate the season of light and fellowship around the winter solstice originated in the need to to prepare for the long dark night together. Our hopes and fears is not just a phrase from a Christmas song. Can you identify the following excerpt from another holiday favorite?

When you’re alone, alone in the world…when you’re alone in the world.
Blown away leaves get blown in the world…swirled away leaves get swirled.
Listening to your heels as you walk, making a lonely clack.
You don’t know how it feels when you talk and nobody’s voice talks back
.4

I challenge you to read or listen to this without feeling a tear coming on.

All Is Forgiven

In It’s A Wonderful Life George Bailey’s penury, loneliness and imminent arrest bring him to the brink of suicide. At the end of the film when hope is restored (along with the missing eight thousand dollars), George’s brother, Harry, toasts him as ‘the richest man in town’. Harry does not toast George’s mastery of meditation and relaxation techniques to cope with loneliness. He toasts the fact that George’s friends and neighbors gathered around him in his time of need. They didn’t update their Facebook page, send tweets and begin Kickstarter campaigns. They showed up. — DA

1With a small h.

3Often due to policies designed to protect their rights. Listen to the enlightening WESA 12/10 interview with PA Congressman Tim Murphy , himself trained as a mental health professional.

4Click the link to read and hear this song with lyrics by Jules Styne and Bob Merrill (who went on to write music for Funny Girl).

11/22/2014 ‘Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh’ Package Sold Out ; Show Tickets Available

The Omni William Penn sold out dinner packages for our upcoming 2014 performance of The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh for Saturday 11/22 and Sunday 11/23. Show tickets are still available. Please call 412-553-5000 or e-mail jkaiser@omnnihotels.com. Also, the show was featured on 10/24 in the Post Gazette’s Radio Notes.

'The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh' 2014 Poster

‘The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh’ 2014 Poster

What’s Old Is New: ‘The Thin Man’ in the ‘Burgh Dec. 15th & 16th

In 1934 the fiscal cliff wasn’t just looming. The country had fallen off the edge five years before. Oklahoma was suffering through dust storms of Biblical proportion.  John Steinbeck was taking notes on Okies fleeing to the promised land of California, only to be turned away. Woody Guthrie was singing for hobos and migrant workers (the lowest of the ninety-nine percent then) and starting to wonder whose land it was.

That year a film called The Thin Man appeared, based on a story by Dashiell Hammett. Cinema-goers suffering through the Depression were treated to glamour and glitter mixed in with the seamier side life — all leavened with a healthy dose of  humor.  Nick Charles  is a ‘retired’ and restless former gumshoe married to Nora, a rich heiress. Nick and Nora engage in playful  repartee that any married couple might envy today, as Nora tries to persuade her husband to return to sleuthing and ‘detecting’; things he enjoyed doing and did well (and which presumably attracted her to him).

For the live radio adaptation Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies is sponsoring December 15th and 16th at the Carnegie Library of Homestead, we have brought Nick and Nora to the Smokey City (as it was before Renaissance I and II), where actor William Powell, who played Nick in the film, was born. Rather than the Normandie in New York City, we put them up in a suite at the William Penn in downtown Pittsburgh during the week between Christmas and New Year. If Nora had taken a different path in life, she might have mingled with the Mellons, Scaifes and other members of Pittsburgh’s one percent. With Nick, however, she is introduced to sandwiches with French fries ‘that truck drivers eat’ and pierogies. She meets the lowlifes and high-fliers he  worked with as a detective in the Rocks and on the Hill, or sent up the river (or perhaps rivers, since there are three in Pittsburgh). Nora adores her Nicky and the ‘lovely people’ he knows, hoodlums and society dames with rough edges and false charm. A surprising equality exists between Nick & Nora. She is at least his equal in wit and repartee – if not in her ability to put away martinis.

The original story is a good bit grittier than the film it inspired, and presents a stew of murder, intrigue and archetypes which Hammett (along with Raymond Chandler) originated. These have become staples to the present day in detective novels, film noir and television shows such CSI.  They include an eccentric scientist, a gold digger, an egghead/nerd and hard-boiled cops. ‘You got types?’ Nora asks Nick. ‘Only pretty brunettes with wicked jaws,’ he wisely replies. To these we’ve taken the liberty of  adding a few yinzers, jagoffs, n’ ‘at.

'Waiter, please serve the jagoffs.'‘Waiter, please serve the jagoffs.’ (L-R John Seibel, Chuck Lanigan, Mark Tierno, Jon Rohlf from the TMP cast)

Characters imbibe alcohol prodigiously in both the movie and the novella. The latter, which Hammett first serialized in (of all places) Redbook Magazine contains an undertone of dissipation and boredom, if not desperation, befitting the times. Ingénues take their first precipitous step toward ruin (speaking of cliffs). Relationships have soured. Bodies rot beneath the concrete floor. The film plays it all for laughs and adventure. Most of the lowlifes and jagoffs have hearts of gold, and we go along. Except for a single line from Dorothy in the beginning about her concern for people losing their jobs, you would hardly know there was a Depression.

In 1934 Pittsburgh was suffering the economic ravages with the rest of the country. People on their way to the Fulton (now the Byham) to attend the film passed their neighbors selling apples and standing in line at soup kitchens (and perhaps did so themselves). There were a few bright notes:  Prohibition had just been lifted. Duquesne Gardens in the East End was scene of sporting events such as Hornets ice hockey and prize fights. ‘Winter Wonderland’ appeared on the charts that year. By that date populist preacher Father Coughlin was broadcasting to 30-million people  and the first live radio orchestra broadcast had debuted from the William Penn. Wylie Avenue in the Hill hosted jazz luminaries such as Erroll Garner, Mary Lou Williams, Earl Hines and Billy Strayhorn

Our goal in adapting the script is to pay homage to the original film, retaining its flavor, dialogue and humor updated with a taste of the ‘burgh. Staging the event as a radio show for a live audience seems appropriate in the town where commercial radio originated. We hope you enjoy the experience virtually or in person.  Please contact us with questions. See the following for information on scheduling and tickets. — CDL

‘The Thin Man’ Comes to Pittsburgh
Carnegie Library of Homestead Music Hall
Saturday December 15th 7:30 PM, Sunday December 16th 2:00 PM
Tickets $10 credit card online at Artful.ly or cash at the door

You will also find information at ALCStudies Current and Upcoming Events.

We are grateful to the following for their support :

A Memorial Day Remembrance from ‘Occupy Pittsburgh’ 2011-2012

From Occupy Pittsburgh 2012

Standing Bear’s home.

Shouldn’t we honor those who serve any time of year? Even if they’re ‘heathens’? Even if they dissent? Even if they’ve been in jail?  Following is a blast from the past from all of six months ago.

CDL

==============================================================================

I bicycled downtown to USX Plaza before Christmas. After photographing the plastic baby Jesus with Joseph, Mary and the Shepherds in the giant crèche, I wheeled my bike across the street to the Occupy Pittsburgh site at BNY /Mellon Park. It was filled with tents but seemed mostly deserted. I walked up the path into the park and approached the chain link fence surrounding the silent fountain. I parked my bike and sat reading the signs people had hung there. One was a quote by Andy Warhol praising the durability and design of U.S. currency, which he had thrown in the East River in New York City (which I daresay Campbell’s tomato soup cans had allowed him to do unlike most of us).

A woman bundled up against the 30-degree temperature walked by without saying anything. A guy with a thick beard walked by wearing what looked like red and black checked pajamas. Pieces of cardboard were laid on the dirt between the tents. Someone had hung an American flag with thirteen stars.

As I stood up to walk further up the path three men approached. One of them who appeared to be in his late fifties had a beard and wore a flannel shirt. I introduced myself to him as he passed and said I was doing research on dissent.

He shook my hand and introduced himself as Rick. “What kind of dissent?”

You tell me,” I replied. “What are you dissenting?”

Rick called to his companions. “This guy wants to know what we’re dissenting” He pointed up at one of the office buildings looming above us. “Those guys there have all the money. We want some of it. If they don’t give it to us, we’ll take it.”

The other two came over. One, a tall, dark-haired man, began talking about Marcellus shale drilling.

I’m a native-American. We believe the earth is our mother. Would you drill a hole in your own mother?”

I started to make a lame joke, then stopped. “No, I wouldn’t,” I answered. I asked if he were from Pittsburgh.

No. Montana. One of my ancestors helped kill Custer. What an asshole.”

I said I had taken a road trip with my son and camped in the Bitter-roots. “Beautiful place,” I said. “I’d like to go back.”

He said his name was Standing Bear.

Ah. Is that what you go by.”

That’s my given name.”

I asked what brought him to Southwest Pennsylvania.

Change of scenery.”

Next to him Rick laughed. “After being in California.”

I was in prison there,” Standing Bear explained.

Where do you live? Do you have a job?” I asked.

A place in town just a few blocks from here. I work in the kitchen. They give me a place to stay.”

What do you do? Do you cook?”

I’m a cashier.”

I said I guessed they’d be taking down the tents. BNY/Mellon had said they had to be out of the park by Sunday.

No, man! We’re not leaving,” exclaimed, Rick. He told me he was “born and bred in Pittsburgh”.

I asked Standing Bear the reaction of people to the Occupy Pittsburgh site.

Some are supportive. Others throw eggs at us and yell ‘Get a job!’ One woman shot at us with a pellet gun.”

From her car. Can you believe it?” Rick said. He shook his head.

Standing Bear continued. “Some folks like yourself come and talk to us. They want to know what it’s all about. One young man came over. He was staying at the Omni for a wedding. He spent the night with us.”

You mean in a tents with you?”

Standing Bear nodded. “He said ‘I’m one of the one percent. But I’ll be graduating soon and out there on my own.’”

A young woman stood behind Standing Bear interviewing Rick with a video camera and microphone. The sun had starting going behind the buildings. It felt colder than thirty degrees.

I served my country. I’m a first Gulf War vet,” Standing Bear said.

Tell him you were in prison,” Rick said. He laughed.

Standing Bear ignored him. “The Veteran’s Administration denies us our benefits. Like for that PTSD. They claim it’s a pre-existing condition.”

I told Standing Bear I’d been involved with an employment networking group. I had proposed a resume-writing and job skills workshop to Veterans Leadership Pittsburgh to help vets translate their experience to civilian jobs.

I was a long-range sniper. I killed people from a distance. I took an AK47 round in the center of my back.” I again noticed Standing Bear’s cane. “How do I put that on my resume — that I was a sniper?”

Good question.” I answered “Focuses on tasks? Works independently. Good problem-solver? It’s all how you spin it.”

Standing Bear smiled slightly. “It’s all bullshit to sell yourself.”

I shrugged. “Doesn’t the military help you with these kinds of things? Like job searches?” I asked.

I wasn’t entitled to benefits because I had a dishonorable discharge. I hit my commanding officer because he called me a heathen. So I spent time in prison in California.”

I observed that might be a compliment given the behavior of some people who called themselves Christian. I asked Standing Bear if I could see his tent. I followed him outside the Occupy site and down the sidewalk. Across the street music played from the creche in USX Plaza. Something about peace and goodwill toward all men. The structure looked big enough to hold everyone in the camp– providing a roof and shelter from the wind to flesh-and-blood occupy residents in place of inanimate plastic religions icons. I read in the newspaper that the Pittsburgh Catholic diocese spent $50,000 each year putting the creche up and taking it down again. Celebrating the glory of God and Jesus’ birth cost a decent yearly salary for a bus driver, say, or a teacher.

We stopped at Standing Bear’s tent at the perimeter of the Occupy site.

I’m right on the outside, so I get all the comments,” he said. “A man came by with his son on his shoulders. The little boy asked who the people were. The man said ‘They’re all homeless.’ I said, ‘Excuse me, Sir. I have a job and a place to live.”

I looked inside Standing Bear’s tent. It had a raised platform for sleeping and a board set on two milk cartons for a shelf. I knew from my own camping that the ground would drain the heat from your body. It looked almost cozy – if you had to spend the winter in a tent.

“I winterized it. I’ve got two sleeping bags – one inside the other.,” he said.

I like the platform,” I commented.

That’s just a wooden shipping pallet.”

You’ve got a little vestibule here.” I pointed to the tarp rigged above the tent opening. I looked across at the other tents huddled in the park. We could have been two campers comparing notes about equipment instead talking about a Quixotic endeavor whose end was only a matter of time.

Standing Bear and I walked back to the fountain and the chainlink fence. My bike leaned where I had left it against the bench. The signs waved in the breeze. Standing Bear and I talked a little longer. I thanked him for sharing his story. Then I said I had to go. The sun had dropped further behind the buildings that looked down on us. The temperature had fallen. My hands were freezing.

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