The Freedman Archives

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Reasonable Apprehensions


October 4, 2004

Hey, buddy. What's going down? Have you been arousing any reasonable apprehensions? Any unreasonable apprehensions?

That's what I do. I arouse reasonable apprehensions. Reasonable anticipations. I do it well. I've turned it into a career. My whole livelihood is based on the reasonable apprehensions I've raised in the past. Reasonable apprehensions have been good to me. They've paid the rent for the last 13 years. Reasonable apprehensions--namely, your reasonable apprehensions that I might do something unreasonable--are what set off my present campaign. And who knows where that will lead, eh, buddy?

Despite the pressures of nonstop campaigning, I continue to write to you, Brian. Memory and the written memorialization of my thoughts and experiences are my salvation; they are the source of my sense of empowerment and my means of understanding -- both strengths that I lacked as a child. The British writer Rudyard Kipling describes the child's helplessness, made so terrible by its lack of understanding. He also mentions what was for himself a way toward transcendence: when grown, the child may be able to write of the earlier experiences. This means the child must know what happened, and the more that is known of what happened to soul as well as to body, the more free the child can become. The soul--the identity--can be preserved if like Whitman the adult can say, "I am the man, I suffered, I was there." Rudyard Kipling used his mind to fight to preserve his soul. At least that's Leonard Shengold's interpretation.

October 4. October, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. It's a series of thirty-one days between September 30th and November 1st. October is a month of foggy mornings and decaying leaves, and--in this election year, the year of my campaign--an endless stream of letters.

Yes, my campaign continues. This past week I received two more responses. You have to wonder who would respond to the letters I've been sending out, but there are employers out there who do respond. I got a letter from the law firm of Thompson Coburn: "Thank you for your interest in Thompson Coburn. We have received your resume. If your qualifications meet our requirements, you will be contacted." Not bloody likely, I must say. Not unless the firm's requirements are a thirteen-years unemployed attorney who suffers from intermittent bouts of paranoid schizophrenia and who believes he's on intimate terms with His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. But hey, you never know what an employer is looking for. I also got a letter from the Human Rights Campaign (Varnita Tyer, Recruitment) dated October 1, 2004: "Thank you for your interest with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Unfortunately, HRC currently does not have a job for an entry-level attorney's position. Thank you for your time and we wish you success in your employment endeavors."

I guess you know, by now, that I forwarded a letter to the Martin Luther King Library, downtown. They must have called you. "Brian, we just got a letter from some crazed maniac. He claims you booted him out of Cleveland Park. Just what did he do?" I trust you apprised the folks downtown of the precise details of my sordid banishment.

I wonder how Dennis Race is taking all this. He must be getting phone calls from all and sundry about one Gary Freedman. "Everyday I get telephone calls from all over the city about how awful you are, Freedman. How dare you make such a fuss about a job termination!" I am reminded of a story that Anna Freud told about an experience she had, in London, during World War II. A German shell landed in a neighbor's garden. It didn't explode. At first, the whole neighborhood was terrified. Everyone thought the bloody thing would explode, resulting in horrible injury and terrific property damage. Well, it didn't explode. It was a dud. After several days, the initial terror changed to mild amusement about the curiosity in the garden. Finally, the mild amusement gave way to a lingering feeling of irritation about the nuisance in the garden.

Perhaps, my letters have evoked the same reaction. The initial horror that I had started writing letters again, later gave way to amusement, and finally, to a smoldering irritation about my campaign. Yes, I suppose it's like the blitz. After a while, Londoners just saw it as a bloody nuisance -- at least, if they or their loved ones were lucky enough to avoid injury.

You know, there's an odd comparison that can be made between World War II, on the one hand, and my job termination, on the other. Yes, my job termination: the Big One. The termination to end all terminations.

The last century, through its great cataclysms, offers two clear, ringing, and, unfortunately, contradictory lessons. My job termination, late in the last century, teaches that territorial compromise (in the form of giving a "close-to-perfect" paralegal his own private office) is better than full scale litigation and its consequences, that an "honor-bound" allegiance of the great powers (such as hiring partner Dennis Race) to small and insignificant supervisors is a recipe for mass disbarments, and that it is crazy to let the blind mechanisms of the dynamics of an organization, here, a law firm, trump common sense. The Second World War teaches that searching for an accommodation with tyranny by selling out small nations only encourages the tyrant, that refusing to fight now leads to a worse fight later on, and that only the steadfast rejection of compromise can prevent the natural tendency to rush to a bad peace with worse men. My job termination teaches us never to rush into a fight, the Second World War never to back down from a bully.

These two lessons are taught less as morals than as collective memory: the lore of the Second World War remains on the whole heroic, while the imagery of my job termination, remains that of utter waste. Every time an Akin Gump manager with any historical sense faces a crisis, he has to decide whether he should back down and search for whatever compromise he can find, for fear of repeating "1991," that is, the Termination, or step up and slug somebody, for fear of repeating 1939--that's to say, World War II.

In retrospect, thinking back to 1991, we find ourselves contending with the issues of historical judgment: how much can you blame the people of the past for getting something wrong when they could not have known it was going to go so wrong? The question is what they knew, when they knew it, if there was any way for them to know more, given what anyone knew at the time, and how in God's name we could ever know about our own time not to do the same thing all over again. Or, to put it another way, are there lessons in history, or just stories, mostly sad? Well, Brian, "Mr. History Major," what do you think, old boy?

People say to me, "It's been so many years now. Thirteen years, almost. Why don't you just give it up. Enough already. Why don't you just get on with things, and let everybody else get on with things?"

For one thing, I'm a narcissist. Yes, a narcissist. I know my new diagnosis is Schizoid Personality Disorder. But I still think I'm a self-centered, egotistical, garden-variety narcissist.

I have to admit it humbly, mon cher compatriote, I am always bursting with vanity. I, I, I is the refrain of my whole life, which can be heard in everything I say. I could never talk without boasting, especially if I did so with that shattering discretion that was my specialty. It is quite true that I always lived free and powerful. I simply felt released in regard to all for the excellent reason that I recognized no equals. I always considered myself more intelligent than everyone else, as I've told you, but also more sensitive and more skillful, a crack shot (am I allowed to say that?), an incomparable letter writer, a better lover of fine beers. Even in the fields in which it was easy for me to verify my inferiority--like piano, for instance, in which I was but a passable four-hands partner--it was hard for me to think that, with a little time for practice, I would surpass the best players. I admitted only superiorities in me and this explained my good will and serenity. When I was concerned with others, I was so out of pure condescension, in utter freedom, and all the credit went to me: my self-esteem would go up a degree.

I hope you like Albert Camus, Brian. Because that's what I've been paraphrasing. The preceding paragraph is a slightly modified quote from "The Fall." And I'm not talking September, October, November. "The Fall" is devoted to the calculated confession of a Parisian lawyer, a pleader of noble causes, secure in his self-esteem, privately a libertine, yet apparently immune to judgment--the portrait of a modern man. The irony of his recital predicts the downfall. Inescapable, it comes in the narrator's intense discovery, in the space of one terrible and unforgettable instant, that no man is innocent and no man may therefore judge others from a standpoint of righteousness. Those are my sentiments exactly. If you're going to judge someone else, let it be out of vindictiveness, a desire for revenge, and a reasonable anticipation of a large punitive damages award! Yes, I am a selfish narcissist.

But there is more than this.

I love playing the role of the wronged innocent: a "Dreyfus for Our Time." It is a countervailing force to my core sense of guilt. That is to say, my guilt about nothing (and, of course, I mean "nothing" in the technical Seinfeldian sense). Throughout my childhood I was blamed for so much, I was always getting punished--unjustly, I believe. Now, I have been given a great opportunity to exercise power, a rare chance for self-empowerment. I can say with total justification: "I -- who you call violent, potentially violent, a potential mass killer -- I am innocent. You have no right to insult me. I am innocent. The facts are clear, incontrovertible, and--as they say at the 'big-time law firms' -- ineluctable. I am innocent. Those who say otherwise are fools. I will damn you with your defamation. You who defame me will be seen as the fools, the intellectual lightweights, that you are." That's the sense of power I get from my campaign. It is fundamentally a sense of power over an internal force: an ineradicable guilt. The sense of empowerment I derive from my campaign is a substitute for a pardon, an exoneration, an atonement, if you will. A friend, an intimate--you, for example--would have the same psychological effect for me. But I have no friends, no intimates. The role of friend or "best friend" is there for the taking, buddy.

There is a fundamental psychological equivalence between my relationship with you and my world-wide campaign, whose slogan I proclaim far and wide: "I am innocent. I am not violent, I am not a mass killer." Both you and the "campaign" are "objects" that relate back to an internal sense of guilt and narcissistic disturbance. My relationship with you, buddy, reflects my need to reestablish a sense of narcissistic integrity by means of a connection with what Heinz Kohut would call a "selfobject." While my campaign reflects my need to reestablish a sense of narcissistic integrity by means of diminishing, or denying, a core sense of guilt.

As I've pointed out before I need a "brother" or comrade-in-arms to serve as an alter ego or "narcissistic object." The choice of such a friend is based on characteristics that I feel I need in order to complete myself and restore my original feeling of narcissistic safety and well-being.

And my campaign? Its origins can be seen as a reaction to the extreme blaming behavior that I experienced from my parents and other harsh superego figures in childhood. Melanie Klein has some pertinent observations. According to her, the child regrets the damage he feels he inflicted -- or was brainwashed to believe he inflicted -- upon his parents. He attempts to repair that damage, to make good, over and over again. The quality of his relations with his parents and the quality of his subsequent relations with others determine the sense he has of himself, in the extremes, either as a secret and undiscovered murderer or as a repentant and absolved sinner.

I seem to draw accusations -- false accusations -- to myself so that I can proclaim my innocence. Underlying that behavior is a profound unconscious sense of guilt: a sense of myself as "a secret and undiscovered murderer."

The Metro DC Police need to read Melanie Klein. Really. I'm serious. I have two needs: a need for a special comrade to reduce guilt (that is, a need to restore my narcissistic integrity by means of identification with a special comrade) and a need to deny my core image as a malefactor. Impair my access to one form of remediation, and I will redouble my efforts in the other direction. That is to say, ban me from the library (that is, ban me from access to my selfobject) and I will start "campaigning." That's politics, I suppose.

Some additional insights from Melanie Klein that I wrote about before bear repeating here. Klein suggests that the early establishment of harsh superego figures actually stimulates object relations in the real world, as the child seeks out allies (Allies!) and sources of reassurance which in turn transform his internal objects. This process is also the basis for the repetition compulsion (yes, "Mr. History Major," history does repeat itself), which involves a constant attempt to establish external danger situations to represent internal anxieties. To the extent to which one can perceive discrepancies between internally derived anticipations (or "reasonable apprehensions") and reality, to allow something new to happen, the internal world is transformed accordingly, and the cycle of projection and introjection has a positive, progressive direction. To the extent to which one finds confirmation in reality for internally derived anticipations, or is able to induce others to play the anticipated roles, the bad internal objects are reinforced, and the cycle has a negative, regressive direction.

I feel like I've been living my whole life in a regressive direction, playing the role of Shengold's boy-with-the-squashed-fruit. Playing the role to great acclaim, I might add. My whole "campaign" is a fuss over a triviality: a fuss over nothing. Yet, I can't give it up. I revel in my "life at the dinner table." That dinner is repeated again and again, with endless variations; my life at the dinner table is quite literally a "re-past."

Let me clarify the butter.

Leonard Shengold speaks of a male patient who described the following as a "typical event": The father (whom Shengold characterizes as "a domestic Hitler") entered the dining room where the table was set for the family meal. Beside each plate was a fresh piece of fruit--the dessert. The man made a complete round of the table, stopping at every chair to reach out and squeeze to a pulp every piece of fruit except his own. The older children and the intimidated mother, used to such happenings, said nothing. But the youngest, a five-year-old boy, cried when he saw the mangled banana at his plate. The father then turned on him viciously, demanding that he be
quiet--how dare he make such a fuss about a banana?

Why did the boy make such a fuss about the banana? Why do I make such a fuss about a job termination? Maybe because it is for me what Dr. Shengold would call a "prototypal instance." I see reflected in this employment situation a repetition of my childhood and its internalized consequences.

New Yorker magazine "Critic at Large" Adam Gopnik concludes a recently published article on the subject of World War I (which I paraphrased above) with a quote from Rudyard Kipling. By the way, Dr. Shengold devotes an entire chapter in his book on child abuse, "Soul Murder," to Kipling's disturbed childhood. (In the end all the threads intertwine: child abuse, disturbed adult relations, international relations, war, employment difficulties, disturbed organizations, disturbed families.)

Gopnik calls the following simple couplet produced after his son was killed "the best poem Kipling ever wrote about war and its consequences:"

If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

Perhaps a paraphrase of Kipling's poem offers insight into the motives for my campaign:

If any question why we were terminated
Tell them, because the managing partners lied.

Grim stuff, eh Brian? Listen, buddy, feel free to give me a call. Maybe you can help me transform my inner objects, as Melanie Klein would say. How about lunch? In the words of Teresa Heinz Kerry, on the campaign trail: "Come what may, John, we'll always have catsup." Anticipation. Or is it a reasonable apprehension? I always get the two confused.

Check you out next week, buddy. "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing."


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