Are we becoming indifferent to Death?

-“Doctor…my mother got infected in her New Jersey nursing home— she died alone.”

The patient (whom we will not identify even with a fantasy name) mentioned this terrible piece of news “a la pasada” [i], without even a hint of emotional angst. We do not doubt that, whatever the circumstances of their bonding, she might have been saddened by the loss, compounded by the cruel isolation of the pandemic. However, her tone of voice clearly expressed the exhaustion we suffer with the interminable list of new infections and deaths in the USA, the hardest hit country due to Public Health mistakes.

We must confess that we personally do not watch or read the about the latest developments all day long, every day. In the morning we dutifully peruse the online editions of The Washington Post and The New York Times while we are having some breakfast. When we are working in our office we might alternatively tune in to radio programs from France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and Uruguay. Finally in the evening we watch the news in CNN, RAI, France 2 and Telefe for two hours. Really? That much?However, in the late evenings we prefer to enjoy a Netflix series or a movie. On Sundays we read the papers in the morning and then binge-watch all kind of sports.

Even tough we are well informed about the daily tally of victims in many parts of the planet, we noticed that we are becoming a little bit more numbed every day to the sheer magnitude of the terrible sanitary and economic tragedy we are bearing. Recently we were shocked when we learned that a parking attendant in the Miami facility (where we do consulting work) had contracted the disease and passed away a few days later. However, we are trying hard not to be overwhelmed by the daily stories of suffering. Sadly, it might be the only way to control our anxiety and remain operational for the daily tasks we are supposed to carry on with integrity, endurance, and expertise. Given that this pandemic will last many more months, how will we end up emotionally?

There are a few critically important books that you read early on and then for some catastrophic circumstances like this pandemic, you feel obligated to go back to. The short novel L’étranger [ii]created by Albert Camus early on his career is one of them. We first read it in one of our clandestine raids of our dear father Mario’s library and we absolutely did not like it due to its unabashed nihilism throughout its pages. We  forgot about it until two years ago our son Giani gave us another copy as a gift. We looked at it with curiosity but put it in a bookshelf without much afterthought.

During the forced Social Isolation we have endured, we snooped at many books we have largely ignored, for various reasons; it did not take long to catch our attention. There was and still is a good reason: its brutal nihilism is in sync with our mood. The central character, succinctly named as Meursault, is a lower level functionary in the French bureaucracy of colonized Algeria that commits an irrational crime in an ordinary day and is tried for it. The narration is anchored by three major instances of indifference:

  1. Indifference No.1: the death of his mother. The book start with this line: “Today, mother died. Or yesterday, I can’t remember.” [iii] The initial 30 pages are filled with he mechanically detached account of his “participation” in his mother’s funeral, without ever expressing a hint of sadness or desperation.
  2. Indifference No.2: the killing of the Arab. During a Sunday outing to the beach with friends, Meursault provokes a fight with an innocent and murders him. The exact moment of the crime is described as: “all my being tightened up and I wrapped my hand around the revolver. The trigger ceded…” [iv]
  3. Indifference No.3: the end of his life. After the initial deception of being condemned to death, instead of being acquitted with a short prison sentence, Meursault accepts his end with resignation. The book ends like this: “In order for everything to be consumed, in order for me to feel less lonely, the only thing I had left was to hope that there would be a lot of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet with shouts of hate.” [v]

Meursault is marked by a triple indifference that conveys the idea that there is no sense in human existence and that we should not waste any time trying to find it. He incarnates the philosophical movement of Existentialism that was totally seducing  the European intelligentsia when the book was first published in 1942. Dismissing the great humanistic heritage of the Old Continent and the religious experiences of many faiths, that intellectual mode infected and paralyzed many learned spirits. Why bother to study, work, make families, etc.,  if everything is finally senseless? Better do nothing and rest.

There are two major ways in which the same Albert Camus renege from that failing philosophical stand. First of all, his prose—initially considered too simple and worthy of a simpleton by the French intellectual mandarins of that time—shows a richness of details that turn it into a truly sensorial tour de force. In the program L’heure Bleu [vi] of Radio France Inter for four consecutive days they presented a recording of the very same Camus reading chapters of this book. His clear voice, his rhythmic progression of the story and his unrelenting enthusiasm showed that he was satisfied with his writings, for which he had certainly invested a lot of time and efforts. Nothing is casual there.

Camus died prematurely after a fatal car accident that fortunately spared his kids. He showed until the very end of his life an uncompromising intellectual stand and participated in progressive causes, surely minding the future of his children. He nonetheless believed that Algeria, his country of birth, could remain as a French colony, albeit with many civic and economic improvements for natives. Until today. Algerians have a difficult, ambivalent attitude towards his figure and influence in their society.

After reading several books that he wrote later, we believe that Camus outgrew that initial phase of Existentialism and he came to appreciate Life’s value. Similarly we must understand that one day this horrible pandemic will cease, and we will be able to resume our lives, albeit in a rather modified and weird way. The fact that Death is so omnipresent in our daily lives does not mean that we have to give up living and working towards the future of our children; on the contrary we must strive more forcefully to create a much better society for them. Thank you Giani for giving us this opportunity.

Featured image is a famous scene form Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Death and Antonius Block chose sides for a game of chess.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23256490

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

References

[i] Expression in the Castilian language that would mean: “something done as if you were passing by it and peeking from the side of your eye.” It gives an idea of emotional detachment, of hurriedness, of not really caring about it.

[ii] Albert Camus, L’étranger, Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1942.

[iii] Ibidem as above. Page 9. Our translation.

[iv] Ibidem as above. Page 93. Our translation.

[v] Ibidem as above. Page 93. Our translation.

[vi] https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/l-heure-bleue

Just a little delay

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Good morning.  For the past few weeks, many readers contacted us to find out if we had already finished editing our new book Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague and when it would be finally published as both a physical and e-book formats. We proudly announce that we have finished that task and will send it to the publishing house.

In early March we had just sent a supposedly final version of the book  but the dramatic moments we went through thereafter, both personally and professionally due to the pandemic, made us re-consider our decision. It would have been dishonest to ignore the dramatic effects of the Social Isolation and Economic breakdown we were witnessing.

Not only we reviewed our previously finalized writings but, based on new articles of our page, we added more than fifty pages of new material with many updated references. Moreover, we dared to discuss some of the startling features of the coming “new reality” that will bear little resemblance to the familiar world we used to consider “as ours.”

Women will play a decisive role in rebuilding our lives inside and outside our homes, like they did after the Great Plague of 1348; their more assertive socio-economic role will bring major changes at the family, financial, labor and employment, civic realities. If we rely on them to help us get out of this morass, we should at least respect them more.

We present you a new page, which was added at the beginning of the new manuscript.

If only one person reads this book…we would feel very satisfied.

If only one person gets the message…our mission would be done.

If only one person is distracted from the Horror…we would be happy.

We were about to deliver the final edited version of this manuscript for its publication when the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic brutally broke in the public scene of the United States. Initially shocked like the rest of the population, we went into strict social isolation. However, as a practicing physician, we had to continue our duties as best we could. In the relative safety of our desk, we pondered whether we should publish it or not. We knew that there had been a complete shutdown of most publishing initiatives.

People cloistered at home deserve the possibility of substantive reading. Terrified by the darkness swirling around, they might like this little piece of light. Emulating the heroic example of Anne Frank, we should garner our moral strength. Dismissing any commercial considerations, we will go ahead with its publication.

In one of the poor quarters of Nàpule —where some of our kin had lived —a neighbor lowered, with a little rope, a basket with a sign from the balcony: inside it, passers-by could drop groceries they wanted to offer for others to pick up.

Chi può metta…Chi non può, prenda[i]

[i] In Italian, it means “Whomever can, put something…Whomever needs it, take it.”

PAPA_LIBRO_HushedPlague_Cover_V3

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Anger displacement during Social Isolation

-“Doctor…when I arrive home, I can’t help lashing out at the kids—feel so guilty.”

Verschiebung. This German term can be translated as “Shift” or “move.” It was used by Sigmund Freud to describe a particular psychological defense mechanism; it entails the shifting or displacement of an aggressive and potentially dangerous emotion from an important person or object into other ones that are less relevant and often lame. [i] Our patient had many situations of emotional frustration in her blue- collar job with her despotic boss and his unreasonable demands at work but she hid her anger towards him and the system, fearful of losing her job in tough  times. On many occasions, she scolded her children a little bit too much for not completing their homework or for just some obnoxious but inconsequential pranks.

This unconscious defense mechanism is an expression of what Freud had dubbed as the mortido—our basic aggressive drive. There are three basic mechanisms:

  1. Displacement of object
  2. Displacement of attribution
  3. Bodily displacements

A – Displacement of object

Some acrid emotions are displaced from one person into another one. Our patient’s anger toward her boss—who has authority and power to decide on her economic survival—had indeed been transferred into her  children—who are totally innocent and incapable of posing a threat to her as they are dependent on her. This situation will sadly become much more common in our modern societies because the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has furloughed millions of workers worldwide and many of them will not be able to return to their old jobs due to inevitable closure of businesses. In the much more genteel days of Freud’s practice in nineteenth century Vienna, he put the example of children’s animal phobias; in order “to sanitize” their fears towards their parents, some children develop aversion to certain animals: dogs, cats, spiders.

B – Displacement of attribution

A personality trait that we might see in ourselves but that we consider as socially unacceptable or even reprehensible will be transferred to another person or entity. The typical example is a closeted homosexual who engages in continuous joking about gays or other LGBTQ individuals to perform a psychological projection. We can also find extreme examples in History like the horrific persecution of gays in Nazi Germany conducted by Ernst Röhm, co-founder with Adolf Hitler of the Sturmabteilung (SA); he was a barely disguised homosexual that was executed in the middle of an orgy by the German Army—fearful that his formations were gaining too much strength in the street—during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. [ii]

C – Bodily Displacements

It consists of the attribution of a sensation experienced by one part of the body to another distant one; one of the commonest instances is when an oral sensation “is experienced” as coming from the vagina. John Cleland wrote a book in 1748 titled Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure [iii]where he used funny euphemisms in order to refer to body parts that were not openly mentioned in prudish Albion; he dubbed the vagina as the nethermouth. He was a rebellious writer and some sources claimed that he finished it when he was serving a prison sentence for a bad debt. He printed it in two installments in November 1748 and February 1749; he was released from prison in March 1748 (he graduated from the University of Life…I like him)

“I picked two fights at work. One with a customer and one in a Slack [iv] queue with my colleagues, and I regret both terribly. They are possibly the first two fights I have ever instigated in my life. Wish I could have hashtagged those. #furstfightbearwithme.”

Ms. Chrissie, a lovely, clever, funny fellow writer and blogger [v], honestly shared her unfortunate event in a recent blog, which triggered this reaction from yours truly:

“The little anger that you inadvertently vented against two individuals is part of the humongous one building up in the street. It happened to almost all of us lately.

Unfortunately as we slowly come out of our forced Social Distancing and we interact more with our fellow human beings, we will discover that not only they, but us as well, are displaying a shorter fuse and we might snap at the slightest incident. We might be able to contain ourselves outside our homes, with an occasional “mea culpa” if we allow our emotions to get the best of ourselves in the survival frenzy.  What we have to keep clearly in mind that we cannot—absolutely cannot—bring that heightened state of alertness and potential aggressiveness to our dear families. Maybe we should go back to the old ways from our ancestors to vent off that stress.

Get the punching bag from the attic. Paste the image of your boss right up. 

Go. And do not pull any punches. Sweet.

(This article was based on our upcoming new book Emotional Frustration- the hushed plague)

References

[i] Sigmund Freud, New Introductory letters on Psychoanalysis, George Allen and Unwin, London, January 1940,

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst-Rohm.

[iii] John Cleland, Fanny Hill, Gray Rabbit Publishing, London, 2018.

[iv] Chrissie described this tool as a fast-paced messenger service that is commonly used in certain offices. https://slack.com/

[v]  https://chrissie.blog/2020/05/13/are-you-okay/

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Masturbation during Social Isolation – part II

No possibility of any social encounters. Not even the platonic kind. What to do?

After almost two months of Social Distancing and Forced Isolation, we are all fed up. With perturbed nights and never-ending weekends, we might feel entitled to a little fun.

Pour quoi pas? 

For such obvious reasons, people are recurring more often to “the company of one.”  

However, it has always been too difficult to get reliable data about Onanism due to the timidity or hypocrisy of respondents that, even though they practice it in earnest, deny it vehemently in written and oral surveys on this subject. But times are changing…

Under the auspices of the Trojan company—makers of the famous condoms—Dr. Robin Milhausen, a sex investigator of the University of Guelph, conducted a survey with his colleagues to find the incidence and prevalence of Masturbation now. They found that:

a) Men engaged in that practice at least once a week at a rate double than women (65% to 35%) but women reported a pleasurable experience more frequently than men did (38% of women to 29% of men)
b) 43% of women that did it on a regular basis reported that their latest one was more pleasurable, compared to 27% of women that did it occasionally.
c) Men who considered that their last practice was pleasurable were more likely to be more emotionally stable in their couple relationships.
d) 47% of women and 39% of men who liked their latest drill were more likely to say that they were satisfied with their sexual lives.
e) 54% of women used a vibrator to boost pleasure; of those 46% of them said that their latest drill was more pleasurable compared to 35% of those that did not use it.

The Japanese company TENGA—makers of sex toys—conducted surveys worldwide about the frequency of Masturbation to prepare a 2019 Self-Help Pleasure report. In the particular case of the USA, they found the following:

a) Americans ranked fourth in this agitated sport—84% of respondents—behind Germany (89%), the United Kingdom (91%) and the world champion, Spain (93%)
b) The three more common reasons to do it were: sexual satisfaction (31%), reach sexual climax(25%) and relief of stress (21%)
c) Heterosexual and LGBT Americans were more likely to drill on a regular basis—91% and 94% respectively—compared to women (78%)
d) Men are more likely to start at a very young age—13 years old on average—and women usually start several years later.
e) Contrary to men, women find the practice more pleasurable than the real act; 37% of women considered that the solo practice was better than sex, compared to 33% of men.
f) Non-LGBT individuals consider than sex is much more pleasurable.

Dr. Julie Richters, investigator at the University of New South Wales, conducted a survey of almost 20,000 Australians to study their solo practices. They found that:

  1. 72% of men and 42% of women had masturbated in the past year.
  2. Half of the men (51%) and a 24% of the women had done in the past four weeks.
  3. In the past year, two-fifths of respondents—63% of men and 20% of women—browsed some pornography material in various presentations.
  4. 21% of women and 15% of men had used a sex toy.
  5. 19% of men and 15% of women had practiced digital-anal stimulation.
  6. 7% of men and 4% of women had engaged in oral-anal stimulation.
  7. 7-8% played sexual roles or engaged in cross-dressing.

We will prudently give our distinguished readership a few days to digest this data; in a follow-up article, we will discuss the possible benefits of Onanism for all genres.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

(This article was based on our upcoming new book Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague)

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.

 

Bel dimanche avec une Choucroute Garnie à la Nouvelle Alsatienne

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Good evening and Happy Sunday to all of you. We hope that you are well and in good spirits, most likely bearing this forced Social Isolation (how many days already? Can’t remember….) with your loved ones. Today we prepared a traditional dish, from that fabulous gastronomic region straddling the French and German borders: Alsace. It has perhaps, with Bretagne, Bourgogne, Provence and Le Pays Basque, some of the very best cuisine that we can find in l’Hexagone. They use hearty meats and the finest produce.

Choucroute Garnie - Io

To make this dish more healthy, we did not use the traditional slabs of bacon to sautée the potatoes and vegetables but a dollop of Extra Virgin Olive Oil; also to give it more flavor we added some mushrooms, artichokes, garlic, ginger and jalapeño peppers. Of course we added the classic sauerkrraut on top. We used less meat, just some bratwurst  that we grilled separately to take out all the excess fat. We hope you enjoy our recipe.

We will sit down with Gian Luca momentarily to enjoy this dish with some Jack Daniels whisly to celebrate in style his excellent semester grades from the Creative Writing program at Florida State University. Even in Social Distancing, we must keep good rituals.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

Bon apétit à tous mes amis et toutes mes amies!

Choucroute Garnie- Giani

Emotional toss-up during Social Isolation

“Doctor…I never had so many fab orgasms—not going back to same old.”

Wanda X. is a lovely middle-aged entrepreneur that had the misfortune of being surprised by the “staying at home” order in a business trip to a distant state. Fortunately, she had an old friend from college that gladly welcomed her to bunk. Unlike her, she has been single and childless, which gave her a lot of sexual leeway.

One of the little perks of her friend’s lifestyle is to unabashedly recur to the use of a dildo whenever she had the irrepressible urge for satisfaction of her sexual needs. Reluctant at first to try it, Wanda X. eventually relented, after a month of seclusion. Slowly she learnt how to practice with a sexual toy in a responsible, adult way. When she would be able to return to her home, she will sit down to chat with her partner. She will tell him that she finally had it enough of her culturally-assigned role of a passive giver of love and that she demands the urgent addition of a more fun dual role of receiver too. Holy mackerel!

The emotional toss-up of the Social Isolation will shake up many conventional couples.

One of the most disregarded aspects of the mandatory Social Isolation that we have been enduring for more than one month already is its serious emotional toll on us. Like the young women and men that went into isolation in a Florentine villa in the Decameron, those coming out of this seclusion will not be the same ones that went in. At the civic level, there will be multiple changes in our societies, especially for labor opportunities.

The economic analysts are predicting that, besides the contraction of consumer spending due to loss of jobs, there will be a two-speed labor market. On one hand there will be persons that can work at a distance and with little physical contact. But on the other hand, there will be those that will be dangerously exposed to contagion. This will bring a generalized angry mood in the street like we have never witnessed before. No longer will we be able to count on the help of a smiling barista at our Starbucks; she might be too worried about being infected while mulling about her son’s day care. After her shift is over, she might be too stressed out to even consider going out with her girlfriends.

I‘m a single Mom working long shifts with hardly any toilet breaks for the barely minimum to pull my kids and I a few inches away from the always menacing edge of the poverty pit.

And you expect me to smile? About what? Com’ on. Grab your latte and move on, Buster.

Next customer in line!

The same anxiety and depression that pervades the working environment will be translated in a creeping loss of libido and eroticism in many blue collars’ bedrooms. Those lucky enough to have a privileged spot in the New World order will be less amenable to servile attitudes in loving, especially because many will be women.

The ladies will demand equal rights with their partners, which is a positive outcome. The manly partners that are out of a job will have to stay home to take care of the kids. And if they want to keep their women happy, they would have to learn how to cook nice meals. And be more attentive to their “little details”, including listening to them and bringing them flowers regularly (a bouquet once per month will not break the family budget)

Only with the combined effort of all the genres, will we be able to cross this junction.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

(This article is based on our upcoming new book “Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague.”)

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

The symbology of Silence

“Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.”

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

One of the most anguishing and troubling plays in modern theatre centers around two “losers” called Vladimir and Estragon waiting for the arrival of a mysterious Godot who keeps sending messages that he will show up but never actually does. They represent two human beings that do not know why they are living in first place; this is a resiliently disturbing question that keeps popping up during the pandemic.

Waiting for Godot [i] was initially published in French by Samuel Beckett in 1952 and became the first success of the Theatre of the Absurd; some critics have interpreted it as a product of Existentialism that proclaimed that life had no rational meaning and that we should not waste time trying to find any, even with religions. For all their miserable existence, the two central characters—usually represented as tramps—cling to the assumption that Godot—the representation of God or other altruistic meaning of life—will eventually appear and give answers. At the end of the play, dismissing the despairing nihilistic message that Beckett had intended to convey, many of us have emotionally identified with the two tramps who finally rose above their banality. Seeking answers for our existence, we are all as destitute as them.

In these times of enforced Social Isolation, the hitherto boisterous venues of Life—the quarterly streets, the public transportation, the work offices—have been deserted of all the varied sounds from the human presence —their conversations, their laughs, their exclamations. Seizing the opportunity, Silence has tyrannically filled all those spaces.

However, there are interlopers from our past that dare to show up uninvited. Even though we might be busy during the “staying at home” mandate working at a distance, doing homely duties, parenting tasks, neglected tasks/repairs, etc., there is always a critical moment when the abetting “nothingness” invites memories that for some clear or intriguing reasons, we usually store in the back of our minds.

A few days ago, I suddenly stopped typing on this laptop because one of the memories from the most painful day of my life—when my mother Gladys had passed away and we were in her wake—brutally came crashing down on me. Right before the time to close her casket came, we were asked to leave the room. Being the last one to exit, I had a change of heart halfway down the hallway. I turned around and returned with decisive strides. Once back in the room, I gently leaned over my dear Mommy to caress her beautiful hair and slowly kiss her saintly forehead.

“Hasta luego, Mamá ”, I whispered to her.

I knew then that I was not saying goodbye to her at all . Only “see you later.” I had the feeling that Gladys was rightfully, peacefully entering into another world, after working and , being such a uniquely empathic person, suffering for all her family members.

We must push back against the paralyzing inertia that may be poisoning our spirits with the renewed expressions of humanly endeavor filled with affection and hope.

Women have always been of paramount importance to carry out this task.

Let us give them the much-needed respect and consideration they deserve.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

(This article is based on our upcoming new book “Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague”)

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

[i] Samuel Beckett, En Attendant Godot, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 2002.

Happy International Workers’ Day

Dear readers and fellow bloggers;

Good morning. Today in almost all the countries of the planet we are celebrating the International Day of the Workers to honor all those that are toiling daily for society.

In these times of widespread Social Distancing and Lock-down to flatten the curve of the pandemic spread, there are millions of workers of all genres that show up daily in their posts to carry out their socially responsible tasks – first responders, police forces, medical personnel, supermarket and warehouse employees, cattle growers, dairy farmers, fishermen, postal and cable operators, social communicators, administrative personnel.

Thanks to their generous sacrifice we are able to bear this forced isolation in our homes.

We salute you all in your day!

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.