A quality insight from Mrs. Fish

“Mrs Fish had concluded her story by saying that it was a peculiar but an assured fact that some human beings seemed to be ruined by their best qualities.”

This is one of the concluding paragraphs of Delmore Schwartz’s America! America!
An insightful paradox from Shenandoah Fish’s mother, a women all the details on the ins & outs of the neighbourhood’s characters. Our instinct tells us qualities enable achievement. However, we also have this underlying sense (instinctual?) of what she means.
Mrs. Fish is referring to Sidney Baumann, the son of Mr. Baumann, a self-made door to door insurance sales man & Russian immigrant, popular in his neighbourhood, trusted, a strong work ethic, thrives in groups. A man who believes in America because it equates in his mind to opportunity; he is living proof of it, in fact. It is unthinkable to a man with his history to miss out on this opportunity, even if it was originally founded on mostly hope. We admire his dutiful character. Why wouldn’t we?

His son Sidney is spoilt. He is informed, to a media standard. He thinks he is owed something. He is finicky about what he wants to do with his life. He is a snob, lazy. His mother praises this as a “sensitivity to the finer things in life.” It is due to Sidney being able to fall back on the security of his family that mean his best qualities (his good upbringing) struggle, if not outright fail, to improve him.
This is a tough paradox to solve. It is the duty of a family to raise a child well, to see their needs are met, to instruct by example, which is what the Baumann parents do. They are pious, well mannered, respected, well-off but not excessively wealthy, they understand value & worth & they want only what they think is best for their children. Regardless, these qualities are not transferred satisfactorily to their son. In fact, he is more the inverse of their best qualities.

Mrs. Fish’s insight might be re-worded as, some people are ruined by their parents’ best qualities. Of course Mrs. Fish I doubt could possibly believe such a thing, Shenandoah is after all jobless, drifting aimlessly.

Let’s say you are part of a gang of intellectuals, a variety of people who share conversation & wine in common as the group do in Schwartz’s story The World is a Wedding.
Sidney is among them. During a comparison of contemporary America & Depression era America, the subject turns to the presidential family & the natural inclination of Trump to pamper his children by whatever means, even if they are illegal & morally questionable methods that endanger his credibility, like… say… quickly passing through business-trade opportunities for his daughter before closing them to everyone else (wink wink).
You ask Sidney:
“Does Ivanka & her siblings owe their father anything for sticking his neck out?”
Sidney replies:
“We rebel against our parents because of what they expect from us. It isn’t just love, it is a debt of gratitude. We are never, & never will any human being in the future of humanity, ever be offered the choice of being born.” Somewhat cryptic, but I think we get the jist. Even if we rebel our parents owe us, we owe them nothing for their choices.
I tell him that years ago I read a silly book by Michael Talbot called The Holographic Universe. A hodge-podge of enlightened pseudo-science & human potential, LaLa land rubbish.
There was talk of reincarnation in the book, but the system outlined, hypothesized that we choose what will be reincarnated as, so that the soul might increase its knowledge. This system enabled the soul, encouraged by will, to quest after ultimate understanding.
As a thought-experiment (which is about as useful as Talbot’s book could ever be), let’s pare his outline back a little & say, before birth we are told a little (from the environs of this pre-life state outside time & space) about what to expect from life. On the sheer scale of experience we would, ignorant, be told of the polarities that are very real pressures in life; the creeping dearth of our environment, natural beauty, how difficult a definition of nature is & the polarities this creates; the easiness of loss, the fortuity of gain; love & how its power can both leave us in rapture & despair;— in essence, how easily, based on sensory inputs beyond our control, our mood may elevate, accelerate, decelerate, evaporate & all the bits n’ bobs & in-betweens.
Wouldn’t it seem sort of overwhelming? Would the necessary consequence of this information be a ubiquitous, unquestionable, yes?

Sidney nods in agreement & jumps in…

“There is no warning, no expectation. Life is bull-rushed upon us (this is where I say, ‘this is the reason babies cry on exiting the womb’, but I don’t believe that). For not falling into line with the narrative we are incorporated into, for not meeting expectation, we are labelled disappointing.
This may not be explicit (conscious), but it is implicit (sub-conscious) as our will to independence exposes. Independence is not instinctual in humans, not if we are coddled too long, if the nest is too warm & mother-bird never teaches us the value of aerodynamics & daddy the skill of the hunt. This is why Shenandoah’s father instructed my father to send me to Chicago, out into the world to stand on my own 2 feet. It failed. The safety net was firmly secure; already I had passed the formative years without being acceptably formed for the struggles ahead.”

Sidney owes his parents nothing. He is their responsibility; if he was a mistake, he is a mistake they made & therefore must take responsibility for. If you buy an expensive object, you take care of it. A child is not an expensive object; a child (being human) is an anomaly of nature, a thing without equal in nature or objects, something that is not to be brought into the world if it must meet expectations, if it must be a slave to the ideals & expectations of parents. The world changes as the child grows & their world is not the world of their parents. A child is not an insurance policy against mortality.
I read (or watched) somewhere that the American people are collateral for the exorbitant national debt (a conspiracy); regardless of whether this is a fiction or not, it is a terrible thing to consider even the remote possibility of.

In the final paragraph of Schwarz’s story Shenandoah Fish says into the mirror that
“No one truly exists in the real world because no one knows all that he is to other human beings, all that they say behind his back, and the foolishness which the future will bring him.”

Shenandoah is as insightful as his mother. His insight illustrates something of the absurdity of expectation in an indeterminate future. He also begs us to search for what we cannot see in ourselves, what we cannot know of ourselves, what others might see & how that could & should alter us & moreover, how we are, like Mr. Baumann, tied to people for a definition of who we are (consider this in the context of his profession: he is a door to door salesman).
Not having the full picture of ourselves how can we expect to know what is best for the breathing, breathless, hungry mistake (or choice) that we have made?

Right & wrong, are clear in many respects (aside from the exceptions to the rule, which I don’t like focusing on as they set a default go-to when dealing with generalizations & end up being used for one-up-man-ship in discussions) but don’t assume they’re always straightforward, there are immensely subtle, unregistered, slow burning conclusions to the actions we take.

(I’d like to add, I am not a parent, I do not believe in these ideas, they are simply ideas to be indulged, I don’t necessarily not believe them, they are not proved right or wrong, I am merely entertaining potentials.)

Posted by:DPM

DPM is an idea-logue (sic) and object-oriented speculative realist, attempting to be response-able in an irresponse-able society.

17 thoughts on “A quality insight from Mrs. Fish

  1. Love this food for thought. I wonder how two of my three children are able to stand up right while another crouches in fear? Not necessarily her father or mother, who reared her in much the same manner, although perhaps with more coddling, being the younger one. Enter society which forced her to grow up and expect her to handle trauma neither of our other two children had to face. It was not her upbringing in the home that caved her ability to soar but the outside influence of human depravity that wracks her soul day and night. We three fight an unseen enemy, behind closed doors, in late-night talks that go beyond midnight. Keep her propped up with sugar-coated fodder. It may be worse than death. This existence at the brink of despair. (Apologize if this tangent goes beyond the scope of your post… the words dug up long held emotions that i need to dispose of and I apologize again if i am in the wrong to rant here.)

    1. I think so many kids/people are under the impression (from TV/magazines/Internet/whatever) that “real” people are always soaring and pretty and adventurous…that is a massive weight on the shoulders of the quiet people of the world: introverts, depressives, and the like. Apart for having clinical depression ( which is not upbringing but genetic/circumstantial) having a good life for some is not about soaring… and being expected to soar when one is is perfectly happy to slowly swim deep in the Arctic Ocean is complete misery.

      Some people are hurt by the seemingly endless and heartless activities of the world. How to psychically survive them is a real challenge… hang in there…

      1. Thanks for the reply. I am not trying to be argumentative in my response, just wanted to clarify further what i was saying and missed communicating. And thank you for allowing me to write what this post drug up in me.

        I certainly understand the soaring is not for everyone crowd but she had an independent spirit and now relies on us to keep her propped up. Her presenting character is certainly not her natural personality at all. She is a ghost of a viable soul who had much potential to make her mark. She is an INFJ, and was certainly introverted as a child, but was social and outgoing enough to run for student council, which may have led to her being squashed and being done in for her death. She recently had aspirations of working in the deaf community, not even being deaf herself. But unfortunately relies too heavily on outside influences, wanting to please too many people. She is a wounded empath struggling to survive. I hope some day she regains her light and fights on…

        Depression can be genetic but I certainly believe outside influences trigger symptoms. Depression does run in our family. It has led to two suicides. We are fighting to stave off a third. Luckily i have learned to communicate, growing up in a family that never discussed issues. Everything was taboo. Not anymore. Another life is at stake.

        Enjoyed your response as well. I get the swimming in deep waters as i do that often to refresh myself… in order to face the world. Perhaps that is all that it will take to get her back on her feet… stronger than ever! 💜🕊🎶🎶🎶🌊

    2. This “rant” is very much necessary to this topic. Daniel in his comment below sums it up well.
      I didn’t expand to societies influence as I wanted to keep my word count down so I am glad you raisef it. The interference of the world is an difficult to determine & I don’t doubt parents can do everything right & the child’s sensitivity to the ugliness of the world can press in on everyone’s best efforts. I think my parents have had similar problems with me. I guess Sidney Baumann & his family would have the depression to blame.

      1. Thanks for saying that about my rant. I have read many books about how introverts could/should and can shape our collective conscious. I hope my daughter can regain some of her vision, see her worth as an individual and as an empath, highly sensitive soul. Depression can be a force for good if we could harness the power and turn it outward instead of inward. Depression harms the soul that carries it without realizing the error of its ways. Thanks for this post… it has done me a wealth of good. 👏🏼🕊🌊

      2. It must be difficult for you & I admire your efforts immensely. I have some mild depression latch onto me, & I try to turn it to my advantage in some way, if only to use the small amount I have to empathize with how someone with crippling depression must feel.
        I’d conclude from your efforts you are not like Sidney’s parents, you don’t expect anything for your efforts, you don’t need gratitude for it, you know it to be your duty for bringing these lives into the world? You’re an example to all Jeanne.

      3. Ive got to go but i am certainly going to revisit this post. Reading your response i see i missed something in the original post. I should know this as your posts are always layers deep… check in soon and i plan to reblog if okay by you. 💜j

  2. You hit gold with this: “A child is not an expensive object; a child (being human) is an anomaly of nature, a thing without equal in nature or objects, something that is not to be brought into the world if it must meet expectations, if it must be a slave to the ideals & expectations of parents. The world changes as the child grows & their world is not the world of their parents. A child is not an insurance policy against mortality.” …..There was a lot of useless shit in the parenting classes I had to partake in, & this should be above the fucking door. Facing on a daily basis an anomaly of nature that nevertheless is dependent upon you for everything is staggering in its implications; that it could grow up & despise you, or just be different than you (for me, hate books & music & art, &–I don’t know–go into advertising or become a lawyer) staggers as well. It’s an opportunity for real unconditional love, which is not easy. Not to be too dramatic, but watch the prison interviews Jeffrey Dahmer did, with his father beside him. …I realized from the first moment my daughter stopped wanting to sleep on my chest, which I loved & adored, was that the whole situation was both a long goodbye to her own independence & identity, but also a lovable & astounding surprise at every turn. It is a mixture of everything good & bad you can imagine.

    1. Glad despite not being or wanting to be a parent that I got something right.
      Everything you say above is pretty much the reason for me not wanting to do it. I know I’d fall into line, accept everything, but I don’t really want to, so I don’t do it. I also see myself as giving up the right for others as we are already wildly over populated in my opinion. Let others have the kids. We are not at a point of needing more bodies, it is a choice at this point.

  3. Thought-provoking as always, Daniel. A lot of people have ideas in these areas, including me. I have found a lot of benefit in certain Buddhist ideas: that we are responsible for our own actions; that “measure” i.e. any comparison with others is not useful; no fixed view, and closely related, no self. Like you perhaps, I don’t entirely subscribe but I have found them useful starting points for these big topics.

  4. I don’t know who said it, but “Families go from rags to riches to rags in three generations” – has a proverbial sound, if little known.

      1. That’s not always so. Especially if the quote is short, with common words, little known, and similar to web page / article / book titles, for instance. Anyway, I use duckduckgo.com , which doesn’t track individuals and doesn’t filter results to suit individual profiles.

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