A Parable: Being unsuspicious in a climate of suspicion

Daphne and Chloe, Francois Gerard, Artist. Detroit Institute of Arts (public domain)

by LJ Frank

What is now proved was once only imagined. Proverbs of Hell, Willian Blake (English Poet)

Pleasure is the only thing to live for. Nothing ages like happiness. The Ideal Husband, Act II, Oscar Wilde (Irish poet & playwright)

What I have gained from the study of philosophy is the ability to hold converse with myself. Apothegm, Antisthenes (Greek philosopher, cynic)

Monique (pseudonym) reveres a humble conversationalist. She’s discerning, provocative, charismatic, practices yoga, plays the piano, and chronologically is well past the half century mark. Her life is dotted with subtle ironies…. and she doesn’t mind me writing about impressions of her as a parable of discreet pleasures, as if there is such a subject heading in a digital library catalog.

She asked me not to leave any direct hint of her real name or position in academia as such a confession might have an adverse effect on unsophisticated ears. To be clear, I am hardly familiar with the subjects she taught, or current position, nor her precise whereabouts unless she mention it during our irregular telephone conversations. We both agreed that her style of living was like an artist’s rendering one might find exhibited in an art museum. In this case, the Detroit Institute of Arts in the machine-washed blue-collar city in which she has lived much of her life.

Place is a context that affects each of use differently, from outlook and attitude to hope or existential despair. Her family history is steeped in the city’s romanticized erotica though known only to street scholars of local history. I know this as we are related through familial twists and turns inside and outside of traditional marriage.  And she was/is okay to mention Detroit as her immediate neighbors would only speculate that it was her and shrug their shoulders.

Monique though considered eccentric was/is not pretentious except she let the French pronunciation of the city slip from her tongue now and then, or De-tRwah as used in the 18th century…. It means the straits, the initial settlement was named by the founder, Antonine de la Mothe Cadillac….  the transition to the English Day-troit was influenced by the British and seen as overshadowing the city’s episodic romantic journey.

Her ancestors apparently used both pronunciations during the first decade of the 19th century when they settled in the area from New York. To a number of older surviving colonist’s children, they recollected that the city’s name was enunciated using the original French until the predominant English was used in the early 1800s. Winners of battles change names. English, not French or German became of the norm. New settlers supplant the language with different variations and dialects. Pronunciation signals the change to the social, economic, political, philosophical fabric and discourse. Romantic connotations wears thin.

Having been raised in a multicultural neighborhood in the city I understood the issues. Personally, I never had an ear for language, no matter which country I lived in, including the one in which I was born. I had hearing loss at a young age. In some instances, I nodded pretending to hear that which I didn’t.  And, when I learned what people actually said, well, I became un-interested. Hearing loss creates a natural shyness and the pursuit of knowledge and uncommon organic strategies. Being birthed and raised in the middle of a conversation accentuates the dilemma. Monique and I understood each other even though we were years apart.

Such history is applicable here as Monique had noted to me on occasion. We were distant relations. I have a few such family ancestors dating back to the “American Revolution” as well as in Europe, Ireland, Great Britain among other places. We amusingly pondered whether our ancestry was traceable to Homo Habilis. We all started from a woman’s womb. The metaphor of the womb was powerful as it was creation itself. The womb was the purview of the female.

Monique was independent from the minute after the cord was cut…. So, as she told me during one conversation. She and I agreed that humans invented their culture, beliefs, along with other miscellany for the sake of preserving self-identity. It’s a form of affirmation. She wasn’t sure about free will…. even when perceived to be exercised. She noted it was mostly genetics in her case.

Her habits were deliberate, and self-aware…. she could point to one of her early ancestors as a guide and a clue to her disposition. Libertas had a special meaning…. she designed a suggestive medieval tapestry that she had hand woven that covers much of one wall in her home…. the tapestry was a work of art with naked men and clothed women in conversation all within a private library containing books both organized and unorganized on floor to ceiling shelves.  There were other art works including a six-foot tall androgynous sculpture for those admirers who thought of themselves as visually literate.

I suppose the entire décor of her home pointed towards a Neo-French Renaissance appeal with an aging baby grand piano situated in the living room near a bay window overlooking a lush garden. She trained as a classical pianist during her youth but set aside the study for academic pursuits while admitting her love for the instrument during a smattering of quiet moments.

Intimately, Monique’s relationships involved a “kept” husband plus a female and male lover(s) both of whom she had/has periodic outings and trysts. She distains patriarchy, and associated behavior as an egregious misstep that needed accomplices of devout narcissists of both genders. She’s refused to be a participant. Her philosophical approach to living is also recognizing that we live in a competitive environment of purposed mistrust.

Accordingly, she’s consistently attracted unique friendships, spending time with colleagues as her workload demands, and as the climate of suspicion appears increasingly pervasive, the only way she can deal with the air of suspicion is to not inhale it…. rather, to go about her life’s roles with as much aplomb and distance as possible while indulging in those consensual pleasures that bring her a form of happiness, knowing that it has expenses. That happiness has aged well with her and her intimates.

In a variation of the humanist and theologian, Desiderius Erasmus, she would note that the preeminent point of happiness is for the person be what he or she is to the best of their ability within existing restraints.