Tag Archives: Harvard University

On Thanksgiving: Watch the 1946 version of The Razor’s Edge, the most influential movie in my life

Premature Publication Excuse: An-as-yet incomplete posting explaining the meaning of life

It is taking me a while to achieve completion because I am writing for readers who may not have heard about Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney.

GeneTierneyandTyronePowerOne problem, of course, is if I were Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney was trying to seduce me so I do not go off to India to find the meaning of life, would I have the spiritual courage to say NO?

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I am goaded into publishing this post prematurely due to the kind permission of Mary Reilly Nichols, a prominent yoga teacher and spiritualist based in New York City to discuss her spiritual experiences..

Here is a link to  Nichols’ website: http://www.meditationmary.com/

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Nichols writes:

“I have been teaching Yoga since 1982, upon completing a five-year stint of ashram life under the auspices of my Guru, Swami Muktananda.

“We didn’t really practice Hatha Yoga in his ashram as a discrete activity. All the branches of yoga were unfolding at all times, so that is the way I teach Hatha: as inseparable from all the other branches of yoga.

“If you sever a branch from the vine, the branch withers. Hatha must be connected to its root, or it is merely acrobatics. Yet it is a foundation for liberation when aligned with understanding.”

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Book jacket of The Razor's Edge featuring the two main characters in the forthcoming movie
Book jacket of The Razor’s Edge featuring the two main characters in the forthcoming movie

The central character in the  most significant book in my life (The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham) achieves his understanding of the meaning of life at an ashram in India where he has an out-of-body experience.

Tyrone Power played the central character in the 1946 film version of Maugham’s 1944 novel. Although he died at age 44 in 1958, his fame was so enduring that his photographic appears on The Beatles’ iconic 1967 album cover for St. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Sgt__Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_BandTyrone Power is so perfectly cast in the 1946 version of the movie that although Maugham named his main character: Larry Darrell, I automatically think Tyrone Power.

I find that this cinematic accomplishment helps add validity to Tyrone Power’s out-of-body experiences.

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Nichols has an extensive section on her site describing her out-of-body experiences including those that preceding meeting her guru in India. Nichols, a graduate of Harvard University, had her first out-of-body experiences as an undergraduate.

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“It was the spring of my junior year in college and i was writing my junior thesis, a major term paper, for the anthropology department. I had chosen as a topic the ecstatic religious cults of New Guinea.

“It was about how ecstatic religious movements function to help people adapt to conditions of extreme social stress. Visionary religious experience, arising from the unconscious, transforms the deep psycho social programming of human beings undergoing major anxiety and stress.

“The strain can result from culture contact, especially with a technologically superior culture. But any radical change of environmental or social conditions can render traditional cultural categories irrelevant and unproductive, which is extremely stressful.


“The whole process of writing this paper had been unusually energizing and compelling. I was so excited by the material, and wanted nothing else but to read and write about it.

“One evening i sat at my desk writing, listening to the street music wafting up from the streets of Cambridge. The not terribly brilliant thought occurred:

“Doesn’t my own contemporary Western culture qualify as a society who’s traditions are breaking down due to rapid change? We must be ripe for ecstatic religious renewal.

“At that moment there was an explosion of energy at the base of my spine, energy which wriggled upward with the gushing power of a fire hose to the crown of my head.

“The whole room turned into dazzling white light, myself included. The light spoke clearly to me: ‘A great Being is in a body in your lifetime, and you will recognize him.’ The light conveyed some other knowledge as well.

“After regaining a sense of my physical body, I ran out of there, afraid. Only later would I understand that I had had a classic kundalini awakening, and learn that Kundalini Shakti, subtle energy normally dormant at the base of the spine, rises to the crown center through yogic processes producing states of super consciousness.”

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Not yet prepared to describe my own spiritual experiences that led to a life-altering event when I discussed The Razor’s Edge with my grandmother at age 16, I asked Nichols for permission to cite her account. She granted permission with the cautionary note:

“I have found that reporting those experiences sometimes results in very angry feedback, so share at your own risk! “

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Mindful of Nichols’ warning, the rest of this post-in-progress represents my summoning up courage to explain my notion of The Meaning of Life.

My completion deadline is Thanksgiving.

http://www.dia.org/object-info/c7320601-cd8c-4728-b3dd-78883372d505.aspx?position=1

I will let you know if I complete it earlier given that I am worried about the fate of the Detroit’s Institute of the Arts as a consequences of Detroit’s bankruptcy, the largest of any city in U.S. history.

http://www.e-architect.co.uk/columns/detroit-dying-special-report

Mary Reilly Nichols
Mary Reilly Nichols

Lengthy preparation prior to getting the point (not yet included)

tyronepower

Note 1: It is customary for fastidious movie goers and book readers (who may stray to this site) to be warned that (despite my assertions it does not matter) the following posting is so filled with spoilers it might be prudent to stop reading now.

Note 2: For the rest of you, who actually belong here, I am preparing for Thanksgiving by discussing the most influential film in my life The Razor’s Edge starring Tyrone Power shown here and released 68 years ago—one year before I was born.

Rarely, does Tyrone Power wear a tuxedo in the movie. He stars as Larry Darrell, a man searching for the meaning of life which he finds dressed in second-hand clothes in a cabin high up in the Himalayan Mountains.

Maugham writes about Darrell, “[I]t may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow-men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature.”

This preparation for Thanksgiving includes a discussion I had with my grandmother Celia Schneider when I was 16 about Somerset Maugham’s novel upon which the movie is closely based.

bubbieandmother001

My grandmother Celia Schneider is shown here right in an early 1940s photo. Celia is standing next to her daughter Miriam Pell, years before she met my father. As a child, Celia was the most stable adult influence on my life. Her favorite book was W. Somerset Maugham’s 1944 novel The Razor’s Edge.

Mother engraved a quotation from The Razor’s Edge on my grandmother’s tombstone.

The book title (which the author reproduces as an epigraph) comes from a verse from the Katha-Upanishad:

“The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”

The Katha-Upanishad is a Hindu treatise probably composed after the fifth century BC and it contains passages that suggest contact with Buddhist ideas. I am not sure I agree with the concept that the path to Salvation is hard. [What do you think?]

Talking to my grandmother about life’s meaning changed my life. Discussing this subject seems a useful way to get ready for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is an auspicious holiday in my life. http://www.joelsolkoff.com/november-2014-motto/

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The book and the film are so closely tied together in my mind, especially the superb casting of the three main characters that I often think about the two separate genres as if they were one.

This is a wonderful movie—a way to getting Thanksgiving rolling toward meaning while providing fun for everyone.

While you have yet to meet the heroine, much fun involves snickering at the third of the main characters Clifton Webb who plays the role of a diverting snob.

Maugham writes of Elliott Templeton, Webb’s character (to whom I shall return as the story does) to effectively lighten up the story’s serious Main Purpose.

“The Paris season was drawing to a close and all the best people were arranging to go to watering places or to Deauville before repairing for the rest of the summer to their ancestral châteaux in Touraine, Anjou, or Brittany. Ordinarily Elliott went to London at the end of June, but his family feeling was strong and his affection for his sister and Isabelle sincere; he had been quite ready to sacrifice himself and remain in Paris, if they wished it, when no one who was anyone was there, but he found himself now in the agreeable situation of being able to do what was best for others and at the same time what was convenient for himself.”

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Parsimonious accolade: I only give the movie four stars instead of five because:

  1. The music is dreadful. Every time something significant happens, a violin plays or two or three or the entire orchestra.
  2. The key spiritual moment is explained away as being caused by God rather than as Maugham described it by a generic spiritual power. (Before discussing this at the dinner table, please pass the cranberry sauce.) [More on God. Before Larry has his defining moment with an Indian guru, Maugham describes a conversation he had concerning God with Isabel Bradley (played by Gene Tierney). The conversation eventually will  appear below, following another photograph of Gene Tierney “Acclaimed,” Wikipedia writes, “as a great beauty.”

GeneTierney

The Plot (as yet incomplete)

W. Somerset Maugham’s begins The Razor’s Edge by denying the book is a novel.

“If I call it a novel it is because I do not know what else to call it…I have invented nothing.” Maugham invented quite a lot .

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Note: Last month, I celebrated my 67th birthday. Increasingly, I find myself eager to communicate with women and men in their 20s and 30s—the age of my two daughters Joanna and Amelia.

One reason I am eager to communication with this specific demographic is because I live half a block away from Webster’s Bookstore and Café where recent friends include the baristas and non-baristas who serve me coffee and organic salads, sell me books, and sit with me and talk about books and life.

websters

Two years ago, Tom Connolly, a musician who is currently playing in a rock band in Philadelphia, shared Thanksgiving with me at my apartment with a mutual friend .While I made turkey (Tom helped), he set up a drum and cymbal set which I later played with great delight.

Tom Connolly plays as the turkey cooks
Tom Connolly plays as the turkey cooks. See

http://www.joelsolkoff.com/my-mothers-thanksgiving-story-and-my-thanksgiving-letter/

–30?–Not yet. This is the post so far.

Copyright by Joel Solkoff, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

Countdown over: Amelia’s graduation ceremony was very wet; may end with my joining the Smyth County Moose Lodge

Soaking wet, Amelia Altalena Solkoff graduated with honors in Spanish at the University of North Carolina, Ashville (UNC-A). UNC-A ran an awful graduation ceremony. When I get rich, I will provide UNC-A with funds for rainy day graduations.

Asheville CITIZEN-TIMES previews the graduation ceremonies that have now taken place:

ASHEVILLE — Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles will speak at UNC Asheville’s graduation ceremony in May.

“Bowles served as President Clinton’s top assistant and was tapped by President Barack Obama to tackle the nation’s budget woes. He also spent five years as president of the UNC System.”

http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012304170019

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Then, on May 6, 2012 The CITIZENS-TIMES report on the event:

“UNCA’s rainy spring graduation : As soon as UNC Asheville students got to the quad for the spring graduation commencement, the rain started to pour Saturday. 5/5/12 – Erin Brethauer ([email protected])”

See video; hear rainhttp://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012305060044

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Amelia at Celebratory Meal # 3 (of 4) THE BIG ONE
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At Celebratory meal # 4.

Joanna and Amelia’s mother Diana Bass

 

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At Celebratory meal # 1.

Our daughter Joanna Marie Solkoff, who graduated with honors in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently studying to be a nurse. Accompanying Joanna is Jade Phillips, a rock and refuge shown together at my apartment at State College, PA in March:

 

 

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Sarah Schmerler, Robert Simonson, and Asher Simonson during a brief dry spell at the graduation ceremony

Sarah is my sister (https://www.artnews.com/author/sarahschmerler/). Robert Simonson is my brother-in-law (http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Simonson/e/B001K8HFEA/ref=sr_tc_2_rm?qid=1337188291&sr=1-2-ent). Asher Benvenuto Simonson is my camera-shy only nephew; he is nearly 11.

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Asheville, NC 7:19 PM. May 4, 2012 [official Star Trek holiday celebration; see Wikipedia.].

I am ensconced in a disability room at the Asheville NC Extended Stay America motel.

This is directly down the road from the University of North Carolina Campus where Amelia graduates tomorrow at 9 AM.

Relatives, loved ones, friends, and the like are preparing to come to my hotel to engage in a Jewish celebration of Sabboth and undoubtedly much mischief.

When I have time, I promise to TELL ALL. Including photos.

Gotta run.

Amelia, the evening before graduation ceremonies, helps me unload my car.

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There is candle lighting in my room: “Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.”

 

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Flashback: Two days earlier

Michelle, front desk clerk Best Western Grand Venice Hotel, Hagerstown, NC, prepares to put my travel scooter into the trunk so I am ready to drive south for hundreds of miles.

Michelle is my candidate for Best Western employee of the year.

 

 

As we all know, commencement is not a beginning, it is an end.

On the road again:

May 3, 2012 Hagerstown, Maryland,  Best Western Grand Venice Hotel, 11:55 AM

8 AM today ready for breakfast at the free bar on the second floor

The route from Downtown State College, where I live, to Ashville North Carolina, where Amelia will be receiving her diploma on May 5th at 9 AM at the University of North Carolina in Asheville is 571 miles–a 9 hour and 40 minute drive, longer than I have driven in over eight years.

Yesterday, I left State College after my friend Pinki Heyn helped load the Enterprise Rental Car driven by Dawn, a new management trainee, who brought me to the rental office for the ritual filling out of the forms and paying the money. After picking up a suit (which I have not worn in 7 years), several starched shirts, and clean clothing, I left town at 5 PM and drove the astonishingly beautiful Route 99 to Route 70 to Hagerstown, site of the Battle of Antietam, the first Union victory, giving  President Lincoln the credibility required to issue the Emancipation proclamation. More on Emancipation later in the trip.

I now have traveled 158 miles of a 571 mile trip. Amelia called anxiously trying to rush me. Whose celebration does she think this is?

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Amelia in my arms before age one–the rest of the crew will be described later.

 

Last year, before reaching her current level of maturity, Amelia prepares to run with the bulls

 

 

 

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This Amigo TravelMate will take me to Amelia’s graduation (photo by Andrea Gatzke).

A Commencement Speech I Approve Of

I have been led to understand that…you are going to graduate. Well, my strong recommendation is that you don’t go. Stop! Go on back to your rooms. Unpack! There’s not much out here. Chekhov tells the story of the traveler faced with three roads… If he takes the one to the right, the wolves will eat him up. If he takes the one to the left he will eat up the wolves, and if he takes the one to the center he will eat himself up.

The point is we don’t want you out here very much. We on the outside see graduation as a terrible event–the opening of an enormous dovecote from which spring into the air tens of thousands of graduates. What is particularly disturbing is that you all come out at the same time—June—hordes, with your dark graduation cloaks darkening the earth. Why is it that you can’t be squeezed out one at a time, like peach pits, so that the society can absorb you without feeling suffocated?

My own profession is being, swamped with writers coming, out of college, despite the conditions out here that no one reads. Indeed, my friend Kurt Vonnegut was saying the other day that the only solution to ·the moribund state of publishing would be to require all of those on welfare that before receiving their welfare checks, they must hand in a book report.

So go back to your dorm rooms and stay. True, there may be some practical problem. The deans may come tapping at your door like hotel concierges wondering about checkout time. Tell the dean through the door that you don’t think you should go out into the world with a C- in Economics 10. Great damage can be caused to the economic structure, and probably already has, by Harvard men out there who earned a C– in Economics 10; you must tell the dean you don’t want to compound such a situation.

The dean will say that he needs the room for the junior who is going to become a senior–the process must go on. Tell him there’s no reason why the juniors can’t stay juniors, the sophomores, sophomores, and the freshmen, freshmen. Tell him to stop the process. Why should the process go on? The Harvard Lampoon has had, in its century of operation, 100 different editorial boards. Has it improved? Probably not. Why not keep the same one?

Besides, we are told all the time what a marvelous institution Harvard is. Benjamin DeMott once likened Harvard to the continent of Europe: “Either you’ve been there or you haven’t,” And you’ll all remember the Boston dowager who said of a nephew: “He doesn’t go to college, he goes to Brown.” Why do they tell us such things if they don’t want us to stay? So tell them you’re convinced. You’ve decided to stay. You’re not going to budge.

After a while the dean will go away. Deans always go away. They go away to ponder things. They will assume that your parents will finally force the issue. They’ll want you home. But I am not so sure. I have the sense that parents would rather not know what’s being sent home to them these days from the college–not unlike receiving  a mysterious, package tied with hemp, addressed in rather queasy lettering from Dutch Gularia.

They’d much rather you stay here. When a mother is asked about her son at the country-club dance she can always say: “Why John’s off at Harvard.” There’s something quite grand about that certainly compared to: ”Well, the last time I saw him he was throwing a frisbee in the backyard.”

If your parents insist you pack up and come home, there are always measures. If you’re chemistry major, tell them that you’ve become very attached to something in a vat of formaldehyde. If you’re in pre-law, tell them that you’re thinking of bringing home a tort. Your parents will probably have forgotten what a tort is, if they ever knew, and it sounds so unpleasant–something that your Mom wouldn’t want to have stepping suddenly out of a hall closet. Surely, there is hardly an academic field of one’s choice which does not have a nightmare possibility with which to force one’s parents to pony up enough to allow nearly a decade of contemplation in one’s room.

You’ll remember the King in Alice in Wonderland. When asked: “Where shall I begin?” the King says, “Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end; then stop.” What I am suggesting is that you stop at the beginning, stop at your commencement. It’s not very interesting to stop at the end–l mean everyone does that. So stop now. Tell them you won’t go. Go back to your rooms. Unpack!

–George Plimpton, Harvard University, June 1977

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The reason we moved to North Carolina, where my daughters graduated from its fine public university, is that Kathleen Atwater, then manager of Northern Telecom’s technical writing, hired me, moved my family to Durham, and arranged for the company to buy our DC home if we could not sell it.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Peterson_(author) “…In 2003, he was convicted of murdering his second wife, Kathleen …” Alava shalom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorifics_for_the_dead_in_Judaism

זיכרונה לברכה
zikhronah livrakha of blessed memory.]

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 The party is over, but I linger on in Asheville after everybody left.

The graduation was on Saturday. On Saturday at 5:15 PM we had a celebratory dinner at a classy Spanish restaurant. Asheville becomes more charming every day. On Sunday morning, my sister Sarah Schmerler, her husband Uncle Robert Simonson, and my 10.5 year-old nephew Asher left to return to Brooklyn, NY. Also that morning I had breakfast with my former wife Diana Bass, my elder daughter Joanna and her friend Jade Phillips, and Amelia. Joanna and Jade left to the airport to fly to Los Angeles where Jade’s mother lives, before…Diana drives off to her home in Durham. Amelia lingers an extra day and morning and is now with her mother camping on the Outer Shores of NC. Wonderful ferry ride. wonderful world.

And I returned to the Extended Stay Hotel here in Asheville at Kenilworth Knoll where the helpful staff help me with my disability gadgets. Here is Extended Stay Wendy helping with a light-weight wheel chair I am experimenting with.

 

 

As I pack my car to leave North Carolina, I TEMPORARILY interrupt this posting using this photo of Amelia and me in the Spanish restaurant in Asheville celebrating her graduation on graduation day. Think of this as not only an ending but a beginning for me to write more.

 

The End. REALLY.

Somethings naturally come to an End. The countdown to Amelia’s graduation from college has come to an end. She graduated a week ago today. This posting is mostly over. Yes, there are details to be taken care of such as the deep skinny on Graduation Meal celebrations 1-4.

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As I write this from Marion, VA still miles away from home at the Budget Inn (not affiliated with anything) across the tertiary road from the beautiful Walker Mountains, the details of the end have not been codified. Last night, for example, I was invited to join the Moose. Come next month’s check, I plan to join the Smyth County Moose chapter where I had friend okra for dinner last evening. My Moose card will get me in any Moose hall in the country.

–Joel Solkoff