My appearance is not what or how it appears.

Aha! What you see is hardly me. I walk in certain spheres and people see this middle-aged man, which is me, yet not me.

In fact, in some places, like hospitals and colleges people say hello to me as if I am someone they know and have known. I fit, somehow, right now, smack in the middle of some stereotype that people have for what I should look like, and I do – to them. And so they say hello to me as if they knew me and know me. And I say hello back, as if it is precisely natural and correct. The appearance, the I to whom they say hello, is not exactly the I who thinks ‘I am.’ So some sinner, I, shrug and remain polite, and do not challenge, saying, “You don’t know me, really.” And I feel a bit peculiar.

Closer to home, the where of where I live, where I am known in deeper actuality, I am seen as an appearance which is more closely dialectical. The ‘who’ you see, my dears, is me, almost. Some residue, some particular strangeness in me, alone almost, is the eye which is not. A plastic disc, iris painted in the detail which was the me when it was new some years ago, is the eye into which you pierce, looking for my soul. What looks back is no more than a moistened reflection of the ambience of the room’s light.

Where I am, then, in the midst of all this looking? I see very clearly, that you see the I you think I am. For me, you see, the fact of my experience is my reality.

Carlos Castaneda said – somewhere – that the most difficult thing in life is in believing what is happening in the moment; in this moment.

Both as participants in our lives and observers of it, we all live in two modes, each with its own sense of being and of time.

Unless we sense the context, know the script of what is going on, then we stand aside, watching. Like the watchful m/other when her infant is asleep, our observing self is content beyond the time of doing.

This is usually useful, because the world of happenings and doings and occurrences is mundane; almost a sleepwalking, once we know who we are and where we have been.

Occasionally, however, something happens at a distance, or in the background, and we fail to report it to ourselves because we don’t believe it; because we are not in its time, in our own time of each moment’s doing.

We live entranced, captivated by our selves’ observers, playing out its particular surety, not noticing and…Not believing what it does not see exactly. Not seeing because one self’s observer is already committed to one’s own belief.

Life is like a course of lectures, the observer seeking the content of each lecture; no longer noting what is a lecture, nor yielding life to any thought behind the lecturer’s presentation.

These happenings which we do not note, what happens to them? Do they bump our observers’ eye, push however gently at our life’s constellations?

Do we wake up some day to find our selves outside of…ourself?

Should we struggle to see and to believe what it is we see, in each moment…and if we do…?


When I (we) was young, maturity seemed like some end-point toward which…Adulthood a place which possessed its own knowledge and meaning which would become somehow obvious; achieving, falling-into this state.

For more than twenty years we took on the mantles of parenthood, thinking it was grown-up and adult, perhaps in contrast to our children who were small, needed care and guidance, and… who then grew-up.

All these outward facets of being adult have passed. We are here, now alone, now without the others to tell: yet consultants, friends, but not as adults to anyone, certainly not to ourselves.

What will be next – post-adult – beyond the imagination of becoming mature, a category whose outline blurred; what occupation, what place in the world, what to do, who and how to be?

Past-adulthood: a time to re-think, to re-consider; new problems, new notions of activity, a more powerful sense of boredom with more time, shelter no longer a house, where is there to be “at home?”


In an article which appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, (“Waiting for Goffman” – by Michael Dirda -Sept. 17, 2010), I got excited, reminiscent; wondering about Goffman… as well as about myself.

Wondering how we study the human these days, I currently find myself wandering more into socio-political arenas (given these “interesting times”), than “merely” trying to describe and understand the world. But I’ve spent so many years trying to “see and study” the human in our most…basic terms: e.g., the human body – socially, developmentally, interacting, ageing, being and seeing others, and or via ourselves. (“Body Journals,” “Foundations Project,” “Language and Human Nature.” And I think I’ve “exhausted” those subjects.

Dirda “gets off” on Goffman’s magnificent prose, but also on the depth and breadth of his observations: as Goffman tried to explore the world as “an ethnographer of small entities.” As I now refer to myself as an “anthropologist of the Ordinary” – I relate very well to the title and ideas behind the first book: “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” – a most expansive framing of the worlds in which we all wander, but… exploring who we are “behind” our public persona.

Goffman was “some kind” of Sociologist-Anthropologist who wrote beautifully, and was one of the best-ever observers of various persons interacting in varying circumstances.

And he was my “big brother”. Big brother, because we were/are heavily influenced by the same teacher-person: Ray Birdwhistell (who doesn’t show up in Dirda – but he always was the primary base for Erving’s and my thinking about… most everything. Birdwhistell who Goffman met at the U. of Toronto; me, somewhat later at SUNY Buffalo – he was our primary teacher, model, incite/insight/excite: the “best observer” I ever met. Similarly for Goffman.

Birdwhistell sent us both to U. of Chicago where we fell under the thinking of various practitioners of “Symbolic Interaction” deriving from G. H. Mead, whose ideas seem now to be “creeping” back into a field which has practically been overtaken by Sociobiology and/or by Neuropsychology and other psychologies which don’t pay much attention to the interactional-social facts of our very being.

Dirda’s celebratory piece is excited by Goffman, and wonders why he has mostly “disappeared” from public view after a good, long run in Sociology, and currently in some parts of Comparative Literature.

Well: the history of ideas and academic power overtook Birdwhistell, and then myself. I’ve been trying to revive and extend Goffman and Birdwhistell’s ideas> (Plus, Birdwhistell was the best observer I’ve ever met – in many circumstances… all of human… life.)

While Goffman “enjoyed” quite great success, his teachers and little brother got “wiped out” in what I call the Chomskyan “revolution” in ideas – where the study of the human got displaced (still is) by the notion that the human being is centrally a mind/thinker, not a body in such complex interactions.

Goffman who was finally a “university professor” at Penn, was able to “rescue” Birdwhistell and got him a position there after he was “let-go” from his study of human-interaction at Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute as support for these studies just “went away” and our careers much diluted.

The famous humanistic writer confessed that it was only last year that he bought an electric typewriter, his first movement in the direction of high(er) technology. He wasn’t hostile, he said, merely inept.

A mere inept, merely inept, the words and concepts run around in my mind’s conjurings, wondering what this comment represents: a confessional that he is famous and yet not good at the manufactured things in life? – an olive branch to the technology that has accelerated faster than he has been able to realize because he has been busy being a literary critic and the social times he criticizes are running with him, at his pace? – a mere statement because he does not do all of what he might, and we might, expect?

No mere inept. I ponder what this means, berate my self that I do not know all technologies, am tempted to dismiss this statement with a scoffing, scathing, muttering, sneering at the words in some stretching-out which conveys the contempt I think I should have – “meeere in-eept”: merely, merely; in-ept, inept!

A sudden sadness that the possibilities of knowing all there is, has evaporated from anyone’s life’s realities. I try to forgive myself; no mere inept, my fingers grasp this stem of black plastic holding metal ball screeching over paper depositing some substance, writing in lines which have gained meaning, writing which was invented, a technology of not so very long ago, to be placed upon a word processor full of plastics and refined metals and chips and connections and… A mere inept, twenty books later, pondering upon the times.

His theater, no mere inept, takes us to so many places that we are persuaded to take him at face value…


I have, I possess – I am told – a good voice for radio. Deep, resonant, full of an authority and depth which has replaced the phlegm of years spent in the smoker’s abyss.

Usually this idea of a good radio voice makes no sense to me. Talking, using my voice, it sounds regular, ordinary; just me. Listening to a recording of me, I sound, well, somewhat whiney: too much variation, a kind of uncoolness and too many edges of raucousness; rawness, maybe.

Years of practice, teaching in different classrooms; exploring, modulating have moved my voice down to what others hear as good, convincing, correct.

Sometimes when I record for a weekly program, especially when I am alone, I try to listen as I speak, hearing as others must hear with a feeling for style, a quality of voice which can convey…strength, truth, a belief in itself?

A slight relief. Temperature climbs to 15 degrees Fahrenheit…above zero. A month and more below zero Centigrade. Worse to think Centigrade: life is always below zero. Here, below zero F, hurts faces, burns feet, telling us that there is no heat here. The sun, brilliant, cold as the winds blowing on facial tissues, causing tears to freeze, noses to run like sieves that freeze on my moustache like the winter monster who tells most birds to go South…they listen!

Yesterday, walking through the city, snow piled high hiding large dogs perambulating. At each corner we walked up not so small hills between streets clasped in sand-browned ice and sidewalks packed in still white snow.

We crossed the several tracks of railroad yards which house, these days, only wrecks to be repaired, and tramped over hillocks into city woods where imaginations imagine a forest of depth, the slight deception disproven by packed path of skiers and walkers who sought the same scene, break upon the clearing into lakescape’s wind driven snow packs seeming so cold in the lowest rays of winter’s sun, bathed in light, steeped in strong shadows, sit down on bench thinking of the spring and summer and fall, all leading back to such depth of winter that we can sit there only for a few moments.

Snuggled in layers of cloth and felt, we stayed almost warm, walking in the deep of deepest winter.

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