August 19, 2019:

I began dramatically challenging The Adult Authorities to notice me.

I became more and more brazen in my absences, and I was more and more frequently intoxicated when I showed up. When a football player insulted one of the special-ed kids I socked him smack in the nose. Hauled in front of the Vice Principle to explain myself I called him a "fat cunt". I was unjustly flunked in Chemistry, the one class I actually loved — I aced the tests and the labs, but was given an F for the term by an incompetent teacher who taught me that what mattered for success in school was bureaucracy, conformity, and penmanship. After that I refused to return, so that I flunked second term as well. Turned out I had a "counselor" — who knew? The one time she spoke to me she was entirely disinterested in learning who I was or what was happening in my world — she mostly expressed her personal disappointment over my chemistry failure, which I assume meant I'd diminished her performance evaluation. After that I got drunk every day until they expelled me.

I had no framework for understanding these experiences. "Depression" wasn't yet a term that was in popular currency. I wasn't Holden Caulfield, I wasn't Esther Greenwood, I was rebelling in an entirely more confrontational way than Søren Kierkegaard, and there were no additional models that I knew of. The idea that I had a mood disorder, or any other mental aberration, was not available.

Someone should have known, someone should have done something. But how could they? I was a cypher to all my circles of non-friends and unless I was socking people in the nose or calling them a "fat cunt" I was invisible to the authorities. I would of course never have reached out to them. I felt the authorities had betrayed me, and at this exact moment I was reading about Vietnam, discovering that we'd all been betrayed, by authorities far larger than the San Diego Unified School District.

With nowhere to turn I collapsed more and more inward, until at the end of this evolution I flatly refused to leave my room. I stayed there for a year, despairingly reading Kierkegaard, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, and Joseph Campbell.

August 18, 2019:

Next was naturally The Bell Jar. But it was a very different experience.

At the time it was only recently available in the U.S., where reviewers were reading it through the filter of The Catcher in the Rye. I found the comparison glib, and sexist. The two works are entirely different orders of observation and intent. Plath's writing frightened and haunted me. Salinger's left me exasperated and to a certain degree contemptuous.

Salinger is didactic, elitist, class-bound, smug. Plath is hilarious, self-deprecating, vastly more humane, and a far better writer. Esther Greenwood's a working class girl on scholarship, Holden Caulfield's an entitled Park Avenue twit. Esther's driven, Holden's the ur-slacker. Esther's brilliant, Holden's a clod. Salinger romanticized mental illness, equating breakdown with enlightenment. Plath's narration of her attempted suicide made me cry.

I'm not sure what long-term impact she had on me. Salinger had none directly, but he led to Kierkegaard, who became unfortunately central for a time. Plath's experience seemed perhaps too foreign at that moment.

It's just this week, in re-reading her after forty-four years, that she's had a visceral impact. In the days since, I haven't been able to stop crying. We can attribute that not merely to my current fragility but also to the beauty of her prose, and the power of her intellect, and the infinitely sad depth of my inability to protect her.

August 17, 2019:

"Now that's a piece of writing," he said, quietly but in stentorian cadence, to emphasize his wisdom and his generosity in sharing. It was some ridiculous repetitive example of leitmotif in The Magic Mountain and it bored me silly.

He loved Thomas Mann because he loved ironic detachment: the very quality he sought to cultivate in himself, particularly when confronted with serious questions whose answers he didn't know, or when he didn't like the questioner. He was not remotely detached while he groped his girl-students' breasts in the passenger seat of his absurd diesel BMW, which I imagine is the car he thought Thomas Mann would drive. In class he affected irony as existential choice, the deft humor of the absurdity of the world, meaning your place in it, not his.

As he rose through the hierarchy of academe to become an ever-larger fish it's unlikely he realized how badly his tiny pond stank. That would have implied irony toward himself. Irony was about you, kid.

They still swim in that pond. That whole lot. As though they believe with all their hearts it's the most vibrant and important pond in all the aquatic universe. Without a hint of irony.