I came to work this morning with a serious sleep deficit. The woman who heads the Columbus Radical Mental Health Collective I attend on Monday nights--except for these last two Mondays, of course--is moving to San Francisco, and I went to a farewell party in her honor. I stayed out later than I should, and once I got home and into bed, I slept intermittently until the alarm went off about 6:50 a.m.
Even though it meant the paycheck would be a little smaller than I expected, I was ecstatic to learn the bookstore closed at 2 p.m. today. (I thought it would be 4 or 5.) There were many more customers, all of them in a hurry to purchase books before the Tuesday deadline for returning books at a full refund. (The bookstore, and the entire Columbus State campus, is closed Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday.) Many of them expected extraordinary feats from those of us who worked on the second floor. These included, but were not limited to:
- Knowing by heart every single book required for every single class offered at Columbus State.
- Being able to procure used textbooks out of nowhere, especially in cases where classes are using textbooks published for the first time this year. (If I had the power to conjure things from nowhere, I would not use it on textbooks.)
- Knowing what the instructor meant about using this book instead of that one.
- Knowing what class they are taking, regardless of how paltry the information they give us is. (I had one character come in and ask me to help him find the book for his "Level 7 class." Level 7 of what, genius?)
The paperback cart outside The Library Store featured several copies--and editions--of Eric Hoffer's The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, a book still respected and relevant today. It is hard to believe this is the work of an itinerant laborer and longshoreman in California who never went to school a day in his life. It is a study of fanaticism, and its message is one we need to look at more and more. Hoffer said that whatever the fanatic's cause--Communism, Christianity, Nazism, or Islam--all fanatics share a belief that their own lives are empty and worthless, and are willing to cast it aside, perhaps literally, in pursuit of a higher ideal or goal. It is people who are without purpose who are ripe for the picking for any cause. (People living in dire poverty are seldom likely to take up a cause, since feeding themselves and survival are their causes. They have an immediate and tangible cause.)
So where is the best place to find converts? In the opposite camp. The fanatic is always willing to cast himself aside for a higher cause, no matter what it is. Saul of Tarsus took pleasure in persecuting the ragtag Christian community (although they were called Nazarenes at that time), but after his psychotic break on the road to Damascus, he became a zealot for the cause, but his ego would not permit him to be a humble foot soldier in the fledgling Christian community. When Whittaker Chambers, who fancied himself the most devoted Communist since Lenin, became disillusioned with the Party, he jumped feet-first into the anti-communist movement, and made history as a witness in the Alger Hiss trial (where both sides provided overly generous helpings of perjury). A recent telling example is Larry Trapp, who was the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska. He conducted a campaign of mail and telephone harassment of the cantor of the Reform synagogue in town, and the cantor replied with kindness and politely, but firmly, confronted him about what he was doing. Not only did Trapp renounce the KKK, he eventually converted to the Jewish faith. (The story is summarized here quite well.)
I used to keep a handwritten quotation of Hoffer's next to my desk at O.U. John D. MacDonald used it as an epigraph for his final Travis McGee novel, The Lonely Silver Rain. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall, as a way to keep myself focused:
Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self. The passionate state of mind is an expression of inner dissatisfaction.My hope, probably a vain one, is that I can sleep late and cut seriously into my sleep deficit this Monday, when I'll have the day off from the Industrial Commission. Susie has the day off from school, and I'm hoping that she'll sleep in as well.
I did not buy a new copy of The True Believer. I have owned several editions over the years, but the one that is most important to me is a Harper and Brothers hardcover with a gray cover and deckle-edged pages, copyright 1951. It belonged to my uncle, Glenn McKee, my mother's older brother. He had been a journalist, an administrator for the State of Maine, a teacher, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and, in his retirement, a poet. (Except for when I was a toddler, I had seen him in person only once, when he gave a poetry reading at Larry's Bar in 1996. We corresponded until his death from then on.) The book arrived in late January 2003, along with a poem, "Rebirth Announcement," in which he announced the "rebirth" of the cancer that would kill him a year later at the age of 76. (His obituary, his first posthumous publication, mentioned "a long and vainglorious battle with cancer.") In addition to the poem, he tucked a note inside the front cover:
Jan. 28, 2003 Dear Nephew Paul: Seems to me that you are the perfect next-owner of this work! Love, Uncle GlennInside the front cover, there is also the rubber stamp From the books of Glenn L. McKee.
Sleep won't be open-ended for me tonight, since Susie and I are going to church in the morning. We don't have to be out the door until a little before 10 a.m., but I've never been one to awaken all at once, so it requires a little prep time before I'm out of bed and on the move.