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August through the lens

The month of August almost always occasions a rewatching of Daniel Petrie's underrated LIFEGUARD starring Sam Elliott.

My devotion to the film is such that on an old mid 00s internet discussion site one of the participants simply assumed I had been a lifeguard myself in the 1970s, and in Southern California somewhere no less, on the basis of my odd attachment to the film.

Vintage 1976 California Postcard

"What beach were you stationed at? What year?" this poster would ask.

It was most awkward to reveal to this jock that I simply liked the movie.

Indeed you will note, if you are longer time follower of this blog post, that I already mentioned the picture back in November of 2020 - in the context of a possibly inexplicable account of how a minor moment in a scene inspired a whole musical style to develop within me.

Of course I have never lived the kind of lifestyle to have been in a similar situation as the Sam Elliott character and am simply not as fit physically nor experienced athletically to hold such a job, never mind Sam Elliott!

I also, for genetic reasons, have never even been able to even grow a mustache, much less one like the titular character.

And I have never really wanted to.

And, although I am second to no heterosexual male in my love for the spectacle of females in swimsuits on the beach, I have spent far more time indoors, if we are calculating on a minute to minute month to month basis on where you spend your waking hours, in particular indoor places far apart from beaches in sensibility like libraries and rehearsal rooms and movie theaters and museums.

And coffee shops.

Mitch in a 70s coffee shop, having fun

(Remember I was a kid who wanted to go inside to practice the piano in months of August rather than shirking practice to play outside!)

These indoor places are not associated with the kind of "fun in the sun" one thinks of in places like Southern California. And, yes, I do love Southern California, even though budget and other factors have made it impossible for me to spend as much time there as I should like.

An astute astrologer said of my chart that I have these two sides that are very opposite from one another though both must be satisfied just not at the same time, and that others are trapped into seeing one or the other and into being shocked by the discovery of the other.

One side is fun loving, almost superficial and loves beauty - this is the side I present first to strangers - and the other side is highly intellectual, almost a scholar that likes to be alone and think very deeply about things, without any regard for sensuality.

The astrologer did say it was rare for both of these to coexist in the same person to the degree it apparently does in me.

It presents great problems for relationships.

Many will find me inevitably disappointing for being too serious and others will find me disappointing for being too frivolous and anybody who likes one or the other has to put up with this sizable portion they will not like as much.

One of the things I did to give purpose to my character was to create this podcast where all of these differences between people, as expressed through art, can have the proverbial seat at the same table.

Listening link for Mitch's podcast, here : In the 1970s when I was a child in Tampa, Florida I was on a swim team. It was one of many outdoor things I was forced to do by my parents that I generally disliked.

To be fair the things I disliked were things that all parents to this day have their kids do and they are things that most kids want to do, for example, sports and nature hikes and camping (hated campaign) etc. so this is not to be taken as any comment on parenting in general.

Clearly I like the outdoors far less than most human beings. (The only thing I remember being purely my decision was music). However, despite my lack of love for the activity of swimming I did find other aspects of swimming at least not boring.

Our swim coach was a guy very much like the Sam Elliott character in the movie only his look was much more like William Katt or Leo Sayer with that same kind of perm so popular then. He was very gregarious and though you could say he was almost a caricature he commanded respect in his "coolness".

He had an obsession with Peter Frampton and would blast Frampton Comes Alive on a portable 8 track out of the back of his van during the the entire time of swim class.

His girlfriend, who was simply extraordinary, would come around and hang out by the pool in revealing two piece swimsuits, in an almost ritualistic fashion. Often she would do her toenails and the coach would neglect us for a few minutes and go over and apply this suntan lotion to her back (she had already of course done her legs herself). Because my last name is Hampton he took to calling me Frampton.

"Hey Frampton do that lap one more time!" was a common refrain.

The vibe of he and his girlfriend was very enchanting to me.

These were clearly adults and they lived in what appeared to be a sexy, fun loving world that they gave me a glimpse into by virtue of their sheer presence. The coach would often show off his van and most of the kids would go "wow!" in very effusive tones when they saw details like the captains' chairs, plush shag carpeting, mirrored ceilings and some rock posters, mostly Aerosmith and Peter Frampton.

I am very sure that my psychological mindset was formed by the desire to get over boyhood as quickly as possible.

I hated being a child really.

I mean it is odd to hate being a child and at the same time have a relatively happy childhood; yet these both can coexist. Not only was I reading mostly adult books and going to R rated adult movies but my contact with "grownups" was always like those of the coach and his gorgeous girlfriend.

Grownups were on my wavelength or so I thought. It seemed that the grownups had a better time of it or at least were happier. This was of course a skewed view of things; the reason why I felt this way is that I did not get along with other children; It was a source of immense trauma. Because other children made my life hell I learned to associate adulthood with some kind of heaven on the other side.

Because adults seemed so glamorous and attractive I learned to associate their wordiness with goodness and the world of childhood with some kind of boring sappiness, if that makes any sense. Most of the other adults I have met as an adult have a very opposite sensibility to this; they seem to idealize childhood and sometimes they even have a few kids of their own and I can see how the love for their own children is connected to their high valorization of childhood.

It was only children my own age who hurt me, never adults. Adults actually comforted me when I had been hurt by my peers. It is a particular kind of dynamic.

My point is that we are all so different from one another. All of the foregoing is to say that art in general is actually not chiefly about finding oneself in the art work, even though that is the most current and common way to understand art. It is not even to try to find the similarity buried under apparent difference.

No, it is actually to stretch oneself outward as much as is possible from one's own experience, to find as much lack of commonality as commonality.

I think works of art are created for us to realize that we never really understand but have finally given up the desire for understanding for something like love - that transcends all specificity, or doesn't depend in the least on commonality.

This has always been my view; I don't expect the listeners of the podcast to subscribe to such a view as it appears to be rare, but each passing season only confirms it further. “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. George Eliot/Mary Anne Evans, Middlemarch

My last month in Boston after thirty years living there was in the month of August of 2017. I was living for a month in a Marriott hotel,

I guess their "courtyard" style "property", the kind without room service for longer term customers, trying to hold my life together as it was falling apart, selling off half of what I owned and storing the very few remaining things of immense preciousness to me in these little boxes, my suits into quite large cardboard boxes.

I had spent most of my adult life unto middle age very conscientious and curatorial about what I owned. The fact that I suddenly was uprooted as I was became more painful in that nothing I had acquired was wasteful or not used by myself day in and day out. My reading material in that last month was the appropriately chosen Judith Rossner's August. I had loved of course, the movie as much as the novel, and I had never read anything else by her.

A Freudian psychoanalyst I had dated briefly and with whom I was on fairly decent speaking terms asked out of the blue if I had read the novel.

August is a popular type novel from the point of view of a sort of traditional analyst and the title refers to the vacation period of many people at that time in the psychology profession.

I think about that novel a lot these days in the years since 2017.

The past three years have been the only time since my twenties in which I have not being helped by any therapist of any kind, at a time when I perhaps needed it the most.

You will note that was also when I started this podcast.

The novel concerns the long therapy journey of an 18 year old woman named Dawn and her analyst named Lulu and it recounts in exacting denial all that is said in each analysis session.

Now reading this as a fifty year old man was the most interesting thing in the world to me at that time since my life was in all crucial respects so different from these two women in this novel.

My concerns are different.

My life experience is different and my likes and dislikes are different.

And yet in reading this simple novel I was making contact with these entirely made up figures and never for a moment did not think these figures unworthy of my attentions or incomprehensible.

I do think that is what our life is like.

We are probably in reality as unlike the people to whom we are closest as can be while we focus relentlessly on the commonalities as a cover for that unlikeness.

Maybe a deep part of us wants to be, well, surprised.

The fact of human relation works to eviscerate our attachment to familiarity and we are being partly self deceptive when we interpret what is going on as finding common ground.

Maybe we want difference in our lives as much as we want familiarity and we simply do not fully know it.

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Mitch  Hampton
Mitch Hampton
01 ago 2021

Love it !

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