With the turning of one year into another on this partly artificial, partly natural social calendar, I find myself moved to focus yet again on more personal writing.
For example, for roughly three decades I was ensconced in a highly sophisticated city and its downtown no less. I was living in an apartment and not a house, surrounded by millions of people on all sides, most of them younger than myself and on any given night there was a choice of relatively inexpensive four or five movie theaters playing the greatest motion pictures ever made from the previous fifty years.
During this period of my life, which includes adult life after college as well as most of middle age, I actually lived without a television, and, I can’t emphasize enough, not for any ideological or moralistic reasons. There were two reasons: one was that my love for the arts was of a decidedly highbrow nature and I lived in such a culturally rich environment (though I was profoundly unaware of how “good I had it” in this sense).
I think that I got most of my news from the daily newspaper in those decades, so it wan’t as if I was living in the proverbial cave. As Chuck Klosterman says, “people watched television for the most part when they didn’t have anything else to do” so you could say my reasons for not watching television were the same as the reasons others did watch television.
But I am moved to acknowledge a negative truth about our present: there are never situations in which people feel they have nothing better to do, or, at least, situations marked by casualness or low intensity. It is all a part of the burden of excess meaningfulness that is pervasive in our age and why I reject the common thesis that we suffer from lack of meaning or a meaning crisis. As a polemical aside one problem is the lack of casual or “passive” culture and art in our current epoch (everything becomes a matter of utmost seriousness and deliberative choice; there was perhaps a reason that culture needed to have a component that was passive, casual and low stakes.)
Ironically, when I had my artistic awakening in the early 00s, two to three years after September 11th, while I did not give up my love, and, in some cases, preferential regard for the greatest works of art, I turned my attentions to the most popular and commercial works of art, mostly comprising movies and television. These have played as much a role in developing this podcast as, say, Jacques Rivette films, Miles Davis recordings, or Proust’s novel.
The mere mention of the newspaper of course is a vast memory warehouse made out of sometimes heavy and unwieldy bundles of paper marked with uniform black marks.
Reading any newspaper is a rather different experience than staring at screens. I don’t know if there are others like me, but I do hate screens, at least screens that aren’t thirty feet tall, sixty feet wide and attended by groups of people in relatively comfortable chairs. But we all have to live in our own time and maybe, if possible, bend the time in which we happen to find ourselves to whatever purposes about which we have a modicum of passion.
I used to get these New Years "wrap up" cards from people who were in my life. Some of these cards had a very prefabricated even corporate quality that I did not appreciate. I kept my feelings to myself (until now of course). I mean I could put myself aside and see the point of views of the senders. (I am still Libran after all). But in the end getting these in the mail set in motion a long train of thought that has continued until this post where I am attempting to create some coherence from them.
Human beings when they are artists - and even the most fact obsessed and technical of journalistic survey of a life can be included in the arts (one indication of my "egalitarianism" when it comes to categorization, though not so much when it comes to evaluation) - are inevitably going to bring a lot of themselves as philosophers into whatever it is they create.
I had originally thought to have a book as an art object by which I mean a book that is not primarily a account of my life nor a message about anything involving psychology at all. Would it be possible to approach something autobiographical and hold to these aesthetic “beliefs” of mine? Would this create further difficulties alongside the satisfaction of my convictions - such as they are?
One idea I have is to vacillate between external fact and internal feeling in the very book itself.
I had an opening that was very philosophical and abstract:
“Each of us shows up in the world and then proceeds to live our lives until our physical death in this particular life in which we find ourselves. If we are discussing the general structure of what I have established in this last sentence we are partly concerned with objective facts of the social world: verbal, nonverbal, or physical relationships with others for the most part and the memories of others we leave behind that are the inevitable result of our mere existence. I am going to call these the facts of our world and life. To be sure they are insufficient for any discussion but they are, as the cliched formulation goes, necessary.
If we are human beings of the kind I am now discussing we are constantly, more to the point, relentlessly undergoing internal experiences alongside these external outward facts. This interiority might be our greatest defense against many privations and I say this equally mindful that interiority can be deluded and go awry in so many ways.
This interiority is the stuff of art: it is was, is and will be privileged. It is the foreground if the “facts” are to be the background.
This is another way of talking about this podcast: “what it is to be human means what it feels like to be human.”
One of the things I am going to have to bring to anything I write about my life is the fact of my familial background by which I mean simply that my father was Aubrey Hampton and wayback in 1967 he and his then wife created Aubrey Organics, the very first commercially manufactured natural hair was skin cosmetics company.
It was the the first also in organic production of hair and skin care on that scale and so on.
When I was very young, in the 1970s and 80s, I actually worked in the factory and did such things as silkscreening bottles, as it was called then packing boxes and filling containers.
When I was older during the Summers I worked the phones which of course helped develop some communication skills.
I wrote for the company newspaper for close to thirty years, and in one of the precious few times in which I did anything of an “executive” nature, helped open an account with Selfridges in London, which not only did not last, but left such a meagre impression on any of the AO staff that when I would bring up this short lived account to them they would always say they never remembered me and my dad going to London, never mind selling to Selfridges.
Images from the Aubrey Organics Archive
In the 1990s and early 00s the company was essentially run by my father and his third wife (he actually had a first wife for about a year in the early 60s, about whom I only learned in the early 2000s!) as well a couple of business people they hired. These would not have been my choices.
In 2017 it was announced to me that AO was taken over by a corporation that “helped” companies in trouble, a phenomenon about which I knew very little.
Now understand that for close to thirty years I was on salary here even if I did not possess executive powers. I imagine thirty years is longer than many marriages and residences.
Wonderful archival images of Aubrey Hampton, Aubrey Organics & Mitch Hampton
In the week of Thanksgiving of 2016 these folks said that they did not want me to stay on at the very business I had helped create and thus I find myself living in a country town in another part of the United States.
This move was not made for any single reason other than an economic one, much to the confusion or chagrin of many people, both locals who simply love it here and call it home as well as transplants that genuinely wanted to move here. I remember something a psychologist friend said to me about grief: that such matters involved an incredibly unwanted or undesired change or event that becomes more or less permanent.
I see now that it was not simply the loss of loved ones and friends and casual acquaintances that my move created but an entire lifestyle or culture to which I was attached. In a generous spirit of some sympathy I can also see that my life course to this point will be radically different and, to put it bluntly, opposed, to someone who has great unhappiness in their past and is seeking or realizing a better life in their present and future.
One of the reasons for my philosophic pluralism is that our stories are inevitable different and diverse, more so that our habits of mind would allow us to admit. Our habits of mind look for some singularity or common purpose and it is no accident that we the more we do this the more divided we become.
A presumption and acceptance of difference might be what unites us.
Aubrey Organics officially ended as a business in January of 2022, fifty years after its debut. Typically, I only learned of this in January of 2023, practically precisely a full year after its death.
The few people who worked for the company to whom I told of my year long ignorance of A.O.’s end (I learned about this - where else - on the internet) simply said that they figured “somebody (else) would have informed me”.
Now these can be considered the facts of the case.
It is quite similar a matter as a mass produced commercial product like the Beverly Hills 90210 series I am slogging through at the same period in which I am writing this January post.
This is not the occasion to delve too deeply into why I do like this series but when you consider that all of the characters on the show are in their teens and twenties and I was close to their ages in the identical time period of the show, you might realize that there is a place for understanding oneself as part of a specific generation and the inevitable uniqueness being in any generation entails.
The series is filled with quite relevant subject matter or at least relevant to both the audiences and creators of the show: the Aids virus, sexual harassment, changing norms and ideas about marriage, trends in careers and jobs, and the nature of popular entertainment in the 1990s overall.
The most interesting thing about the show is not, of course, these facts or subjects themselves, even if these were the main motivation of the show’s writers and creators, but what this most mainstream of fictional representations chooses to do with these subjects. But objects in the world that are representational (including even non-representational and “abstract” objects) become part of the furniture of the world as well as snapshots in another of my formulations. As such, their givenness and reality is apart from what we may or may not do with the objects over time.
But what is my job really if I am foolish enough to attempt a book on my life thus far?
My job is to make a work of art as I see works of art and by this I mean something in between the purely descriptive or classificatory definition of art and the purely evaluative definition which makes art into an honorific - an object that is highly esteemed in one way or the other.
I can also say that most people to whom I have informed of this desire to write this book were either indifferent or at least even somewhat negative in their response. Of course this is another one of those facts.
I have no idea whatsoever the form this book will take. And this is most interesting for me to say because for me the form is practically everything. Maybe if the form were less important to me this would not be such a problem. I only know that it will be a book of some form and that this form will include, without compromise, a literary prose style.
Yet of course there are so many decisions in addition to these that I have yet to entertain or make. What I do know is that it will not be a biography of a company, a memoir of my life thus far, nor even a survey of American life over the previous decades.
What I feel the book will be about can found in the phrase, “trying to find a way”.
I see now for the first time in my life that I have all along been a man in love with certain and specific art of various kinds and have taken these loves on a journey of trying to find some kind of place in the world - even if that place is one that is intrinsically and intractably outside a center.
I am looking for it to include only some of this and that the final text will be a work of prose above all else.
That this specific goal might potentially conflict with the time in which I find myself (the decline of intelligent reading overall, the domination of words by images etc.) is something I will have to honestly work out in the fullness of time.
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