Searching Through the Distant Night: A personal essay on forgotten wisdom by Devon Pitlor

The notable Joey Leguay, who may or may not have lived outside of his now secured place in the cyber world of the early years of 21st Century, was fond of quoting Horace (65-8 BC). Horace, it should be noted, is imminently quotable and probably the greatest source of lasting citations in Latin. Joey was particularly enamored by the following aphorism from the Odes (Carmina): VIXERE FORTES ANTE AGAMEMNONA MULTI; SED OMNES ILLACRIMABILES URGENTUR IGNOTIQUE LONGA NOCTE CARENT QUIA VATE SACRO. This famous quotation, which is mostly about heroes, has been translated by many renown poets (notably John Dryden) over the centuries, but I have always preferred Joey’s own English translation which goes like this: “Many brave men before Agamemnon lived, but all unwept and unknown, lost in the distant night since they lack a divine poet.” The divine poet, of course, is Homer who so admirably featured the brave exploits of Agamemnon in both his Iliad and Odyssey. Because of Homer, Agamemnon, leader of the Greek armies against Troy, lives on to this day and his memory was never lost in any sort of distant night of unwritten history as have been that of numbers untold during the progress of human endeavor. It is a fact that the public relations industry flourishes because it understands that the perception of events is usually more important than the actual events themselves. But there must be a storyteller or an agent, if you prefer, to create this perception. Cyber or real, Joey

must have known this because he was able to organize his own team of “divine poets” in the person of Paula Denail and several others who fascinated us again and again with records of Joey’s supposed adventures as well as his broad knowledge of history and culture, not to mention his mythic familiarity with the culture of another unseen world into which he supposedly penetrated. In short, Joey had his own PR agents, and whether the acts attributed to this intrepid Delawarean are real or unreal, they resonate still with many of us yet today like frozen cameos encrusted across the Internet. I mention Joey and the quote from Horace because in this very personal essay I plan to highlight some lesser Horaces---in fact, I would go as far as to say much lesser because none of them ever waxed poetic in the slightest. In reading this you may indeed find their observations to be very commonplace even to the point of banality. It is my job to make their words as meaningful to the reader as they have been to me during my life, and so I reach back into the distant night of my own waning career and pull back certain characters, who, while not being in anyway heroes of the battlefield like the immortal Agamemnon, said things to me which changed the direction of my life. There is great wisdom in banality, and I hope I can do some of it justice. I cannot rank by importance the individuals who influenced me. I can only say that each one was a real person that I knew at one time or another in my life. Some are indeed dead as I write this, and I have totally lost contact with all but one of them. None were exceptionally famous nor excellent in what they did. In fact, a couple of them were total losers, and that really doesn’t matter. Even though I wish to give each of them a tiny grain of immortality in this essay, I am consigned for reasons of privacy to use only their initials and beg the reader to believe me when I say they were real people and forgive me for the absence of real names.

I’ll start with one who died far too young: M.A. M.A. said and did many different things in his life, and probably would merit a biography of sorts, but the one thing that he said to me early in the 1970s was “The mind is a computer.” Okay, I admit that this is not a great revelation, nor is it original. We have often viewed the reverse of this statement and attributed brain-like qualities to computers in our quest for artificial intelligence, but M.A. was talking about the ability of human beings to predict future events either through conscious divination or just ordinary hunches. The idea that the subconscious mind sorts details like a computer---and generalized knowledge about computers was rare in the 1970s--is still intriguing. Are we at times able to accurately predict the future because somewhere in the wet cells of our minds data is being analyzed in complex ways of which the conscious mind is unaware? It was and is an intriguing thought, especially in the 1970s when analogies to computer functioning were not at all commonplace. Next I go to W.H. W.H. was a stressed out but successful businessman who gave me a few big breaks in life. W.H. had an analogy for dealing with the people he met in his frenzied executive routine. He said that (and I paraphrase): “We all start the day with a bucket full of our own energy. Nearly everyone we meet dips into that bucket and takes away some energy every minute of the day. But the rare person sometimes comes by and pours some energy back into the bucket. That is the person I want at my side.” Come to think of it, W.H.--pithy as he may have been--was totally right about most of the daily encounters we experience in the professional and business world. Rare is the individual who pours back something into our bucket. Legion are those who draw from it. But when we find the replenisher, we must recognize him or her for what they represent and frequent them as much as possible. This is a key to not only success but also survival itself.

D.H. comes next, another person in authority who sat behind a desk and made decisions which often sternly affected people’s employment or income. D.H. was frequently solicited for permission to start up new projects, and like all people who find themselves sometimes overwhelmed by requests, D.H. had a saying, again paraphrased: “I put things near the edge of my desk and leave them alone for a while, and little by little, they often disappear.” I suppose one could criticize D.H. for ignoring things that he was supposed to act on, but still there is veracity and wisdom in his method. The most urgent requests often tarnish in time and become far less pressing and are sometimes best left to die out on their own and be quietly forgotten. The “edge of the desk” routine actually works. Put the supposedly urgent stuff near the edge of your desk, and sometimes quite organically it does disappear. And you never miss it. M.C., who like M.A. has been dead for many years and who died quite young, lived the life of an intellectual with interests in many spheres and sometimes chaotic connections with many people and their own personal intrigues. M.C. was a writer and poet of sorts and often baffled by the complexities of life itself, to which he responded “We live in many worlds.” Trite, banal, yes. But true. A thinking person travels through many different worlds, and to realize this makes life less burdensome and threatening. On his deathbed, M.C. saw his wretched and untimely illness as just another world, and this philosophy comforted him in his final and painful minutes. B.R. was a young woman when I was a young, vain man. She brought me down to earth once by saying “Everyone thinks they are cute at one time or another.” For young people, I believe this is an immutable truth. We all have moments in life when we look in the mirror and find ourselves irresistible, whether we actually are or not.

L.K. had survived poverty and the Depression. Living through prosperous times, I had the luxury of leaving jobs that I hated or which depressed me. I had just rid myself of what I considered a ghastly position and was temporarily unemployed when L.K. said to me “Most people get up and go work everyday at a job they hate.” Even though we were long past the horrors of the Great Depression, this thought reverberated in my mind. There are, I feel, many lessons from the Depression that are still valid today. J.S. had an interesting view of worrying about things that struck me as more than truthful as life progressed. His idea was that “The thing we most fear and we most expect to destroy us is rarely the thing that comes and deals the final blow. It is always something else that we do not fear or anticipate.” Like most others, I have lived through enough troubles by this time in life to realize that he was right and that it is usually not the snake under the rock that we fear but rather another beast that, while worrying about the snake we have no awareness of, that delivers the deadly venom. J.L. (not Joey Leguay) was tough, strong, intelligent, brave and beset by hundreds of conflicts just with the business getting through life and love each day. He had an issue with routine boredom as opposed to adventure and excitement and another problem with most of the dull people he met. He said “It is the contradictions in life which kill.” The transit between the sublime one minute and the mundane the next is hard for all of us to surmount. J.L. capsulated it in one remembered phrase. B.P. had a very low degree of education and experience but aspired to be an intellectual and be respected in his business and social encounters. Early on in life, he concocted his own “paradox” which he applied to most questions that confronted him. It was simply “Yes and no.” But it gave him an air of intelligence and accorded him a

suitable enigma upon which to base his judgment. His answer to most inquiries was simply “Both yes and no.” Not very profound, but a means of intellectual wingspreading. Finally, there was N.G., a male manager who took over from B.K., who had been a particularly tough female manager to work with because she, out of fear of losing her job, examined every last element of what was presented to her by subordinates. N.G., taking her place, allowed nearly everything to pass and taught me through example the truism that “Men often let more things slip past them than women.” Men are, in effect, much easier to work under and far easier to deceive if one wishes to deceive, and, truthfully, most employees often do. These were by far not the only guides I have had in life. I chose them mainly because they expressed some of the simplest truths that I have ever known in ways that will never be considered for posterity. Their words are simple and honest, and I wanted to share them without the baroque embellishment of literary eloquence. ________________________/ Devon Pitlor October, 2009

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