Whimsy and studiousness from a nice lady who lives in Michigan and loves Objectivism.

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Name: Amy
Location: United States

I'm a good-natured person who enjoys living.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ayn Rand and Scrabble

Happy Memorial Day weekend! During Saturday's meeting, you could say we had a memorial to Ayn Rand as we listened to Harry Binswanger and Allan Gotthelf's talk on Ayn Rand's character and personality. It was story after story of how she took her values seriously, especially the positive ones, and innumerable instances of her personal warmth, caring and friendship.

I've also transcribed my favorite excerpt from one of Harry Binswanger's recollections, for your referential pleasure:

When I got to know her best, I used to go over to play Scrabble with her. And I just thought you would like to know what kind of Scrabble player this genius, ruthless Egoist was. She played cooperative Scrabble. She said, “Do you want me not to go there?” “Were you planning to go there, because I don’t want to mess up what you’re doing.” She was not competitive – she was cooperative. And I reciprocated.

One time, an opportunity opened up. Now if you know Scrabble, the bottom row was opened up, and there were two columns going down into it, so it was theoretically possible that you could go across one triple-word score all the way to the other triple-word score and get nine-fold of your score. And she’s got some blanks, so she’s looking at her rack, and I say, “let me see what you got,” and she shows me what she’s got, and this is how far things degenerated. And I said, “let me look through the dictionary, because you’ve got a ‘Q’ and if you could get your ‘Q’ on the double-letter score, that already would be 180 points.” …

So she’s sitting there with a ‘Q’, and the logical possibility of the bottom row being filled in for a triple-triple. So I pick up the Scrabble dictionary and within one second I see “seaquake,” an earthquake at sea. And I look down at her tiles, and she has it! … And she puts down “seaquake,” and the ‘Q’ lands on the double-letter score. So she gets 180 points, and I think she got over 300 points, but it was totally phony, because we cheated. I didn’t know “seaquake.” But that was the way she played Scrabble. She played as an act of friendship and cooperation and enjoyment. She was not a cutthroat player at all.
What a wonderful way of looking at a game! I just love it. This is very funny to me, because I've seen Objectivists in the past think that game-playing must be inherently competitive and based on the strict principles of justice -- that it is somehow immoral and unjust to go outside the rules of the game. (Of course this depends of what values and rules both parties agree to in advance.)

What struck me about this story was that Ayn Rand didn't desire to be the winner of this game. She wanted to do the best she could and especially wanted to see Harry do the best he could, and they worked together to produce the best word-plays. She valued seeing the best within her and other's minds regardless of who won the game. There have been many moments when I've read her works or read about her life that I felt the desire to reach out and give her a hug if she were still living, and this is one of them.

(This brings to mind the scene in Atlas Shrugged where Dagny was playing tennis with Francisco. Having first interpreted this scene as Dagny wanting to win for her own achievement, I think she won it so that Francisco could take enjoyment in seeing her do her best, along with the other elements of courtship involved -- no pun intended!)

This pro-learning, pro-effort mentality, regardless of the outcome of a game or who you might impress, is truly the most individualistic, and the most successful method of personal improvement. Comparing yourself to others will not make you better. It's looking at yourself, limits AND strengths, and finding out the best way to be the most productive with what you have. If there is someone better than you at a given task, it's a great opportunity to find out what that person is doing right, and emulate it.

This reminds me of a short news video we watched at the meeting about a 12 year old girl basketball player being kicked off the boy's team because she played too well. This sounds horrible, of course, but listen to what a boy teammate has to say about her effect on the team (about a third of the way through the video). One would hope with that nice story being broadcast nationally that The Hoops team would be pressured to correct their evil ways!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Objectivist Adventure on May 24

Our next Robert and Amy Objectivist adventure will take place this coming Saturday, May 24, starting at 530pm with dinner around 630pm. We will be listening to and discussing the audio recording of Harry Binswanger and Allan Gotthelf’s “New York Centenary Reminiscences of Ayn Rand” from the Facets of Ayn Rand site.

There are many anecdotes on this site that illustrate how Ayn Rand was truly a lovely and warm-hearted person. I encourage everyone to read it, or re-read it. It's delightful to know that the one philosopher and artist whom I most respect intellectually had such a charming personality as well.

A funny story from last meeting -- we were sitting in the living room having a studying-good-time, when an older man peered in through the window and knocked at the door. Robert answered, and the man exclaimed that he hoped that he wasn't interrupting our prayer meeting (!), but would we like to sign a petition about something-or-other. Prayer meeting? I think not. We didn't correct him, but said no thank you and politely shooed the poor fellow away. Perhaps he could have told us more about the petition, but you know what they say about assuming. ; - )

Our Objectivist study meeting schedule is set for every fourth Saturday of each month. If you live in southeastern Michigan and would like to know more, please email me. We'd love for you to stop by and sit a spell!

The Remus Lupins and the Young Amy

Have you ever had an experience where some of your highest values and most important memories came to the forefront of the present moment and reoccurred, making it feel like years of your life integrated themselves into an intense focus and came full circle? Well, I have!

It was Monday, March 17, 2008, St. Patrick's Day. My husband, Robert, and I went to see a favorite band of mine at a place called The Modern Exchange in Southgate, Mich. Before I describe the scene, I need to give some back-story.

When I was in high school, I was an artsy punk/goth/Nietschzean existentialist (explicitly!), and even looked the part (pictures coming soon). There was a vintage clothing store called Penny Pinchers that I tried to frequent as much as I could. The owners brought the strangest, most flamboyant clothes from New York, and the owners were rumored to be good friends of the B-52s. Everything was odd about the place, in the best sense of odd.

I loved seeing the other artsy people who dared to go in (the bizarre mannequins in the front windows made good scarecrows). They played the most mysterious music, and there was even a distinct musty spell about the place. It meant a lot to me being there, and took me out of the boring, ugly world that I called home, and gave me a glimpse of what could be, in a life-as-stylistic way. (I’d say similar to how Harry Potter felt when first discovering the wizarding world.)

So one day I was perusing the My Space page of my favorite Wizard Wrock band, The Remus Lupins, and noticed that they were coming to town. Performance night came, and as we were driving up Dix Road in Southgate to find this place, I nearly jumped through the car roof -- to my utter surprise and amazement the ModEx was in the same building as Penny Pinchers! I had no idea. Not a clue. I had known that Penny Pinchers went out of business in the 90s, but no idea still.

After calming down from this exciting revelation, I went inside and learned that they not only sold vintage clothes, they redesigned the back warehouse and built a large stage where they had local bands play most nights and sold their CDs as well! What is really amazing about all this is that many of these local bands were from my hometown, and they were punk bands (!).

When I was a teenager, the dearth of anything new and interesting and weird and romantic and adventurous was palpable and stifling. I was the only one of my kind (which I'll explain in a future post). To find my hometown brimming with alternative bands playing every night of the week at the epicenter of my former oasis was, well, rather amazing. My past as a punk rocker (of the good, philosophical kind) hit straight on with my present as a big fan of The Remus Lupins. It was thrilling!

Here is an audio clip of one of that night's songs -- listening is the only means of understanding the awesomeness of Alex Carpenter of the Lupins on stage with only an acoustic guitar, a mic and dozens of singing and screaming girls (including me!). Brilliant!!!