From the Editor’s Perch…

We’ve Had Our Suspicions

Criminals as Spiritual Savants?

A country song called the Pittsburgh Stealers is a “cheatin’ song” about a steel mill worker who works the day shift; who’s carrying on with a “southern girl” whose husband works the night shift.  And they’re “stealin’ luuve, every chance” they git.  Sung by a father/daughter team called the Kendalls, it has always been a favorite of mine, if for nothing other than the opening line:  “I found myself in Pittsburgh, working in a steel mill.” 

I loved this idea of life as awakening to find yourself in some situation with an amnesiac’s idea of how this came to be…  finding yourself as this fine melody (with a whining pedal steel) in Pittsburgh having an illicit affair… sneaking around, meeting again and again on back streets.    The sentence, “I found myself in Pittsburgh, working in a steel mill.” for all its commonality seemed filled with awe. It seemed to heap awe on top of the prosaic, the quotidian, the dull, daily, repetitive, common grind of very common people like a dollop of ice cream making an ala mode out of what otherwise was a pretty common slice of life.  And then, serving it up for the higher menu price.

Anyway, while singing along with this song on my way to work – putting a dollop of something better on top of my own very common day –  the uncomfortable thought struck me that I had heard sociopaths on tv and read about sociopaths in prison cells describing their criminal experiences in much the same way… as if the crimes they committed were somehow fate  …as if some other agency were responsible for their life and actions, and they had just watched, as if from a dream. 

Long ago while enrolled in medical school and learning how to interview a patient, I remember the attending saying,  “Listen to the patient.  They are telling you what is wrong.”  And it has struck me throughout life how often people are telling me just that.  So perhaps criminals are not lying to excuse their guilt; perhaps their lives really are aw(e)ful affairs; and we have the criminal as a spiritual savant. 

…huh? 

And it came to me how evil – and seductive – this sense of awe can be; this sense of connection to something much larger and all-knowing and powerful than ourselves.  Can proper religious experience and spirituality be so easily hijacked?  It’s something we search for in the Arts; and yet which is most often found when we pry the top off our Ids, which is, as Webster’s describes it, “the undifferentiated source of the organism’s energy…”,  and let all Hell loose.  – Carl Nelson

Photo of the actress Ruth Tru by Carl Nelson

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One Response to “From the Editor’s Perch…”

  1. Gary Nelson Says:

    I have a whole new reaction to the Pittsburg Steeler now!

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