Banishing Falstaff

 

Falstaff

Banishing Falstaff
Michael Gollin
May 2014

 

–from Henry IV, Part 2, Act V, Scene 5:

Falstaff. God save thy Grace, King Hal; my royal Hal!
Henry V. I know thee not, old man….
I have long dreamt of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell’d, so old, and so profane;
But being awak’d, I do despise my dream.

Presume not that I am the thing I was,
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn’d away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.

Till then I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.

 

As soon as trouble-making Prince Hal was crowned as young King Henry V, he coldly spurned Sir John Falstaff, his longtime compatriot, and banished the old fat knight, who expected instead a comfortable patronage position. Jolly, wicked Falstaff, witty alter-ego to the young prince sowing his wild oats, was cast away.

Watching this cruel scene the other night, I recalled seeing the play in my youth. Back then, I identified with the boisterous prince. Now, I understood the new King. I realized that in my youth, I too had my own internal Falstaff, but then gradually banished the counter-cultural “misleader” in my early 20s as I tried to become a strong young man, much like Prince Hal when he awakened from his youthful dreams to become king. Many of my friends went through a similar process. Shakespeare, meet Freud.

Freud talked about certain necessary stages of development, and in general it makes sense that we have to pass through a series of phases before we form a healthy psyche. From a modern perspective, Freud’s rigid model of oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital stages seems downright weird. But he got the big picture right — with tension between the conscious ego and subconscious id and superego, between rational and emotional, developing with maturity until they achieve some balance. Passages, like Prince Hal’s, are at the core of more recent theories about growing up, like Erikson’s.

I read a couple of years ago that Bruce Springsteen said our lives begin like a kid in a car, and as we age, new versions of us climb in and take the wheel, but our younger selves never get out, and we drive down the road all together, more and more crowded, trying to get along with each other (and not kick each other out). It’s quite a road trip in that life-mobile. Sigmund, meet Bruce.

Born as sucking infants, we explore our bodies and the world we inhabit, with our mouths, then fingers, and all our sensations, until our consciousness emerges. I cannot remember the mind of my baby self. No one can. What crazy chaos reigns for those first few years? Most people remember nothing before four or six years old and maybe that’s for the best.

I remember my 5th birthday, with my parents and Nana, at Rochester’s Monroe County Airport. There were airplanes outside the picture windows, and sparklers in the cake. Later that summer my family went to Europe for a year and I remember astonishing amounts of detail, where we lived in England and Spain, our car, our conversations, museums and festivals.

Ages 6-12 I lived a straightforward American middle class childhood, although because it was the 1960s and my parents were both academics, I had a fair exposure to literature and art, folk music, and early hippie culture. I looked up to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. When my family went to a 1970 performance of Hair, the antiwar and druggy messages were unremarkable to me as a 12-year-old, compared to the surprise of onstage nudity!

In 8th grade, I was a year young, having skipped 6th grade. Some of my precocious friends decided to get cigarette papers and roll mint tea cigarettes from tea bags. I joined them after school one day, and remember the burning feeling of the smoke, combined with the cooling effect of menthol. Smoking cigarettes was still cool back then, but we knew we were misbehaving.

During high school, I lived my wild oats years lagging behind most of my circle of friends in malfeasance. But I confess I made some bad choices along the way – after all this was the age and era of the counter-culture, of antiwar demonstrations, of sex and drugs and rock and roll. We were wild and rebelled against the system. Falstaff was among us; we were Falstaffian. Sorry, I’m not going into detail. Trespassing is one troublesome activity I will admit to. A few of my friends would scout out water towers and construction sites which we would enter and climb. We did not vandalize, or do damage. Our urge was more curiosity, freedom, and adventure than mischief.

Those were simpler times. I did my school work, worked my jobs, and graduated among the top kids in my class, and was admitted to Princeton. I was a young prince. I was doing more right than wrong, and I survived high school without causing harm to others, or lasting harm to myself. But I lacked direction or focus to match my curiosity about nature and suspicion about society.

In college, my poor study habits caught up with me. Late nights bullshitting with roommates, sometimes drinking, distracted, I missed morning classes and although I did all the work, I did less than many, with less intensity, and became used to missing the A’s I had been accustomed to. My psychic Falstaff had some fun, but I was not very happy, now that I think about it. I was repressed emotionally and immature. There were 2.5 males for each female and my few serious relationships were troubled. At graduation I learned that out of 41 seniors in my biochemical sciences department, I was the only one who didn’t apply to medical school. I recall watching a young janitor polishing the floor at the new mall, and realizing that if I didn’t find some higher purpose in my life, that might be my job, too.

Instead I found myself a doctoral research position with Ilan Deak, a rising young professor in Zurich, continuing with fruit fly research I did for my senior thesis. I had a blast in Switzerland while it lasted. Officially I had a half stipend, meaning in my calculation I owed the lab 22 hours a week. (Full time for hard-working Swiss was 44 hours.) I worked more than that, but I had plenty of time for beer halls, socializing, traveling the Alps, to Italy, Yugoslavia, and playing up being the cool American – spinning records as a DJ at the International Students Club, picking up girls, and being picked up. I felt like a young prince again, on the town.

About one year in, my professor died after ingesting a neurotoxin we had in the lab. The insurance company kindly called it an accident but we all knew it was suicide. Later I understood he had major depression, but back then it was incomprehensible to me, traumatic. A life with such great potential, cut short. I had to grow up fast and make some adult decisions. I decided to stay, for a while, and was taken in by another lab, under another professor. That lasted two years.

Meanwhile, I was gradually absorbing some of the famous Swiss work ethic. They were punctual, organized, and methodical, and used their time effectively – whether at work or play. I took up viola again, after a hiatus through college. I learned German, then Swiss German, taught English, and weighed my options. Marine biology? Enology? More and more, I searched for a path, and looked less and less for Falstaff and his gang.

The election of right-wing Ronald Reagan in 1980 shocked my liberal conscience and led me back to the US. My political interests, facility at learning languages, love of discussion and debate about science and everything else, and a recognition of my blind side in writing and history, all combined in the decision to apply to law school. And so I arranged to complete my Master’s degree, and returned, the wrong way, via Moscow and the Trans-Siberian Express, to Tokyo, a full moon climb of Mt. Fuji, and back to Boston University for law school in 1981.

Law school was serious work, and by that time, like Prince Hal/King Henry, I had effectively banished Falstaff. The role of a lawyer, the responsibilities, I took them seriously. I had developed focus, intensity, drive. Of course, being a young man in New York in the mid1990s, I had plenty of fun. But I worked hard, rose in my profession, and maintained my first long-term relationship, followed by meeting my lovely wife, with whom I’ve been for 28 years – half my life. I settled in to my career path, and sought to balance paid work, public service, play, and raising my three wonderful children.

So, could Falstaff ever truly be banished? No. Shakespeare had King Henry promise a healthy stipend to the free-wheeling knight, and later, he revived Falstaff, the character, reputedly at Queen Elizabeth’s request, in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Falstaff remains one of the most popular characters in drama, and his type permeates modern entertainment (think The Hangover movies).

Likewise, my psychic Falstaff did not remain banished, just muzzled and speaking more modestly. I found a profession, patent law, where my favorite clients are inventors, innovators, restless iconoclasts pushing hard to reshape the world, rather than just trying to fit in. These people have a lot of the young prince in them, and, I guess, a touch off Falstaff. Me too, it seems, and together we have accomplished a lot of good over the years.

Even as I play the role of strict father and upright citizen, from time to time, the playful, rebellious side of me will surface — for amusement, or to cope with life’s absurdity and trouble by cunning ploys. I try to use my past to teach cautionary tales to my children, about taking calculated risks and learning from my mistakes. And of course I still get into trouble – just not too often.

Coming back to Springsteen’s life-as-roadtrip metaphor:

Now, the most recent me (the one with the unfortunate progressive illness) has taken the wheel of my life-mobile, and I’m looking around at all the younger (and healthier) me’s riding along. I’m teaching myself lessons about how to enjoy this phase. I enjoy tweaking people if they get too serious. I rely on my wits to rebel against the unpleasantness that confronts me, and I see that being sick offers new freedoms from social expectations – a chance to act out, a bit like Falstaff.

Not that this is good compensation for losing my hard-won independence bit by bit. But I do find widening circles of people who are happy to help, and to join with me as I find new ways to play the game of life.

Sure, life is not all fun and pranks, and growing up means somehow banishing Falstaff from our regular circle. But I’m glad he’s still around, not too far away, when we need him.

***

Michael Gollin Autobiography

(I wrote my autobiography in under 500 words during two days in March 2014.)

I am a patent attorney at Venable LLP in Washington, DC, striving to help creative people put their ideas to work to benefit society, through private and public effort. Born into a loving academic family in Rochester, NY in 1957, my first job was as a newspaper boy and I initiated an externship program in my high school. Pursuing a curiosity about the wonders of nature cultivated during summers on Cape Cod, I studied biochemistry at Princeton, graduating in 1978, and then received a master’s degree in biology from the University of Zurich in 1981, conducting research on fruit fly muscles and traveling extensively.

Turning toward the integration of science and society, I entered Boston University School of Law and graduated in 1984. There, I co-founded the Public Interest Project to support law students working in public interest summer jobs; 30 years later it remains a vital student program. In my first law firm job in NY, I convinced the Kenyon & Kenyon partnership to establish a pro bono program so I could take a prisoner’s civil rights case. My next firm, Sive, Paget & Riesel, was well known for environmental activism. I settled in Bowie, Maryland in 1990 with my wife, Jill Dickey, and together we have raised three talented children.

I joined Venable in 1998, where I established the Life Sciences practice group and Venable Venture Services. I was able to build a broad practice representing pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies, as well as environmental and space technology companies, and leading research institutions including UCLA and Princeton. In addition to obtaining thousands of patents, I have lobbied on patent reform and participated in proceedings before the US Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. I am proud to have maintained continuous client relationships for over 25 years.

My pro bono work took me to Belize, Fiji, Kenya, and Tanzania, and led me to found PIIPA (Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors) in 2002, to expand such service to a global network of IP professionals. I created a course in intellectual property management at Georgetown’s business school in 2001 and adapted it for the Franklin Pierce law school, now University of New Hampshire. I authored the 2008 book Driving Innovation: Intellectual Property Strategies for a Dynamic World to advance global literacy about intellectual property as an engine of innovation in all creative sectors, and I have published numerous law review and other articles and made countless presentations around the world. I have been fortunate to receive many honors, including recognition for contributions to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Since I was diagnosed with ALS, a motor neuron disease, in 2012, I have been working pro bono with the ALS Association and MDA to accelerate the search for therapies for this incurable disease. I also launched the creative writing blog, http://www.Innovationlifelove.org. For more information, see my Venable bio.

Life Among the Graveyards

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Life Among the Graveyards
A family heirloom
Michael Gollin
October 2013

~~~

In Europe, life
is complicated by death.
History unfolds in forest,
town, and street.
Every house tells its story,
every family, every graveyard,
if you listen.

Something called me back,
the old country, land
of king, czarina, Fuehrer,
partisan, pope, and rabbi.
Why go? Because we can,
a peaceful gang of genealogy.

**

A statue on the Limmat river, Zurich,
honors Zwingli, protestant minister
who died fighting
half a millennium ago,
in the Second battle of the churches.
Why were there two?

In small Susice, a walled yard
green with ivy
harbors gravestones centuries old.
Hebrew letters, Yiddish names, straight but tilting rows.
A stream runs out back,
and on the bridge,
we stand in sunlit silhouette.

Sudetenland speaks suffering.
Romans called them barbarians.
Bohemian Czechs called them Nemsky mumblers.
For German language residents,
heimat, contaminated by Jews.
Nazis said it’s ours to take and
Sudetens armed the 3d Reich,
jailed Sudeten Jews
and marched them to their death.
Soviets exiled Sudetens and
destroyed their mountain towns
for an Iron Curtain kill zone, and
new land for Bohemians.
Today, we find a recreational region,
a Synagogue museum in Hartmanice —
Out front, a man polishes the gravestone
he found in a field,
asking for someone who can read it,
reward him,
and protect it inside.

**
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In the hills west of Prague, a Czech prayer
remembers his grandparents beneath a black stone,
crosses here and there.

Downtown, in the Old Jewish cemetery,
the stones are crowded, an urban throng.
Graveyards are where dead people live.
Maharal Rabbi Loew inhabits a small house
since 400 years ago, his Golem
long gone from the mud of the Moldau.

To the east, the New Jewish Cemetery
hosts many buried here before
mass murder madness
swept a generation away,
seventy dead out of a hundred.
Then burials began again,
and Jews now die to rest in peace
and receive guests.
At Kafka’s grave, a carnation
marks the page of a Chinese translation.
Death must be normal
so life can be, too.

We celebrate our lives with music,
beer, and food
and see great works of beauty.
Laughter frames our view.

**

The night train to Warsaw passes Auschwitz
close by. The ghetto,
destroyed with three million Jewish lives,
marked by plaques and monuments;
a new museum, built but empty, awaits.

Bialystok, home of the bialy,
and Zamenhof who created Esperanto
to unify the people in this Jewish city in the Russian Pale;
Great-grandfather Menachem Mendel Myron
took his photograph here nearby.
Melted beams from the dome
of the Great Synagogue
are all that remains
after Nazis burnt it down
with 2000 neighbors locked inside.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The road to heaven, with good deeds.
But evil rides on both.

The Grodek road links Michalowa
to Grodek along the Bialovka river.
My cousin says grandfather Morris lived here —
or at least his brother Joseph did.
(Genealogy is so uncertain.)
We know the siblings fled by road and sea,
and brought forth a new American family.

In the new land we grew
to hundreds strong, but from the looks
of the old country, you’ll find no survivors
left behind, just houses, graves, and books.

We find a sign outside Michalowa along the road
right where the old farmer said it would be.
We hike through autumn leaves
and up a trail to find
a grove of graves among the trees,
Hebrew letters, Yiddish names,
ancestors and friends perhaps.
We light a candle, say a kaddish,
plum brandy toast in cut Czech glass,
read a poem,
plant New Mexican plum pits,
watch the golden sun set
through yellow leaves down into the valley,
We hug and cry.

In Grodek, the Catholic cemetery shines,
with wreaths and flowers,
smooth green lawns and a fleet of crosses.
Concealed across the way in a piney wood,
the Jewish cemetery remains,
its split rail fence outlining turbulent ground
of upheavals and toppled stones,
desecration,
the helpless residents victims
of a final disrespect.

What was life like in the Pale?
Each shtetl rich with Jews, poor in land,
who traded from their homes
built around the market square
in the shadow of the church.
Ivye and Svisloc, Lazdijai,
Utena, and Kamajai.
In Yiddish Vilnius,
the world was ours.

**

Ponar woods is haunted
by the souls of innocents,
slaughtered by death squads —
the Germans’ poison gift.
How were they human,
the locals and invaders
who railroaded the ghettoed Vilna Jews
and shot them track side
to fill the pits with death,
and steal their shoes and watches?
Seventy thousand victims
will never leave these solemn circles
among the peaceful changing trees,
but as I breathe this chilly air,
my heart flies away
in grief and hope.

An angry man greets us in Butrimonys,
as we stare at the brick house dated 1905,
a Jewish house with two doors,
one for family, one for customers.
It’s his now – he’s working in the yard –
and he shouts in Lithuanian,
“cameras,” “police.”
Go ahead, says our guide, call them,
all this used to be ours.
It might have been Grandma Sophie’s home.
We’ll never know.

Her father Moshe Yankel made dyes here.
lived with Chaya in a house on the square,
maybe where the grocery store sits.
We buy bagels and Starka Rye.
Next door, we meet some pleasant folk,
restoring dilapidation.
It was a Jewish town
but no one speaks Yiddish anymore.

Moshe visited Sophie in New York –
the bed he used is upstairs from where I sit —
my children slept in it –
and he went home to Butrimonys with a phonograph.
He played Caruso in the square
and all the town came out to hear.
They must have been amazed.

The cemetery is bright, maintained,
with no new graves of course.
A monument to massacred girls stands out.
We offer a candle a kaddish
a bagel and sage,
a toast to family.

**
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A pear tree bears a
lonely fruit, sterile, no seeds
for us to bring home.

**

Our guide reads to us
the book of life,
as it is written,
page by page,
stone by stone.
In graveyards, death tells us a story –
of lives and loves,
joy and sorrow,
ended well or badly –
if we listen.

A long march down the road,
Vidzgiris near Alytus
saw 60,000 lives gunned down
in woods now marked by pyramids
among the fallen leaves.
The trees of Babi Yar look sternly down
and I am executed here,
with ruined Ozymandias, in despair.
Nothing remains of that wicked work
but we who witness and survive
the cruel fury.

I found the ’41 report:
Moshe Yankel murdered under Vidzgiris’ trees
with Itzhak and his son and Yosef,
while the Nazis killed
their wives and kin
at home in Butrimonys.
.
I feel like people feel who want
to feud for generations.

And then the
Soviets harvested stones
from Vilna’s Jewish cemeteries
for building public stairs.
A strange and bitter root to dig —
Wouldn’t cobblestones
have been better?

Lithuania, freed, retrieved the stones,
and built a monument, to atone.
We find smiling girls,
plaques to honor Vilna’s Jews,
and a Synagogue,
lively and attractive.

**

Westward-bound, we climb
the Reichstag dome
transparent and reflective
above the tortured past
of bunkered evil and fatal walls.
Berlin shows the Holocaust in depth
and mourns it with regret.
They have a need to reconcile,
though unity may take a while.

We visit father’s lawyer friend —
Berliner born in ’32, he lost his childhood
in a cursed war. Eight decades later,
he loves his new Berlin.
We share stories, drinks, and jokes,
complain about elections.
Sharing joy it seems that we can find
our own kind of redemption.

Blessing:
Thank you, oh ancestors, who fled your shtetlach
for America where great families rise in peace.
We are the after-life you prayed for.

Curse:
F**k you, vicious fiends, who chased them out
and killed those who stayed behind.
May your brutal deeds and
hateful lives forever be reviled.

Prophecy:
I, too, had a Kingly dream,
that in the autumn woods of Europe,
we children of victims and children of oppressors
would sit down together at the table of brotherhood,
that Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant,
would hold hands and sing songs of freedom.

**

As quiet as a graveyard is,
it celebrates the living,
as we remember those who died
and ways to be forgiving.
Even stones can speak to us
if we go to them and listen.

~~~

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