I’m aware that each person at the seminar works to somehow gain an upper hand over such helplessness. Maybe a partial reason for attendance at CCSS. I hope to hear from around the table what each person’s is. The following is for stimulating discussion not to dominate or even focus it, just my example.
The dilemma that’s aggravated me is the denial exhibited by politically powerful mega-billionaire carbon merchants, e.g. the Kochs (whose own descendants will suffer for their fanaticism), and my method to help me feel less helpless is to write an alternative in fiction: the present novel, #3 of a trilogy, entitled The Scythe and the Studio, deals with many issues in a place called Lake City, state of Lakeland, with a first person narrator, Kevin Claude Jauden, who resembles me and doesn’t, in his occupations, behaviors, family, friends and surround (two lakes yes, but different ones often than we’re familiar with in Madison). The novel involves many issues and stories but I do include in the handout only the subplot involving the Mstra family. Lake City is home base to a set of carbon companies owned and run by them (Mstra Carbon).
Here are excerpts from scenes in the narrative that sample this subplot from five so-far completed chapters (of a projected twelve), the time 2016 with excerpts from succeeding months.
I feel I have learned or realized the following things from writing this fiction:
1. The Kochs and their ilk will not live forever, especially Charles, the siblings’ leader
2. Younger generations will have less religious fervor about politics from Fred Koch the father
3. Making blue-sky future prospects gives me hope in the face of present tumult
Now the fiction excerpts:
Chapter 1, Scene 4 of 8: Setting: March, 2016, evening dinner party on Lake Nemea during a thunderstorm.
Tim looking through the window, says, “During lightning flashes you can see the darkened Mstra tower.” He points out the window’s left side to the southern end of the long narrow lake where the emptied, blackened structure stands. Its foundation had remained intact, but it no longer had the once three-story Sjoerd Mstra penthouse atop it, once the home of the patriarch. The rest of us at the table remain silent. We know that Mstra Industries remain in turmoil since they lost the controlling direction of the Mstras father and son. Anna comments on this as she asks, “So shouldn’t Ophelia be the new CEO?”
Evie says, “The big question! What’s going on in what we gather to be the power struggle on the Board of Directors of Mstra Crbon. Will male chauvinists win over or dominate the lady? She must be putting up a struggle; no-one knows anything yet and rumors aren’t sneaking out. Or maybe they’re the ones struggling.”
Chapter 3, Scene 3 of 9: Setting: May 2016, walk in a cemetery, Kevin Claude and his friend, another retired psychoanalyst, but one who formerly lived in Manhattan but then moved to Lake City near his daughter and family.
“Let Our Plants Put Their Roots to the Air,” says Mstra Carbon CEO. John Hillington points out the attention-capturing headline in the Lake City Register. After reading the quote, he rolls up the paper he carries on our morning walk through the cemetery to the Eden Café.
I had of course already read it and marveled at such a headline coming out just days after the major announcement that Ophelia Mstra had assumed the position. Had she done some heavy persuading of the other powers that be in the companies, or simply exerted her own power, always greater at the beginning from her ownership share, and perhaps involving more public charisma than I’d sensed up to then. Though I know her privately, and that she then can display plenty.
“Your mysterious billionaire lover Ophelia,” John teases, “makes her presence and opinion known from the starting gun! She’ll alienate Sjoerd’s great buddy in Wichita, Charles Koch, who works to buy everything political in sight, and has done so. He’s accomplished amazing things with his so-called think tank groups that have succeeded his father’s John Birch Society, bending local and state elections to the conservative side by focusing on them, fueling campaigns with cash inflows. Amazing what money can buy that’s against the people’s best interests.”
I had already read the same article that morning that told how the Mstra Industries governing board acceded to their new leader’s direction to redirect many company resources to harvesting carbon dioxide from the air—That’s our goal, the article quoted her. This is our Mstra version of John F. Kennedy who directed America to go to the moon in the 1960s. Our moon is to go from test-tubes to industry production. Then the article quoted The New York Times to which Ophelia had alerted the reporter:
The X Prize Foundation has created an incentive, a $20 million prize for teams that by 2020 come up with technologies to turn CO2 captured from smokestacks of coal- or gas-fired power plants into useful products.
The big challenge is, how do we go from milligrams to megatons?” said Dick T. Co, a Northwestern University professor and managing director of the Solar Fuels Institute, a group that encourages collaboration among researchers in the field. “How do we make a dent in our energy portfolio when people are working in test tubes today?
Ophelia Mstra had these points in mind in the timing of her announcement, Mstra Carbon plants about the country but especially in Lake City where the sun is plentiful,” said the new CEO, “will look to the sky for this new carbon initiative. Winning the prize would help recoup our expense and benefit our world at the same time. This is not to say it will be easy. It won’t be certainly. It will take retooled machines as well as elevated, retooled thinking. In my new role, I mean to represent the young and feel glad that I’m young enough myself to know how we must keep in our higher minds our next generations who must, whether they wish it or not, occupy the front lines in the battle against the deleterious atmospheric effects of carbon use.
Wow, what news! John and I welcome it! … Before the tragedy, living in that bucolic country atmosphere of creative moods, nest to the marvelous Dordogne river, it reset my mind, she said, with a new appreciation of our world’s atmosphere, and it grieved me to think how it heats up from the byproducts of our companies, our company, my family’s industry of which my father was so proud.
So my reading and consultations in the last months have opened new worlds to me. I appreciate that we can go from harvesting underground carbon to its harvest now from the air—at least giving the attempt a full industrial attention, hoping and expecting that we will not be alone. If our moon-shot succeeds, it will have enormous benefits for the future generations—I’m sure of it. Let us not doom them, our descendents....
Our spring walk in the cemetery passes the still new graves of Sjoerd and Friedrich Mstra near the towering red granite family headstone. Lilacs provide their lovely scent. We pause and enjoy the blossoms. “Opposite from the stink in Canto 19,” John says. He follows my slow Dante progress one canto at a time, not my writing itself, but these kernels, templates or palimpsests for my narrative’s scenes. “Maybe Dante would bury the previous Mstra CEOs feet up like he did the bad popes.” Dante had put Simonists—those trying to buy religious favors—upside down in vertical cylinders with only singed feet showing above. In Dante’s hell, the errant pope had his head exposed so down in one of the dirty ditches, Dante, the pilgrim, talks with an upside down head of a Pope Nicholas.
“And gives him a time of it!” John chortles. “Like we’d appreciate doing to Sjoerd and Charles Koch who surely can’t last forever.”
I reflect: I am only two years younger than Charles Koch so the reminder strikes close to home!
But I think proudly on how Ophelia did her own amazing lecture of the dead males of her immediate family when she disavowed the heavenly images of her ancestral counterpart to the notorious Koch Brothers’ father who had instilled his free enterprise religion in his boys. Sjoerd did not do that to her; he may have tried but she thinks for herself. I’m proud of her.
Chapter 4, Scene 8 of 9, Setting: June, 2016.
For a picnic on the last Sunday of June in the Nemean Heights Park across the lake from Anna’s house, Evie reserved the higher shelter as soon as she could after seasonable weather began. “Under that huge tree that leans like the tower of Pisa,” she told me then. “And we won’t go hungry,” she says now as she orders from a wonderful caterer recommended by Amber Middleton and asks for a round table with a white table cloth large enough to allow eight high-end folding chairs comfortably around it—“I hope for no rain so we can be in the shade of the tree and don’t have to go under the shingled roof!” Besides the social obligation to Anna Gest and John Hillington, the party includes Ruchira and her guy, Tim Follette, as well as Amber and Rob Roy Middleton with whom Evie had renewed acquaintance at a spring concert as the two ladies waited in a long line for the ladies room. They met again longer at the Eden Cafe.
“You remember them?” Evie had asked me, as though either of us could forget Rob Roy’s drunken groping of Ophelia Mstra at Muriel Golden’s 2015 Super Bowl party.
“It wasn’t all bad, that little episode,” Amber confided and could proudly told Evie the update: “His sobriety started that evening!” The social disgrace turned out to be the leverage Amber had needed to get him into addiction treatment, “He even attends Alcoholics Anonymous. He had been proud of his career at Mstra Carbon, and the incident did not interrupt it although that was just about when Friedrich Mstra took over as the new CEO. So he had already lost face with Sjoerd’s old palace guard, an older contingent of company figures who didn’t take kindly to Rob Roy’s confessed alcoholism.
“They drink like fish themselves,” Amber said, “and didn’t want my initiative to be infectious with their wives.” But it turned out as good timing, Amber confided, because his ejection from the deteriorating inner circle in the wake of Sjoerd’s regime meant that the new CEO needed him. Rob Roy apparently had good counsel for the new young leader just as Friedrich had decided to counter passive aggression and rely instead on a younger middle management who didn’t know of many political and managerial intricacies.
On the telephone with me, John Hillington, overjoyed at the prospect of new Mstra Carbon gossip from a new source, said, “Maybe we’ll find how Ophelia is really doing. It’s against what I know of group psychology to believe that a massive enterprise will roll over and play dead with such a radical new agenda contrary to everything the company stood for up to now, against their previous conservatism and versions of reality. I mean I hope she’s for real, but, but.” He had paused.
The weather does hold for Evie with sun and a gentle breeze. The caterers set up beneath the leaning tree, raising their eyebrows but shrugging their shoulders at the firm “No wine” part of Evie’s order. “No one will starve,” Evie declares to the assembled group, as smoked salmon centers our conversation along with diced hard-boiled egg, chopped onion and capers. I smile at my anticipation of the deviled eggs, my favorite picnic food, plus that’s when I will break my fast.
I enjoy initial banter with the robust, fit looking Rob Roy as he and I commiserate over the miserable Lake City professional football season this past year after their previous pinnacle in the Super Bowl; injuries to key players had made the difference, but we mildly disagree on which lost player we missed most. Then, plates full as all settle down, Rob Roy holds forth to the entire group in his element as though he had had a glass of wine or two. “What a change!” he tells us. “ Exciting times but I speak freely. The old regimes held to strict secrecy but not Ophelia. Maybe not always to her advantage.”
“How might that be a problem for her?” That was John Hillington.
“Well, her boat rides rough seas. If she’s not lucky but it washes ashore, they’ll eat her alive —brains and bones. Cannibals stand waiting for it, licking their lips.” It turned out that her initial success came from charming the old guard on the top passed over by the newcomer Friedrich in the short time he had before his death. “She has the seductive touch of her daddy—listen warmly, never condescending, but yet you always know where you stand with either one—it’s like in the presence of royalty.”
Anna Gest observes, “Partly their size. Isn’t Mstra a Friesan name? Large people, going back to antiquity.”
I say, “There’s even a reference in Dante to their size, in a canto about giants who were even bigger than Friesans!”
Rob Roy continues, “But she didn’t persuade Friedrich’s coterie of middle rankers who had just felt power for the first time, but only briefly. They remain rebellious and this weird presidential race,” adds Rob Roy, “brings out two kinds of rebellion.” He explains that the Friedrich contingent consists of staunch modern Republicans adhering to the lines of Koch think tanks—Friedrich had the company send some to meetings. “They believe in the lockstep party lines of minimal taxes, no government is good government, and “What’s the big deal with carbon dioxide?—just a reason for the Eastern elite to increase taxes. Anyhow these Freddy-ites vehemently oppose Trump’s ascent as Republican candidate and expect his seeming triumph to get scuttled at the convention with Cruz winning after all.
“Then there are the Trumpites at the bottom: on the assembly line, truck drivers, janitors, other grunts, who say “To hell with all that crap! Trump tells it like it is—get rid of the Muslims and send Mexicans packing. Build that wall on the southern border.” Rob Roy enjoys his audience, “And having a woman at the helm unites them all the more. An interesting test of her leadership—many ready to push her off her pedestal.”
Ruchira makes a face. “I want back to my painting,” she says, “I never listen to news or read papers.” Evie and Anna look unhappy. Amber beams, proud of her new man.
In the way that he has, Tim Follette grins, says, “What will happen? Can Ophelia sustain, get things in order, her agenda going?”
“Who knows?” Rob Roy says, not smiling, neutral, walking a line. “I hope so. Company chaos whatever happens.”
July, 2016. Chapter 5, Scene 6 of 8 (another cemetery walk):
What an oddity: John Hillington of all people calls to apologize! John! Hasn’t done that before with me—it’s not the way he seems to encounter the world –or at least me in it. Yet I know he can listen and be deferential if warranted. But now I know he also allows himself to stand corrected!
It’s about Ophelia and her famous embrace of me [at Raphael Gest’s Memorial Service] that I’m sick, sick, sick of hearing about from him and then—much worse—from Rachel too: that unhealthy fantasy, for all that she’s seems with me now in a good way, at least so far as I can tell.
It turns out he got a corrected story from the heiress herself who told him and Anna Gest in a Sunday afternoon tea hosted by Ophelia for just the two of them in the same yellow house where she’d had me play the analyst with herself as the patient after her treatment with Rafael Gest was formally over but her benefits incomplete. They visited not in the second floor viola studio where she had set up an analytic couch for my visits, but to her living room—a room I’d not seen. “A lovely view of Lake Lerna,” says John, “and elegant Louis XIV furniture.” He was particularly taken by a lovely blue and yellow needlepoint pillow that she told them came from provincial France to where she’d retired the previous year for her brief composing respite between a busy performance schedule and the family disaster the previous year that brought her back to the unanticipated role.
John tells only a little on the telephone and I now hear the fuller story as we briskly walk a lengthy shaded circuit about the cemetery. We both do walking as our exercise, seldom together, and today I slow my pace a bit for talking. Where the sun interrupts the shade, I see my shadow and think of all the Dantean shades in The Purgatorio’s Canto 5 in the sunshine that contrasts with the shades below ground in The Inferno, but these do not cast shadows now. But they’re held down by their punishment of needing to carry weighty stones owing to their pride during life.
I say to John, “I’m impressed. So how did your lovely experience come about?”
He’s not to be deviated: “Her report left me very impressed,” he says, “with how you did not after at all give up on psychoanalysis when you left formal practice. And you certainly gained her appreciation as well! Good job, old man.”
He goes on, “Of course like everyone else I’m sure, I’d assumed you no longer practiced. But to be fair to myself, I’ve never heard of any patient with that degree of initiative devoted to this treatment, nor on the other hand, any analyst failing to take money as you did.” John breaks his stride slightly and pauses to catch his breath—I’d noticed before that he himself always seems short of money. He looks at me, “I mean really. And talk about a rich patient who could afford it!” He looks at me for emphasis and explains that though his experience of super rich people in analysis that were only a few, that he found them to assume that their money bought avoidance of the painful personal issues that any patient must confront. I agree that it happens that way—that wealth is a powerful and pervasive resistance.
We pass the veterans’ section of uniform white marble slabs standing in military precision just outside the path; the headstones listed the war along with the dates, and the spouses were included. These people were not the upper 1% as they say now, and never got analyzed either. These are my thoughts as John continues about the rich, especially those with inherited wealth and entitlements.
“They’re invariably too polite on the one hand, and then subtly arrogant on the other—cannot let themselves have passionate feelings of positive or negative sorts about a mere peon of an analyst who needs money in the transaction and so is always one-down for that reason. So I’m impressed—you had a good strategy for Ophelia. Good you could afford it.”
I explain that it hadn’t been so much a conscious strategy as a way to handle my present lack of formal credential—“Just fell out that way, but like you imply, give credit to the patient, to whatever previous work she’d done, and her ingenuity.” I’m not specific, still keeping confidentiality. He seems to catch that and says, “I understand that’s why you couldn’t say yourself, couldn’t explain appearances; you had to keep it privileged. And I know she did previous work with Rafael Gest, and since she knew Anna was his daughter, that likely played into her invitation. She’s very open, almost strangely so, just opened up. I got in I think with my analyst background. She may be lonely—I had that sense.” I wondered again how it all came about, but didn’t renew the question.
Now in the cemetery’s newer section, John and I pass the large red granite headstone atop a little rise, the vowel-starved Mstra name on the seven-foot monument something of a contrast to the low stones of Peterson, Miller, Zimmerman, Smith and Brown. Sjoerd Mstra erected it after his wife died seven years ago in the tragic airplane crash over Lake Lerna that almost killed him too. Now it has his name and dates added. Now somewhere in the Inferno, I suppose he and his son are shades for Dante’s update. I tell John that I see where Friedrich was buried with no stone in place as yet.
He continues, “Ophelia doesn’t seem that sad nor for that matter down about the company, and was amazingly frank about what’s going on. I felt like a parent with a warm adult daughter—warmer than my own daughter in fact.” John says that Ophelia is excited about the prospects of her new plan, seems to have the situation in hand—“She’s dignified and impressive,” he looks sidewise at me walking the inner side of the circuit and so beyond me to the many headstones in the cemetery’s interior. “And she’s statuesque, a tall beauty.” He pauses to contemplate, as to visualize her figure, as I do too and reflect it’s such a male thing to do. …
“I was all the more surprised after your friend Middleton—what’s his name, Billy Bob? Bob Boy?—the fellow who gave us the dim appraisal from the inside of what he saw as rebellion in the ranks.” John explains that she didn’t talk of that, but enthused about her top management team that she has recruited with great care—before she took the helm she took her time traveling to consultants and working in concert with selected ones, people with long experience with companies and conglomerates that change for whatever reasons but who will inevitably have restive underlings who want things the way they were—“Restive is my term not hers,” John emphasizes, “and in fact, I don’t even know how she let us know it, except her meaning was very clear and not paranoid. She said memorably, ‘People first, sky chemistry later’, and we both felt in the presence of someone who means business, is very creative—she is a creative artist after all—and has her ducks lined up. She’s a force who means to contend. But she’s very diplomatic, and I heard nothing disrespectful about anyone.”
In the course of our circuit, we pass a wonderfully fragrant lily-filled yard across the graveyard fence from our path, and I finally learn how the invitation to the yellow house came about: “Anna wrote a fan letter lauding the Mstra moonshot to reverse the CO2 process of ground to sky to its reverse going sky to the ground of chemical mass production. I helped her and we co-signed a formal letter—no email!” Then we got a mysterious letter on a high quality heavy stationary inside an envelope without a name and an obscure Lake City street address that turned out to be the yellow house. “It was a fan letter in reverse, from Ophelia because she knew and admired papers by Anna on Irène Némirovsky, a Jewish Parisian novelist born in St. Petersburg and who died at Auchwitz.”
“So that was our principal topic,” John continues. “Because it turns out Ophelia is herself an expert on someone I’d not heard about—not a Jew but the son of a German man whom Hitler consulted with to justify his expansionist Lebensraum policy. But the son was something of a Renaissance man—professor, writer, composer—his composing of a concerto originally enticed Ophelia. At age 42 he was imprisoned in 1945 for forty-five days for a plot against Der Fuhrer. Solitary confinement in the Moabit Prison in Berlin.” John slows down and turns his head to me for emphasis. “Have you heard of him? Albrecht Haushofer. I certainly had not but Anna had, and even had his book of eighty poems, The Moabit Sonnets. Her primary interest is in persecuted Jews, but then Albrecht had a Jewish mother although his father stayed an unrepentant Nazi.”
I don’t say it to John, but I do know dramatically about Ophelia’s interest and translation efforts. Near the end of Ophelia’s treatment, her translation of the 80th sonnet had played a meaningful role in what we discussed.
I look at him inquiringly now, and he continues, “She even wrote a sonnet about him, gave us a copy, said it was ok to show to friends. She’d done this in her stay in provincial France before the disastrous deaths of brother and father. The man greatly spoke to her, and we see she composes in words as well as notes. I like her assertive voice—good for her big job as CEO.” John sees a bench and beckons me to it. “Fitting we’re in a cemetery.”
We sit and he reads out loud.
He Died Early April 1945
Albrecht Haushofer yearned for peace, a Cassandra,
When many asked his wisdom even as they gloried
In the early days of the Nazi victories, storied
Victories as from Wagner and old Aryan fabula.
But for the first four months of nineteen-forty-five
He wrote eighty sonnets that depicted his feelings
His sorrows, erudition, his music, his reelings
From what had happened to his magnificent culture, alive,
Sensitive to history and heritage, but ground down
To be given to the mob including his professor father
Who gave Hitler Lebensraum despite Albrecht’s mother—
Who was daughter to a Jewish merchant of some renown.
He died—as a rowboat goes o’er a waterfall—outside prison—
Shot in the back of his head as the Russians entered Berlin.
We both sit quietly for a time. He tells me that Anna thought it powerful and that he did too. “Obviously,” he says looking at me and we rise to exit the graveyard. “It was a bad time in Europe around the time you were born and me just yet to come.”
I’m impressed with John’s seriousness in all this, his understanding Ophelia as a serious artist in words as well as her known musicianship, and that in the midst of the enormous work of running Mstra Industries she’d taken time out to answer Anna’s letter herself with the resulting invitation.
“So is it time for fascism again?” he asks. We doubt it since Hillary has such a margin and so many people loathe Trump, but how did he even get there and how did such a charade pass for a president candidate who got to dominate a national convention?
I say, “I think for him it’s all business. He knows he’ll lose but that he has a mega-stage to woo Putin and Russian money for his business that of course the voting public knows nothing about—hasn’t released his income tax returns.”
John suggests, “All these macho strong men. But now Theresa May is Prime Minister and Hillary poised for U.S. President. And the other day, I strongly sensed Ophelia has a steel grip in velvet gloves. And she carries Teddy Roosevelt’s big stick. Some Mstra powers in the company that once were are no longer, of course, but off looking for other positions.”
“The Kochs might snap them up,” I say.
John went on, “People leaving her company maybe left behind some covert spies to hassle her and the forces of change. I wonder about that Middleton fellow—looking back on the other day, I wonder if he likes Ophelia and is maybe a quiet saboteur.”
We’re up and walking to the cemetery exit now. John continues, “I had the thought that to contain the company unrest, she might just have said what she said to make her position clear to the outside community. Of course that she had other reasons to invite us too, but Anna and I found it curious how she seemed to have no secrets on company matters at all, and even urged—not anxiously or defensively—that we feel free to speak to others. I speculate she has a strategy of combating her restless subordinates by word of mouth publicity.”