Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,
The most poignant part of our family trip to Alcatraz yesterday was listening to the audio of what the C and D Block convicts would have heard on New Year’s Eve. On that west side of the island, the cells were warmer, and the sea breezes would bring in sounds of celebration and jollity from the nearby St Francis Yacht Club, less than two miles from the prison. Especially on New Year’s Eve one would hear champagne glasses clinking, fireworks exploding and, the most desperate sound of all, women’s laughter, traveling across the frozen waters of the San Francisco Bay.
Whereas the size of the cells, five feet by nine feet, meant that each convict got his own room (meaning some privacy and fewer incidental assaults), this also meant that the isolation took a heavy toll on the “numbers” there (the incarcerated were not referred to by name). In the early years of the prison, the convicts were not allowed to speak to one another except during meals and in the recreation yard. Some used More code to reach out to others. In the later years, isolation in a pitch-black cell waited for those who broke the rules. One convict told the story of closing his eyes tight in a dark cell until he saw a light, transforming the hallucinated light into a TV screen, and then watching TV shows of his own invention while crouching on the concrete floors of D-Block isolation cells. As Voltaire said, “Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.”
Need one be imprisoned to feel as these convicts have? Poets have explored this theme, revealing psychological truths that returned to me during my time in prison yesterday. In his poem “London,” William Blake wrote famously of the social and mental limitations to which we have all become accustomed:
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.
How many people you know, how many of us, wear mind-forg’d manacles?
As I walked through the Alcatraz cell blocks yesterday, many of them familiar to me from the 1979 Clint Eastwood film Escape from Alcatraz, I kept hearing in my head two relevant sections from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
And my favorite:
I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
One can’t un-visit Alcatraz after the first visit, as this was for me. Our imagined extended stays there reshape us, and perhaps make us grateful for the influences we’ve enjoyed, and the choices we’ve made. On the other hand, after such a visit, one doesn’t need to hear a distant woman’s new year’s eve laughter or read a poem by T.S. Eliot to understand desolate metaphors for isolation.
Confucius said, “There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is limitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest.” I hope sufficient reflection might help you shake off whatever “mind-forg’d manacles” are limiting you today.
In addition to topics raised above, tonight’s Pub Quiz will cover the following: unusual draft picks, strong records, Russian farms, inadvisable flights, the habits of DJs, neighborhood explorations in a red cowl, religious festivals, real names of millionaires, a bandit’s diet, stories about rebels, knights named Ivan, Jane Seymour, famous birds, the minds of the incarcerated, grateful emergences, biology basics, dancing musicians, New Orleans exports, “reality,” months on the calendar, checkbook comparisons, Firestones, iterations of pop, admirable bends, where Diego went, Bruce Lee, media matters, the United Nations General Assembly, light switches, and Shakespeare.
If you are the first person to show me evidence that you have recruited a new team – yours or another group’s – to join us at the Pub Quiz this evening, I will spring for a delightful serving of pub chips, perhaps with curry ketchup and the gravy on the side. See you tonight!
Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:
- UC Davis Chancellors. You may or may not know the last name of the new Chancellor at UC Davis. Name him.
- Pop Culture – Television. The first season of what superhero TV show featured the following actors? Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, and Simone Missick.
- Another Music Question. Who sang her songs “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” at the most recent Grammy Awards ceremony, in February of 2017?