is part of the last letter Eric sent a few weeks
before he was killed. How wonderful it is,
for this mother to know - that her beloved son had
ascended to a pinnacle of perception, experience,
pleasure and personal fulfillment such as this
weekend in ~Philly~ with
Stephanie! This letter was 6
pages long! I have excerpted to
share the joy and excitement that he experienced in
a little ~holiday~ he allowed himself....
I just received your letter. It's Sunday night about eleven o'clock, so it probably got here either Friday or Saturday and I didn't check my mail on those days because I left here Friday morning for Philadelphia and I just got back (surprised aren't you?).
A wonderful opportunity arose in which one of my friends was going to New Jersey to visit some of his relatives and was stopping in Philly to pick up another friend along the way. Since he knew I had always wanted to go there and it was part of his planned stops he invited me along. I didn't have to pay one red cent for anything. Naturally, I JUMPED at the chance.
I stayed with Stephanie Spindler, a girl you've met before. Stephanie attends the University for the Arts and is a major in sculpture there. She used to be Trevor's girlfriend. She's been out to the house on a couple of occasions. She's always struck me as being a fairly intriguing woman, although I never spoke much to her in high school. That was probably a good thing though. I think both of us were fairly introverted during that period in our lives and we probably wouldn't have had a whole lot to say to each other outside of basic formalities. However, she's changed a lot since then (as have I) so getting to know her during breaks and my brief times at home has been a real pleasant experience. I consider her one of my really good friends and I was extremely lucky that I got to stay with her at her apartment in the city this past weekend (after all, it's hard to beat free room and board). <---- hahaha>
However, what I really want to convey with this letter is what I discovered while I was there.
put it simply, I have discovered that there is hope!
When Stephanie took me on a little tour of the city on Saturday (only a couple blocks because it's still difficult to walk with the cast and all), I was floored by my amazement at what I was seeing. Philadelphia has everything anybody could ever want. I spent most of the day walking around with my jaw dragging behind me on the sidewalk. The architecture, museums, bookstores, music shops, concert halls - all of them were right outside her door and a mere few blocks walking distance at that. She lives in what is called "center city", where all of the city government offices are located, including city hall (a truly magnificent building - I got to stand right in front of it and marvel at its immensity and sheer aesthetic design). Center city includes the eight innermost city blocks extending from the center out. This is where Stephanie lives (South 15th Street to be exact). After that is "olde city" (olde as in the British spelling) which goes out for quite a ways in its own right and includes most of the universities, colleges, theaters, etc. It's sort of like the cultural hub of the city. The rest of Philly is designated by its' direction - North side, East side, etc.
I can't even begin to describe all of the things I saw. It's just something you have to experience on a personal level in order to be able to fully appreciate it. But that's not even the half of it. There are literary and film groups, lectures, screenings and readings for just about anything you could ever possibly imagine and all of this goes on every day of the week. I got some of the local papers when we stopped at a bar called "Dirty Frank's" (nothing but college kids in that place - it was terrific AND they make a great Long Island Iced Tea there as well). After looking at those papers, I found something I would have liked to do every single day of the week, sometimes even a couple of things on certain days. The whole city resonates with that wonderfully bizarre "college" vibe that makes it so intellectually desirable. There were all kinds of "weirdos" that we ran into (to borrow some of society's inane terminology) but I actually felt right at home sharing the sidewalks with them.
<Visiting a bookstore> ....Finally - people who understood what I was talking about and didn't make assumptions about my interests. I guess you have to go to a city to find that sort of acceptance because I have never encountered that before except in a smaller scale in Roanoke. However, Roanoke is simply too small to keep as voracious a mind as mine happy and challenged at the same time. Philadelphia certainly does though.
Stephanie has lived there four years now and still hasn't seen it all. She doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon either and I don't blame her. Sure the crime is pretty bad, owning a car is impossible and public transportation is not really all that safe (particularly the subway Stephanie says) and rent is generally outrageous - but look at what you get in return: CULTURE, INTELLIGENCE, VARIETY, all of it surrounding you at every turn.
I think I would rather die knowing that I was actually living life to the max as opposed to vegetating.
Anyway, I'm probably babbling at this point and I'm getting constantly interrupted as I try to wrap this letter up.
Stephanie threw a party for all of her art friends on Saturday and I stayed up until 5 in the morning talking to various members of her circle of friends. I liked all of them. They were open, honest and great to talk to. We all sat around in the neon glow from the city lights, sipping on some quality wine and just talking about virtually any subject you can imagine. Most importantly, they knew what I was trying to talk about without my having to explain everything to them. I had this conversation with one guy who was an architecture major that lasted almost two hours. We discussed the various schools of artistic and literary criticism that have sprung up over the years and debated the merits and drawbacks inherent to each. We covered everything from the New Critical approach of the 1920's to the more recently proposed reader-response and archetypal theories of the late 1980's. All of this took place without either of us seeking to prove the other wrong or right but only to broaden our own intellectual horizons by looking at how we viewed certain theories through someone else's interpretations of them. That's a damn rare thing to find <snip.> except when I talk with you or some of my other friends (such as Stephanie) who end up back in Woodstock from time to time.
However, in the short time I was in the city, I met people who I would have died to have around here these last four years. The beautiful thing is that you don't even have to be really good friends with somebody or even acquaintances with them to share that type of conversation. You just have to be open-minded and want to learn or at least be willing to re-examine your conclusions when presented with new facts or opinions. Is that such a terrible thing to expect from one's peers? I don't think so. In fact, I demand it from those I associate with and I'm tired of having to cut corners with people who simply don't make the grade in that regard. Particularly women. I met some of the most attractive and INTELLIGENT women of my life in Philly this weekend and I suddenly realized that there may actually be a woman out there worth the expenditure of my emotions. You were right. I never realized just how much of my time has been wasted with undeserving women until this weekend.
I need an environment that both challenges me and provides me with an adequate supply of intellectual equals as well as superiors (as the case may be). Without that, my life is simply Hell.
If I get into either the Univ. Of Pennsylvania (which is in Philadelphia) or the Univ. of Pittsburgh, I'll go without the slightest hesitation, now that I know what awaits. Saturday morning I went out on the fire escape and looked at the entire city glowing in that magnificent pre-dawn black, the kind of darkness that seems to take light and bounce it back against the source from which it came. The whole city was just so awesome to look at in that manner. Stephanie lives on the 17th floor of a high-rise apartment complex, so I could see everything - even the Walt Whitman bridge (it's huge!) all lit up against the backdrop of the city. That's when I knew that I belonged there or at least someplace like it. I need this more than anything else I have professed a desire for in my life and now that I have seen that graduate school is apparently what I thought it to be, I'll do everything in my power to make it a reality for me.
I'll be doing something I truly and completely love - what more can one ask of this life? I've finally spent a whole weekend happy and content, sort of like the way you feel when you eat a good meal and leave the table pleasantly stuffed. I've also realized that I no longer need to worry about lowering my standards if I'm ever going to find a soul-mate of some type. More importantly, I've got to stop squeezing out apologies to people because they feel I'm "too intense" and too "analytical" and start uttering a few more "well, piss off then" responses. Life is too short to abandon your own standards for the sake of some transparent pleasure and a few shallow words that offer re-assurances that should come from within anyway. I come as a package deal and until I decide that I have met someone worthy of my consideration, then I exist as I am, plain and simple.
I have finally realized that I no longer need to base my opinion of myself on what everyone else feels about me. That's a great feeling, one that I am both proud and extremely happy to have finally unearthed in the emotional ruins of my past.
So, that's what I did this weekend and now I'm very tired. I've got the usual ton of assignments, meetings, work and office hours to juggle tomorrow so I'm going to turn in rather early, considering that it's only one o' clock in the morning. I enjoyed hearing from you and the graphics on the computer looked really great. I'm glad you finally mastered that thing and are getting lots of use from it. I also appreciate your compliments. They mean a lot, probably more than you can ever know. I'll talk with you soon and I hope things continue to look up in your life.
As for me, all I'm waiting for now are responses from my schools. It's going to be a nerve-wracking experience until I get something back but for once in my life I feel reasonably confident that I'll get in somewhere. Wish me luck.
Oh, before I forget - Happy Valentines Day!!! No turtles this year unfortunately (maybe Peach will get them for you). However, I'll be thinking about you all the same. Tell everyone hello for me and I'll probably see you sometime soon.
Spring Break is coming up next month.
Love, Eric L. Baker
February 15, 1996
You're right! I was shocked to see another letter in the mail so soon! Not just a `token' one either - but another real communication! Like a dream come true after you've given up dreaming!
<snip> You will never know until or unless you have children of your own - how difficult the transitions are as you step back and allow independence to follow its' course of discovery and development! Ah - but worthwhile if you have done an adequate or good job of parenting to prepare the child for the `trip' he must travel alone (as we all have to do).
You write so well! We are strongly alike in that. I have not had the educational or time advantages that you were afforded - but the talent emerges never-the-less, and whether refined or primitive - it stands out as a gift that is not so common to all men....... What a special talent to share - since it leads to, promotes and nurtures an intimacy that otherwise never takes place between mortals. I don't think any other dream is as fulfilling for me - at least to this point in my life - as this special bond of ours. The bond is so strong that there is an inner awareness (assuredness) that it will even transcend our mortality. We are a part of each other so much that if/when either of us departs the physical realm - we will always be present in the other. It is a type of soulmating. (I DO hope you've read that one book ~SOULMATES~ (by Thomas Wolf) so that you will fully understand the depth of what I mean by that!
Well, enough of all that! I just had to tell you how wonderful it feels for me!
You're right about the free room and board - but the intellectual companionship does surpass ("beat") that! That was the most enriching and gratifying part of the weekend - right? It sounds as though your spirit was gorged to the max by that! I remember similar occasions like that in my life and yes - the exhilaration of it is actually an `out of body' experience - there's just no other way to put it. At those times, we transcend all entrapments and limitations - becoming so free that it's like floating around in some ethereal plain above or beyond earth or galaxies or anything at all physical!!!! Wouldn't you agree?
Even booze can't rival that intoxication - because instead of dulling your perceptions (as liquor does) - they grow sharper and become so acute that it's actually physical again (the feeling of nearly bursting with the swelling of consciousness! Ahhhhhhhh, yes. YES! I have known and even now, on occasion know that powerful unboundedness through intellectual stimulation and exchange! Rare - but it does happen sometimes.....
*BTW* - I applaud your ability to express your feelings and thoughts so poetically and profoundly. Words can be like drinking a fine wine - both in their `taste' and in their effectuality.... Yours are absolutely gourmet!
In response to what you based your opinion of humanity on - it started so long ago - way before Ferrum and your present peers.
So many, many things effect our perceptions and concepts along the way. You also read a lot and there was often a great discrepancy between the minds around you and some of those great ones who influenced you through their writing.
So..... you had a more than the usual or common idealistic -vs- reality dilemma to deal with in your development. This led to your feelings of not fitting in or finding identification with others. You have viewed the world from a very high and isolated tower almost as though it was an aquarium you lived with and observed but didn't fit into....... What a wonderful experience to now be coming to see the world in it's strange but wonderful hues ... the mix of dark and light - highs and lows ... and all other contrasts which you are beginning to see the value and interdependence of in the `whole picture' of what we refer to as the human race. Now, you are seeing that flavors cannot exist as we know them and experience them - if it weren't for their alternatives or contrasts to each other. So who then - can identify, judge or label anything at all as good or bad? Right or wrong? Bitter or sweet? It is the blending of these and the relativity which identifies for each of us, what those attributes or `labels' are - whether they be good or bad..... for ourselves. And even that - changes with time and circumstance! We are each a unique, kaleidoscopic `glass' through which experience comes into us and goes out from us. This is my philosophy and it looks like you are discovering and taking on ownership of it too and in doing so - are at last opening, like a flower, petal by petal, your soul!!!! You are emerging from your walls and rooms of a prison that was so dark and miserable but which also prepared you to appreciate freedom and light to a much greater extent that those who have never lived in the catacombs (depths of despair)!
always thrilled you!
I stood there on that balcony (a little more glamorous sounding that `fire escape'...) and looked through your eyes and felt your thrill and the sense of `home at last' feeling in your soul. I have lived in such environments (or close by them) and I know exactly what you mean. I also know that you go on being a part of that (or it's a part of you - both concepts are true) whether you live there or not. It's a soul-thing. Our souls taste, feel, measure and interpret on levels that are beyond our understanding in mere minds-eye! The soul experiences everything in a way of becoming one with it..... Unfathomable but definitely, recognizable when it's taking place. There was a wonderful word used in Heinleins' STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND - used to describe this soul-phenomena..... he called it `grokking'.... meaning that you become one with and totally internalize and become internalized within that `other' whatever or whomever it was. Have you read it? That was the most profound thing I excerpted from it - that someone had put that phenomena into a word for which there was and still is - no other word or expression! (Not to be confused with Baldwins' book (of same name)- Robert Heinlein)
What JOY your words "I've spent a whole weekend happy and content".... brought to my heart and soul!
Perhaps one day you will not perceive your `past' as emotional ruins from which you unearthed your character - but as a firm foundation on which you built it yourself!
Thank you for the appreciation of my artistic production of our correspondence and of my heartfelt-sincere compliments of and about you! It is always nice to get strokes! Especially from those whom you yourself admire and care deeply about.
I'm on `pins and needles' with you - expectantly waiting for news of the next phase of your education! Let me know the moment you know! I've enclosed a letter from the new SS representative - hope you didn't mind my removing it from the envelope to send along - I had talked to her by phone and knew she was sending the letter and so I knew what it was before I opened it and made the judgment call that you would not have any problem with it - if I was wrong, let me know...please. <snip>
Buffy is doing wonderfully well! I've stopped letting her out the front door now and only take her downstairs to go out back to 'take care of her business' and it's been good for her because she spends more time and walks around out there in an apparent feeling of safety and security instead of rushing right back to the door! This is good for her.
I already told you all about the "net-addiction" which rages on in me. The house is so different and homey - all that `old storage' stuff vanquished or dispersed. Jeanne came over and they did the attic (do you believe that?) I am so content that I think I hear myself purring sometimes!
get the soundtrack from "BEYOND RANGOON" ?
I loved the movie "SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT" Hilarious and yet profound in that way that comedy can be about serious subjects. If you were here, we'd be going to Merl Streeps' new movie opening on Friday! Looks good! You're probably going to go to it up there! Lucky you!
Well, my son - this has taken me hours to accomplish and I have other stuff to do as well as a slight backache from sitting out here in this position for so long now in this too big chair! I'll close for now - Lord knows that you have plenty of reading to do as work without me sending along such lengthy letters!
I love you, Mom