I write with a certain intensity. This is not a self-aggrandizing assessment. My intensity of thought can often be overwhelming and unpleasant, and so I use the pen and the pad to properly channel it. I didn’t use to write as much though. I did however do a lot of “thinking-then-speaking.” Sometimes awkwardly…sometimes incoherently…but always prolifically! In my collegiate past, the classroom was the proper venue. For the past few years, I did so over wine amongst a group of older, Irish-Catholic brothers and sisters. They are a Washingtonian family, and so their skill for the poetic and narrative ties in with their “in-the-know” understanding of the national, global, and geopolitical! I felt right at home at “Viewpoint,” their “symposium” venue if you will (“symposium” in Greek literally means “drinking party”). “Viewpoint” is in Annapolis.
Annapolis- capital of Maryland- is a charming city on the American eastern seaboard. The Severn River, which empties out into the Chesapeake Bay and (eventually) the Atlantic Ocean, traverses it. Annapolis is located on Maryland’s western shore in Ann Arundel County (25 miles south of Baltimore, 30 miles east of Washington D.C.).
Colonists founded Maryland in 1634.1 At the time, St. Mary’s City, located on the southernmost tip, was its capital and seat of colonial government.1 St. Mary’s City proved too distant from many of the colony’s inhabitants, and so, in 1694, Maryland’s General Assembly designed Ann Arundel Town the capital of Maryland.1 The government moved its records and operations there.1
Maryland derives its name from Queen Mary (1662-1694). Annapolis derives its name from her sister, Queen Anne (1665-1714).1 Queen Anne ascended the throne of her brother-in-law, King William II, when he died in 1702.1. Anne, who reigned over both Great Britain and Ireland until her death, united England and Scotland under her rule.1
Royal Governor John Seymour granted a municipal charter to Annapolis on November 22, 1708.1 Nearly a year after the Boston Tea Party (October 19, 1774), Maryland colonists burned a load of British Tea aboard the Peggy Stewart outside Annapolis.1 Continental Congress met there from November 1783 until August 1784.1 Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris there on January 14, 1784, and, in September 1786 at the Annapolis Convention, delegates from five states discussed revising the Articles of Confederation.1
Annapolis is also home to St. John’s College (founded in 1696 as King William’s School), an academic institution with a curriculum where students only read the classic works, as well as the United States Naval Academy.1 Every morning at dawn, the latter fills the skies of Annapolis with beautiful patriotic music! The Middle East Peace Conference was held at the Naval Academy in November 2007, and the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue was held in Annapolis in June 2008.1
Annapolis is a quaint little coastal town…replete with shops, restaurants, and waterfront promenades. Like Maryland itself, its signature dish is undoubtedly everything crab (crab cakes, crab balls, crab soup, and so on). It is also “America’s Sailing Capital,” and it is where the two leads in Wedding Crashers (2005) accept a post-wedding invitation.
In Vinos Veritas
Let us return to “Viewpoint.” “Viewpoint” itself is its own charming little spot. Its name is very fitting as it has an excellent view of the Annapolis skyline (including the U.S. Naval Academy’s towering dome) and the Severn River. But “Viewpoint” also derives its name from the way in which its founders approach life—everyone has their own viewpoint. The founders are all part of one of those large, nuclear, baby-boomer families…the type of family not unlike mine (at least my extended family). In fact, I became acquainted with them through my aunt (who has five brothers, including my dad).
Gun violence…immigration…Donald Trump…Kamala Harris…Joe Biden…Ted Cruz…Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez…Uvalde…transgenderism…Covid-19…Ukraine…Russia…Israel…mental health…body positivity…Black Lives Matter…George Floyd…January Six…Will Smith-Chris Rock…Johnny Depp-Amber Heard…and so on and so on and so on. Ask any of them their opinion about any of the above and more, and they’ll give you their opinion. Please understand, though, that I don’t mean this pejoratively. It’s easy to think of it that way. Politics is all “third rails” and “Overton windows.” It’s all cynical and aggravating and depressing and exhausting. Perhaps. But in the true American spirit, it’s better to have something to say and say it truthfully then to say nothing at all. The former allows people to flesh out all their ideas (good or bad) and hopefully find the good ones in the midst!
But it’s also worth noting that not all their conversations are political. They’re a family, and so it’s reasonable to conclude that not every discussion is some academic thinktank session. Their conversations plumb the common, complex depths of the personal—family, friends, and more—and the rich struggles and vicissitudes of life! That eternal march…the shifting, changing, and folding & unfolding of generation to generation. All the varying multitudes of the “highs and the lows.”
Gaze upon any flowering plant, though. Observe its height and its width and its present state of blossom or decay. All that is rooted in its path of nourishment. Such is the timeless principle of life, and such is also the relationship between the personal and the political. All our political polemics (the “macro”) cannot take place apart from personal polemics (the “micro”). Personal polemics necessarily prefigure political polemics. Hundreds of millions of seedlings each putting forth their own individual roots and stems.
Lost In Thoughts
I’m a philosopher at heart…or perhaps “heart” is not the best word. “Head” is more appropriate. I manifest a deeply cerebral spirit, and yet I can also be very poetic and experiential. It’s a timeless struggle between what psychiatrist Ian McGilchrist would call the “master and its emissary.” The right and the left brain. Rich dialogue is my bread-and-butter (especially if actual bread-and-butter, and wine, of course, accompany it!) But, as far as thought is concerned, too much of it…too much inner analysis and self-criticism…can be terrifying!
For reasons better left unsaid (although nothing drastic or unthinkable), I no longer participate in the symposiums. When I did, though, I was able to engage in that wonderful, outward-focused mingling of ideas and spirits and personalities, though…. what gives “Viewpoint” its ultimate meaning. That engagement was certainly an antidote to all the “cerebral overload.”
The other antidote to it is less freewheeling. It is an antidote far more sobering…far more direct. In my case, I began learning martial arts. Each precise movement and stance anchors me in my own mindful, particularized place. It is a place of perception and sensation and movement…not runaway thoughts! What I do is a leisurely pursuit, though. Let me extend my admiration outwards to another group of disciplined and conscientious individuals. They protect our great nation, and they operate across the river from “Viewpoint”—they are the U.S. Naval Academy attendees.
The Academy and the Blue Angels
One cannot be “lost in their thoughts” in the military. Everything is too high stakes…too structured…too rigorous. There is not wiggle room for extraneous ponderances or ruminations, nor does anyone expect there to be. It’s all duty and action, and, within the military context, that is a good thing. Every part serves the whole. That is the case if one joins the Navy (and such would be the case with any branch).
What is the story of the U.S. Naval Academy? The history of the U.S. Navy can be traced all the way back to the Revolutionary War, when an economy-minded Congress demobilized the Continental Navy (1785).2 In 1794, President George Washington persuaded Congress to authorize a new naval force to combat the growing menace of piracy on the high seas, and the U.S. Navy launched its first vessels in 1797 (including the “Constellation” and the “Constitution”).2.President John Q. Adams urged Congress to establish the U.S. Naval Academy “for the formation of scientific and accomplished officers,” a proposal that they didn’t honor until at least 20 years later.2
Through the efforts of the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft, the U.S. Naval Academy founded the academy without Congressional funding.2 The Philadelphia Naval Asylum was its predecessor. The U.S. Naval Academy founders named the 10-acre Army post Fort Severn, and situated it outside Annapolis on October 10, 1845.2. They welcomed 50 midshipmen and seven professors.2 The academy’s curriculum included mathematics, navigation, gunnery and steam, chemistry, English, natural philosophy, and French.2
It officially became the U.S. Naval Academy in 1850.2 A new curriculum requiring midshipmen to study for four years at the Academy and to train aboard ships every summer was put into place.2 The academy has expanded over the years. Today it is 338 acres, has a brigade size of 4,000, and consists of large granite buildings (replacing the old wooden ones associated with Fort Severn).2
Congress authorized the Naval Academy to award Bachelor of Science degrees in 1933, and the academy replaced its fixed curriculum that all midshipmen adhered to with a present core curriculum plus 18 major fields of study, a wide variety of elective courses, and advanced study and research opportunities.2
Nowadays, nothing quite illustrates the prowess of the academy students like the “Blue Angels.” Every May they fly over the Severn River at the Speed of Sound (approximately 700 mph), showcasing death-defying maneuvers as thousands of admiring spectators look on.3 A clear-sky day affords people a view of six f/a-19 Hornets jettisoning at a very low altitude in perfect formation, traveling upside down and performing flips.3 The show lasts 45 minutes, and it leaves white contrails all across the skies.
Thoughts vs. Senses
If I abandoned all my intrusive, runaway thoughts, became a disciplined naval officer, and learned how to fly a Hornet, could I perform Blue Angel maneuvers? Maybe. I crack under pressure, though, so, then again, maybe not!
Whatever the case, my thinking, speaking, and writing is an intense and complex thing. The time I spent in lively discussion with the Viewpoint family was delightful, but I wonder now, even as I write this article, whether my thinking-and-speaking proclivity is a good thing. On one hand, the philosopher in me appreciates a good dialogue and a good story. On the other hand, getting lost in my thoughts and not present in my senses is very troubling and detrimental. I suppose it’s all a matter of balance…. the kind of balance one would need if they were operating with the precision of a Blue Angels Hornet pilot. What an interesting “viewpoint” that would afford!