Sunday, July 07, 2013

Why I Like Stamp Collecting by Ayn Rand

36 E. 36th Street - Rand lived
in apartment 5A
Well now I can't find the reference that led me to believe that Ayn Rand lived at the Murray Park - she might have lived there, but only after she wrote Atlas Shrugged.

I thought that while she was writing Atlas Shrugged she was only nine blocks away from the library, and so had no excuse for the mess she made out of the Prometheus myth.

In fact when she was writing Atlas Shrugged she lived at 36 E. 36th Street - which is only seven blocks away from the main branch of the NY Public Library. And across the street from the Morgan Library.

Based on a realtor web site this building is also pretty affordable (for Manhattan), although no apartments have been available for rental in over a year.

There are all kinds of details about Rand's life in this apartment thanks to a book by two of her sycophants which appears to be online in its entirety, Facets of Ayn Rand which contains things like this:
A group of her friends met at the O’Connors’ apartment one evening to watch an interview show she had taped earlier. When it was over, she asked us for our reactions. I don’t remember the specific comments, but everyone was complimentary about her performance. When we finished with our remarks, she asked if that was all. We were, to a person, perplexed. What else was there to say? She then said that she was disappointed that no one had a comment about how good her legs looked! It’s not that none of us noticed them—I certainly did. I think we all thought her focus on the show was strictly intellectual. As it turned out, someone at the TV studio had commented on her good-looking legs, much to her pleasure.
She had certainty. This is what really attracted me emotionally to her that night. She was the first person I had ever met who projected it—she projected that what she knew was true, and that she was sure of it. 
What she was that night was the way she always was: she never doubted herself and her capacity to understand. It’s not that she had an encyclopedic mind that knew everything—although she knew more about things than most people did. The point is that she didn’t live in a state of chronic doubt. She didn’t constantly question the rightness of her ideas. She didn’t hesitate and flounder. She spoke with conviction. What she knew, she knew. This was a strong element in her personality.
One day, she was in the kitchen getting lunch, and I was at my typing table. She called to me, asking if I could come in and help her. I didn’t know what I could do to help the author of Atlas Shrugged, but I was pleased by the request. I went in and saw that she was holding a hot dog, and she asked me if I thought it was edible. When I asked why, she said that it had been in the refrigerator for a while and it was shriveled. So I examined it; it was wrinkled but I pointed out that the color was good and it didn’t have a bad odor. So, I told her that if it were immersed in boiling water, it would plump up. I asked her if she wanted me to do it, and she said, “Oh, no. You have work to do.” That amused me, because my work consisted of typing up her brilliant thoughts while she was going to cook a hot dog! 
Some minutes later, she came out of the kitchen, holding up a plump hot dog speared by a fork. “You were right,” she said, and thanked me for the suggestion. I said something to the effect of “from each according to his ability.” Her immediate response was, “Check your premises!”
But the best part in terms of my theory that Ayn Rand had Asperger's is the Stamp Collecting chapter.
By 1974 she had about 45,000 stamps, all of which she knew from memory. She was phenomenal in that regard. She knew exactly what she owned, and she never mistakenly bought a duplicate. She kept an exact count of her collection, and whenever I asked she had a figure at hand. The last count was something more than 52,000 stamps. It was a worldwide collection, but she would not, and did not, collect stamps from communist countries.
Stamp collecting is mentioned very often in connection with Asperger's Syndrome.

What are the Main Characteristics of Asperger's Syndrom in Adults?
Individuals with Aspergers often have intense interest in one or two narrow topics, bordering on obsession. Stamp collecting, song lyrics, and computer puzzles can become focal points in their need to collect and organize facts, which is comforting to people with Aspergers.

20 Facts about Asperger's Syndrome in Children
Older children may enjoy a club that is focused on their interest – for example, coin or stamp collecting.

Kids with Asperger's also tend to be obsessed with one certain topic. They might talk about this topic a lot. They also might collect certain things -- such as stamps, shells or coins -- and organize their things very carefully.

These children tend to be fixated with some hobby or object like stamp collection, cars, etc.

Another hallmark of Asperger’s syndrome is a preoccupation with a certain topic or interest. This can manifest as an interest in collecting stamps, dinosaurs, or memorizing phone numbers. Narrow interests are common in typically developing children as well, but tends to be somewhat exaggerated in people with Asperger’s: this may have given rise to the perception of some with AS as “little professors.” 

When I had run out of resources on geology, I moved onto flags for a while, then stamps (I built up a really good stamp collection, helped by "stamp club" at my first school, and the fact my Dad travelled a great deal, so was able to get me stamps, and got sent lots of foreign post too!). My favourite stamps were always those from various African countries - colourful and with pictures of animals on them! 

The social and emotional cues - the intonation of speech and facial expressions - that most people decode instinctively in their daily interactions remain a mystery to Asperger's sufferers. So while many may have high IQs and be technically and logically extremely proficient, they lack the ability to relate to other people. To the outside world they are geeks, nerds, self-centred or obsessives; stamp collectors, even.

FUN FACT: There was also an Ayn Rand commemorative stamp which I blogged about several years ago. As the New Yorker observed:
Of all Americans who have appeared on the nation's postage stamps, Ayn Rand is probably the only one to have thought that the United States government has no business delivering mail. In her central pronouncement of political belief - the character John Galt's radio address, which begins on page 1,000 of Rand's 1957 novel, "Atlas Shrugged" - allowance is made for the state to run an army, a police force, and courts, but that's it.
BONUS: I just discovered a reposting of Ayn Rand's essay for the Minkus Stamp Journal from 1971 called Why I Like Stamp Collecting. The article includes an image of the Rand stamp. Here's an excerpt:
Purposeful people cannot rest by doing nothing nor can they feel at home in the role of passive spectators. They seldom find pleasure in single occasions, such as a party or a show or even a vacation, a pleasure that ends right then and there, with no further consequences. 
The minds of such people require continuity, integration, a sense of moving forward. They are accustomed to working long-range; to them, the present is part of and a means to the future; a short-range event or activity that leads nowhere is an unnatural strain on them, an irritating interruption or a source of painful boredom. 
Yet they need relaxation and rest from their constant, single-tracked drive. What they need is another track, but for the same train...that is, a change of subject, but using part of the same method of mental functioning.
Stamp collecting fulfills that need.