“Wear the world as a loose garment, which touches us in a few places and there lightly” (Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi)

Lightly like a garment?

Lightly like a garment?

The other day walking to my car after tutoring I thought, “Life—that is, life in society—is a swamp. It’s easy to get sucked in and impossible to get out.” I want to live the last few years of my life not getting sucked in.

That’s all.

I should stop there.

Recently I was walking from my apartment across the acres of parking for Parkland Hospital employees to the DART train. I was talking on my smartphone, telling the voicemail of one of the people I depend on for sanity about the horrible afternoon I’d had. The day had been difficult. I was feeling that combination of anger, depression, and terror that, well, terrifies me.

Earlier I had had to drive home from tutoring in an emotional state in which I should not have been driving. Part of my depression and anger had resulted from spending most of the day dissociated and having a difficult time with everything I tried to do. I know better than to drive when I’m angry in that fearful way. My reactions to events are not “road rage.” My reactions start well before I get into my car. They are anger born of fear. Fear of myself, of my brain. Both my neurologist and my psychiatrist want me to stop driving altogether (and so do I).

My terror that day has already cost me $654.31, the amount I paid to have the damage I caused to Moise’s truck repaired. I don’t know yet how much the repairs for my car will cost. At least the amount of my deductible for collision insurance, it’s obvious. I won’t describe what I did. Suffice it to say I would not have done it if I had not been angry and frightened all day. You can call it “road rage” if you want, but it was much more complicated than that (and I wonder how many such incidents are).

As I was walking across the parking lot crying into my smartphone, I was vaguely aware that someone was walking beside me—unusual there. I turned. The person was black and taller than I, a man (I’m pretty sure). His (her) hair was long and straight. I’m pretty sure it was a wig. The person was dressed in a white shirt with ruffles for the collar and down the front and a sparkly white mini-skirt and black pumps with perhaps one-inch heels. He (she) said nothing but tried to get my attention by holding what appeared to be a newspaper clipping toward me and pointing at it.

$654.31 worth of swamp

$654.31 worth of swamp

Intent on finishing my (anguished?) message, I said, “Please don’t bother me,” and waved him away. He ducked through an opening in the fence and walked faster than I on the other side.

Confused but curious, I called to him that I was finished talking and would like to know what he wanted of me. He did not speak (at all during our encounter). He turned to walk away, and I said I wanted to apologize for reacting so unkindly to him. He looked at me in—I think—fear and walked quickly the other way.

The “incident” has bugged me for more than a week. I wonder who she is and what she wanted of me. Meeting anyone in that vast expanse of concrete and cars is unusual. But a tall black elegantly (if strangely) dressed drag queen?

“The Tin Room” is around the corner. A wild gay bar. I reasoned that a drag queen might be on her way to the bar. At 5 PM? OK. Why didn’t she speak? Was the newspaper clipping an ad for the Tin Room from the Dallas Voice? Was she unable to speak and simply wanted to know where the bar was? Did she think I looked like a safe old man (or an old queen myself)?

In the most nearly complete and revised of my three unfinished novels, a flamboyant (is there any other kind?) black drag queen is a voice of reason and hope for the protagonist. And is murdered in a violent hate crime. I know something about drag queens.

I’m haunted by the sight of her hurrying away from me in fear. She probably knows fear—on many levels—the likes of which I can only imagine. Fear of others. A fear I do not know. My fears are created, as they say in AA, “between my own two ears.” Her fears (at least some of them) originate outside herself. A black, deaf, drag queen?

I’m not a fearsome person. Really. Pretty meek and mild. Except when I have taken on my life as a coat of mail rather than a light garment.

Life is not really a swamp. But my mind can be.

I wonder if I have enough time left to learn that even a day of dissociation and fear and the resulting anger is not worth either damaging my car or being unkind to a (deaf?) drag queen looking for directions.

The Tin Room, Pride Parade, 2013

The Tin Room, Pride Parade, 2013

“. . . a man does . . . not attack because his cause is just . . . he conquers ’cause he’s the stronger. . .” (Carson McCullers)

Pvt. Robert Forster

Pvt. Robert Forster

Every morning my first thought is, “Shall I try to write about something, or just write and see what’s going on in my mind?” That may be a habit ingrained over thirty, forty, fifty years, or it may be that I have no choice.

It’s fun to think I have no choice. Hypergraphia. One of the presentations of TLE. I wonder sometimes what TLEptics who didn’t (don’t) know how to write cope with this need. What is (was) their mechanism for satisfying this (seemingly) irrepressible urge? Do only people who live in advanced civilizations and are literate and own either a computer or paper and pencil have TLE?

This morning I woke up thinking about one of my most bizarre mornings of writing. The morning after I saw the 1967 movie Reflections in a Golden Eye (starring Pvt. Robert Forster riding a horse naked through the woods with Elizabeth Taylor and Maj. Marlon Brando as a married couple both lusting after him). What else do you expect from Carson McCullers?

With a red-ink Flair pen (how au courant I was!) that morning, I wrote stuff so strange that it ended up as evidence in a court hearing about which I have written a blog entry to be posted the day after I die. (Yes, I’ll be writing this stuff until the morning I die, and—lucky readers—it will continue to evolve in strangeness as time goes on unless we let NASA and Google continue to track our every thought, word and deed so by then we have finally reverted completely to 1984, and Newspeak is all we know).

That scribbling in red ink haunts me to this day. I have no idea what it said, but I have a picture of it in my mind—so vivid that I still, 46 or so years later, see it, have a physical memory of writing it, and dream about it from time to time.

Thanks to DVDs, I have watched Pvt. Forster ride naked through the woods perhaps three times since 1968. It’s pretty dangerous for me to do. Fortunately I had been through many years of therapy and was safely with my late partner the last time I watched it, so I had no need for red ink. I think the DVD is in my apartment somewhere. Note to self: take to Half Price Books.

Exactly why I was thinking about that writing this morning is a puzzlement.

I have no idea.

So I’ll start there.

In a biography of Carson McCullers, or a biography of Tennessee Williams, or an article about David Diamond, or in one of David Diamond’s letters I’ve read at the Library of Congress is a description by David Diamond of coming down to breakfast at February House (where Williams, McCullers, W. H. Auden, Diamond, and other artistes lived in Brooklyn) to find Williams sitting at one end of the dining table writing and McCullers at the other end writing. Diamond had an affair with McCullers’ husband Reeves; he was not, I think, a nice man, but that’s another book altogether. Those writers and musicians were making art about the scariest inner workings of our minds.

I wonder if Jaylen Fryberg ever saw a “cowboys and Indians” movie before he killed himself and two others last week. The country freaked out—again—after the umpteenth school shooting spree in the 21st century.

I doubt it that he ever saw a real shoot-‘em-up Western.

He was a member of the Tulalip Indian Nation, but he was also a member of the generation who last year had opportunity to see

The Hunger Games – Catching Fire
Lone Survivor
Man of Steel
Thor: the Dark World
Rush
World War Z
Kick-Ass 2
Iron Man 3
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Fast and Furious 6
Oblivion
Ender’s Game
47 Ronin
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Charlie Countryman
The Wolverine

I am not a psychologist, a social scientist, or any other kind of –ist. I write and write and write and spew stuff out into the Ethernet for people who don’t have good sense to read. And I am fascinated, even obsessed with from time to time, people like David Diamond. Does Reflections in a Golden Eye have anything to do with McCullers’ life experience?

I know absolutely for sure without a shadow of a doubt that seeing Reflection in a Golden Eye began a direct line of thinking in my befuddled TLEptic mind (I’m not blaming TLE, just stating it as part of the mix) to my acting out in such a way that could have ended in my institutionalization for the rest of my life had it not been for a judge who knew a fevered brain from a criminal one.

Citizens of Marysville, Washington, are threatening violence against members of the Tulalip Nation because Jaylen Fryberg was a member of the Tulalip Nation. Violence.

There no end to the violence and threats of violence in the United States. Can it possibly be that a child of 15 years old, having watched on the big screen or on his smart phone violent, unprincipled, anti-social movies all his life is not so inured to violence and killing that it seems normal to carry a gun to school and kill his classmates? I have no knowledge of the movies he saw—but I know hundreds of 18-year-olds whose brains are saturated with movies like the ones I’ve listed. I watched Hunger Games a couple of years ago because a few of those hundreds told me I needed to watch it to know what they were thinking about.

We are a nation of violence. Jaylen Fryberg, if he was connected to the world around him, knew violence. Violent death was—quite possibly—the norm in his thinking. I don’t know if that’s true. But I know it’s true for many of his peers. Cowboys and Indians is kids’ stuff.

Tulalip People

Tulalip People

“. . . The noose pendulous over his head, you can feel him. . .” (Yusef Komunyakaa)

wagon_train-2
As a non-tenure-track professor of a college course now called “Discovery and Discourse,” (aka, “Freshman English”) I assumed one of the best means of “discovery” about any given topic for students would be discussion with other students who were not cookie-cutter versions of themselves. That, of course, is a liberal knee-jerk idea. I even went so far as to socially engineer class members into talking to each other. I’d ask them to get into groups of three in which they did not know either of the other two or have any contact with them outside of class.

That process usually meant that, if the class included students from one of the prerequisite minority groups on campus, they did not end up forming a group to work together either in safety or in opposition to the others. If the students didn’t self-select that way, I had my not-so-subtle ways of getting them to regroup.

The first time I was engaged to the woman who eventually became my wife (after our second engagement, brought on by my having no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated from college) and then became my ex-wife (when I figured out one possibility for what I wanted to be when I grew up), I met one of her closest friends, a young man who had been a classmate of hers at the college where she went before she transferred to the University of Redlands.

Her friend was a radical liberal hippie type from the East somewhere (we later visited him in Philadelphia, but I don’t think that was his hometown). At the time I met him, I was under the no-doubt communist (at least fellow-traveler) influence of Dr. L. Pratt Spelman, Director of the School of Music and Quaker activist against the Viet Nam War (which was hardly even a war at that time).

I was, because of the no-doubt-anarchist influence of Dr. Spelman, primed to be influenced by “Young Pierce,” as my sometimes wife called her friend for reasons I’ve forgotten. He was a member of SNCC—the Students’ Non-violent Coordinating Committee. He had either been in the “March on Selma” or helped coordinate the “Freedom Riders” who supported it. I can’t remember. He showed up in California, and I was terrified of him both because he was so damned articulate and persuasive about Civil Rights and such things, and because he was tall, red-headed, and handsome, and my not-yet-wife obviously had some feelings for him that made me nervous.

Never mind those feelings. What happened, of course, was that in about one weekend my political beliefs went from nice-boy (leaning away from) Nebraska Republicanism to radical (if timid) bad-boy California anti-almost-everythingism. I had been duly prepared for the change by the relentless tutoring of Hyman Lubman in my junior and senior American History classes at Omaha Central High School. Relentlessly academic and intellectually challenging, that is. I was pretty much a “hanger-on” in those classes, but Mr. Lubman had managed to get me used to the idea that the status quo might not be the status good.

The School of Music at the University of Redlands under the anarchist influence of Dr. Spelman (who was president of the dangerous American Society of AestheticsNOT skin-care) had one African American student—and I didn’t know any others from other department of the University. Can we say token?

Meeting Young Pierce opened me to a vast array of no-doubt-communist causes from anti-war to civil rights to “what’s-a-little-recreational-sex-between-friends,” and almost to smoking weed. That’s where I drew the line (at that time). You know, sex, drugs, and J.S. Bach, or something like that.

So here we are again where we were when I met Young Pierce. Wars that seem endless, Jim Crow voting laws being passed

Yusef Komunyakaa. Through the mirror into lynching.

Yusef Komunyakaa. Through the mirror into lynching.

right and right and right, and income inequality growing by leaps and bounds (the university where I taught for 15 years never paid me more than $40,000 per year, and rumor has it they’ve offered a famous football coach $4,000,000 to come and save the program, 100 times the amount of my salary). You know the state of affairs in this country. I don’t need to tell you.

I grew up in Nebraska, never more than a stone’s throw from the Oregon Trail. All the people on the trail a hundred years before were white. As far as any of us knew.

Our favorite stories of the Oregon Trail, the ones we played at and reenacted as kids, were the stories of the settlers being attacked by Indians, aborigine wild men out to kill us white good guys. We knew in a play-acting sort of way what “circle the wagons” meant. Wagon train, Oregon Trail, non-white heathens attacking, “CIRCLE THE WAGONS.”

So here we are again. Circle-the-wagons time. The non-whites are attacking again. Ebola from Africa. Thousands of children from Central America. Those “lazy black people that wants the government to give them everything” trying to vote. Gays getting married (most of them are white, but they might as well be black). Those old people without photo IDs trying to defraud us by voting. And a dangerous Indonesian-Kenyan smartass in the White House.

I don’t quite remember when it was (in your 70th year you’re allowed to forget almost everything), but once in my life I was questioned for a Gallup Poll. It must have been at a time of some economic distress in the country because the first question was, “What do you see as the most important problem facing our nation today” (or some you’re-in-the-Gallup-Poll language). My answer was, “Racism.” The young man asking the question was thrown off completely. “Racism” was not on his possible answers list, so he had no idea what follow-up questions to ask.

Circle the wagons.
__________
Yusef Komunyakaa was born in 1947. He is best known for his poetry about serving in Viet Nam. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. He is currently Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University’s graduate creative writing program.
In several of his poems he uses the image of reflections as a metaphor for our ability to see past what is real in the present to connect with realities from other times or places. “All is a random flow of contingent, accidental associations, connecting to each other laterally but not to the transcendent presence of idea . . . Can one look through the window of history to its essence, or do its surfaces just laterally refract?” (“Knowing their place: Three Black writers and the postmodern South,” by William M. Ramsey).

Can one look through the window of the history of lynching, that is, racism, to see its essence?

“Reflections,” by Yusef Komunyakaa
In the day’s mirror
you see a tall black man.
Fingers of gold cattail
tremble, then you witness
the rope dangling from
a limb of white oak.
It’s come to this.
You yell his direction,
the wind taking
your voice away.
You holler his mama’s name
& he glances up at the red sky.
You can almost
touch what he’s thinking,
reaching for his hand
across the river.
The noose pendulous
over his head,
you can feel him
grow inside you,
straining to hoist himself,
climbing a ladder
of air, your feet
in his shoes.

What we do to "Freedom Riders."

What we do to “Freedom Riders.”

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. . .“ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

For sale in Dallas

For sale in Dallas

A couple of days ago I was walking along St. Paul Street in downtown Dallas. A homeless man was rifling through the trash receptacle at the corner of Elm and St. Paul. He pulled out one soda can and put it into the clear plastic bag of cans he held over his shoulder. I’ve seen him on the street before, but always at a distance.

As we approached each other, we looked AT each other, not past each other. Our eyes met, and I said, “Good morning.” He said, “Good morning. It’s hard today.” I asked him what was hard, and he explained that, with all the construction on the downtown streets, he was having trouble making a living.

Streets are torn up for construction of the free trolley from downtown to West Village, and the DART rail is being repaired between the St. Paul and Ackard Street stations. I was out of sorts because I had to get off the train at the American Airlines Center and take a bus to St. Paul Station. Five extra minutes, and two extra blocks to walk. This gross inconvenience is going to last on weekends until November 30.

My new acquaintance explained the construction had reduced foot traffic on St. Paul Street, and that meant fewer soda cans in the trash. He usually collects about ten pounds a day, but these days he’s getting only about six pounds.

He said he was down about $20 a day in income and things were tight. I, of course, had my “give it forward” $20 bill in my wallet. I gave it to him. He offered his hand to shake, and said—as every person I’ve passed the money on to has said—“God bless you.” With the Ebola Crisis, I should not have touched his grimy hand, but I did.

Not to single anyone out, but how much does a liberal TV host make a year?

Not to single anyone out, but how much does a liberal TV host make a year?

From THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMN RIGHTS. (I challenge you to read it)

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people. . .

. . . Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom. . .

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 6.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person. Before the law or otherwise, I would say.

For those who think the United States should not be a member of the United Nations, that we somehow are giving up our independence by trying to be members of the world community, here’s what our Constitution says about $20 bills.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Or, if you must,

“. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I suppose all along when I’ve been wondering about, terrified of, the “meaning of life,” and about my (incipient, it seems to a 70-year-old) death, that about sums up what I need to be worried about.

Please be a good friend and remind of that the next time you read my kvetching about anything.

The Stewpot, Dallas

The Stewpot, Dallas

On being nagging, self-righteous and preachy, or “Do you think my mind is maturing late. . .” (Ogden Nash)

Which frivolous woman is it she wants to disenfranchise?

Which frivolous woman is it she wants to disenfranchise?

Wisdom does not necessarily come with age. Some of us will simply never be wise. That’s particularly sad if we’re (or so we’ve been told too often in our lives) above average in intelligence. Then we think we have all of these great ideas that are, in fact, small ideas grown large in our own mind.

And they do not add up to wisdom.

The poet Ogden Nash was 61 years old when I graduated from high school. My Junior English teacher in high school had introduced me to his poetry (along with that of e. e. cummings, and I have had the two of them intertwined in my mind since then). Eight years later (1971) Nash died. He was the age I am now. (e. e. cummings died while I was in high school at age 68, a year younger than I am now. He smoked too much—try to find a picture of him without a cigarette.)

I can recite from memory more of Ogden Nash’s poems than those of any other poet (with the possible exception of Charles Wesley, but he doesn’t count because I learned all of his poems to hymn tunes which are what I in reality remember—he lived to be 81).

Celery raw
develops the jaw,
but celery stewed
is more easily chewed.

The cow is of the bovine ilk
one end is moo, the other milk.

One would be in less danger
from the wiles of the stranger
if one’s own kin and kith
were more fun to be with.

Three Nash poems of the many that often float unbidden to the surface of my mind when I wonder why they appear. No, I know exactly why they are there. I want to be clever and funny like Ogden Nash. Celery raw or chewed. Pure (unproductive) genius.

I learned the word “senescence” from Ogden Nash.

Senescence begins
And middle age ends
The day your descendants
Outnumber your friends.

I don’t know for sure when I memorized that one. Probably while I was in high school and Mr. Simpson was guiding my intellectual development. Mr. Simpson, by the way, committed suicide the year after I graduated and went off to university.
Until a couple of years ago (see the title of this blog) I gave the word “senescence” little thought. For one thing, I knew I’d never have any descendants, so I was safe. My descendants will never outnumber my friends, so I must not be in danger of my middle age ending.

He knows who the Anti-Christ is--listen to him.

He knows who the Anti-Christ is–listen to him.

One of my favorite “presentations” as one (presumably) with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy is “viscosity.” I have no idea what that means, applied to personality traits. Gooey? Sticky? I have a sticky, gooey personality? (Look up Norman Geschwind, the teacher of my first neurologist, and you’ll find the word.) I write here about other more fun “presentations” often. Hypergraphia, increased religious interests—others. I don’t like to think about “increased aggression,” although that could give me some solace about my anger issues.

But I will take solace in—whether or not it’s true—the idea that TLEptics tend to be serious, with a certain lack of humor.

Read my blogs!

I’m serious to the point of being “nagging, self-righteous and preachy” when I think I am right—when I wonder why the hell the rest of you don’t see things my way. I wish it were not so. I wish I could be cheerful and happy and invite pleasant banter about ideas, and exchange ideas freely and joyfully with others.

Sorry. It ain’t going to happen.

Take my posting here yesterday. What a grouch! I said on Facebook that I need a marketing firm to make my little campaign palatable to everyone and get a real movement going. Look! I know most people who read my stuff agree that the Voter ID laws are horrendous. But the laws have been passed, and all that’s left to do is let the ‘Publicans running the states know we don’t approve. In Texas you can do that EASILY by simply filing a protest when you go to vote and they ask you for some form of ID you either can’t produce or that seems superfluous.

I don’t have a clue how to say all of that so that is seems inviting or fun or even like a good idea. There’s not a gimmick or a jingle or a “hook” in my entire mental arsenal.

I hope that’s because I’m TLEptic and not simply an opinionated, unbending old grouch (the old isn’t applicable because I’ve been this way all my life).

Ogden Nash has a poetic gem titled “Lines on Facing Forty.” When I first discovered it, I thought 40 was obviously over-the-hill. The mind of anyone over 40 must be rotting.

I have a bone to pick with fate,
Come here and tell me girly,
Do you think my mind is maturing late,
Or simply rotting early.

Now I’m facing 70 (in three months; Nash didn’t get there). I’d say my irascibility is a measure of my approaching senility except I’ve always been querulous.

So if you’re going to vote for some Republican who thinks gays shouldn’t serve in the military because they would need a massage before going into battle; or if you agree with some pseudo-Conservative talking head who thinks young women should be disenfranchised; or if you go to church to be taught that President Obama has prepared the way for Armageddon,  I will, as a curmudgeon whose senility has reached the edge of asperity, frankly tell you that you are an idiot.

Period. And I don’t have a funny or endearing way to say it. I’m both senile and TLEptic. Wait til I’m really old.

If that pisses you off or makes you pity the over-the-edge old grump, well, I’m too senile to understand.

He knows how to please gay soldiers!

He knows how to please gay soldiers!

“Life isn’t fair, but government absolutely must be.” (Ann Richards)

The Supremes

The Supremes

In a scene of the original stage musical Hair, three black women in identical pink sequined dresses stood together and sang “White boys are so pretty” as a parody of the Supremes (the song was too controversial to be in the film version). At the end of the song they stepped apart to reveal they were in one large dress with three neck holes.

Listen up, Texans. It’s time to take a stand.

This state’s election of smug, pseudo-conservative (read: “selfish”), old, (presumably) straight white men to all of the statewide offices is no reason to shirk our duty.

Everyone knows the Texas voter ID law is un-Constitutional. A court said so. And then Antonin Scalia and his old Catholic men friends on the Supreme Court essentially said, “So what?”

On October 9, 2014, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos held that

. . . [Texas] S.B. 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose. . . . The Court further holds that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.

On October 19, the Supremes—dancing in their one-dress-fits-five à la Hair—struck down her ruling. Every time the five old Catholic men on the Supreme Court hand down one of their rulings without benefit of female or Protestant points of view, that image from Hair comes to my mind, the five of them in one sequined dress singing, “White boys are delicious.”

OK. I know that’s disrespectful. And please don’t say I’m being anti-Catholic or something. I’m simply amazed that the Supreme Court has a 6-3 majority (all of the men and one of the women) representing one segment (and not the majority) of our population.

Of course, a ruling by a Hispanic woman judge could not stand. Especially one appointed by President Obama.

The Supremes

The Supremes

I’m not a Constitutional scholar and can’t explain details of the universal right to vote of Americans. Please go to this article for details (Douglas, Joshua A. “The Right to Vote Under State Constitutions.” Vanderbilt Law Review 67.1 [2014]: 89-149). The discussion of Federal Constitutional rights is pages 95-101. The rest of the article explains the rights guaranteed under the various state constitutions.

(Don’t be put off if you have never read a law review article. It’s clear and easy to read—and you’ll be surprised how knowledgeable you feel when you’ve finished. Read only the five pages I’ve suggested, and you will know all you need to know.)

Those of us who care about the Constitution and our rights guaranteed under it can and MUST make our voices heard.
In Texas that’s easy: When you go to vote and the election clerks ask you for more ID than is necessary, show your IDs, but tell them you want to file a protest. They will give you a form (if they don’t have one, that’s cause for another protest).

In my protest I said that being asked for more personal information than is necessary is a violation of my right to vote under the Federal Constitution, detailed in the 15th Amendment and made universal in the 14th Amendment.

Public announcement, Mineola, Texas, 1939

Public announcement, Mineola, Texas, 1939

Fill it out. Give it to them or take it home and mail it.

Spread the word. Let the state know through this legal protest what you think of the law.

My friend Rita Clark of Dallas, who was an election clerk at a polling place in the last election (the first to use the draconian law), sent me this email detailing the effect of the Jim Crow law. Notice particularly the last paragraph. Even a former election clerk needs investigation.

Harold – You are so right! I worked as an election clerk in the last election and I was so distressed by what I saw happen to authentically registered voters that I decided I’d never take that job again. At least (I didn’t make a precise count) 12 to 15 voters were sent away from our polling place due to some perceived discrepancy in their voting registration or other ridiculous “error.” Of that number, at least four of them were elderly, had problems walking, but somehow, on walkers, made their way to the front desk only to be told they could not vote that day – some said they had been registered at the same address for 50 years – some were just too distressed by the whole ordeal that they left promising never to try again.
I’ve been working on a couple of campaigns this year and when I encounter people out in the neighborhoods they often say they won’t be voting because of the “hassle” or (I suspect) because they “don’t look American.” I am so disappointed in our “democracy.” I’ll continue working on the campaigns this time but I don’t know if I can do it again.
I voted yesterday – and Yep! they had to call downtown to clear me – didn’t like my registration info – I’ve never had it happen before. I really don’t know how we got in such a deep hole with this. I think we’ll hear more stories as the election goes along. The heroes of this story are the people with “foreign-sounding” last names and those who have a certain look—and they still go to vote! God bless those brave folks!
Thanks for sending your suggestion. I’m going to see if I can file a protest today.
Rita Clarke

You can join the group I’ve started on Facebook. But whatever you do. . .

PLEASE ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO FILE PROTESTS WHEN THEY VOTE!

“. . . ordination in the ordinary. . .” (Stephen Cushman)

He got around to it.

He got around to it.

I wonder. I wonder if all people in their 70th year begin to work at projects they had not imagined attempting in their younger lives—or, conversely, stopped working at activities they have previously thought were important and rewarding.

How many careers can one be retired from—or begin—at age 69?

In the heart of the California Gold Rush country a replica of the cabin Mark Twin lived in for a year just after the Civil War (he was about 30) was built after the original cabin burned down. It is a California Historical Landmark because it’s where Twain wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens, if you must) was born in 1835. He published his greatest work, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in 1885—when he was 50. Of course, he had published a half-dozen novels before that, and numerous short stories, opinion pieces, and a biography of Ulysses S. Grant.

I’m sure many academics have written densely obtuse articles about the importance of “place” in Twain’s novels and short stories. Living in Calaveras County, California, when he wrote “Jumping frog;” in Connecticut when he wrote A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, etc. And a return in memory to the scene of his childhood and young man-hood, the Mississippi River, for Huck Finn.

But one does not need to play academic mind games to appreciate “place” in Huck Finn. The physical setting is obvious. Mark Twain, as a steamboat captain, knew the Mississippi “like the back of his hand” (sorry I can’t be obtuse but simply use clichés). And having grown up in the South, he knew obvious and blatant racism and discrimination, knew it to the core of his being.

And then, when he was 50, he wrote a magnificent story of love and respect. Love and respect between two men who should not have, according to the mores of their society, had anything to do with each other. Everyone knows that except for the idiots who get the novel banned from use in high schools because they know nothing of love and respect. That the sense of place in the novel is important—the Mississippi and the culture along it are characters in the story—is so obvious I’m not sure why I’m even thinking about it.

Oh, yes. Back to what I was thinking about.

About 15 years ago I was in the thick of writing my best unfinished novel. It takes place mainly in Texas, but with strong ties to (and some scenes in) Iowa and Boston. I was living in Dallas, having moved here from Boston, and I had moved to Boston after living in Iowa for my PhD work. I can’t think an original or fresh thought to save myself.

The protagonist of that shelved novel is gay. What a surprise.

There’s some damned good writing in my novel. Damned good! It would have been the dissertation for my second PhD if I had finished it. Sigh. Too late.

When I had written about 2/3rds of it, I finished my PhD exams and was about to be thrown jobless out into the big bad world. Fortunately my little non-tenure-track full-time lecturer job fell into my lap. I took it largely so I could finish my novel.

Non-tenure track faculty don’t have to attend meetings, serve on committees, or “publish or perish.” I was going to write in all that spare time. Of course, I was also Music Director at a small church and had many other obligations.

A sense of place

A sense of place

Chief among them to keep myself out of deep depressions, which I’ve managed to do most of the time.

I’d like to finish that “on-the-shelf” novel, or at least use some of the writing in another one. But it’s on 3½-inch floppy disks I have no way to use. Stuff happened. New job. Ex-wife died. Went to Palestine and had a life-changing introduction to the real world. Partner died. Mother died. Brother-in-law died. Father died. You know, stuff. I tried to go back to the writing about ten years ago and realized the person who had written all of that stuff no longer existed.

I’ve lived in Dallas almost 21 years. The longest I’ve lived anywhere. That was not my plan. A few years tops, then a professorship somewhere beautiful with my partner, and retirement in style and ease. My sense of place is so centered here I find it hard to remember Nebraska, California, Iowa, and Boston. Not really. But I remember them in ways that no longer exist.

Next month is “National Novel Writing Month.” Accept the challenge of the organization NaNoWriMo. Write a 50,000 word novel in November. Let’s see, that’s 1666.666666666667 words a day. When I’m not so distracted I can’t do anything that makes sense, I write at least 1500 words every morning. I could write 1666.666666666667 a day, but this blog would go into hibernation.

a-round-tuitI have something of a plot in mind. A gay 70-year-old retired writer of sociological works about racism who lives in Dallas has a family crisis with his younger brother, the owner of a small business, and his best friend, a 50-year-old woman (not a fag-hag) professor of sociology at a local university gets dragged into the middle of it all, and his other best friend, a gay 60-year-old artist steps in to save the day, and unexpectedly the protagonist and the artist discover they’ve been in love for the 20 years they’ve known each other and suddenly drive over to New Mexico and get married.

Trashy enough?

Well, stay tuned. I may write a 50,000-word novel in November, and I may not. Would that be returning to an activity I once thought was insanely important? or giving up sanity for something different? What if I have a stroke next week and can’t use words anymore?

I may get around to it, and I may not. Around to it.
Today: exactly 1,000 words.

“No Place Like Home,” by Stephen Cushman
My ocean’s the one bad weather blows out to.
To face the other, waves all driven
by prevailing winds, I have to turn
my back on my family. May they forgive
this westward spree, my losing my head
to ravens that ride the thermals in circles,
to the shrub-covered bluffs of coastal scrub
and chaparral, to coons in the avocado trees;
may they not worry that I see signs
warning Great White Shark Area,
Rutting Elk May Be Aggressive,
and Hazardous Surf, or that one night two
quick earthquakes burped through the ground;
and may they repeat, when I return
slightly burned from the land of poppies,
all the lessons they ever taught me
about ordination in the ordinary.

Stephen Cushman has published several collections of poetry. He is Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

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