This morning I looked in the mirror about thirty seconds after I got out of bed. I don’t know why. Well, yes, I do. It’s almost impossible not to in my bathroom. Why that mirror covers most of one wall, I don’t know. This apartment complex needs the Property Brothers to come in and fix things up.

I should have used skin moisturizers before it was too late.

I should have used skin moisturizers before it was too late.

Seeing myself in the mirror these days can be bad for my (mental/emotional) health. I don’t mind being oldish, but I mind looking my age. I’m a gay man who has never once in 70 years applied moisturizer or anti-aging cream to my face. It’s a little late to start now. And I’m still about 30 pounds overweight.

So an unintentional glance at myself in the mirror at 5 AM is startling. Unnerving.

People who know me will probably say, “You don’t look so bad at 5 AM. That’s how you always look.” Which is not helpful.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

The truest aspect of this Robert Burns poem is, of course, its title: “To a Louse.” (Ponder that and you’ll get it.) The gift of seeing myself as others see me might indeed free me from many a blunder. Or not.

I’ve been depressed the last couple of months more than usual. The cause is simple. I’m lonely most of the time. An oldish gay man living alone whose life-long communities of support are gone. No church (during my last few years as a church organist the purpose was more social/communal than religious). No full-time employment with an office in the hallway with other grown-ups’ offices. No family close by. No partner (not even a lover).

This is not a paean to loneliness or depression, or a self-pitying cry for help. Or any of those other psycho-babblish diagnoses someone might impose on what I want to say.

Richardson, Texas, public schools

Richardson, Texas, public schools

I have every reason to be a grouch. The experience of loneliness becomes more difficult and maddening as one gets older than it was naturally in one’s youth. So just grant me that. I have every right to be grumpy. It goes with the territory.

What I am most grumpy about is arrogant foolishness, that is, foolishness masquerading as correctness (political or otherwise).

donald trump and all the other members of his “party” who want to be my President. No thanks. I don’t want someone with a fourth-grade school-yard mentality and vocabulary maintaining any authority over me whatsoever. No one who literally believes a fertilized egg is a human being has any right to tell me or anyone else what to do; they can believe whatever nonsense they want, but I don’t want them forcing their religion on the rest of us.

Most of all, I don’t want a President who literally believes (literally, as in the authentic meaning of the word―”it is actually true”) that white men who speak English are better than anyone else―women, Hispanics, African Americans, Muslims, gays―you know the list.

Carly Fiorina is one of those people who literally believes a fertilized egg is a person. That’s OK. Let her believe what she wants as long as she doesn’t force her religion on the rest of us. But you know, of course, that she is the victim of fourth-grade bullying as much as any Hispanic child born in the United States of parents who are here without documentation. She’s the only one of the myriad “debaters” who is referred to by only her first name. We have Chris Christie, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush, and tagging along while the boys play is Carly. Just Carly. (And, also in another lineup, just Hillary.)

A friend emailed me that he hoped African Americans in this country would take Ben Carson as a role model. So do I. There’s only one problem with that. My response:

When you know personally and have daily contact with an 18-year-old black man from the inner city (any inner city)―as I do―then I will say you have standing to make comments about Ben Carson’s story as an inspiration for black people. That’s exactly the same as saying, “I wish Nelson or Jay Rockefeller’s stories―being BORN billionaires–would inspire white people.” The institutionalized racism that destroys black lives barely touched Carson because when he excelled in school “there was resentment from his classmates at the predominantly white school.” (http://biography.yourdictionary.com/ben-carson.) All of the black students I tutor who are having an easy time academically went to “predominantly white” schools. ALL of them. Most black students I tutor who went to a predominantly black inner-city high school struggle academically, and if they were not athletes being used by the university for its own glory, most of them would not be there. If they were, they would succeed only by an enormous effort most college students can’t imagine. Carson―by the luck of the draw―went to a high school that provided an education.

I realize how ridiculous I sound. This is so close to “but some of my best friends are Jewish” mentality that I literally want to scream at myself.

So be it. I’m an oldish faggot who has never used skin moisturizers, so I’m allowed to be grumpy. All I want is for someone who is using our “political” process for personal aggrandizement to be honest, to be fair, to “get real.” Look themselves in the mirror when they are at their worst. See themselves as (some) others see them, not their sycophants.

Dallas, Texas, public schools

Dallas, Texas, public schools

“When ‘senescent’ approaches ‘senescence’”

Parry MY  LAST  FEW  POSTINGS  HERE  WERE  MISTAKES.  Literally! (a proper use of that word). I managed somehow to transfer the postings for my other blog to this one. Don’t ask. Perhaps the “process” of becoming old has become “being” old. I’m now setting things right with a post that is intended for this space.

In 1965 at the beginning of my junior year as an organ major in the School of Music at the University of Redlands in California, Dr. Leslie P. Spelman informed me that he could no longer be my teacher. I was too “unpredictable.” When he meant was that I was unruly, not genteel, too “out” as a young gay man (this was, after all, 1965—four years before Stonewall).

Anyone who knew both of us could have predicted this separation. I was furious, but took it in stride because the School was in the process of installing the new mechanical action organ (the first I had ever seen), and Professor Boese was responsible for it. Having studied in Europe he was anxious to have a tracker organ to teach on. I was excited to be one of the first students to play on the Schlicker. I gave the first student degree recital on it, my Junior Recital (Bach Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 548; and Hindemith Sonata II for Organ).

Although I was unpredictable (unruly and undisciplined), Dr. Spelman hired me as a work-study student, and a great deal of my work became sorting and boxing his music and books. He was not far from retirement, and was clearing his office.

He and I spent a great deal of time together, and he tried his level best to instill in me something of his appreciation for the arts and some understanding of the simple and gentle way of life of his Quaker heritage. I fear he was not markedly successful at either.

He gave me music scores and books. His copy of the works of Orlando Gibbons from the monumental Tudor Church Music series, the large volume with his inscription, “Paris, 1924” on the fly leaf, a purchase from his years as a student of Joseph Bonnet in Paris. A copy of the Frescobaldi Fiori Musicali, the Bonnet edition. An assortment of little-known organ music, for the most part gentle, unassuming works that I, for the most part, thought were next to useless.

One score he gave me I have kept these 50 or so years. I’ve played a couple of pieces from it in the past, but I’ve always thought the volume was, while quaint with its gray cardboard cover, full of music too sentimental to be of any value. I remember distinctly his giving it to me with some other volumes, telling me that someday I might understand and be able to play the music.

The gray cardboard-bound volume is titled “A Little Organ Book.” It is a collection of 12 pieces by different British composers written to mark the passing of Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918), head of the Royal College of Music. The 12 composers represented were either faculty colleagues, or composition students of Parry, or church musicians who performed his works.

Recently I’ve been learning those works. I have, perhaps, begun to understand this music. Pieces written to honor the memory of a teacher and fellow composer, and written very soon after his death, some of them apparently composed for his funeral. Given to me by my teacher.

For the past several months I have been unable to write either for this blog or for any other purpose. At the risk of seeming as sentimental as I have thought “A Little Organ Book” to be for these many years, I will offer a simplistic explanation. I am depressed. I am 70 years old and alone. This is not how my “last years” were intended to be (intended by whom? one might ask). I will write soon about my flawed thinking. It’s enough to say now that I am not alone, and I have several fulfilling and beneficial activities to keep me both busy and in daily contact with other people.

But I have not yet come to terms with this situation that may last another week or, if my father’s genes have anything to do with it, another 27 years.

And then, when I least expected it, on the music desk of my organ opened a lovely little musical work that my most important mentor told me when he was only a couple of years short of 70 that I would someday know how to play.

I get it, I think. “IV” by Alan Gray (1855-1935), organist and director of the choirs at Trinity College, Cambridge. For his friend Hubert.

“. . . it is basically fear that prevents Bishops and governments. . . from taking a stand against the rich and powerful and on behalf of the weak and marginalized. . . “ (Rev. Naim Ateek)


St. George Episcopal Cathedral,. Jerusalem. Not a mirage.

St. George Episcopal Cathedral,. Jerusalem. Not a mirage.

Some time ago I was getting onto the elevator at a favorite Dallas movie theater, when another old coot who couldn’t manage the long staircase said to me, “Does such a place even exist?”

He was referencing my T-shirt, which was from St. George’s Anglican Seminary in Jerusalem. Yes, I explained. I’ve stayed there twice on trips to Palestine. The Cathedral and Seminary were founded in 1920, long before the state of Israel.

He obviously did not believe me. I have had the same reaction other times when I have worn the shirt.

This posting has nothing to do with my religious beliefs except that I must state the caveat that my theological ideas these days (as I have written before) have little to do with a belief in God, but have everything to do with the justice and mercy and ethics of what I perceive to be the essence of Christianity. I used to be a confirmed and (marginally) believing Episcopalian (Anglican), but to say that I am now would be stretching the idea to the breaking point.

So I have no standing for any of what I am about to write. So be it.

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church USA recently voted not to proceed with divesting itself from stock in companies that profit from the illegal “settlements” of Israelis in the West Bank and Jerusalem, internationally-recognized sovereign territory of the Palestinian people. (A description of the bishops’ vote is here.)

An aside: I believe we should be exact in our language and call the settlers what they really are: “squatters.” (dictionary.com: squatter, “a person who settles on land or occupies property without title, right, or payment of rent”). But that’s an issue for another day.

Surprisingly (at least to me) the American bishops took their stand at the urging of the Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem.|
I am happy to correct this because this is Apparently not true, but is a misrepresentation by the Episcopal News Service.  See this article.

“. . . it is basically fear that prevents Bishops and governments. . . from taking a stand against the rich and powerful and on behalf of the weak and marginalized. . . “ (Rev. Naim Ateek)

The Rev. Naim Ateek is a Palestinian Episcopal priest who in the 1980s was Dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. In 1991 he founded the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, which is now an international organization working for justice for the Palestinian people.

The Rev. Naim Ateek

The Rev. Naim Ateek

In response to the vote of the American Episcopal House of Bishops choosing not to antagonize such groups as AIPAC in the US or the Knesset in Israel, Naim Ateek has written letters to the House of Bishops and to the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina.

Both documents are detailed statements describing the theological issues raised by the Bishops’ vote.

I suggest that anyone interested in either justice or theology read Naim Ateek’s statements.

I was annoyed when the stranger on the elevator questioned the existence of an institution in Jerusalem that is not Jewish (I assume that was his disbelief).  I’ll have to suggest that FOSNA create t-shirts to sell.

Naim Ateek’s responses are available here.
Click on the links:

  • Naim Ateek’s letter to PB-elect Michael Curry
  • Naim Ateek’s response to the Episcopal Bishops’ vote

Another discussion of  the vote of the House of Bishops, Episcopal Church USA.
Biographical sketch of Rev. Naim Ateek.
Daily news from Palestine not available in American media.

Episcopal House of Bishops Annual Meeting Voting Down BDS, 2015

Episcopal House of Bishops Annual Meeting Voting Down BDS, 2015

“. . . small nightmares that I hope will develop into great dreams. . .” (Mourid Barghouti)

Ali Hassanein, a 54-year-old oud maker works in Ramallah. Every day life in Palestine. (Photo MaanImages)

Ali Hassanein, a 54-year-old oud maker works in Ramallah. Every day life in Palestine. (Photo MaanImages)

I’m going to stop saying I’m retired except as part of my quirky attempt at a sense of humor. It’s not true.

retire v.
1. to withdraw, or go away or apart, to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion
2. to go to bed

Yesterday morning I played the organ at First Presbyterian Church in Plano, TX, went to lunch at a famed Dallas barbecue spot with a friend, saw the exhibition of “The Abelló Collection: A Modern Taste for European Masters” at the Meadows Museum in the afternoon, had dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant, and spent the evening packing and preparing for my week-long excursion to North Carolina with my friend.

We have movie and museum and other loosely-formed plans to spend the week “out and about.”

Because I’ll be in the Great Smoky Mountains, I will miss tutoring at the university Academic Development of Student Athletes where I do the most important teaching of my 35-year career I’ll miss my regular schedule with my trainer, and square dancing next Sunday, and my meetings of that anonymous secret society I belong to, and playing the organ next Sunday, and. . .

Hardly seems like going “away or apart, to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion.”

In a sense, however, in my mind I live in a place of privacy. I privately reject doing anything I don’t want to do. I’m learning to say “No” when that’s what I want to say and to say “Yes” to the activities I want to participate in.

Most of us don’t worry about leaving a “legacy.” If I had children and grandchildren, I’d have a somewhat different take on that idea. However, the legacy of family is a personal matter that has little to do with what anyone else thinks. I do have a few interesting, if not valuable, things I hope my nieces and nephews will enjoy having to remember me by, but that’s about it. I’m not the rich uncle.

Then there’s all this stuff I’ve written and posted for the past 12 years that’s floating around out there in cyberspace. I’m told it’s there forever, or at least until climate change finally does human society in.

All this stuff I’ve written is one of the most important aspects of my not going “to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion.” This is, however, not as obvious a statement as it might seem. I’ve written recently about all of this and posted it in “the cloud.”

I’m 70 years old. Never in my life have I been ambitious, physically fit, “driven” accomplishing much with my time here. No, I’m basically meek and weak and (perhaps?) lazy. That I am not the rich uncle is testimony in itself to my being a part of Henry David Thoreau’s “mass of men [who] live lives of quiet desperation.” I feel desperation from time to time―but I’m too often not quiet about it.

A couple of “causes,” however, inspire me to work and participation. They keep me from going to a place of privacy and seclusion.

One of those is the Aberg Center for Literacy in Dallas, about which I’ve written here several times.

The Aberg Center offers ESL classes and GED preparation to adults. The Center is, I believe, the most important place where I practice being neither secluded nor desperate. I feel more joy as a volunteer teacher there than in anything else I do (with the possible exception of tutoring football players). Sentences that are not a “run-on” sentences that students from Aberg write 20 years from now are part of my “legacy.”

The stuff I’ve posted in Cyberspace is part of my legacy. That is not obvious.

Preparations are underway in the Old City of Jerusalem for the holy night of Laylat al-Qader on Monday.

Preparations are underway in the Old City of Jerusalem for the holy night of Laylat al-Qader on Monday.

I have other blogs than this one. One is an exercise in what might look like futility or grandiosity. Perhaps that is more than a perception.

However, I post it―almost daily―for the sole purpose of posting it. That blog is not really my own. It’s a small collection of news stories other people have written brought together in a digest often related (at least tangentially) to a poem I have discovered.

I spend the time (up to a couple of hours daily) compiling that blog simply for the sake of doing it. Simply because someone must do it.

The poems the news stories (peripherally) relate to are by writers from Palestine or who are Palestinians living in the Diaspora of displaced Palestinians.

I collect the poetry and the news stories because it has to be done. It is necessary that there is a tiny edge of Cyberspace devoted to telling daily real-life stories from the point of view of Palestinians and trying to relate them to expressions of the inner life and experience of the Palestinian people, i.e. relating news about life in Palestine to snippets of the 1,000-year literary tradition of the Palestinians.

Someone has to do this, and I have the time and skill for the job. (I hope you will check the blog, Palestine InSight .)

It does not matter if no one or one person or a thousand people read it daily. It must exist in Cyberspace. On the day someone needs it, for whatever reason, it will be there. If I do not do it, no one will. It’s that simple.

I spend a few minutes (nearly) every day not being secluded or desperate by simply giving myself to a necessary task and having no desire or belief that I am accomplishing something. I don’t know. What I do know is that it has to be done because some day in some way I can’t know, someone will need it.

“Retirement” could well be going “away or apart, to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion.” Or it can mean going away or apart to do one’s most important lifework.

“I Have No Problem” by Mourid Barghouti

I look at myself:
I have no problem.
I look all right
and, to some girls,
my grey hair might even be attractive;
my eyeglasses are well made,
my body temperature is precisely thirty seven,
my shirt is ironed and my shoes do not hurt.
I have no problem.
My hands are not cuffed,
my tongue has not been silenced yet,
I have not, so far, been sentenced
and I have not been fired from my work;
I am allowed to visit my relatives in jail,
I’m allowed to visit some of their graves in some countries.
I have no problem.
I am not shocked that my friend
has grown a horn on his head.
I like his cleverness in hiding the obvious tail
under his clothes, I like his calm paws.
He might kill me, but I shall forgive him
for he is my friend;
he can hurt me every now and then.
I have no problem.
The smile of the TV anchor
does not make me ill any more
and I’ve got used to the Khaki stopping my colours
night and day.
That is why
I keep my identification papers on me, even at
the swimming pool.
I have no problem.
Yesterday, my dreams took the night train
and I did not know how to say goodbye to them.
I heard the train had crashed
in a barren valley
(only the driver survived).
I thanked God, and took it easy
for I have small nightmares
that I hope will develop into great dreams.
I have no problem.
I look at myself, from the day I was born till now.
In my despair I remember
that there is life after death;
there is life after death
and I have no problem.
But I ask:
Oh my God,
is there life before death?

Translated by Radwa Ashour
From Barghouti, Mourid. MIDNIGHT AND OTHER POEMS. Trans. Radwa Ashour. Todmorden, UK: Arc Publications, 2008.
About Mourid Barghouti

Israeli forces raided Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem early Monday and threatened locals, witnesses said. Every Day Life in Palestine.

Israeli forces raided Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem early Monday and threatened locals, witnesses said. Every Day Life in Palestine.

“. . . When our grand passion had not yet become familial. . .” (Thom Gunn)

Boston, 1991

Boston, 1991

Somewhere in a box or pile or a file or a stack is a musical creation of mine (or not―it most likely met the same fate as most of my compositions), a small song cycle, a setting of three poems by Thom Gunn from his 1966 collection, Positives. I wrote the cycle in about 1970.

I don’t remember the poems or the music. I wrote the music as part of the work for my MA degree in music composition at what was then California State University at Los Angeles. I chose Gunn’s poetry because I found his book at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and it was the first collection I owned by a poet I knew was gay.

Yesterday I wore an old lavender T-shirt, shapeless and faded―like me―from the Boston Gay Pride Parade in 1991. My first Gay Pride Parade was the 20th in Boston—1990. For it I had a T-shirt that proclaimed in black letters nearly covering the front, “Nobody knows I’m gay!” In 1992 I had a T-shirt with the logo of the Boston Aids Hospice as I marched with the other volunteers from the Hospice (it closed in 1997, after I had moved to Dallas).

A member of the AA group I most often attended in 1991 had been present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. I used to own a book about the riots which contained a picture of her (yes, women were involved in the riots). She was uncomfortable with what she saw as the flippant use by the gay community of Stonewall as a rallying point. She remembered that night only with horror and fear. She could not bring herself to march in Pride Parades.

I was married at the time of Stonewall, but I remember watching the coverage on the national TV news and thinking I should have been there. My wife knew I was gay. Those were the days when many of us―my wife and I included―thought that getting married would somehow end my being gay. (Or, more likely, I thought it would provide “cover” for being who I knew I was.)

I wore my “Together in Pride, June 8th, 1991, Lesbian and Gay Pride” T-shirt yesterday to attend the celebration at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I’m not sure why I didn’t take a selfie wearing it at the event.

Trying to sort out for myself, much less for anyone else, the complexity of my feelings throughout the day yesterday, and especially at the celebration, is seeming to be impossible.

First observation. I was (as I have become accustomed to being) one of the oldest people in the group of 2,000. My guess is there were fewer than 50 of us 70 or older.

Second observation. I was alone.

Third observation. It all seemed too easy.

Fourth observation. My tears over and over again yesterday were of joy, relief, fulfillment, jealousy, longing, and grief simultaneously and progressively, impossible to sort out.

Of course I am elated, overjoyed, and ecstatic at the Supreme Court decision, relieved that that step on the journey to civil rights is taken (I wonder if the LGBTQ community ready now to tackle racism, poverty, and xenophobia in this country).

The only man I have ever wanted to marry died in 2003 after we had been together 12 years. I sometimes long to be with him, and I grieve that we were never able to have a legally recognized relationship.

I grieve—yes, that’s the correct word—for the relationships I have had, beginning with my marriage to Ann. I grieve also that I am alone, that meeting a man I would want to marry, now that I could, seems improbable, if not impossible.

Hugged by the man I would have married

Hugged by the man I would have married (taken 1993)

Most of the crowd of people younger than I that gathered at the Cathedral of Hope yesterday—this is not sour grapes but a statement of fact—cannot know how much I treasure that 24-year-old lavender T-shirt (many of those wonderful folks were not even born in 1991). Or the pictures of my second partner and me taken in about 1985.

Or the memory of my “coming out” in my university newspaper in 1965—4 years before Stonewall.

I have never done anything “important.” Other than be something of a role model for (sometimes frightened and depressed) gay college students for 30 years. And volunteer at the AIDS Hospice. And march in parades. And write some pieces that have been published over the years. And try to be a good partner. And maintain a career viable enough to take care of myself.

One of the men I love and admire most these days was part of the Lambda Legal team that brought Lawrence v. Texas to the Supreme Court. One of my closest friends was a leader in ACT-Up in Boston in the ‘80s. A friend was the founder of the Gay group that still exists in the American Baptist Convention.

I’ve never done anything publicly important for the cause of LGBTQ rights. I’m not one of those the speakers last night acknowledged they were “standing on the shoulders of.”

Except I’ve persevered. I’ve lived a life of quiet (sometimes) desperation, desperation that may or may not have had anything to do with being a gay man (that’s a topic so complicated seven psychiatrists and three neurologists have never been able to untangle).

And now I am alone.

I’m not asking for anyone’s pity. Only some acknowledgement and understanding that my feelings yesterday were justifiably complex and contradictory. Which means they were (are) like my feelings my whole life long. My passions were my passions when they “had not yet become familial.” Could not become familial in the most basic sense.

“THE HUG,” BY THOM GUNN (1929-2004)
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
―(From Selected Poems by Thom Gunn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.)

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

“Time has grown up on its own without me. . .” (Yousef El Qedra)

Their companion piece is missing.

Their companion piece is missing.

The color blue is not apparent in my apartment. The first noticeable color is the red of the fake Persian rug straight ahead from the front door. The two deep blue Palestinian glass pieces I wrote about a couple of weeks ago are now on the shelf of the table straight ahead, but they are below eye level.On the table in front of the living area window are two (I think) lovely pieces of blue glass, each of a different not-real-Waterford that Waterford sells under its name. I like them. I paid more for each of them than I should have, but they are blue.

For a year or so I had another piece of decorative blue glass, a small many-faceted blue bowl made by Jim Bowman of Bowman Glass in Dallas. His wife Mary Lynn, who is also an artist in glass, is an acquaintance of mine. The bowl sat on the table by the window with my two pieces of marginally Waterford blue glass.

However, I have lost Jim Bowman’s bowl.

How does one lose a blue art-glass bowl? I don’t know. It’s simply gone. Non-existent. Probably not non-existent, simply not in its assigned location, and not where I can find it.

I could blame its disappearance on old age. I’ve put it somewhere and don’t remember where. I doubt that. Besides, I couldn’t blame that sort of forgetting on my old age. It would not have been out of character for me 40 years ago to have misplaced a decorative piece I like very much. Forgetting, misplacing, losing have been my constant companions my entire life.

That’s probably because I don’t pay attention. It’s no mystery. I go through life floating just a tad above reality, never quite putting my feet down, never quite sure I know where I am. That’s hyperbole. But it’s closer to the truth than I wish it were.

It’s not because I am so otherworldly or preoccupied with important ideas or have too much on my mind. No, I simply don’t pay attention. I will give myself the benefit of the doubt and say I don’t because I can’t.

If one of the symptoms of aging is forgetfulness, I am destined, I fear, to be (or already am) that confused little old man everyone finds either pitiable or comical. But how will anyone be able to tell? Anyone who knows me well knows this is not a problem of aging for me. It was a problem when I was 12.

From time to time I have blamed my spaciness on TLE. I don’t know if that’s medically accurate or not. I fear it’s probably a simple matter of my not paying attention.

That the husband of my friend made the blue glass bowl is not only reason my losing it is weird.

Blue is my favorite color.

I remember the exact moment I realized blue is my favorite color.

I was at Anna Bleyle’s home in Scottsbluff, NE, playing with marbles she gave me to keep me occupied while she was looking after my siblings and me. I was in third or fourth grade. She was our favorite adult, a few but not many years older than my parents. Her husband and his brother owned a jewelry store. Her niece became a Methodist Bishop. Her nephew was the only boy we ever knew who was high school cheer leader (in the dark ages of the `50s).

The blue ones are best.

The blue ones are best.

I remember thinking, “Wow! Those blue marbles are the best ones. I love that color!”

My question: how can I remember those details (and many more) about those wonderful people from 60 years ago but not remember where my beautiful blue art glass bowl made by Jim Bowman is that was on the table by front window for about two years until sometime in the last few weeks when I did something with it I can’t remember?

I know. I know. “The short-term memory is the first to go.” Well, perhaps.

Now a jump from one topic to a totally unrelated one.

I’ve become fascinated by Palestinian poetry, both old and current. I may, after 30 years of teaching college English, have found my “specialty.”

The Gazan poet Yousef El Qedra and I have so little in common it’s almost absurd for me to say that I find my own experience in his work.

But listen. Listen to these lines.

Then I found myself suspended in nothingness,
Stretched like a string that doesn’t belong to an instrument.
The wind played me.

Can a 70-year-old Caucasian American man who has never wanted for anything, whose most difficult moments have been tiny seizures and a bit of discrimination because I’m gay possibly relate to a young Arab Palestinian trapped in the hell-hole that his home has been turned into through dehumanizing Israeli onslaught after onslaught?

The total of what I know about Mr. El Qedra is that he

is a poet and playwright who lives in Gaza. He has a BA degree in Arabic Literature from al-Azhar University in Gaza. He teaches drama, literature, and writing. He has written, directed, and acted in several plays. He has published four collections of poetry and some of his poems have been translated into French and Spanish.

(Banipal, Magazine of Modern Arab Literature 45 – Writers from Palestine.) Banipal has published several of his poems.
He knows from experience what I begin to know from age.

I was a run of lost notes that have a sad, strong desire to live.

What does that have to do with the color blue? Or a small piece of blue art glass. Only this. Loss does not necessarily mean despair or even depression. Viewed with hope (and perhaps humor) it can impart a sad, strong desire to live.

My inconsequential hope―to find that blue bowl. Silly? Yes. But a manifestation of my need to catch up with the time that has grown old without me.

I saw clouds running away from the hurt.
I have no language.
Its weight is lighter than a feather.
The quill does not write.
The ink of the spirit burns on the shore of meaning.
The clouds are tears, filled with escape and lacking definition.
A cloud realizes the beauty she forms—
beauty which contains all good things,
for whom trees, gardens, and tired young women wait.

I have no home.
I have a night overripe with sweats caused by numbness all over.
Time has grown up on its own without me.
In my dream, I asked him what he looks like.
My small defeats answered me.
So I asked him again, What did he mean?
Then I found myself suspended in nothingness,
Stretched like a string that doesn’t belong to an instrument.
The wind played me. So did irresistible gravity.
I was a run of lost notes that have a sad, strong desire to live.

Translated by Yasmin Snounu and Edward Morin
From BEFORE THERE IS NOWHERE TO STAND: PALESTINE ISREL POETS RESPOND TO THE STRUGGLE. Ed. By Joan Dobbie and Grace Beeler. Sandpoint ID: Lost Horse Press, 2012.

Our house in Scottsbluff (2005), six blocks fro Anna's. A fortuitous blue car in front.

Our house in Scottsbluff (2005), six blocks from Anna’s. A fortuitous blue car in front.

“. . . the future remains translucent and unambiguous. . .” (Philip Schultz)

An ostentatious mirror and some dried funeral rose petals.

An ostentatious mirror and some dried funeral rose petals.

—our sober, recalcitrant houses—
are swollen with dreams that have grown opaque with age,
hoarding as they do truths
untranslatable into auspicious beliefs.

In the 48 years since I graduated from college, I have lived in 11 houses or apartments. I lived with my late ex-wife in three. That is an odd formulation—late ex-wife—perhaps as odd as our relationship sometimes feels. We were married from 1967 to 1975, and she died from the ravages of breast cancer in 2002. She had been married to a Canadian writer, divorced in about 1990. In the time since our divorce, I had had three male partners. The last of those relationships was my only healthy one. Jerry died a year after Ann died, of melanoma.

Ann and I owned a home in Upland, CA. We sold it when we moved to Iowa for my doctoral program at the University of Iowa.

In 1977 I moved to Boston without having secured a job to be with my first partner (an irrational and addictive move). Seventeen years later I moved to Dallas to be with Jerry—but a year after he moved there, that year spent reshaping my career to be a self-supporting grownup when I moved. I didn’t reshape my career for him, but figured out how to do what I had always wanted to do.

Through all of the years after we were divorced, Ann and I were in amicable contact with each other. After her second divorce (she told him he could have the bimbo and she’d have the Palm Springs condo) we rekindled the friendship we never should have interrupted by getting married.

Ann with a friend of her Canadian writer's, on a movie set in Iowa.

Ann with a friend of her Canadian writer’s, on a movie set in Iowa.

I began writing this piece about Ann on May 28, the 48th anniversary of our wedding. I don’t know the exact date in 1975 our divorce was finalized. In those days (perhaps still) Iowa had a no-fault, do-it-yourself divorce procedure that, when approved by a judge, cost us $40 for the filing fee.

How we remember certain details of our lives is a great mystery to me. I remember our wedding—the music surely. We chose the wedding party on the basis of their singing ability—we had to have a six singers for the William Walton motet “Set me as a seal upon thine heart.”

The text is from Song of Solomon 8, KJV:

Set me as a seal upon thine heart,
as a seal upon thine arm:
for love is strong as death.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it.

Fortunately four of our best friends were accomplished singers and completed the ensemble. Mine was the weakest voice in the bunch—Ann’s was the strongest. My best friend was a tenor voice major.

I have thought many times since 2002 that I had no idea what “love is strong as death” meant when I was a foolish young groom. I was with Ann in Canada two months before she died and returned for her wake. I was with Jerry when he died.

everything feels afterwards,
stoic and inevitable,
my eyes ringed with the grease of rumor and complicity,
my hands eager to hold any agreeable infatuation
that might otherwise slip away.

The feeling that everything is afterwards did not come upon me suddenly. It has been an awareness developing since Jerry died. Everything is afterward. I live alone in an apartment of my own choosing. The furnishings, what might pass as a décor, is stuff that I am “eager to hold [with] any agreeable infatuation.” The 1880s-vintage highboy chest of drawers Ann and I bought in about 1968. The china closet and the ostentatious Victorian mirror I inherited from Jerry. The painting of a sea storm by my uncle’s late partner (of 60 years). My mother’s ladies’ afternoon “circle” coffee cups and cookie plates. The pipe organ built by my steady friend (and Ann’s) for 50 years from college, Steuart Goodwin.

Everything IS afterwards.

Both Ann’s and my fathers were Baptist ministers. They looked forward to a kind of afterwards that I cannot fathom. I think, now and then, about the afterwards Ann and Jerry and our fathers and mothers are experiencing. I wonder. That’s all. I wonder. I’m not certain what Philip Schultz means by

The sky,
appears unwelcoming,
and aloof, eager to surrender
its indifference to our suffering

but I look at the sky and think it’s unwelcoming, indifferent to my suffering.

My thinking about all of these people is heightened because I’m going through old photos and other memorabilia, so when I’m in the afterwards, my brother and sister won’t think they need to. And in the middle of this process I, as executor of her estate—some 13 years later—received notice that a house lot Ann owned atop a hill in the Ozark foothills in Oklahoma was about to be sold for the back taxes. Oops! So I pulled together the funds from her estate to pay the past-due amount.

The hill is the home of the “esoteric Christian” community Ann was part of the last few years of her life. People whose sense of “afterwards” is, as far as I can tell, that nothing is ever “afterwards.” In some form, a variety of forms, we all go on and on and on forever.

My “sober, recalcitrant [house—is] swollen with dreams that have grown opaque with age.” I refuse to commit to whether that is good or bad. The light used to penetrate my dreams. It seldom does now. My truths are “untranslatable into auspicious beliefs.”

And the future is totally “unambiguous in its desire to elude” me. Will the future be different if I get rid of Jerry’s ostentatious mirror, his picture looking down on it, or the toy xylophone my mother gave me for my fifth birthday? Or save the vase of brown rose petals from Ann’s funeral wreath?

“Afterwards,” by Philip Schultz
everything feels afterwards,
stoic and inevitable,
my eyes ringed with the grease of rumor and complicity,
my hands eager to hold any agreeable infatuation
that might otherwise slip away.
it’s evening and the lights up and
down the street appear hopeful,
even magnanimous,
swollen as they are with ancient grievances
and souring schemes. The sky,
appears unwelcoming,
and aloof, eager to surrender
its indifference to our suffering.
Speaking of suffering,
the houses—our sober, recalcitrant houses—
are swollen with dreams that have grown opaque with age,
hoarding as they do truths
untranslatable into auspicious beliefs.
our loneliness,
upon which so many laws are based,
continues to consume everything.
regardless of what the gods say,
the present remains uninhabitable,
the past unforgiving of the harm it’s seen,
the future remains translucent
and unambiguous
in its desire to elude us.

(Philip Schultz [b. 1945] is the author of The Wherewithal [W. W. Norton, 2014] and received the Pulitzer Prize for Failure [Harcourt, 2007]. He is the founder and director of The Writers Studio and lives in East Hampton, New York.)

On a trip to the Glimmerglass Opera

On a trip to the Glimmerglass Opera

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