“. . .no Notice — no Dissent No Universe — no laws —. . .”

snow day
A student asked me the other day why my writing has so many dashes—if that’s a good way to write. I told him, no, it’s not. Unless you’re Emily Dickinson.

Great Streets of silence led away
To Neighborhoods of Pause

Here was no Notice no Dissent
No Universe
no laws

By Clocks, ’twas Morning, and for Night
The Bells at Distance called —
But Epoch had no basis here
For Period exhaled

Otherwise, too many dashes can—and most probably will—confuse your reader.

I woke up this morning with the ceiling fan in my inamorato’s bedroom on my mind. Nearly every night when I am here, I go to sleep with the image of the mystery fan in my mind. Five shadows, four blades.

Of course, I know it isn’t so—the fan does have five blades. But one disappears into the ceiling. The colors, at the direction of the interior decorator, of ceiling and fan are identical, of course. Here are no notice, no dissent, no universe, no laws.

In December of 2004, I planted a tree in memory of my partner who had died but a month before—planted it in the front lawn of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Farmers Branch, Texas, with the help of many friends and the blessing of the pastor. A place for a tree to grow for years, decades, for as long as I would be around. I was organist of the church.

A book I know well says, “We will not regret the past, nor wish to close the door on it.” I have tried for years to come to terms with that concept. To make it part of my self-perception. Internalizing the idea is pretty difficult for me because much in my past I wish had been otherwise than it was.

I know, I know. Everyone can say that—and would if she were being unabashedly honest. But whether wishing it were not so is the same as regretting, I’ll let keener minds than mine decide. My distinction is that I can regret only those choices I made consciously and willingly, while I can wish experiences over which I had little or no control had not happened.

In the winter of 2010, it snowed in Dallas—a not unheard-of event, but unusual because it was real snow, three inches deep. On that day the pastor of St. Paul took a picture of me in front of the memorial tree. It is, and always will be, the only picture I have of the tree. The church closed and the city of Farmers Branch, without ceremony—and probably without the awareness of any city father or mother—uprooted my tree as they tore down the building to erect a new fire station.'fan-1

I could—and in some iteration of my life would—have been devastated by the destruction of the tree. It saddened me, but I am too old (but not too wise) to be devastated by such things.  Partly because the summer before I discovered Paradise Point at Port Orford, Oregon. I love the beaches around Port Orford because even in summer they are too misty and cool for Americans’ taste—no danger of melanoma (which is what took my late partner) there. But you can walk for miles and not see another person. In the beauty. In the spectacular beauty. My students understand this less clearly than they understand writing with dashes.

A morning meditation I read daily (for reasons I can’t explain because I believe less and less in either the efficacy of or the need for such things), today tells me that “. . .we need our own personal definition of spirituality—something that will work for us. . .” The writer says his/her “definition involves being positive and creative because I believe in a positive and creative force in the universe.”

Why I should be positive and creative because the universe is escapes me. Why I should try to be anything escapes me. The universe—it seems to me—is what it is. Trees grow and are cut down. We love, and our beloved die. We find solace and joy walking the beach, and then we find solace and joy having found again a beloved. All while we have a private view of absurdity—a shadow cannot be made by nothing or a sentence by a dash—unless, of course we understand that
By Clocks, ’twas Morning, and for Night
The Bells at Distance called

But Epoch had no basis here
For Period exhaled

Paradise Point,Port Orford, Oregon

Paradise Point, Sunset
Port Orford, Oregon

I just discovered this blog about Port Orford. It’s worth a read.

Your (Great-Great) Grandmother’s Sewing Machine

Grandma's Sewing MachineNostalgia?

Grandma’s Sewing Machine

WordPress.com (this blog host) offers free “Themes” for bloggers. That is, they have ready-made free formats for a blog. You simply choose one of the 200 themes you like, click on it, and, voila! you have a blog in the format you’ve chosen.

I don’t have a clue how it works, but it’s fun to use. It’s akin to having someone decide to structure your life and then falling into that pattern without ever having to think. Much like students in the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University.

I say that lest anyone think I have the cyber-creativity to make this myself. I can’t figure out how to make the optional changes to the format that are allowed. The only change I’ve made is to purchase (for $60 per year) the program that allows me to upload videos as well as pictures (below).

When I wanted a photograph for the top of my “theme,” I thought of a picture of my Grandmother’s White treadle sewing machine. I remember where in my grandparents’ front bedroom it sat through my entire childhood. In the room was also a bureau with a picture on it of Grandma Knight’s mother, Great-Grandmother Huntley. Having Grandma Knight’s sewing machine in my living room is, I suppose, as nostalgic as any item of decor could be.

For my students, Grandma Knight was of the generation that would be at least their Great-Great-Grandmothers. Shocking.

The sewing machine could not be the picture in the “theme” because the picture has to be 960×80 pixels, and it woul d have been a slice so narrow you wouldn’t have any idea what it is. So I opted for a picture of the keyboards of my pipe organ.

Not too long ago I was doing a library database search for some unrelated subject and came across an article by Janelle Wilson. She explains the meaning of “nostalgia.” She sets out to help us understand that nostalgia

. . . oozes out of our popular culture. Even those of us who have not experienced a particular decade (e.g., the fabulous ‘50s or the turbulent ‘60s),find ourselves looking back to those eras with a fondness; we fool ourselves into thinking events of those times affect our own personal biography in a very direct way (1).

We fool ourselves into thinking.

I doubt my recent musings about Senator Robert A. Taft are the result of fooling myself into thinking, but I do (as you do) look back with fondness. That’s the point. “Fondness.”

Sometime in the past, my life was better. It’s not clear when, but I often pretend it was when we lived in the “new house” (the parsonage built to my mother’s specifications next door to the “new” building of the First Baptist Church of Scottsbluff, NE).

Never mind that during that time I realized I was gay and needed to keep that my scary little secret. I knew I had seizures, but when I tried to explain them to my parents or our doctor their eyes glazed over. I was fat. And I had two jobs (child abuse?), sometime organist at the church and shoeshine boy at Jack’s Barber Shop.

The stuff of joy and romance, no?

In 2011 The Huffington Post published a list of what they said were the 10 most nostalgic songs of the 1990’s (list below).

I can’t figure out what the post means. Are they songs that, by 2011, were listened to with “nostalgia?” or are they songs that sound like some music from the past that evokes nostalgia?

You might guess I have never heard of any of the singers, much less their songs. So what is nostalgic about them for me? Nothing.

Nostalgia is weird. Yours and mine are so different, we need a different word. Fred Davis agrees that the
. . . special place accorded the “beauteous” past of nostalgia in feeling and action is further attested to by the fact that, In English at least, there exists no antonym for it, no word to describe feelings of rejection or revulsion toward one’s past or some segment thereof (2).

So here’s $60 worth of my nostalgia for you.

sum link for other blog_____________ (1) Wilson, Janelle L. “`Remember When…’ A Consideration Of The Concept Of Nostalgia.” ETC: A Review Of General Semantics 56.3 (1999): 296. (2) Davis, Fred. Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia. New York: The Free Press, 1979 (14).

“Top 10 Nostalgic 90s Songs (VIDEO).” Huffpost Arts&Culture. The Huffington Post. 06/26/11. (Web). 27 Feb. 2013):

Sneaker Pimps, “Six Underground.” 7 October 1996.
LFO “Summer Girls”. June 29 1999.
The Cardigans “Love Fool.” September 14 1996.
TLC “Waterfalls.” May 29 1995.
Soundgarden “Blackhole Sun.” May 1994.
Nirvana “It Smells Like Teen Spirit.” September 10 1991.
Blind Melon “No Rain.” September 22 1992.
Ace of Base “The Sign.” February 21 1994.
Alanis Morissette “Ironic.” February 27 1996.
The Verve “Bittersweet Symphony.” 3 March 1998

Who remembers Senator Taft?

The Las Vegas I knew

The Baptist Las Vegas I knew

After my posting here two days ago about George Frederick Handel and Stuart Hamblen, my sister remarked, “You remember too much.”

That’s a fine way to speak to your brother! Someone else reminded me yesterday that I saw Jersey Boys (the musical) last year. I vaguely remember seeing it, but I can’t remember the plot. The songs include “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You.” Those I remember. But not from the show. I remember too much?

But I remember July 31, 1953.

I seem to be surrounded by people who remember details of stuff of which I barely remember the broadest outlines. Movies, plays, novels, operas, paintings in museums. I’m intimidated when someone I love quotes a line from a movie he saw twenty-five years ago.  And my sister says I remember too much!!

Las Vegas, Nevada, July 31, 1953.

Of course, there are good reasons for my memory lapses. I didn’t have that good a memory to begin with. And my psychiatrist says depression (and taking meds to fight it) generates memory loss. Seizures (and taking meds to fight them) cause memory loss. I once asked my neurologist if anyone had done a long-term study of the effects of Carbamezapine, and his reply was, “You’re it” (32 years). So I shouldn’t beat myself up over memory loss.

July 31, 1953. Our family was vacationing in Las Vegas. No, not at a casino. The pastor of the First Baptist Church there and my dad traded preaching duties for a couple of Sundays, and both families got a little bit of vacation – we lived in each other’s parsonages, so we could afford the trip. We got the much better end of that deal! Las Vegas v. Scottsbluff?

My students are in the nascent stages of the semester’s research project.  They will invent (inventio, the first step in Aristotle’s process of rhetoric) their topics from an array of speeches about events leading to Pearl Harbor and FDR’s “date that shall live in infamy” speech.  No papers on the Sino-Japanese War or the conspiracy theories  in regard to FDR’s foreknowledge of and failure to prevent Pearl Harbor. Only the speeches.

Robert A. Taft (September 8, 1889 – July 31, 1953)

Robert A. Taft
(September 8, 1889 – July 31, 1953)

I was giving them historical background today.  One of the speeches is an “isolationist” speech, a speech against American involvement in war across either the Atlantic or the Pacific. The speech is by Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, leader of the Senate Republicans in the days leading up to World War II. A student asked a question about Taft, and as I answered, out it slipped. “I remember the day he died.”

Omigod! It’s true. I do remember. Standing in the living room of the Baptist parsonage in Las Vegas. The news report of Taft’s death had come over the radio. And I asked my dad, “Does that mean if he had been elected President, the President would be dead?”

My parents had wanted Taft to be The Republican nominee in the 1952 election instead of Eisenhower. Of course, Eisenhower was preferable to Adlai Stevenson, but they had wanted Taft.

With sixty years of hindsight, my question seems pretty silly. Obviously, if he were President and he died, the President would be dead.

But it’s not quite that simple. An eight-year-old boy aware somehow for the first time (perhaps) of both death and presidential politics—together, in the same moment.

Of course I remember July 31, 1953. I can’t remember the name of the actress who played Reno Sweeney in the production of Anything Goes we saw last night. Fantastic!—her every song (literally) a show stopper. But I remember the day Senator Robert A. Taft died.

Post script:

About memory. A student from last semester stopped me on campus last week to thank me for the research work last semester. He had been to Hawaii during semester break, and he wanted me to know how much seeing Pearl Harbor meant to him—how much more it meant to him than to his friends. I guess memory gets played forward sometimes.

Of silos and birth certificates

Will the real American please stand up?

Will the real American please stand up?

I’d like to meet Ted Cruz.

For two hours I’ve been trying to think of a humorous take on what I want to say, but I can’t. Sheesh! Where’s George Carlin when we need him?

Back in the day—you know, the idyllic ‘50s, the good ole days when Father Knew Best and we all Left It to Beaver—there was a Communist behind every filing cabinet in Washington, D.C., and most movie directors and screenwriters had a tinge of pink about them. Even Leonard Bernstein was most likely one of “them.”

Our national response to this threat—I mean Threat, with a capital “T”—was to plant guided missile silos in the back yards of unsuspecting kids in places like Kimball, Nebraska, and Lovell, Wyoming. Well, I suppose the missiles weren’t aimed directly at Lenny Bernstein, but they might as well have been.

The missiles were (and still are?) aimed at Communist Russia (formerly, for those under 22 years old, known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). The mere fact that huge conglomeration of republics lumped together under one monolithic and despotic  government had the word “Socialist” in its name made it Godless and fearsome. Communism (godless socialism) was out to get us, and we had to be ready to sacrifice the children of Western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming to stop the Reds.

Never mind it wasn’t Communism but Joseph Stalin and his un-godsons who were out to get us. Had nothing to do with “Communism,” really. It was Russian totalitarianism. Not ten people in the United States knew then (or know now) what Communism is. My guess is that I’m the only person reading this who has Marx’s Manifesto downloaded on his iPad. And, of course, by the rules of Joe McCarthy who was running the pinko-behind-every-file-cabinet-in-Washington show the very fact that I’ve read the Manifesto and quote it now and then proves I’m a Communist. And virtually as dangerous as Joseph Stalin.

Lenny and fellow travelers

Lenny and fellow travelers

Enter Ted Cruz.

The junior Senator from Texas (from where else could he possibly be?) has taken up Joe McCarthy’s mantle. Cruz raises the possibility that Senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska might have taken a $200,000 campaign contribution from Communist North Korea. And my friend Kimball almost certainly believes him. Never mind North Korea doesn’t have $200,000 to give to anyone for anything. The fact is that North Korea is not—by definition—Communist. Read the Manifesto. In order to be Communist, a nation has to have lots of goods and the means to produce lots more to share around equally before Communism can be adopted. North Korea does not qualify. Monolithc and despotic, yes. Communist? Nope.

Ted Cruz is, by definition, a liar. He is a debater. A national champion debater.  Debaters have no interest in the truth. All they want is to win the “argument.”  They use words the way the NRA uses the Second Amendment. Kill ‘em dead by any means available—with no regard for the truth. Ted Cruz floats out a preposterous and totally un-sourced question about Senator Hagel and wins the argument—helps delay Senator Hagel’s confirmation as Secretary of Defense—with no regard for the truth. Sophistry at its finest.

So the former Senator from one of the states that used to have (still has?) missile silos planted around to shoot at the Communists is now taking

Likr Ted Cruz

Like Ted Cruz

campaign contributions from one of those so-called Communist countries? Never mind the truth, or even logic.

And, to add insult to injury, Cruz isn’t really an American. He’s a Cuban born in Canada, probably in this country illegally. I sure wish Ted Cruz would show me his birth certificate. How has he perpetuated this fraud? I’d like to meet Ted Cruz. I wish I had cojones like his.


George Frederick Handel and other misfits in Scottsbluff, NE

George Frederick Handel(23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759)

George Frederick Handel
(23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759)

In a year around 1957 a group of musicians/businessmen/educators –I don’t know who they were—held a contest for young musicians in Nebraska. They offered a prize that seemed to a junior high school kid in the millions of dollars. Kids from all over the state auditioned, and some lucky prodigy won those millions.

I should have known right then I was not cut out to be a performer. By that time I was taking organ instead of piano lessons, and they didn’t have facilities for organ playing. So I trooped over to the Longfellow School in Scottsbluff, NE, my home town, and plopped myself down at the piano in front of the judges and cranked out what was probably a just-short-of-brilliant reading of a transcription of the “Largo” from Handel’s opera Xerxes. It was the only piece I could play on both the organ and piano.

My performance probably did not matter to the judges. It was my total lack of showmanship and ease in front of the crowd. I dreaded the performance, and it showed. I played without even announcing the title of the work. Public performance is mainly torture for an introvert—especially one who has Medial temporal lobe epilepsy seizures on a daily basis and never quite knows when they will strike.

Since that day I have been disquieted by the music of George Frederick Handel. Do you blame me?

Today is George Frederick Handel’s 228th birth anniversary. OK, Georg Friedrich Händel, if you must. He was German, but England’s greatest composer until Ralph Vaughn Williams (or Edward Elgar, or some other great composer most of you have never heard of—might even put Arthur Sullivan in that rarefied atmosphere). His music is, of course, Italian.

I thought I might have a chance to win the competition because a couple of years before I had had some success at such a venture. My best friend Rusty Fuller heard about the “Junior Star Parade” (not the same contest) and its first prize of three silver dollars and decided he’d win.

Rusty was a short wiry energetic kid with red hair and freckles, the baby of a family of four boys, not the serious middle child in the Preacher’s family (they lived across the street from our church, but he never had to go to church anywhere!). He was probably the first “love of my life.” He couldn’t sing and knew nothing about music, but he bribed me with promise of one of the silver dollars when we won if I’d teach him a song. So on a Saturday morning at the Midwest Movie Theater, we got on the stage and he cut-up and carried on and acted the natural performer and stole the show (now and then joining me on the chorus) as I sang “This Ole House.” Sometimes I think I’ve won one of the three silver dollars in every relationship I’ve had since then.

There you have it. Stuart Hamblen and George Frederick Handel forever indelibly joined in a marriage in my mind that makes me a bit squeamish every time I hear either of their names. Fortunately, Hamblen never played any other part in my life, and Handel wrote no solo organ music I was obliged to study earning a Bachelor of Music in organ; I never had to contend with either of them again.

Funny thing, though. Here in my waning years I don’t regret either of those unpleasant experiences. What I do regret is that my self-image was so distorted that I didn’t learn from either of them that perhaps I ought to be learning to write short stories or becoming a boring scholar or computer scientist (to make a zillion dollars) or . . . well, almost anything other than torturing myself with the 60-year dream that someday I will be a great performer. Introverts of the world, unite!

Happy Birthday, Mr. President Washington!

February 22, 1732 [Julian Calendar, February 11, 1731) – December 14, 1799

February 22, 1732 [Julian Calendar, February 11, 1731) – December 14, 1799

How many times have you said (or thought) today, “When I was a kid. . . “ If it’s more than once, you are old. Take my word for it. Old!

If not in years, in attitude.

When I was a kid “you knew where you were then.” A birthday was a birthday. And you actually honored and praised and feted the person whose birthday you were celebrating.

Not anymore.  We celebrate the birthdays of important historical figures whenever we damned well please; that is, when it will give us the most pleasure. Get a day off, have a barbecue, have one too many beers, act like fools.

Oh, my, Professor, you have passed over the “curmudgeon” line into the realm of the nasty “old fart.” Well, read on. My honor and praise and fete of George Washington is going to sound very much like it’s all about me. Well, perhaps it is if you can’t read between the lines.

When I was a kid, George Washington’s birthday celebration was on February 22, the day he was born (and Abraham Lincoln’s was February 12, the day he was born). Our teachers gave us lessons about these great men who did so much to shape the ethos of America—and (Lincoln especially) defined such concepts as “equality” and “freedom”—in essence, of course, made them realities, not concepts.

Constitutional Convention, George Washington presiding

Constitutional Convention, George Washington presiding

The truth is, we celebrated Washington’s Birthday on an arbitrary day. Arbitrary because the British Parliament in 1750 changed the calendar. I don’t know from calendars. Washington was born on February 11, 1731, and then his birthday changed to February 12, 1732. So when he died in 1799, how old was he? Sixty-seven or sixty-eight? And why did the Parliament—which at that time was the Parliament of the Colonies—change the calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian simply because the Roman Catholic church and most of Europe did?

It’s important to me because Washington was either my age or a year younger when he died. YIKES!

So here’s my little meditation on change for the morning:

It’s bad.

And the explanation is that, by the time you get to be sixty-eight, you realize nothing ever changes. Washington’s birthday wasn’t Washington’s birthday while he was still alive, and it isn’t Washington’s birthday today. I guess it’s all in perspective. And when you wake up wondering why you have all this stuff, what—after all—writing on this blog, or wearing clothes that college students won’t laugh at, or having Grapenuts for breakfast, or anything you will deem important today has to do with reality. . . because the Father of our Country lived only to the age you are now. . .

Oops! This was supposed to be light-hearted, to be about my own foibles not to make fun of Mr. President Washington

—I am offended, deeply and profoundly offended by the cheap, untrue, malicious sniping that attends so much conversation about our Head of State these days; I am deeply, profoundly offended by those who do not understand that the horrible untruths and vicious characterizations, as well as the grotesque attempts at humor about our current President are, in fact pillorying the nation—

The closest I'll ever come to making fun of Washington - portrait in Faneuil Hall, Boston

The closest I’ll ever come to making fun of Washington – portrait in Faneuil Hall, Boston

no, not to have fun at Mr. President Washington’s expense but simply to marvel at how different my perspective is now than it was “when I was a kid.” He was this mysterious old man—not simply because he lived in the olden time but because he was “old”—who must have been mature and wise and honorable. Now he is a man. Certainly more organized and leaderly and civilized than I am, but simply this man. This man who knew what to do when he was summoned to greatness, but who lived and died just like me. Probably wondering about the “meaning,” not of his particular life which was eminently clear, but of life.

You, too, can shock an SMU student

Zach. A fine student, too.

Zach. A fine student, too.

Some morning when I won’t bother anyone, I’m going to take a picture of my clock when I wake up. 3:59 AM. Almost regular enough to set your watch by—except no one needs a watch with all of our electronic gadgets showing the exact time. How does that happen? How do my computer, my iPad, and my phone all know exactly the same time? One of the mysteries of the digital age that—if I ponder it longer than it’s taken me to type this sentence—can drive me to distraction.

My neurologist told me once that as I get older the symptoms of TLE would “soften.” That was his word. “Soften.” I have no clue. The only thing that has changed over the years is that actual seizures are almost a thing of the past. Your seizures couldn’t withstand the massive doses of Carbatrol I take, either. Oh, right—you don’t have seizures.

Maybe you do. Perhaps I’m the one with the normal-firing synapses and all of you are really living in constant seizures. That would explain a lot. Consider John Boehner. Perhaps his problem is the massive misfirings in his temporal lobe, misfirings he thinks are normal, and he’s glad I take Carbatrol to make my brain like his. Glad as long as I pay for it myself because his wife has hundreds of shares of Shire? Who knows? Makes as much sense as any other theory I know.

But the TLE symptom that has not gone away? I’m in pretty much full hypergraphic mode this morning. It used to scare me or piss me off which, of course, only made things worse. Now I simply write and write and write and write, and who knows what might dribble off the ends of my fingers.

On a morning when I thought of something to write about the day before (or even when I woke up in the night ready to write and took an Ambien instead) it’s not so much a problem. But on a day like today when I simply have to write and have nothing in mind, it’s a pain in the ass.

In fact, I did have an idea last night, but  I can’t write about my students and put it out here to zoom around in the Ethernet for all of eternity (apparently).

I can tell one little harmless student anecdote. This week is conference week—we suspend classes and I meet with students individually to try to help them make sense out of the essay they’re writing (the person who is writing this is going to help someone write something sensible? There you see the entire problem with our educational system). I have sixty twenty-minute conferences in one week. No wonder I’m in full swing this morning.

They’re writing about the rhetorical means of the Gettysburg Address. Seems a little like having a picnic lunch at the Tomb of the Unknown

The team.

The team.

Soldier at Arlington. The word “desecration” almost comes to mind. I’ve suggested to most of them that they should see the movie Lincoln. Really, it’s a great movie and passably accurate historically. One kid said when I asked if he’d seen it, “My grandfather told me it was boring.”

Well, now. Let’s unpack that sentence.

My grandfather. And just what kind of man is his grandfather? First his age. If the kid is 19 (he’s what we used to call a “Freshman”—now they have much fancier non-sexist names) he was born when his father was, say, 23 (married just out of college), that’s a total of 42. So if his father was born when his father was 23, that makes the grandfather 65. I’m older than his grandfather. Yikes! What am I doing in that office, anyway?

So his grandfather is either 1) not a movie buff, 2) an old man who likes “Terminator” movies, 3) not a history buff, 4) from Texas and has little use for Lincoln, or 5) a grandfather who understands the great chasm between generations.

Those possibilities pretty much unpack the rest of the statement. There’s no way to tell without meeting the grandfather. I don’t want to do that because he’s obviously an old straight white man, and they are a dime a dozen. He’s old. I’m in the prime of my career. Enough said. Except that I do have quite a few straight friends.

So I told the student the story of my being one degree of separation away from Abraham Lincoln. He was pretty amazed—not that I have a real personal reason to be so caught up in studying Lincoln, but that it was possible I could be that old. That’s not what he said, but I could, as they say, see the wheels turning.

Now we come to the end of this little exercise in slowing my mind down. Or not. Is there a point here? That study of rhetorical means? Anyone who knows the Gettysburg Address knows the metaphor of “conceived in liberty” and “new birth of freedom.” What lofty language. Our nation came to be in the fervor of liberty. So, I ask my classes, what is the metaphor, really? Blank stares.

Eminently shockable

Eminently shockable

“What’s the semen for the conception of America?”

That’s how you shock a bunch of college kids.

And probably you, too. Mr. Rarefied Lincoln couldn’t possibly have meant that.

And I say President Lincoln understood liberty in an earthy, primal way John Boehner and the Tea Party cannot even imagine.

For the Love of Jesus: Forgive a musicologist’s rant

Rich Young Man

(Please note: a funny thing sometimes happens when you write. I intended for this to be sarcastic and negative. A friend read it and thought I am somehow thanking the church and its homoerotic music. So now I’m not sure. Is that bad writing or ambiguity on a remarkable scale? Dunno. I trace the “rainbow” through the rain . . .)

Pope Benedict will live at the Vatican—perhaps never leave there. The sovereign state will offer him refuge from prosecution by any country for participation in child sex abuse cover-ups. The old guy has some right not to end up in jail somewhere for his part in the hideous scandals of the church. But really now, as an American I firmly belief no one is above the law.

When I was four or five years old (we lived in Worland, Wyoming), my dad went off to Boston for the annual meeting of the American Baptist Convention. To entertain us while he was away, we had a large and complicated picture jigsaw puzzle to work on. Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler (painting by Heinrich Hoffmann). I’ll be the first to admit I missed the point. But look at the hand-on-the-hip pose of the pretty young man. What a gay blade! He’s haunted my imagination since about 1949. And that hat! To die for.

On Valentine’s Day I blogged about learning hymn tunes when I was a kid. One of my favorites my dad never used in the service. He did not like it. He told me so when I suggested we should sing it. I liked it partly because it was so easy to play (key of A-flat with close voice leading so kid’s hands could reach all the notes). He objected to the tune (perfectly banal) as much as the words.

“O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.” I’m not saying the hymns we sang in church had anything to do with my being a gay boy. But they certainly gave me words to go with what I was feeling, as those paintings gave me images.

Another favorite hymn tune was “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” It may, in fact have been the first hymn tune I ever played. F-major. Tonic, sub-dominant, dominant, tonic. A first-week harmony exercise in a first-year theory class. But the words! “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly.” With the Rich Young Ruler, no doubt. And I won’t even mention coming to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses, and he tells me I am his own.

You think I’m making this up, don’t you?  “O love that wilt not let me go” has been in some pretty important Protestant hymnals**.

I began thinking about all of this because of a picture a friend posted on Facebook. (She did not post it because she loved it!) I’m not sure if it’s a joke. My friend says it’s being passed around by pastors. What that could mean, I don’t know. All I know is it fits right in with love that wilt not let me go. We didn’t revere the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Baptist church, but we did sing about the lover of my soul.65524_10151308245551662_1031495858_n

My Come Hither Eyes?

I just want to raise the question of how mixed a message this is from people who say God and Jesus hate gays. We gay boys were pretty confused. At least I was. Nothing profound or new here. Just saying. I hope Mr. Justice Scalia and Pope Benedict are listening.

**The Baptist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1991 (292).
Christian Worship, a Hymnal. Valley Forge, PA: The Judson Press, 1941 (388).
The Lutheran Book of Worship. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978 (324).
Service Book and Hymnal. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1958 (402).

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

The old man and his organ.

If anyone breathes a word of this to anyone, I will deny it until the day I die. But I love my organ. Sometimes in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, I get up and play with my organ. I’ve even been known to play with my organ naked. My organ isn’t very big as organs go. But it’s big enough for my pleasure. I can do many different things with my organ. I do kinky things with it—things it was never intended to do. My cats love my organ, too. They like to jump up and sit on it. And two of them crowd around me when I’m playing with my organ. They like to watch, and sometimes they even get between my hands and my organ. When I am alone, I almost always play with my organ barefooted. I hardly ever let anyone see my organ. My inamorato gets to see it every time he comes to my house.

My organ.

My organ.

If you’re still reading, you must know I’m talking about the pipe organ in my living room. And yes, I do kinky things on it. I play whatever I want. I’m old enough not to give a fig what anyone thinks—even my dear friend Steuart Goodwin who built it over forty years ago. He doesn’t like my choice of music some times.  It’s been in my living room for only about seven years. That’s a long story I’ll tell someday.

The organ is a mechanical action instrument—the clacking noise you hear is the sound of the wooden “trackers” (thin slats of wood attached to the keys that pull down the valves under the pipes to open them). Nothing electric or electronic here except the wind blower. It certainly is not designed to play Cole Porter.

But, as I said, I play whatever I damned well please, and I don’t particularly care how it sounds or who thinks ill of me. It’s my organ, and I’ll play what I want to, so to speak.

So now I’ve made all the junior high school moronic jokes there are to be made about my organ. I got started writing this because I just played one of my favorite songs and realized that nearly every serious musician I know would be offended by it. Well, go ahead and be offended. Or not. I am one of the luckiest people I know. I have this lovely instrument at my disposal day and night. If I want to play Bach, I can. But usually what I want to play is some old song that warms my heart—or at least touches it in some corner of nostalgia that nothing else can reach. I play for myself and don’t care about such niceties as perfection or “authentic performance practice!” So if you want to listen, I’d be delighted, but remember, it’s my party and I’ll play how I want to.

Fair Park, Oasis of Existentialism

Hunt Oil Tower, Walking home from El Fenix--my favorite Dallas building (photo by Jerome Sims)

Hunt Oil Tower, Walking home from El Fenix–my favorite Dallas building (photo by Jerome Sims)

Walking home from dinner last night (at the original El Fenix, downtown, across from the new Perot Science Museum), we saw a couple walking their dogs. Hers was missing its right hind leg—well, he didn’t have it, but he didn’t seem to be missing it—a cute Youtube animal. AJS told me about a dog he had seen with only his left front and right hind legs who was able to walk by propelling himself with his tail.

Now there’s pluck!

I was complaining (I hope mostly to myself) about bursitis in my left shoulder and the continuing whatever-it-is pain in my right hip. No bouncing around on two limbs for me! I need a tail.

Earlier in the day we took a walk through Buchanan’s Vintage Market at Grand Place in Fair Park. I, for one was twice surprised. Nothing in the place demanded that I take it home, and we didn’t see any other gay couples poking around.

(They must have been sidetracked by MARDI GRAS TEXAS STYLE 2013 at the Fair Park Automobile Building: “Noon to Midnight, 5 Stages, 28 Bands—Josh Abbott, Max Stalling, Randy Rogers & more!” I’ve never heard of any of those folks, as you can imagine. I discovered Erykah Badu only last week!)

One reason I wanted to go to the Vintage Market is I’ve been looking for a wing-backed chair for my living room. It has to complement the ottoman I finally found after years of looking, and it has to be tall enough to “hide” my cats’ kitty condo climbing box. I found a chair I thought might work. It was the right height, but when I asked AJS if he thought it would work, he pointed out what I had not noticed. The chair

A Corner to Hide

A Corner to Hide

was ugly.

Gay sensibility triumphed. Décor must be what décor must be. It cannot be left to chance.

Mere chance? Then it’s by chance this room is furnished as we see it. It’s an accident that the sofa on the right is a livid green, and that one the left’s wine-red. Mere chance? Well, just try to shift the sofas and you’ll see the difference quick enough (Jean Paul Sartre, No Exit.)

Let me disabuse you of thinking I’m some sort of literatus who would naturally think of Sartre in connection with finding an ugly chair. No, Grand Place at Fair Park itself reminded me of Sartre, and I became an instant existentialist.

But all our guests ask me the same questions. Silly questions. . .  Where’s the torture-chamber. . . They don’t bother their heads about the bathroom requisites, that I can assure you. But after a bit, when they’ve got their nerve back, they start in about their toothbrushes and what-not. Good heavens. . . What, I ask you, would be the point of brushing your teeth? (Sartre, No Exit).

And what does all this have to do with walking home from El Fenix? Or three-legged dogs? Or my bursitis? Nothing. It’s all just existential.

No Exit???

No Exit???