“The bait is the hope for a hand on your brow” **

Samuel Pepys tells all

Samuel Pepys tells all

We know I spew too much stuff out in public that I should keep private. Unlike Samuel Pepys, I am not yet dead, so publishing details of my life is probably more exhibitionism than literary inventiveness, and talking about other people is, I suppose, rude. Yesterday (that is, March 31, 1660) Pepys reported that, “At night Mr. Sheply, Howe, Ibbott, and I supped in my cabin together.”

That I post stuff here (and on Facebook) and that you read it and then you post stuff and I read it is a phenomenon I am beginning to study. Is this taking the place of actual face to face encounters? How is it that society has changed since the advent of this online stuff? Why I write is a life-long mystery that has something to do with the seizure activity in my brain, but these days everyone is doing it.

The choir of Calvary Lutheran Church in Richland Hills, Texas, is making a “Musical Mission Trip” to Scandinavia and Russia in June. Viktor Anderson, the director, asked me months ago to go with them and play a little organ music. I was so excited about the trip when he first asked that I immediately paid the fee to hold my place, cleared my calendar, and began talking with Viktor about music (and the amazing organs I will get to play).

Then came a series of events over which I had no control (in some ways they were my choices and actions come back to haunt me), and I slumped into the kind of depression and fear that have been the stuff of my life so much of the time.

This is neither a “tell-all” about the vagaries of my little life nor a contemplation of depression (which I know intimately but know very little “about”). I will report the three main depressing events.

  1. Winter (I need say no more except March 21 is the most important day of the year because it is the day sunlight takes over from darkness).
  2. I fell on (not in) my bathtub on February 1 and have had pain in my right hip ever since (muscle relaxants, pain killers, and physical therapy notwithstanding).
  3. SMU’s English Department decided I must retire after the spring semester, 2014.

Rather than a “tell-all,” this is a “ponder much.” The pondering is this. This is a time when I am in love (old farts like me can fall in love), when I

Holy Cross ChurchFinland

Holy Cross Church

have weekends free for the first time in over 50 years (the church where I was organist closed), when I am caught up in (when I have time, which isn’t much lately) researching the life and musical work of David Diamond, when I have a spiffy brand-new car that’s paid for – I could, and should, simply to remind myself, go on and on.

And with all of that, I am fighting off the kind of depression that has in the past landed me in the hospital (yes, the mental hospital). Sheesh! How do you explain that? You might have an explanation, but I don’t.

Except for this. I can’t help it. It’s the way the universe put this particular manifestation of homo sapiens together. It is what it is. Much of the time these days I can say to myself, “Self, you’re depressed. So what? It is what it is. Carry on. Deal with it.”

But sometimes I can’t when it piles up and rolls over me. I am neither unique nor particularly interesting when this happens. But I can’t belittle it or underestimate its power, and if you do, you are a jerk.

Why do I write at 4 AM?

Why do I write at 4 AM?

Things pile up in my mind. That saps my energy (as does constant dull pain in my hip—which is, thank goodness, getting better). Then I can’t make myself work, do things like grade papers. That makes me angry with myself, and I get more down, and I can work even less, which makes me angry at myself which makes me more depressed . . .

And in the middle of this I’m in love, I have a new car, AND there’s this trip to Scandinavia. I can’t afford it now. Who in my financial position can take $4,000 out of their retirement pittance (it really is a pittance—remind me to write about what happens when you don’t start your career until you’re 42).

Then generosity steps in. I can’t say how. But it’s gracious. I think it’s what the Southern Baptists sing about. “Amazing grace.” It’s not that I was lost and now am found. And I’m pretty sure it’s from people, not from God. Pretty sure. But I’m ready to accept it.

Do you get the import of the lines from Liz Walner’s poem?

. . . the blind river of sadness rolls
on and in it, a hand is always reaching up
to pick fish from the night-time sky.

I do.

** A  Calculus of Readiness
by Liz Waldner

I, too, come from the city of dolls.
A small palm is my umbrella.
This takes care of above
but below, the blind river of sadness rolls
on and in it, a hand is always reaching up
to pick fish from the night-time sky.

The lines on the palm of the hand lure a trout
with a strand of hair from the head of a doll.
The bait is the hope for a hand on your brow.
Shadows play on the wall. Or the face of a doll.
The plants eyeing each other
is all.

I would not call the stars generous.
They don’t cry enough for dolls to play Drink Me.
They don’t cast a covenant’s fishy rainbow
yet leaf faces watch the open window
where they hang far and hard.
The rein of starlight a second hand
with which to play Go Fish.
Now Give me a hand, plants. Now give me
good-night, stars.

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