Thank goodness, I haven’t simply become a whining old man

A shadow of my former self

A shadow of my former self

About a month ago, on April 28, I wrote here about my new appendage. I worried about using that word to describe my cane, but put my mind at rest:

Anatomy, Zoology, any member of the body diverging from the axial trunk.
Botany, Mycology, any subsidiary part superadded to another part.
A person in a subordinate or dependent position, especially a servile or parasitic follower

My cane “diverg[es] from [my] axial trunk” and is a “subsidiary part superadded to another part.” It’s not connected to my “core,” as my physical therapist and trainer both call my axial trunk (I’ve never, apparently, exercised it enough). And the cane is superadded to my hand (or is it to my legs? an interesting existential question).

Yesterday I found out that the pain in my butt is not psychosomatic, that I’m not wimp, that I’m not simply looking for attention. And that I’m not a whining old man. The nice young man (when did high school kids start being doctors?) showed me the shadows and lines on the x-rays of my hip that indicate there really is something wrong. He said my synovial cartilage and my synovial membrane are both damaged.

Additionally, one of the wavy lines indicates “a probability of the early development of arthritis” (early?) and the bump (the one I could see clearly) is a bone spur. How the hell do you grow a bone spur on the top of your femur?

How Dr. Thornton can discern all of that by looking at a tiny black-and-white (in fact, gray and lighter gray) image on a piece of plastic is beyond my comprehension. I guess that’s what his years of education taught him—as opposed to my equal number of years that taught me the history of the organ fugue.

I’m telling you this to help you begin to reach old age with at least a modicum of understanding of what happens to your body as you hang around in it longer and longer. Oh, and by the way, he thinks my fall on February 1 merely exacerbated all of these things. It didn’t cause them—except for the damage to the synovial cartilage and membrane. Don’t you just love that word? “Synovial.” Etymology Online says the word dates from “1756, from synovia, Modern Latin sinovia, probably a coinage of Paracelsus and apparently an invented word. “ Who the hell was Paracelsus? says it’s a lubricating fluid resembling the white of an egg found at the joints.

When I fell, I damaged the cartilage and membrane in my hip that produce egg whites. But I have a bone spur and arthritis, too, so until further notice I may be stuck with the member of [my] body diverging from [my] axial trunk that’s really a subsidiary part superadded to another part of my body. Oh, JOY!

High schoolers playing doctor

High schoolers playing doctor

I’m writing all of this so those of you who look at me with disdain and think, “Omigod, I don’t ever want to be old and fragile like that one”

(assuming, of course, that I carelessly somehow brought this onto myself—I guess I did when I decided I could put up that shower curtain without standing securely). Most of this would have happened anyway. I don’t think there is a mental or spiritual defense against bone spurs. Maybe I haven’t prayed enough to St. Luke the physician or Raphael the Archangel. I don’t know. Perhaps I haven’t taken care of my body (which is true). Would jogging a couple of miles every other day for my entire life have prevented arthritis or a bone spur? I’m sure I don’t know.

Here’s what I know about having reached the age of 68.

  • Whatever shape your body was in when you were 48, get over it. It’s gone.
  • Whatever shape your mind was in when you were 48, well it’s not quite gone. It’s in there somewhere. You just have to look a little harder for it.
  • Whatever shape your emotions were in when you were 48—this is my experience alone, and it may not be borne out by research of any kind or by anyone else’s experience—it’s much more intense when you are 68. Everything feels more real, more affective. Funny things are funnier, joy is more joyful, and depression is more depressing (if you’ve ever been hospitalized for depression, it seems always to be on the horizon, even when you’re happy, joyous, and free). Don’t even think about falling love!
  • Whatever you thought about politics and people who talk about politics will change exponentially every year. Absurdity simply grows more absurd.
  • Walking with a cane will be the least of your worries. All of the wolves are at the door.
Many people older than age 65 live  happy and healthy independent lives.  Some changes in the ability to think are  considered a normal part of the aging process.

Many people older than age 65 live
happy and healthy independent lives.
Some changes in the ability to think are
considered a normal part of the aging process.

More important than anything I can ever write; you will never see this in the American media.

The new home of the Al-Salaymeh family in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem. Israeli Occupation Forces destroyed their old home on May 29, 2013,  displacing the 13 members of the Al-Salaymeh family.

The new home of the Al-Salaymeh family in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem.
Israeli Occupation Forces destroyed their old home on May 29, 2013,
displacing the 13 members of the Al-Salaymeh family.

If you want attempts at humor you will have to go elsewhere today.

This is an open letter from Alice Walker (Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple) to Alicia Keys (pianist, R&B singer-songwriter, actress). Published yesterday.

Dear Alicia Keys,

I have learned today that you are due to perform in Israel very soon. We have never met, though I believe we are mutually respectful of each other’s path and work. It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists. You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people. Google Montgomery Bus Boycott, if you don’t know about this civil rights history already. We changed our country fundamentally, and the various boycotts of Israeli institutions and products will do the same there. It is our only nonviolent option and, as we learned from our own struggle in America, nonviolence is the only path to a peaceful future.

If you go to my website and blog you can quickly find many articles I have written over the years that explain why a cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions (not individuals) is the only option left to artists who cannot bear the unconscionable harm Israel inflicts every day on the people of Palestine, whose major “crime” is that they exist in their own land, land that Israel wants to control as its own. Under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel’, Israeli officials have stated specifically their intent to downplay the Palestinian conflict by using culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place.

This is actually a wonderful opportunity for you to learn about something sorrowful, and amazing: that our government (Obama in particular) supports a system that is cruel, unjust, and unbelievably evil. You can spend months, and years, as I have, pondering this situation. Layer upon layer of lies, misinformation, fear, cowardice and complicity. Greed. It is a vast eye-opener into the causes of much of the affliction in our suffering world.

I have kept you in my awareness as someone of conscience and caring, especially about the children of the world. Please, if you can manage it, go to visit the children in Gaza, and sing to them of our mutual love of all children, and of their right not to be harmed simply because they exist.

With love, younger sister, beloved daughter and friend,
Alice Walker

Where on earth have you been?

The Cathedral Church, St. Albans, England. Religion or Spirituality?

The Cathedral Church, St. Albans, England. Religion or Spirituality?

This question has (Duh!) many answers. Depending if it’s in reference to physically, mentally, or spiritually.

I’ll begin with mentally. This morning I had reason to write on a friend’s FB page a note about earning a PhD. My friend said,

I’m encouraging my mother to re-embrace her title — “DR.”— since I remember all she went through when she earned her Ph.D.

I responded,

It took me years to realize that my PhD is not simply an honorary formality. A major university does, in fact, recognize me as having successfully completed the most rigorous level of academic work. But I am still surprised when people call me “Doctor.” Tell your mom that she really DOES deserve the title and it’s OK to feel set apart in this instance because she is. I’ll bet she calls her physician “doctor.” That refers to her level of education, not her profession.

I have been in the rarefied atmosphere of the graduate school at the University of Iowa School of Music. I have taught at Salem State College in Massachusetts, Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, the University of Texas at Dallas, two of the Dallas County Community College campuses, and Southern Methodist University.

None of these is Harvard or Stanford or the University of Chicago. I’m not a real intellectual. But I know such a creature when I see one (and they’re not all at those three schools). I have known quite a few. They aren’t as plentiful as you might think. Neither Newt Gingrich nor Rachel Maddow is. In fact, I know some university department chairs who are not.

So where have I been mentally? At the periphery of scholarship, on the edge of thinking well and/or greatly, in the vicinity of being smart.

The Amazon at Manaus, Brazil. What a trip!

The Amazon at Manaus, Brazil. What a trip!

Of course, I can claim some extenuating circumstances. I have a brain disorder that has made it difficult for me to concentrate on much of anything for my whole life (my first seizure happened when I was in third grade, about 1953, and my TLE was not diagnosed until 1982). That’s not a cop-out. I’m also just plain lazy and not all that smart. I also have a mind disorder (I’m not one of those who was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder as the designer disease of the 2000s) that explains much.

So where I’ve been mentally is pretty squirrelly.

Spiritually – I’m not going there. I don’t know for sure what that means. I inwardly raise an eyebrow any time I hear someone say, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” I think, for whatever my non-intellectual thinking is worth, that’s pretty sloppy thinking. It’s a meaningless statement, but if it gives the speaker comfort, who am I to question it. Even the Southern Baptists seem to be disavowing religion. Their new $135,000,000 building down the street in Dallas is just “First Baptist Dallas,” not “First Baptist Church.” “Spirituality” is a catch-all word for something most people don’t really feel and can’t explain.

I don’t have a clue and admit it.

So that leaves physically. This—unless quantum physics (which I obviously do not have the brains or the education to understand) is right and I can be in several places at once or in parallel universes, or whatever—is easy to talk about. I’ve lived in Douglas and Worland, WY; Kearney, Scottsbluff and Omaha, NE; Redlands, Ontario, and Upland, CA; Iowa City and Muscatine, IA; Methuen, Beverly, and Salem, MA; and Dallas, TX.

I have visited (at the very least, passed through) all 48 of the “continental” United States.

I have been to England (and the Channel Islands), Spain, France, Canada, and Mexico on my own.

I have been to England, Brazil, Germany, Jordan, The Occupied Territory of Palestine (including Gaza), and Israel as a member of one group or another traveling for specific (educational) purposes.

I’m about to be physically (unless quantum physics is right) in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia! I’ve written about that here before. I’m finally getting REALLY excited about it. I’m not going on my own; rather, I’m going with a church choir to make some music.

Holy Cross Church, Rauma, Finland. Next stop on the journey?

Holy Cross Church, Rauma, Finland. Next stop on the journey?

And here’s what I think about my travel. Wherever I have gone (or will go) I end up taking myself with me. Every hour I’ve spent anywhere besides in my little abode has changed me.  The limited mental and spiritual me—I’m beginning to think—is informed by the places I’ve been, and I wouldn’t give that experience up for anything (and I’m jealous of everyone who’s done more travel than I), but I must remember that it’s me here in my body and mind (and perhaps my “spirit”), and no amount of travel (or any other experience) is going to do much to improve that. It is, as they say in AA, “an inside job,” and I better hop to it.

Not a travelogue or a commercial, however. . .

The way in

The way in

To imagine Texas was, for most of my life, to conjure up visions of wide-open spaces that were—unlike the lofty wide-open spaces of Nebraska—not attractive. Brown, dusty, too flat. The kind of place only people who had no interest in “the beautiful” could live. To imagine Dallas was to think of the John F. Kennedy assassination, enough to reject it out of hand. Then there was that TV show which I loathe (I think is not too strong a word). I clearly remember watching “Dallas” and coming to the realization that those were horrid people treating each other abominably (never mind they were a fiction), and I did not watch it again.

The view from the cabin porch

The view from the cabin porch

I assumed the Ewings—like uninviting landscapes and unimaginable violence—represented Dallas.

Even after I had lived here for quite a while (I came here in 1994), those were my impressions of the city. Friends would ask why I disliked the place, and I would respond self-righteously, “Where’s the beach? Where are the mountains?” And then there was the whole political thing. Any state that would defeat Ann Richards as governor in favor of George W. Bush was probably not a place I wanted to live.

Of course, it took many years for me to realize I was—at least in part—transferring my feelings around many personal realities and experiences onto Dallas. I’ll write about that some other day.

Perhaps in my incipient old age I have finally begun to learn with St. Paul “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). I suppose he did not mean Texas as opposed to Massachusetts or the other four states where I’ve lived, but it works (as a mindlessly awful pun).  The fact I can quote Philippians says a great deal about my growing up all over the map. I went to summer camp as a kid. Nebraska Baptist. We learned the Bible.

For three days this week I took a small R&R with my inamorato after the end of the semester in an unexpectedly attractive and interesting part of

Fabio, the African deer, up close and personal

Fabio, the African deer, up close and personal

Texas. It’s a drive of only two hours from downtown Dallas—the small town Glen Rose (population 2,444). It boasts several attractions, the primary one, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. It’s a special place, dedicated to saving wild animals (mostly from Africa), both individuals and species.

I suppose some “tree-huggers” or “animal rights activists” or whatever will think it’s criminal or cruel or arrogant to have these animals trapped in a 2,000-acre “zoo.” Well, go ahead. Think that. Individual animals live there of three species that are extinct in the wild. Several species are part of intense efforts to save them and re-introduce them into the wild. The Attwater’s Prairie Chicken project of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, of which Fossil Rim is a part, is one of the most important to Texans.

Rather than drive through the Center on the public roads, we took the four-hour “Behind the Scenes” tour with a trained volunteer guide. She took us into secluded and sensitive areas where important work is in progress with endangered animals. It’s the only way to see the place. For example, we saw close up the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken project.

See, I can write simple informative stuff.  So if you live anywhere near Glen Rose, get yourself out to Fossil Rim.

Yes, the Mexican grey wolf is back there somewhere

Yes, the Mexican grey wolf is back there somewhere

By the way (this is a commercial), if you want a real getaway, I can tell you where to stay overnight —the Paluxy River Bed Cabins. If you had told me before this week there was such a place two hours from downtown Dallas, I would have said you were crazy. If you want seclusion in the woods, but also want all the comforts of home (except TV and Wi-fi)—rustic but clean and comfortable, quiet, and did I say secluded?—well, get yourself a cabin. It’s not a chalet in Colorado, but it’s a treasure close to home.

Glen Rose has some Texas oddities. There’s the Creation Evidence Museum. I kid you not. The center of dinosaur studies in Texas (Dinosaur Valley State Park –not much of a place to see) is close by, and some wacko Bible literalist has set out to prove the dinosaurs lived only 6,000 years ago, the fictitious time Biblical literalists have chosen for God’s fait accompli creation of the earth. My worst fears about Texas, realized. (We steered clear.)

In the past year I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy downtown Dallas. Now I’ve found a perfect place to get away from the city. Next thing you know, I’ll be singing the praises of Texas. Perhaps.

An evening walk by the Paluxy

An evening walk by the Paluxy

My summer reading list –ADD YOURS, PLEASE!

girl_with_dragon_tattoo_bookAmazon Books has listed The Psychology of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Understanding Lisbeth Salander and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, in which, apparently, “19 psychologists and psychiatrists attempt to do what even expert investigator Mikael Blomkvist could not: understand Lisbeth Salander.”

Any story, IMHO, that needs 19 psychologists and psychiatrists to understand it probably isn’t worth reading.  That does not include Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the other two stories in the trilogy. Anyone who wants to bother finding out what 19 psychologists and psychiatrists have to say about Lisbeth Salander is welcome to waste her time, but it certainly is not necessary. I just finished the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire.

Here’s what I (with an almost PhD in esthetic studies) have to say about the novels: they are great yarns! Steig Larsson did not bother with all the “literary” techniques, the niceties that make a “great novel” by the standards of academic literaturists (I can make up a word if I want to), but—my goodness!—he can tell a story. I am grateful to Larsson, may he rest in peace, for helping me find out once again how much fun it can be to read a novel.

For the last ten or so years, I have not been able to read novels because I haven’t been able to concentrate long enough to get through one. And now I’ve read all but the last 15 pages of two and will begin the third in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest today.  I’ve been told by more than one friend that it’s not as good as the first two of the trilogy, but I was told that about the second compared with the first—and I’ve found it not true. But what do I know.  (There are other reasons for my inability to read—a problem with sleep, for one. I won’t go into those little issues here.)

So I fully expect to keep reading for fun this summer. The 19 psychiatrists can spoil their own fun if they want to, but they are not going to spoil mine.

I know when my ability to read a novel ended: in 1999 when the members of my (second, never-to-be-finished) PhD committee gave me a list of about 30 novels I needed to read (in one summer) in order to take my qualifying exams. I read them. I passed the exams. And I quit the program.

In 1985 I taught a course in World Literature at Salem State College in Massachusetts. It was pretty strange, I will admit. I was an adjunct music teacher drafted to teach Freshman English because that department was desperate and they read my in-progress dissertation and decided I wrote well enough to teach writing (!?!). Then they decided I could teach World Literature (on what basis, I do not know).  I’d say I didn’t “teach” the students much. Together we read a Greek tragedy, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, some short stories by Flannery O’Connor, E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, and Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. Not a bad list. If I were to teach such a course now, at least some of the stuff by dead white men would be replaced.

He dared to write "epilepsy"

He dared to write “epilepsy”

I have read much of the “standard” literature – you know, the “Canon.”  But my reading for the last ten years or so has been mostly non-fiction, mostly academic articles, mostly really boring (if not irrelevant) attempts by scholars to understand/explain this-that-or-the-other.

So thanks to Steig Larsson, my summer reading list is taking shape.

  • It will begin with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

I already have on my Nook/Kindle/iPad:

  • William Gibson’s Neuromancer (I’ve never read it),
  • Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place,
  • Louise Erdrich’s The Master Butchers (which I’ve started twice but not finished), and
  • Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer.

I also have a paper copy of

  • the recent translation of The Idiot, by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky which is authentic enough to translate the word “epilepsy” as “epilepsy” instead of the vague, meaningless words that translators have always used.

I may even add more murder mysteries if I can find some good ones.

I’d like to know what other folks are reading these days.

My first summer reading venue

My first summer reading venue


Note: If you listen to NPR or PBS, you’ve no doubt heard they are supported by the Carnegie Foundation, endowed by Andrew Carnegie “to do real and permanent good.” The Scottsbluff, NE, public library (left) is one of many the Carnegie Foundation built across the country,

Their way—not my way—with words

They have a way with words

They have a way with words


A few days ago Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, hosts and stars of NPR’s “A Way with Words,” were in town. A crowd of us “grammar nerds,” packed the iconic 1938 art deco Lakewood Theater to hear them have fun with words. The program was—from any objective viewpoint—wonderfully odd. Martha and Grant emceed word games in the style of “Jeopardy” with three Dallas personages (including the Mayor) competing. And Martha and Grant each gave fascinating twenty-minute talks about their lives with words.

The event was a fund-raiser for the Aberg Center for Literacy in Dallas. (Please click the link and learn about the Center.)

If you know the NPR show, you know these two are quick-witted, smart, and funny. Their banter about the origins of words is for “grammar nerds” both entertaining and informative.

Grant Barrett’s lecture/talk/slideshow was about his new understanding of how we use words, based on his observations of his six-year-old son’s evolving use of language.

Martha Barnett told us about her seduction into the love of words through her private tutoring with an retired professor from the University of Tennessee when she was studying ancient Greek. Yes, ancient Greek—which became her college major. Her description of his teaching—throwing away all the grammar books and simply looking at words and asking questions—is my “take-away” for the evening.


This semester the students in the classes I planned wrote essays about three speeches by U.S. Presidents: Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” Reagan’s “Challenger Address,” and Roosevelt’s “A Date that Will Live in Infamy” speech. My “Goal” (a sacred word in education) was to accomplish the “Learning Outcomes” (an even more sacred term) of understanding the rhetoric of the speeches themselves and beginning to think about the role of Presidential rhetoric in our nation’s life.

The unstated goal—the education specialists who decide which words are sacred this year would not like to see this in my course description—was, as always, to help students to think well enough to put two ideas together (almost any two ideas will do) and write an essay explaining how the ideas go together, an essay that doesn’t sound as if either a fourth-grader or an academic wrote it.

The only textbook I had the students buy is a (tiny by college standards) book, Slipping the Surly Bonds, by Mary E. Stuckey, a study of Reagan’s “Challenger Address.” I chose the book for Stuckey’s discussion of “epideictic” versus “deliberative” rhetoric. Most presidential speaking these days is, by Stuckey’s definition, “epideictic,” that is, ceremonial and (perhaps) eloquent, rather than “deliberative,” that is, explanatory and (perhaps) logical.

He had a way with Peggy Noonan's words

He had a way with Peggy Noonan’s words

For three months we talked about epideictic oratory (Stuckey takes her definition from Aristotle). The  ceremonial occasions for it. The writing that makes it eloquent (sic) as opposed to thought-provoking. We found epideictic passages in the three speeches. We talked about how Reagan (more precisely, Peggy Noonan, his speech writer) wove epideictic speech together with deliberative speech in the “Challenger Address” in order to remember and praise the astronauts who died in the Challenger disaster and at the same time to defend and promote the nation’s space program.

I design classes so the students talk among themselves, write for themselves and each other, and critique each other’s ideas. I pretty much stay out of the process except to discuss their ideas and their proposals for presenting their ideas after they have struggled with them. Last week I discovered the failure of my approach.

The final assignment this semester was to write a personal statement why it’s important that Americans discern what’s going on in presidential rhetoric, a statement without my input, their only “solo flight” of the semester. One student’s essay included the following sentences:
Because presidential speeches all have a purpose, whether it is an epidemic or deliberative, the speech is not effective if the audience does not distinguish between the two. . . An epidemic is a way to affect or tend to affect a large number of individuals within a nation all at once. . . When you connect with the American people, then an epidemic starts to go in effect. Once an epidemic of a speech has started, you can tell. The attitude, the audience, and atmosphere change rapidly.

Stay away from Greek words

Stay away from Greek words

When you stop laughing and cringe (as I am, still), answer for me a couple of questions. How on earth does one teach? Is it possible to teach? How did Martha’s tutor do it—throw away the textbooks and inspire her? What is education anyway, a process, an outcome, something else that I haven’t even thought of yet? Forty years I’ve been doing this, and I don’t know.

I have a very special passport!

My teacher

My teacher

In the last semester of the sequence of courses in which they learn academic writing skills, students at my university are required to write a research essay. This arrangement has a plethora of inconsistencies. The first is that few teachers in the department actually know how to do research.

Please note that I said “inconsistencies,” not “ironies.”

Most often when someone uses the word “irony,” she uses it incorrectly. An irony is not some bizarre inconsistency that flies in the face of reason. An irony is “an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected,” or an “incongruity between what is expected to be and what actually is.”

[“Irony” has a specific meaning in literature which I will not attempt to discuss here.]covey

Irony must be self-conscious—in order for something to be ironic, one must have an expectation. One has to know things are askew in order to understand them as ironic. If one is simply clueless, one is not participating in an irony. Otherwise, things are simply irrational or, as I said, inconsistent.

Here is a real irony. I teach classes in which one of the stated educational “outcomes” is that students know how to do research.

Oh, I say arrogantly, don’t get me wrong. I know how to do research.

First, I know that doing research requires discipline, attention to detail, the ability to concentrate on the matter at hand, and to keep track of every “jot and tittle” of what one is doing.

Do you remember a few years back when everyone was carrying around parcels called FranklinCovey Day Planner? They were the brainchild and the cash cow of Stephen R. Covey who wrote the book, The Seven Deadly Sins of Highly (self-proclaimed) Effective People. Everyone you knew was carrying one and organizing her life into quadrants to make her highly effective.

I’m getting to my passport.

In 1999, my late partner and one of my best friends conspired to make me highly effective by purchasing (and adding a few cents to the enormous wealth of Mr. Covey) a FranklinCovey Day Planner. By all means it should have made me highly effective. The problem was, I never remembered to carry it with me, and, in fact, most of the time had no idea where it was (I know it was 1999 because it’s right here on my desk).

That’s irony. I was totally and painfully aware that the first requirement for becoming highly effective was to remember to do something that was, simply put, impossible for me to do, and, therefore, I would never be highly effective. My inattention to detail was keeping me from attending to details.

Yes, I know—the passport.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychological Association lists a bunch of symptoms for adult Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. The six that apply to me are:

Inattention to details/makes careless mistakes
Difficulty sustaining attention
Fails to finish tasks/does not follow through
Difficulty organizing tasks or activities
Loses things necessary for tasks/activities
Easily distracted by external stimuli
Forgetful in daily activities

Will I ever learn?

Will I ever learn?

I’m not blaming my seizure-prone brain for my failures. I’m simply inattentive to details, have difficulty organizing tasks, and lose things necessary for the tasks I have difficulty organizing.

In 1990, I went with a group of educators on the most splendid excursion I can imagine for three weeks in Brazil. Of course, I had to have a passport.

In 2003, I went with a delegation of the Fellowship of Reconciliation to Palestine and Israel. I had to renew my passport because it was more than ten years old.

In 2009 (I think it was), I went with a bunch of Lutherans to Palestine. I had to get a new passport because I could not find mine.

In 2013 (now), I’m fixin’ (Texan for “I’m getting ready”) to go to Scandinavia with a Lutheran church choir. I had to get a new passport because the one I got in 2009 is, you guessed it, lost.

I have a very special passport! It’s good for only a year from its effective date (about two weeks ago) instead of ten years because the State Department wants to teach me to be a highly effective person. John Kerry insists that I pay attention to details. If I am a good boy and remember where this passport is a year from now, I can get one good for ten years (so I can make my mythical trip to Easter Island?).

The irony (the inconsistency that flies in the face of all expectations—of which I am painfully aware) of all of this is that I teach—teach very well—college students to pay attention to details. Go figure.

Where is Aceso when we need her. . . not for atheists or biblical literalists

The River Acheron - for real!

The River Acheron – for real!

Somewhere in the Philippines is an oversized book copy of Dante’s Inferno. It is a spectacular copy illustrated with reprints of the well-known woodcut illustrations by Gustave Dore (1832-1883). I know the book is there because it was supposed to be mine.

I grew up with the book. Or, to be more precise, when I was a kid, I found the book in my father’s study and read Inferno because I could not imagine the story those pictures went with. Yes, read Inferno when I was in third or fourth grade. (How do you think I know which circle of Hell is reserved for eternity for the monster who invented fluorescent lights?) That I knew the book existed had to be a secret because that meant I had been sneaking into Dad’s study and reading books. We were not allowed in the study unless he was there working.

The book is in the Philippines because, when Dad was disposing of the “things” of his life to move into the assisted living section of the retirement community where my parents lived, he boxed up books to give to a Baptist seminary in the Philippines. Inferno was one of the books with a sticker bearing my name that was supposed to stay in Fresno until I could retrieve it. Someone put it in a seminary box, and I never saw it again.

Aceso by Dore

Acheron by Dore

It’s hard for me to imagine that any Baptist seminary student in the Philippines or anywhere else would read Divine Comedy seriously. Or perhaps they eat it up because, as anyone with any sense knows, it and Milton’s Paradise Lost—not the Bible or any other religious writing—are the source for Fundamentalist Christians’ (and nearly everyone else’s) ideas about the nature of the afterlife.

When I was in high school (we were living in Omaha, NE, in a house on 58th Street) my bedroom and Dad’s study were, for a while, in the same “finished” attic space, and Dad came up to work and found me reading Inferno (again) –or, rather, looking at the Dore illustrations. He told me to be careful to remember it was fiction, Dante’s creation, and not to be confused with Biblical theology of heaven and hell. Some Baptist preachers can discern the difference between a good yarn and religious faith.

Aceso - goddess of healing

Aceso – goddess of healing

All of this memory stuff came flooding back this morning because I was fiddling around trying to put together a cute little posting about my need for a visit from Apollo and/or his daughter Aceso, the goddess of healing of pain. In the process of my snooping around in Google, I came across an electronic copy of the Dore print of Charon ferrying dead souls across the River Acheron, the River of Pain, into Hell. We all think the River Styx is Charon’s bailiwick, but it’s only one of them.

My proposed cute little posting (yes, I’m supposed to be finishing the grades for the last of my four classes) was inspired by my waking up with the return of the pain in my hip. Not really pain, but uncomfortable awareness. I had thought earlier this week that my four-month ordeal was over. But it’s a good thing, I guess, I didn’t get rid of the cane.

My pain in the butt has been from time to time a sharper and longer-lasting pain than I ever wanted to feel. I know I’m a wuss (“a male person with low courage factor,” according to the Urban Dictionary), and what I’ve been experiencing is hardly pain by most people’s standards. But it’s been, well, a pain the butt for far too long.

So I woke up this morning wishing for a visit from Aceso, the minor deity assigned to helping those in pain, because I assumed my pain wouldn’t warrant a visit from Apollo, the head honcho god of healing. I was just getting ready to watch her duke it out with Lupe (not to be confused with the Virgin of Guadalupe), goddess of pain and suffering, when I came across the Dore etching of Charon on the Acheron, and I got hopelessly sidetracked.

A visit from the healer?

A visit from the healer?

And that got me to thinking (for perhaps the thousandth time) that, if we hadn’t gotten rid of all of those wonderful gods and goddesses in favor of the One True God, it would be much easier for me (and, I suspect, millions of other mere mortals) to give up our agnosticism (or outright atheism).

I mean, who wouldn’t like a visit from, a little chat with, a stroke of healing by Apollo?

I need a rotten group

I’ll show my students , some of whom seem to be reading this blog (who else would have done searches for the arcane topics of our classes –“Taft let us not go to war speech,”  twenty-two yesterday, for example) that I know how to make a proper MLA citation. Why they’re searching now when the semester is dead and gone, I don’t know.

Because Joseph ... did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Because Joseph … did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Grow too old to write? Au contraire. In actuality the longer one has lived, the better the writer they can become. It can be suggested by many from simple observation . . . that instead of losing a writing ability with age individuals actually grow to watch their skills blossom and become fruitful over time. In comparing the senior writer to a younger. . . there are many obvious ways we can see that the elder can be just as skillful in the writing practice, with maybe even a bit of an advantage. . .  life experiences (Voth).

Voth, Lori. “Senior Citizens: Too Old to Write, Too Opinionated to Publish, or Invaluable Resources? How to Benefit Most from Your Elder Artist
Writer Acquaintance.” Yahoo Voices. Oct 16, 2007. Web. 16 May 2013.

The question is, “Am I too old to write?”

That’s not the question. I have to write. No matter what. I’m supposed to be grading the final essays for my classes at this very moment. Not grading them will push my completion time back by some unknown but totally unacceptable amount. Unacceptable to the university registrar. Unacceptable to the students. Unacceptable to me. I have too many other urgent deadlines to be stuck here much longer grading papers.

My slavery here is my own damned fault. I’m the one who created the deadline of last week for 57 students each to submit two essays (actually two parts of one essay) totaling 3500-4000 words accompanied by an annotated bibliography.

But before I grade, I have to write.

This morning will be a challenge for two reasons. I did not wake up with a topic already going in my head. (my suspicion about that was confirmed by Dr. Alice Flaherty, who—literally—wrote the book on hypergraphia. I emailed her [Egad! Did I write that post?] asking if it is her experience that we wake up at 4 AM because we are already writing in our sleep, not that we start writing because we are awake. She replied in the affirmative.)

I’ve now passed over into the “happy hunting ground of the insane” (as my college Shakespeare professor referred to the works of the Bard of Avon, meaning that, like the Bible, Shakespeare’s plays can be proof of any damned- fool idea).

She wrote the book.

She wrote the book.

I used to think for sure this need, this compulsion, this whatever it is (sometimes I think it’s just a bad habit or an addiction) would surely dissipate when I got old, that as my brain slowed down (which is most assuredly has), my devoir to write would, too. It apparently has not. The only part of this that has slowed down is my ability to think of the next word.

I want to ask Lori Voth who she thinks she is writing about writing in old age. Her picture at her website appears to be that of a thirty-something with smooth skin and long, flowing, much too silky hair. What can she possibly know about the way I write? Nothing.

However, her piece at Yahoo (I didn’t really read it, so I’m not sure this is true) is about the importance of writing groups for seniors.

Back before 2003 I was in a writing group. We had one member who was a “senior” (she’s still teaching in a university, so I’m not sure she was as senior back then as I thought). My late partner thought it was pretty funny that I had to spend one evening a week at my writing group. He thought my being up at an ungodly hour writing every morning must be enough writing.

The real culprit

The real culprit

He was not a writer (he was a technical editor, which is how we ended up in Dallas instead of living out our lives in civilization, that is, Boston). But he loved to play with words. And my group soon became the “writin’ group” in his best fake Texas accent. But, as words tended to do with him, that evolved into my “rotten group.”

So if Lori Voth is right—whether or not she’s right because, as I said, she has no call to have an opinion—what I need is a rotten group—someone to read the stuff I write and “being. . . unwilling to expose [me] to public disgrace. . . dismiss [me] quietly” (Matthew 1:19).

All I have time for is to quote from a letter I wrote today

The deadline for submitting semester grades is tomorrow, and I still have two classes to finish. I am trying to be responsible (and keep my job).

Akhenaten - is there but one god?

Akhenaten – is there but one god?

Instead of giving in to hypergraphia and writing a less-than-coherent piece especially for posting here, I will use the piece of writing I had no choice but to do when I first woke up this morning.

It’s not in any way humorous or necessarily about growing old. Or, perhaps it’s both humorous because I continue to believe that I have something worth saying, and about growing old because when I write this sort of thing, I realize how old-fashioned I really am. The very fact that I mention Alan Watts (a reference to my friend’s suggestion that I need to read Watts) is enough evidence that I am a fossil.

Below is the substance of a letter I wrote this morning to my dearest old friend (we go back exactly 50 years). We have had a constant (and, I fear, sometimes contentious) debate about politics and what-little-we-both-know about economics. He is staunchly an old-style (think Robert A. Taft, Everett Dirksen, and William F. Buckley instead of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Ted Cruz) conservative, and I an old-style lily-livered liberal (think Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, and George McGovern instead of Dianne Feinstein, Michael Moore, and Al Franken).

Dear _______ ,

You will say that I’m, oh what? not doing research and being mindlessly liberal or something, but this is a concise statement of the sort of thing I fear.

I.e., the wealth of corporations

I.e., the wealth of corporations

“Corporations are getting better and better at seducing us into thinking the way they think—of profits as the telos and responsibility as something to be enshrined in symbol and evaded in reality. Cleverness as opposed to wisdom. Wanting and having instead of thinking and making. We cannot stop it. I suspect what’ll happen is that there will be some sort of disaster—depression, hyperinflation—and then it’ll be showtime: We’ll either wake up and retake our freedom or we’ll fall apart utterly. Like Rome—conqueror of its own people. ” – David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (the fact that this is a quote from a work of fiction makes it more, not less, true in my estimation).

The problem with capitalism is that it makes profit the telos. The invisible hand perhaps at some mythical time in the 18th century guided the marketplace in something like benevolence, but corporations are not invisible or benevolent. They are omnipresent, omnipotent, and (they believe of themselves) omniscient. The power human beings used to attribute to the gods, Western capitalism has granted to corporations.

I’m not sure how you reconcile the mysticism of, say, Alan Watts with the horrific materialism and all-consuming (all puns intended) greed of the corporate life of America (and, in the past 50 years, “globalization”). Just as our education system is designed not to educate but to make sure that a certain percentage of students are failures, so our economic system is designed not to lift everyone’s wealth and comfort but to make sure a certain percentage of people remain enslaved to poverty.

The only students who ever ask me if I “grade on the curve” are B students desperate to be A students. The only people, I would guess, who think it’s OK for 1% of the people of the world to own 50% of the wealth are those who think they have a chance of becoming part of the 1%.

Mysticism and materialism (for every mystic I’ve ever read, beginning with Socrates and moving forward even farther than Alan Watts) do not, cannot by definition, coexist.