“. . . like a mammy bending over her baby. . .” redux

Griff's on the Dock - please don't come here

Griff’s on the Dock – please don’t come here

On November 15, 2009, I wrote about a day alone on the beach at Port Orford, Oregon. I must stop writing about Port Orford, or everyone will rush there to get a tiny corner of the mystical experience—or at least the catch of the day at Griff’s on the Dock (swordfish steak the last time I was there). Then I’ll have to find another (ethereal, lovely, pleasing, rare, incomparable—because I’m not poet enough to find the right adjective) place to go to “sing myself. . . and invite my soul.”

Is that the height of ego, to make a link to my writing in the same paragraph with a link to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself?” (But this is a lecture with hyperlinks in place of footnotes, so if you want the full effect, you should follow them. Please, however, if you don’t click on any others, read the poem at the last one.)

I reread what I wrote on that November day and wonder. How I could write anything so overblown. How could I possibly post for all eternity (or at least until the internet disappears) such purple prose?  As I reread my writing, I am reminded of one of the most successful poems in English—not of Whitman’s extravagant genius.

My poem is by Joyce Kilmer (1886 –1918). That I know it proves I’m in my senescence. We memorized it in second grade. No teacher since about that time has read it to her class (if by some quirk of history she knows it). It’s not on any standardized test.

“Trees” (1913)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

You can enjoy the poem best in the 1939 recording by Paul Robeson—a “parlor song” by Oscar Rasbach, published in 1922. I don’t mean to make fun either of Kilmer (he died fighting in World War I) or of Rasbach. I simply use their work as the background for what I need to say this morning.

Star Dust

Star Dust

“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” That is one of the best critiques of poetry (perhaps art in general) I know. Kilmer’s poem works brilliantly because it goes on to prove that a poem is not as beautiful as a tree. I know, I know, that’s silly. But true. The musical setting (which I first accompanied on the piano when I was in high school—it was even then a popular vehicle for amateur singers) is commensurate with the success of the poem.

My posting on November 15, 2009, originated in my growing, and by now nearly overwhelming, understanding that I am simply part of whatever it is that makes trees. I wrote that day a somewhat confusing and confused (because it’s based in lack of knowledge of physics, chemistry, and/or astronomy) description of my body as part of the inter-planetary dust that makes up the earth. Star dust, apparently.

The day I was walking the beach at Port Orford I understood a kind of connection with the physical world that I’ve known a very few times in the last 68 years. I felt a kind of bodily peace that resulted in a slowing of my mind and deep awareness both that I am alive and that I will soon enough die. I have blogged about that experience before (surprise—I’ve blogged about everything I think before), seeing Wind Cave in South Dakota when I was a kid. About being submersed in solid ground, not water.

This writing began in my mind as a discussion of the healing power of water. (I am as sentimental as Joyce Kilmer.) No, really. For seven months I have been walking almost every day in the therapy pool at the Tom Landry Fitness center at Baylor University Hospital. I’m not going to speculate about that too deeply here because I don’t know how. This writing would have begun there it I did.

What I know is this. I have met a small cadre of old folks like me, many of whom have much more serious physical problems than I. But we all walk, work out, exercise, do Yoga—you name it, we do it. And the water helps us heal—or, perhaps, it heals us. Someday I will find a way to explain. Of course, there’s the actual physical phenomenon. I walk (forward, backward, and sideways) for an hour. The water buoys me up so I do not damage my healing hip. The water provides resistance so I strengthen my muscles without straining.

But I get into some kind of meditative state that I cannot explain, that I don’t understand, that I would rather not talk about. It’s the same sense I had in Wind Cave and on the beach at Port Orford. Yesterday a metaphor came to mind. I won’t even try to say why. It would spoil it if I did.

It’s from James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Creation.” OK, so I don’t believe in God, and I have no idea how to put my experience of life and the sureness of death together. But I somehow believe and understand

Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image

Perhaps there are poems lovely as trees.

Then he stopped and looked and saw That the earth was hot and barren. So God stepped over to the edge of the world And he spat out the seven seas --

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas —

What’s in a name, or go ahead — steal my identity

A Southern Methodist University faculty meeting

A Southern Methodist University faculty meeting

These days our university department self-identifies as the D&D faculty, that is, “Discovery and Discourse,” not “Dungeons and Dragons.” I seem to be one of few in the department who finds it comical that we identify ourselves by the name of a game that mesmerizes millions of people. Books have been written about it. The latest is Of Dice and Men (2013) by David Ewalt, senior editor of Forbes magazine.

When I point out the self-aspersion of referring to what we do as a game, my colleagues look at me (just over my shoulder as they usually do) with blank stares. Self-examination is not our strong suit as a group. By self-examination I do not mean the ridiculous time-consuming, academic-freedom-stultifying “assessment” the university, the accrediting body, and the federal government have invented to insure conformity in education. I mean the ability to look at ourselves—at our departmental identity—and see what makes us tick.

I’d guess I’m one of the few members of our faculty who ever came near being a Dead Head (most are too young to know what that is). I’m not a Dead Head, but I remember when, in the ‘80s, the college-student son of my friend Don Hunt gave me a Dead Head T-shirt after I had sneaked with him away from a party at his parents’ home and listened to the album “From the Mars Hotel.” He had the extra T-shirt from one of the Grateful Dead concerts he had attended half-way across the country. He played D&D.

Grateful Dead, D&D–relics of another time. So it is understandable that few of the Discernment and Discourse faculty see the humor in identifying ourselves by the name of the longest-lasting and most intense game in the United States, invented in 1974 and still played by, Mr. Ewalt claims, 30 million people.

I’m no more a D&D nerd than I am a Dead Head—or smart enough for either. But I do know members of the wider faculty at Southern Methodist University who play D&D somewhat fanatically. And many more people not related to SMU who do. You’d be surprised.

At a meeting of our D&D faculty a couple of days ago, I heard (at least half a dozen times) certain of our students referred to as “football players.” I suppose if we’re playing a game, we might well identify students by their games. Why are some of our students “football players” rather than “members of the football team?” Consciously or unconsciously we have decided they have already reached their potential. We know their identity. Football player. That’s who and what they are. We are trapped in a game, so we suppose they are.

Which part is me?

Which part is me?

We are glib about that because we have such low esteem for our own identities, both as a department and (can this be true? and who am I to judge?) individually. If you have ever said the words “identity theft” as in worrying that you might be a victim of it, you have no sense of your own identity.

The NSA probably watches my email (I know, that’s grandiosity, but I do have as a Facebook friend the niece of the leader of Hamas). If you’re reading this, you are identified as a part of that web of suspicion. And my debit (not credit) card number is floating around in the Ethernet so profusely that anyone who wants the $1.32 in my checking account could probably get it. My silly opinions are available to anyone desperate enough for entertainment to read them. There’s a picture I posted of my brother’s butt readily available—it comes up if you do the right Google Image search (don’t worry, he’s wearing jeans).

Don’t get all huffy on me. I understand issues of privacy. I want my privacy even though I’ve given up on having any. Everyone in the world—literally—can, if they are interested, identify me as gay and by the number of partners I’ve had, and by where I’ve lived, and by my socialist leanings (if I have any political beliefs at all), and . . .

But wait! Do you think Alexander Solzhenitsyn worried about identity theft? Or Dmitri Shostakovich? Or Olivier Messiaen? Even when they were prisoners of tyranny?

[I am not, by the way—and you know better than to assume I am—discounting such realities as the Holocaust or the Palestinian Nakba or the Rwandan genocide. Some horrors of the negation of personal identity are too unimaginable to think about.]

But if I think my identity is available for thievery, then I most likely don’t have one. I am not a full-time lecturer in Discovery and Discourse (or Dungeons and Dragons). I am not a Dead Head. I am not an organist. I am not a gay man. I am not a credit card account. I am not a Social Security number. I am not Sumnonrabidus or Me, Senescent. I am not my email address.

MarsHotelAlbumCover BLOGI’m not even all of those thing combined. I am not what I do or have. I am who I am. I’m a conscious individual of the species Homo sapiens evolved to the point than I’m terrified at the thought that, at some moment I cannot predict, I will cease to be. To be anything. A nerd, a Dead Head, a debit (not credit) card holder, a professor. I can’t create, invent myself with any more self-assurance than a university department can name itself without irony.

Neither you nor anyone else can “steal” my identity. The NSA can’t take away my privacy. Neither the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools nor Dean Moore can assess what happens in my classes. The bank can’t judge whether or not I’m a worthy loan risk.

The NSA can read all of my emails. The university can fire me. A thief can pillage my accounts at the bank. None of them will have touched me.

I’m what goes on in the total and absolute privacy of my thinking and of my feelings. The only way you can steal that is to kill me. Then you have nothing because I no longer exist.

Which will happen without your help soon enough.

Stuff an old man will never understand (does he need to or want to?)

"The gods are just and of our pleasant DE-vices make instruments to plague us."

“The gods are just and of our pleasant DE-vices make instruments to plague us.”

For a couple of days, my iPad would not open one of those ridiculous keypads at the bottom of the screen (keypad? annoyance!) when I opened “Safari” (why ‘Safari’?) to Google something. I was stuck. One search I wanted to do was to find out what movie was being filmed at the other end of The Main Street Garden using the Old City Hall as the set. They kept faking an explosion audible for blocks around inside the old building, and then a crowd of extras would rush in, not out, the front door. Take after take.

The infernal iPad would not give me a place to type in a search for city permits (type? how many hours did I spend 50 years ago learning not to poke at a QWERTY keyboard with one finger?). They had a street blocked, so obviously they had a permit.

For some reason I remembered the little black keyboard I bought to make it possible for me to write even minimally (note: 4-syllable adverb) on the iPad. When the iPad is resting on that thing, it won’t open a keyboard on the iPad itself. So I found the keyboard—15 feet away on the kitchen counter—and turned it off. Voilà! The iPad opened a keyboard. How was I to know the two gizmos were talking to each other even half a room apart?

That seems spooky. Unnecessary. Inconvenient. Absurd. And ultimately (4-syllable adverb) incomprehensible.

The movie, by the way is a Zombie movie. We took a walk across the park and got there just in time to see a bunch of guys dressed unmistakably (5-syllable adverb) as Zombies come out of the building. I’ll never see the movie, of course. I’m 68. Why would I see a Zombie movie. Except the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956, which I will use in class.

I have a cute little 2012 Honda Civic I bought on December 31(paid cash for—some things I do understand, such as how you pay double for a car when you finance it—and, more importantly—how impossible car payments would be when I’m forced into retirement next year).

I do not remember a car my father owned, my late ex-wife owned, my partner the organ-builder owned, or anyone else’s car I ever used

Information the way God intended it should be shared.

Information the way God intended it should be shared.

on a regular basis (including mine) that did not have a “dome light” that turned itself on when you opened the door. So they’ve been standard equipment on cars for at least 60 years (I don’t remember if the ’47 Ford my dad owned before the ’52 Plymouth had one or not). Here, suddenly, I pay cash (lots of cash) for a 2012 car that does not have one. Oh, the light is there, and I can turn it on manually, but it doesn’t go on automatically.

This has been a particular pain in the ass (literally) as I have struggled to get in and out of my car with a cane and/or crutches for the past six months. I’m sure one of the little buttons on the steering wheel controls the automatic illumination, but I can’t figure it out.

Why have they turned a simple thing like having a “convenience light” come on when you open a car door into an electronic puzzle? Do I sound like my dad did when he was 68? Well, of course.

Fortunately when the *^+#-ing car turned on its dashboard warning light that told me I needed to check the air pressure in the tires (yes, it came on automatically!!!!), I found the express service center for the closest Honda dealer. Here’s something straight out of “Bizarro World”: the Honda dealership and its express service center are separated by the Aston Martin dealership. Honda→Aston Martin→Honda. I kid you not. So I’m going to go over there today and ask them how in blazes you get that stupid little light to come on. Of course, that’s going to happen right after my 9:30 AM physical therapy appointment when Grady is going to tell me I can finally quit using the damned crutches so the “convenience light” won’t be so important.

Then there’s Netflix, Spotify, iTunes, and “The Cloud.” I won’t even begin with my confusion about all of that. I won’t begin because I don’t understand any of them well enough to know what my confusion is. Voodoo. That’s what they are. All of them.

My dad was baffled by the remote control for his TV. Well, actually that’s not a good example for anything. I am, too. Why can’t I get a remote that simply turns the TV on and off, changes the channels and the volume, and starts/stops a CD video I want to watch. What are all of those buttons for?

Well, Dad should have stayed around for “Orange is the New Black” and tried to watch it on his computer. But then, I don’t suppose the infernal electronics would have bothered him nearly as much as the Lesbian sex, had he been able to play it.

So you can have your gizmos. I’ll stick to Frescobaldi, music of the 16th century played on an instrument that has one electronic component—the blower.

OK, professor, what happened to the “light-hearted” writing about getting older?

Light-hearted enough? Children at Klyde Warren Park, Dallas

Light-hearted enough? Children at Klyde Warren Park, Dallas

More than one reader here has reminded me that the purpose of my writing on this blog was stated to be to write light-hardheartedly about the nonsense of getting old. (Don’t you love using passive verbs to eliminate all responsibility for the indicated action? Since we don’t know who “stated” it, I am free to write what I want.)

I have two rules for writing: never, ever, under any circumstances use a passive verb; and never, ever, under any circumstances use the expletive constructions “there is,” “there are,” “it is,” “it was,” and so on. I have my students, as the last step in editing their own writing, do a word search for “there” and simply delete it and rewrite the sentence without it. Getting them to recognize passive verbs is like shoveling sand at the seashore.

My favorite passive construction, by the way, is one that more politicians than you can shake a stick at have used, “Mistakes were made.” The ultimate wiggle-room statement. Who made the mistakes? Obviously not me. Some unknown, unnameable force. They were made. By aliens. Not by anyone in MY office!

Listen to political speech. Politicians predicate their speech on the passive voice. “Ain’t no one responsible for mistakes here.”

Sheesh! Sometimes at 5 AM I find it difficult to be light-hearted. Especially if I really want to be asleep. Another writing rule I find hard to follow: never use an adverb that has fewer than four syllables. “Really” has only three, so if it were not 5 AM, I would not use it.

“It were not” is, of course, the expletive construction. Sometimes figuring out how to avoid the construction is too complicated to bother with. “It is raining.” “It is 5 AM.” Such constructions are simply too useful to avoid.

I do this because I must.

It’s the same as counting every step between the train station and Jerome’s apartment. Sometimes I have to struggle to keep myself

Light-hearted enough? Picnic in St. Petersburg, Russia

Light-hearted enough? Picnic in St. Petersburg, Russia

from going back and starting over if I lose count. Funny thing is, I don’t know exactly how many steps it is, and I’ve been doing it for 18 months. Hmmmm. A problem to solve.

I’m getting much better about that. I was seeing a psychologist for awhile whose only accomplishment was to suggest I read Getting Control by Lee Baer. The book was actually (four syllables) helpful in stopping things like counting steps.

My old office at SMU, by the way, is 99 steps from the men’s room door. I will have to figure out how many steps my new office is to the first-floor men’s room in Clements Hall.

I think these are the sorts of obsessions they (whoever they are) find out people have when they’re in first grade these days. Think how much less interesting my life would have been if “they” had given me some drug to make me normal in first grade.

How the *^’* did I get off on that tangent? I was going to write light-hardheartedly today. Well, too bad if you don’t want to know what goes on in my silly little brain. I’ll bet it’s not that much different from  what goes on in your brain. I like to talk about it, that’s all. Well, no, I have to talk about it. I have to write about something, and you don’t want me saying serious and objectionable things about Alice Walton and capitalism, so, since I don’t have anything to write about that isn’t serious, I’ll write about what’s going on in my brain—not in my mind, you understand. My brain. The two are different, after all.

What’s going on in my mind is thinking about finishing this in time to get ready to go and warm up to play the organ for the service at St. Michael and All Angels (substituting).

Gardner Read (1913-2005) was one of America’s premier composers and music teachers of the last century. He was, for many years, Composer in Residence at Boston University. Generations of conservatory students and college music majors studied the craft of orchestration using his book on the subject.

When I taught at Bunker Hill Community College, I had the great honor of meeting Professor Read and becoming friends. I played two organ recitals on which I included groups of his “Preludes on Southern Hymn Tunes.” He attended both recitals.

After the second, he gave me a copy of his “Prelude on Jesu meine Freude.” The copy was old–it was published in 1934.

So here’s what’s on my mind. I’m going to play Professor Read’s piece this morning. I made a recording of it with my iPhone yesterday as I was practicing. It’s s little bizarre–the recording, that is, because I didn’t know how to start and stop the camera and get it set up at the same time. But here’s the link (it may take awhile to open). Read-Jesu meine Freude

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”—my 50-year high school anniversary

Omaha_Civic_Center BLOGIn 1963 the commencement exercises for Omaha Central High School (in Nebraska, for those who think the US is on the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans or just above the Rio Grande River–it’s the half-way point between Boston and San Francisco on old US Highway 30) were held at the Omaha Civic Auditorium. By some great miracle of, I am sure, divine intervention, the auditorium is still there.

Oh, I don’t mean it’s a miracle the building still stands. In 1954 buildings were constructed to last more than 20 years. I mean it’s a miracle that it has not transmogrified into the “Mutual of Omaha Auditorium” or the “Berkshire Hathaway Center” or some other grand palace dedicated to “branding” one of the private corporations headquartered in Omaha.

In Dallas we have the American Airlines Center paid for by the taxpayers of Dallas ostensibly to provide a home for the Dallas Mavericks and the Dallas Stars. The owner of the Stars, having convinced Dallas taxpayers to saddle themselves with the cost of his team’s playground, fell into bankruptcy (or some such nonsense while he still counts his billions [note the 5th offset paragraph]) and sold the team. I suppose advertising American Airlines (why it needs advertising in Dallas is beyond me—doesn’t it have a stranglehold on airplane travel in and out of DFW?) helps defray a fraction of the yearly cost to the citizens of Dallas for subsidizing the Mavericks and the Stars, but, REALLY!

A side note: part of the reason Dallasites (even those of us who couldn’t care less about the Mavericks or the Stars) are saddled with the cost of the largest single advertising venue for American Airlines is that people were convinced that those teams would bring huge sums of money into the city businesses and generate huge tax revenues for the city. Baloney. The arts generate by far more revenues than sports (I’ll find the source for that fact if anyone doubts it).

Mr. Hicks

Mr. Hicks

Funny thing, that. The large public venues for the arts in Dallas, the Myerson, the Winspear, and the Wylie auditoria are named for citizens of Dallas in honor or memory of their contributions to the city. Of course, the so-called Arts District—don’t get me started on that—is named the AT&T center. As if AT&T needed advertising. But at least the individual component venues recognize individuals for their (mostly financial, but also civic) contributions to the life of the city.

So back to the Omaha Civic Auditorium. We proudly graduated high school there. I don’t know how proud we were, actually, and our pride had little to do with the place. But at least our graduation announcements didn’t go out to all of our aunts and uncles as advertising for the Kiewit construction company or some other private business. I’m not going to be so sappy as to say we advertised our city, our community, our home. You can figure that out for yourself.

Why is everything in America for sale?

OK. I’ll admit my bias before I go any further so you can stop reading before you get really offended. I’m a socialist. Yes, successors of J. Edgar Hoover, I am a subversive. (Apropos of nothing–or everything–Why is the headquarters of the FBI in Washington still named after that man who ran his own private KGB in America for so many years? How hypocritical is it for America to honor that creep and complain about anti-gay legislation in Russia or the Russian conviction of Pussy Riot for practicing free speech?) There, see, I am a subversive.

I’m not really a socialist. I’m not any kind of political creature. I simply want to point out why I think naming the Omaha Civic Center after a private money-making corporation would be a bad idea.

“Capitalism” as the romantic ideal of most Americans does not exist. The romantic idea is as much a matter of “belief” as opposed to “fact” as the idea that Jesus is coming again soon. “Capitalism” is a religion for most Americans. It is based somewhat (only very little in actuality) on the idea that you and I have the right to make, buy, and sell whatever we can to get ahead in the world or at least feed and clothe ourselves. And if we figure out a way to join together and several of us become a “person” in the form of a corporation so we have more ability to make, buy, steal, and sell, so much the better.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but that’s not what capitalism is in 21st-century America, and it has not been for a long, long, long time.

For contributions to the city

For contributions to the city

I’m not going to write a treatise on what capitalism is or isn’t–because I don’t know enough facts to do so.

This is a personal statement by a senescent old man. And it’s very simple. Americans are idolators. Americans worship the Golden Calf of capitalism as if it were God incarnate. Say the word, and most people get all goose-bumpy.

The most common reaction is to stand and sing “God Bless America” at the mere mention of the word.

And Americans apparently don’t notice or don’t care that Alice Walton by herself can destroy the center of any town in America where people like you have the little shops where they make, buy, and sell stuff to make a living. And David Einhorn, Jeff Gundlach, Carl Icahn, Kirk Kerkorian, and Bill Ackman can each, by himself, destroy any company you’ve invested in as the Holy Grail of your financial security.

So all I want to ask is how that’s working out for you these days.

“Civic” auditorium or “American Airlines” cash cow.

Which god do you worship?

“kindness. . . profligate in its expenditure” A (probably incomprehensible) poetry lesson from the irrepressible professor

I will consider my cat Chachi. Do you know what his tail held up and hooked means?

I will consider my cat Chachi. Do you know what his tail held up and hooked means?

Two moderately long poems and an 18-minute musical work (I’ll be amazed if anyone wades through all of this).  However, taken together, they say something about the life of my mind and “spirit” today that I can’t say myself, so I offer them for your consideration in whole, in part, or a bit at a time.

On August 13 my posting here was read by way more people (way more) than any other posting I’ve made on this blog.

. . . Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled. . .  

–– From “Be Kind,” by Michael Blumenthal (printed in full below the picture of Christopher Smart)

 Michael Blumenthal’s poem once showed up on my “timeline” on Facebook, and I’ve sent it to friends on important occasions. Let me get all ooey-gooey and sentimental. It’s one of my favorite poems because it reminds me to be grateful.

And to try to be kind. It will not drain my limited resources to be kind.
And then, because I was trying this morning to be grateful for so many things, the beginning of a list:

For friends I don’t know
For friends I do know
For my family
For my small ability to make music
For my even smaller ability to get outside my self-absorption and love someone else
(and for the people who have taught me to stop worrying about “the meaning of life”
because that’s probably the meaning of life)
For the gift—it’s nothing I thought up myself
—of the decision to love a couple of people unreservedly
For the pipe organ in my living room
For the choir of Calvary Lutheran Church, Richland Hills, TX
For enough intellectual curiosity to find new poetry to read every day
For enough intellectual ability to have a modicum of understanding of that poetry
For my cats who make it nearly impossible for me to live in a “normal” home
For Dr. Steven Thornton’s magic arthroscopy
And for so much more I can’t begin to say



After I remembered Michael Blumenthal’s poem and decided to write about my gratitude, I thought of my favorite poem about gratitude (isn’t it amazing how the mind makes connections among memories), that is, “Wild Gratitude,” by Edward Hirsch (printed in full below).

Hirsch’s image of the cat comes from the “I will consider my cat Jeoffry” section of Christopher Smart’s poem “Jubilate Agno” (Rejoice in the Lamb). Obviously it’s impossible for me to think about Smart’s cat Jeoffry without having in mind “Rejoice in the Lamb” by Benjamin Britten which I once had the great joy to accompany, which is one of the moments of my life for which I have “Wild Gratitude” (see recording endnotes).

There. From your reading my blog two days ago to the organ accompaniment to “For I will consider my cat Jeoffry.” How’s that for a meandering of the mind?

Insane or TLEptic?

Insane or TLEptic?

[A sidebar: I have often thought Christopher Smart was not insane, but merely had Temporal Lobe Epilepsy–his hypergraphia, his incomprehensible religious fervor, and his babbling about the strange images in his imagination, and his inability to concentrate on details such as money are presentations of TLE.]

“Be Kind,” by Michael Blumenthal         

 Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind—but
because it’s good for the soul, and,
what’s more, for others, it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness  and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet  wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there’s
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one,  so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust’s certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

“Wild Gratitude,”  by Edward Hirsch

Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey,
And put my fingers into her clean cat’s mouth,
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens,
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air,
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight,
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart,
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing
In every one of the splintered London streets,

And was locked away in the madhouse at St. Luke’s
With his sad religious mania, and his wild gratitude,
And his grave prayers for the other lunatics,
And his great love for his speckled cat, Jeoffry.
All day today—August 13, 1983—I remembered how
Christopher Smart blessed this same day in August, 1759,
For its calm bravery and ordinary good conscience.

This was the day that he blessed the Postmaster General
“And all conveyancers of letters” for their warm humanity,
And the gardeners for their private benevolence
And intricate knowledge of the language of flowers,
And the milkmen for their universal human kindness.
This morning I understood that he loved to hear—
As I have heard—the soft clink of milk bottles
On the rickety stairs in the early morning,

And how terrible it must have seemed
When even this small pleasure was denied him.
But it wasn’t until tonight when I knelt down
And slipped my hand into Zooey’s waggling mouth
That I remembered how he’d called Jeoffry “the servant
Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him,”
And for the first time understood what it meant.
Because it wasn’t until I saw my own cat

Whine and roll over on her fluffy back
That I realized how gratefully he had watched
Jeoffry fetch and carry his wooden cork
Across the grass in the wet garden, patiently
Jumping over a high stick, calmly sharpening
His claws on the woodpile, rubbing his nose
Against the nose of another cat, stretching, or
Slowly stalking his traditional enemy, the mouse,
A rodent, “a creature of great personal valour,”
And then dallying so much that his enemy escaped.

And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him—
Who can teach us how to praise—purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.

An introduction to Christopher Smart’s poem with the entire text of the “I will consider my cat Jeoffry” section.

THE BEST RECORDING of Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb” I’ve found online is

The entire text is here (I guess it’s impossible for choirs these days to sing so you can understand all of the words).

Decisions, decisions, decisions.


erich-fromm-66468Not too long ago, I participated in a brief Facebook discussion of the proposition that “love is a decision.” I don’t remember exactly if a consensus was reached, but the fact that we had the difference of opinion gives me license to present my opinion here.

Many years ago (Sheesh! I’m old enough to say something I remember happened many years ago, and it’s true) the late Fr. John Hart Olson, Rector of Christ Church (Episcopal) in Ontario, CA, told me “love is not a feeling, it is a decision.” When I objected, he gave me a copy of Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving (1).

[Hear a recording of the Christ Church organ here.]

Jon guided my thinking in many ways, but he seldom gave me a book to read. Most of his guidance came from his matchless sermons or from long, meandering conversations—mostly in the sacristy of Christ Church. He would sit in the sacristy for hours talking with his parishioners, drinking Coke after Coke, after Coke. Jon was as conflicted and difficult and contradictory as any person I’ve ever known. None of that mattered (matters) because his teachings were honest and true. And his love was genuine.

Jon gave me The Art of Loving at a time when I not only considered myself to be unlovable, but was also convinced that I could not love anyone else. It was 1972.

Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision (2).

That paragraph has stuck with me for over 40 years now (it’s the most often-quoted passage from Fromm). Within three years of reading it, I had filed for divorce. It seemed I had decided not to love my wife. That proved to be a ridiculously false assumption. The “feeling” that first brought us together had evaporated (at least on my part), but we cared for each other until the day she died in spite of our wildly divergent life experience after our divorce. I am reminded of our decision to love nearly every day as I manage a trust fund she established—and made me the sole trustee.

Most of the decisions we make to loveFromm describes many kinds of love, not simply romantic love—do not last a lifetime because we are too often separated from, lose connection with, people we have decided to love. I am happy to report that at least one person (besides members of my family) will read this whom I decided to love sometime around seventh grade. And there are a precious few others who will most likely read this whom I have loved for decades—the quality of the love Jon Olson taught us to strive for is evidenced by my near certainty that at least five people who also sat and talked with him will read this. We are in regular communication, even if it’s only on Facebook.

Choose someone out of the crowd and decide to love them?

Choose someone out of the crowd and decide to love them?

I know that, were I in trouble, I could count on any one of them for support, and they on me were they in trouble. The fact is that none of us based our relationships on a “feeling” (that’s not true—my relationship with one of them has included the complication of strong feelings of more than one kind of love). We love each other because at some time between 1967 and 1974 we simply decided it would be so.

And here’s the real joy of those decisions. Because I joined,became a part of an intentional community, that is, one based on our individual decisions to love the other members of the community, I allowed myself to develop abiding friendships. And, I am sure I can say, we still care about each other although no two of us live in the same place. We have married, divorced, found partners and lovers, broken up with those people or lost them through death. We have joined other religious organizations or left religion altogether.  And I could sit down to dinner with my friends and pick up the conversation where we left off. And that conversation would not be wasted on the weather.

I have been deeply in love several times since 1974. I believe that if my partner Jerry had not died in 2003, we would still be together. But none of those relationships has had the “staying power” of the love I have for those whom I have simply “decided” to love. Grant Cardone (of whom know nothing) explained the phenomenon more succinctly than I can.

Love is not a feeling, love is a decision you make and continue to make in order to create an experience that is described as love. Love is an action that if you don’t use you will lose. Love is like any communication, if you never send it out, you won’t get a return. Love is something you do, not something you feel because something happens to you (3).

The decision is made!

The decision is made!

I’m at the time in my life when I think about what my situation will be at the end. I don’t want to die alone (I’m not, by the way, planning on that in the immediate future). I hope I can remember when the time comes that, even if no one is beside my bed holding my hand, I am not alone. My family and Mary Kalen, Alison, Susan, Jeffrey, Lydia, and Susan will all be there (and Aaron, and Steuart, and. . . ).
(1) ”Sheesh” is a perfectly acceptable word:— interj. “informal  an exclamation of surprise or annoyance”
Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 2009. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.

(2) Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. New York: Bantam, 1963. (47)

(3) Cardone, Grant. “Love Is a Decsision.” The Blog. Huffington Post. 02/13/09. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.