“. . . preparing for next year’s famine with wine and music . . .”

Linda Pastan is a Jewish poet born in 1932 in New York (the Bronx, to be exact). She is wife and mother, and apparently her poetry is constructed around, and her images come from the more-or-less mundane aspects of family/home/married life.  I only a few days ago discovered her poetry. But I will keep reading.

Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan

Using words like “synchronicity” doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m an old geezer whose vocabulary was pretty much fixed in the ‘60s and ‘70s and isn’t the least bit new-agish. But I suppose it is synchronous that the day I decided to get out May Sarton’s At Seventy because I am now of the age she was when she wrote her memoir was the day I stumbled upon her writing about Linda Pastan’s poetry. (For those too young to know, May Sarton—1912-1995—was the Grande Dame of Lesbian writers in the middle of the 20th century.)

My teaching music and English part time at Salem State College in Massachusetts in the ‘80s had little to recommend it except that I began to learn what being a teacher means, and I met May Sarton. She came to speak and read her poetry because one of the faculty members and she were friends. I not only shook May Sarton’s hand and chatted with her a few minutes, but I learned from her friend on our English faculty (whose name I do not remember) that it was OK to be an out gay professor.

Whew! A long way ‘round to write a little piece about getting old. But a word of caution. Now that I’m reading Sarton’s memoir, you can guess she’ll pop up here with regularity. (Apropos of nothing, my favorite work of Sarton’s is still her book about cats, The Fur Person.)

In 2002 Linda Pastan published a poetry collection titled The Last Uncle. She was 70.

Obviously there’s a theme here. You realize, of course, that the moment I passed my 69th birthday, I entered my 70th year on the planet. We say, “I’m 69,” when in reality we are in our 70th year.

She'd be horrified to be called the Grande Dame

She’d be horrified to be called the Grande Dame

Approaching my retirement from SMU (it’s the reality of my life and, if you read much of my blog, you’ll hear about it—get used to it) in May, I am thinking about—trying to plan for, not to fret about—the future. What will I be able to do on my meagre “fixed income?” How will my being an old gay man affect the choices available to me? I don’t have a bunch of in-laws or a herd of grandchildren to look after me.

May Sarton was a successful and much-loved writer when she reached 70. And she had a “camp” (a splendid farm) in Maine to which to retire and live out her days in a lovely setting (sorry about the trite word—I have to get over using my pedestrian vocabulary, a writer-friend told me the other day). Linda Pastan presumably is still married (I haven’t found that out yet); in any case she has children and grandchildren.

Today I am feeling “at sixes and sevens” (what a wonderful phrase) about this business of being old. On the one hand, I can’t do anything about it. On the other, I have to try to keep myself healthy and strong –as in doing my exercises to keep my shoulder improving form surgery. On the one hand, I don’t want to “retire.” On the other, I want all my time for myself to write and pursue other favorite pastimes. On the one hand, I think about death and dying and find little solace anywhere. On the other, I know my family tend to be old—very old—when they die, so I may be here awhile, and what is the ultimate difference? anyway.

So I am happy to find a poem like Pastan’s “The Cossacks.” I don’t have much to say about it because not much needs to be said about it.

I know I don’t “[plan] for a life [I know I’ll] never have” and don’t very often have a “genuine smile in the face of disaster.” Partly because I don’t see the disaster yet. And partly because there’s not enough Prozac in the world to give me a “genuine smile” much of the time.

What I see is the rest of my life (however long it is) trying to settle in to being an old gay man. I want to do it as gracefully as May Sarton became “old” (but I was never “graceful” when I was young, so it doesn’t seem likely). And I’d like to be able to write and think about the simple, even pedestrian things of life (oh, give me a break from my flat-footed language!) as Linda Pastan does.

Of Pastan, Sarton wrote,

Nothing is here for effect. There is no self-pity, but . . . she has reached down to a deeper layer and is letting the darkness in. These poems are full of foreboding and acceptance, a wry unsentimental acceptance of hard truth. They are valuable as signposts, and in the end, as arrivals. Pastan’s signature is growth.

I’d say a worthy goal. Keep growing when you’re supposed to be wilting.

“The Cossacks,” by Linda Pastan

To F.

For Jews, the Cossacks are always coming.
Therefore I think the sun spot on my arm
is melanoma. Therefore I celebrate
New Year’s Eve by counting
my annual dead.

My mother, when she was dying,
spoke to her visitors of books
and travel, displaying serenity
as a form of manners, though
I could tell the difference.

But when I watched you planning
for a life you knew
you’d never have, I couldn’t explain
your genuine smile in the face
of disaster. Was it denial

laced with acceptance? Or was it
generations of being English—
Brontë’s Lucy in Villette
living as if no fire raged
beneath her dun-colored dress.

I want to live the way you did,
preparing for next year’s famine with wine
and music as if it were a ten-course banquet.
But listen: those are hoofbeats
on the frosty autumn air.
— (Pastan, Linda. From The Last Uncle. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.)

Move that shoulder, old man

Move that shoulder, old man

Old white male seeks old male (or female)

    A certain inability to sort.A certain inability to sort.

       If I needed to write a personal ad (where? match.com? eharmony? one of those gay hook-up sites?), how would it read?
(Do I need to say I’m having a little fun?)

Old white male in Dallas, TX, seeks old male (or female) for intimate relationship.

in·ti·mate
adjective

1.      associated in close personal relations: an intimate friend.
2.      characterized by or involving warm friendship or a personally close or familiar association or feeling: an intimate greeting. very private;
3.      closely personal: one’s intimate affairs.

(Probably not female although marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, so we know miracles do happen.)

Me:

Old (69) and quite possibly getting older (if genetics have anything to do with it). Living alone and used to say I like it that way, but I’m not so sure any more. Average height, somewhat overweight, mainly gray hair, brown eyes, have had no “work” done and it shows.

Bookish (at least in theory), musician (also in theory—pun intended); about to retire from long but non-illustrious career as college and university professor (music and English); former church musician (50 years); so politically liberal it’ll probably scare you (if communism weren’t in such ill repute—and hadn’t always been instituted by megalomaniacs—I’d probably be a communist except there is no culture outside Scandinavia that is egalitarian enough to make it work, and I hate winter). I don’t hate the super wealthy—I think of them the way the Catholics and Southern Baptists think of faggots, that is, a clever 21st-century judgmental version of the disingenuous “love the sinner but hate the sin”—but in the most general sense of human compassion I love them; however, I don’t like sniveling little self-centered, mean spirited anti-social people who are as poor as I am, so why should I love the super-rich when I loathe—absolutely loathe—their accumulated wealth?

But it’s none of my business that the super-rich have all that money while I wonder if I will end up a ward of the county when I’m 90 (or much sooner—next year?) because I have no money left. They can’t help it that we live in a society that believes with all its deluded little heart that capitalism is a good idea—that Jesus of Nazareth was somehow issuing a command not simply making an observation, when he said, “The poor you shall have always with you,” because even in his day there were a few super-rich and everyone else suffered. In fact, I feel sorrier for the super-rich than for the street people down in the Main Street Garden. At least the street people know what is truly important for a human being—finding the next meal. Alice Walton and Thomas Perkins have never experienced reality. They have no idea what either hunting or gathering is all about. (I lived once “paycheck-to-paycheck” and can tell you it’s no fun.)

Well, I certainly got side-tracked, didn’t I. That’s to be expected because part of being me is also having Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, one symptom of which is an inability to concentrate which looks ever so much like ADHD to the untrained observer. And I also suffer from get a kick out of living with Bipolar II disorder. All of those things together give me a unique inability never to get anything done, to be totally unable to sort and organize, to be over-emotional and live in a world of dissociation. Which is better than being so rich I don’t have to think about anything. I’d rather be depressed and confused than totally out of touch with the realities of the life of Homo sapiens.

You:

A few famous people manage 70-year-old attractiveness

A few famous people manage 70-year-old attractiveness

Physically at least attractive if not a knockout. I know that’s difficult at 69, but I know a couple of people like that. Of course, they’re boring narcissists, so watch out. A few famous people manage 70-year-old attractiveness. Whether or not you are capable of a sexual relationship is entirely a matter of chance. One of those things like having a Fluellen cupcake after dinner: nothing could be better, but it certainly isn’t necessary. Your mind has to be as interesting as your body.

You must be able and willing to talk about your terror of death (even if you believe in heaven and hell—which might be a deal breaker, anyway). You have to be honest. And if I bring up the subject, you have to be willing to talk about it either in the most academic way quoting the Early Church Fathers or Socrates or Frederick Buechner or in the most visceral way quoting Shakespeare or Madonna or someone who knows more about dying than you and I do. On the days I want to tell someone I’m afraid of dying and nearly immobilized by the thought of not “being” (human or otherwise), you must not freak out about it, but be willing for us to comfort and challenge each other.

You have to be willing to experience as many new and different things as I am. I have no idea what ballet is all about, for example. But if you want to go to La Bayadère, I’ll go with you, if you’ll see La Soif et la faim with me.

You must like Harbor Sweets. You must be interested in early twentieth-century gay fiction. You must have a few trips to strange lands and foreign peoples left in you (my choice or yours).

You must be, if not in agreement with or willing to be active in, at least able to hear about and not be upset by some out-of-the-mainstream political ideas (and activities not proscribed by age). You must not be frightened by my membership in some pretty radical organizations.

Even a politician can be a hottie.

Even a politician can be a hottie.

Of course, your main characteristic is that you can read all of this and have fun getting to know me and not think this is TMI or too weird.
A little fun, except for the second paragraph of “You.” That’s dead serious (no pun intended).

sum link for other blog

“Which way does your beard point tonight?”

The other day driving home from my (surprisingly for an old man) regular exercise at the Landry Fitness Center at

Which way is his beard pointing?

Which way is his beard pointing?

Baylor Hospital (I walk in the “therapy” pool) I heard Krys Boyd on her “Think” program on KERA Radio say to the writer she was interviewing, “Since human beings can logically expect to live seventy years . . .” I have no idea how that sentence ended.

Logically expect to live 70 years! I’ve been here for 69 of the 70. Is it time for me to be preparing to shuffle off this mortal coil (Hamlet)?

When my Grandfather Knight died, I walked through the parlor of the funeral home where his body was in place for “viewing” at the moment my uncle (my mother’s brother) said to my father, standing by the casket, “Well, Glenn, we’re the older generation now.” Both of them were younger (my dad by six years and my uncle more) than I am now. I’ve been part of the “older generation” since my dad died two and a half years ago.

Funny thing about that. Almost everywhere I go, I am the oldest person there. By default I apparently am part of the older generation. I’m not sure if my dad or uncle ever thought much about being the older generation of our family. They both reached old age—my father, as I’ve said here many times, lived to be 97.

Subject shift.

This morning standing briefly in front of the bathroom mirror, I noticed my beard. Seeing myself with a beard after many years of shaving completely or allowing only stubble to grow on my face was a surprise even though I’ve had the beard for several months now.  Even more of a surprise is taking in, seeing and understanding and remembering that my beard is an old man’s beard. Mostly gray, but with this odd patch of brown almost as dark as it was thirty years ago.

I could, if I shaved around it very carefully, leave a brown moustache.

The scraggliest President

The scraggliest President

Don’t ask. I have no idea why I’m thinking about my beard this morning. Well, yes I do. I meant to ask a couple of friends last night where they get their hair cut. I need to find a barber who knows how to shape a beard. Not simply cut it. Shaping a beard is a fine craft. The guys at Super Cuts don’t know how.

When I was a kid (my apologies to a blogger I read yesterday who said one shouldn’t tell personal stories in their blog), my uncle (gay brother of my mother and of the uncle at my grandfather’s funeral) gave me a boxed set of plastic figures of all of the Presidents (up to Eisenhower, who was President at the time). Playing with those figures, I not only learned to recite the names of the Presidents in order, but also learned to identify each of them.

Many of them I recognized by their beards. My favorite was Martin Van Buren. He looked somehow wild and unkempt. Chester A. Arthur had a scraggly beard, too, but I was not nearly as enchanted by his.

Allen Ginsberg wrote,

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking
among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops?
What price bananas?  Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you,
and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy
tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the
cashier.

At first I thought this somehow belittled Walt Whitman. Ginsberg was only 29 when he wrote it. Brash young thing. But as I contemplated, I realized the poem is a fond—no, more than fond—picture of the “lonely old grubber” who helped Ginsberg find his voice, not among lofty ideas and magnificent natural wonders, but in the ordinary. At the grocery store.

It’s not so bad to be a lonely old grubber. Walt Whitman had a scraggly beard, too.

In Leaves of Grass Whitman answers the child who asks (in part 6) “What is the grass?”

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

I’m not sure I understand the image of the grass “darker than the colorless beards of old men.” Ginsberg’s poem continues as an obvious ode to Whitman’s influence in his own work.

      Where are we going, Walt Whitman?  The doors close in a hour.
Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and
feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets?  The trees add shade
to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automo-
biles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher. . .

We are the older generation now

We are the older generation now

Human beings can expect to live seventy years. I am the older generation now. Ginsberg’s question for us old guys, poets, Presidents, or me is “Which way does your beard point tonight?” Whitman answers that the grass, new sprouts of grass are new life.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
____________________
I urge you to follow the links to the Whitman and Ginsberg poems below so you have something worth reading instead of my disconnected thoughts.

A Child said, What is the Grass, by Walt Whitman (scroll down to number 6)
A Supermarket in California, by Allen Ginsberg

“. . . religion . . . a matter . . . in which no other, & far less the public, [has] a right to intermeddle.”

A scary place?

A scary place?

Marlise Muñoz is the latest victim of an insane and deadly religious war in the United States.

“Conservatives” (that is, apparently, those terrified of science) are waging a war in this country that is every bit as sectarian and brutal, and—where they win the war—results in a despotism every bit as un-Democratic and cruel as any these same “conservatives” claim to hate in countries where “Islamists” are in control.

When I was in junior high school (1957-1960), we lived in the house at the corner of the northwest city limits of Scottsbluff, NE, the corner of Avenue I and 30th Street. All of the land between our house and that corner was vacant. The First Baptist Church was eventually built there. I don’t know where the city limit is now. There’s a shopping center to the west across Avenue I from there, and houses cover the hillside to the north, so I assume the city limit has succumbed to the Nebraska small city version of urban sprawl.

From our yard, we could see St. Mary’s Hospital (Roman Catholic) on the hillside north and east perhaps half a mile away (at an extension of Avenue B). We lived there for 5 years, and I never once was closer to St. Mary’s than our yard.

My brother and I had our tonsils removed at the Methodist Hospital downtown on Broadway. I remember that overnight stay well. And I remember being taken there many times to visit friends and acquaintances.

. . . in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle. . .

. . . in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle. . .

But St. Mary’s was a mystery—because it was Catholic, and we Baptists had no reason to associate with it. I remember a few times my father, the Baptist preacher, had to go there to visit a parishioner. When he came home, it almost felt as if Mom wanted to fumigate him.

Besides the obvious historic animosity of Baptists toward Catholics, Mom had a (fairly sound?) reason for not wanting anything to do with St. Mary’s Hospital. After all, she explained, if a woman was delivering a baby and there were compilations, the Catholics would let the mother die in order to save the baby if it came to that.

This was well before Rove v. Wade and before the Catholics and Baptists joined in their un-Holy Alliance to declare religious war on the rest of us.

The late Marlise Muñoz and her husband Erick Muñoz of Ft. Worth became casualties in that religious war. Her brain died from an apparent embolism last November, but—because she was pregnant—her body was kept alive on machines until two days ago, kept alive against her prior stated wishes and the wishes of her family. Kept alive by the religious laws of the State of Texas.

The political struggle over abortion is a religious war. The Catholics, most Baptists, and other “conservatives” are hell-bent on forcing their religious belief on the rest of us. A “conservative” victory in the religious war carried out in the Texas legislature made it illegal to discontinue life support on a pregnant woman—even if the woman was brain-dead. Saving an unviable fetus in a situation that could be described only as cruel and inhumane for the family of the mother is a victory in the religious war.

That a human being, Homo sapiens, has a soul is 100% a religious belief. One hundred percent. It does not matter whether or not I personally think I have a soul, but if I did, it would be 100% a religious belief.

100% religious.

The belief that the soul is somehow “created” the moment a human sperm enters a human ovum is also a religious belief. “Conservatives” can show us all the ultra-sound pictures of all the fetuses they want, and they have proven nothing. Nothing.

Except their 100% religious belief.

100% religious.

I do not mean in any way to say that reproductive rights are not a struggle for women’s rights (which “conservative” women seem to be willing to give up for the sake of the religious war). Reproductive rights are absolutely about women’s rights. But the basis of those rights is as much in the Constitutional declaration that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” as it is in the right to privacy or any other right.

It is 100% a religious right.

Every time the Congress or some state legislature passes another restriction on abortion, they are passing a law respecting an establishment of religion. They are using the power of the majority to force their religious belief on all of us.

As a matter of public policy—that is, an establishment of religion—those who believe in the human “soul” cannot constitutionally force their beliefs on the rest of us.

That they have done so is sectarian violence not unlike the sectarian violence that is tearing Syria apart, or the victory of one sect over all others in Iran, or the official and legal banning of religion in China. It is the same. It is forcing the view of one religion onto everyone else.

It is mindless, violent, and un-American.

Jacquielynn Floyd of the Dallas Morning News summed it up pretty well.

But the freakish, dystopian hell superimposed on [Marlise Muñoz’s family’s] loss was an inhumane synthesis of factors outside their control: obscure and misinterpreted law, cover-your-butt bureaucratic paranoia and hysteria surrounding reproductive politics (Floyd, Jacquielynn. “Marlise Muñoz case was about bureaucracy, politics — and cruelty.” dallasnews.com. 27 January 2014. Web.)

“Hysteria surrounding reproductive politics.” The Christianist majority’s war on the religious beliefs of the rest of us.

Which, for the time being, they have won. They have imposed their religious will on the nation as surely as His Eminence Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei imposes his religious will on Iran.

1813 May 31.  (Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush).  “…the subject of religion, a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his maker, in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle.”

George Mason, "father" of the Bill of Rights

George Mason, “father” of the Bill of Rights

“Whisper’d of peace, and truth, and friendliness . . .”

Wildness is all.

Wildness is all.

On Sunday evening last I began watching Downton Abbey on PBS TV.  The network plays the episode from the previous week before they show the episode for the evening so people like me who miss an episode can catch up with the serialized story. The story is an “upstairs—downstairs” story following the lives of an aristocratic family in a splendid English manor house and their servants, the “downstairs” crew.

In the episode two weeks ago, the young man who is part of the aristocratic family only because he married into it and who has given up his true calling to be an Irish revolutionary—even though his wife has died—has a one-night affair with one of the downstairs girls.

I watched last week’s episode for a few minutes, until the scene where the maid confronts the young would-be gentleman to make him promise that, if she is pregnant, he will marry her. This is headed a few weeks down the line to disaster. She’ll seduce a male servant and get pregnant and then ruin the young gentleman’s life by insisting he is the father of her child and must marry her. DNA paternity testing is a long way off, so he’s her ticket out of the basement.

It’s too predictable and emotionally fraught for me. I turned off the TV.

I tell people I don’t watch shows like Downton Abbey or movies, or serialized TV stories (such as Modern Family) because I expect watching such shows to be like going to a movie at a theater—that is, a social event, not a solitary one.

That’s, if not a lie, at least a bending of the truth. TV series, movies, operas, plays and the like are not, for me, escapist. I experience them too realistically—get too emotionally involved in them—to tackle them by myself. I am too uncomfortable with the life of my own feelings to put myself into a situation where I will absorb others’ feelings, participate in others’ emotional life, even vicariously. My anger, fear, pain, joy passion, love, shame, and guilt are too strong to take on someone else’s—even fictionally—by myself (the reduction of feelings to eight primary ones comes from Pia Mellody—you can Google her and find hundreds of references).

All of this may be my attempt to intellectualize experiences that are basically emotional, an attempt to figure out something mentally that can’t be analyzed.

So I’ll leave it there. Background, perhaps not even relevant, to what I really mean to say.

My guess is that a universal desire among homo sapiens is for friendship. It would be nice if a friend were also a lover, but friendship is first.

Where upstairs does not meet downstairs.

Where upstairs does not meet downstairs.

When I’m watching Downton Abbey, I want to share, to speak, to express my experience with someone. When I go to the symphony, I want to tell someone who might, because he or she has had the experience too, understand how the last movement of the Brahms First Symphony affected me.

That desire to talk about the effect of “art” or even “melodrama” or “comedy” on the life of my feelings (which may or may not be, depending on whom you ask, reality) is translated into a desire to talk about the life of the feelings that emanate from me, not from something I’ve seen, heard, or read outside myself. I know that’s problematic for my ability to have relationships. No one wants to hear about the depression I can do nothing about. One should pay a therapist of some sort to talk to about those things, not bother other human beings with them. No one wants to hear about the pain in my shoulder. One should tell that to the physical therapist.

Or one should simply carry those feelings unexpressed. Neither father, mother, sister, brother, lover, best friend, nor casual acquaintance should be subjected to one’s descriptions of how one feels. It’s safest to have feelings vicariously as “art.”

I have my favorite escapisms. “Parker’s Back,” “Cathedral,” any story by Alice Munroe, The Brahms First Symphony, the Bach Great Eighteen Chorales, Big Bang Theory, Criminal Minds (on which I have finally overdosed), Winter’s Bone, Chinatown, O Brother Where Art Thou. Those begin the list. Don’t ask me why.

But it’s as difficult for me to add to that list of emotionally charged creations as it is to learn to trust someone with my own feelings, my real reactions to my real life (or what I perceive to be my real life).

Keats. He understood.

Keats. He understood.

The older I get, the more important expressing my feelings (about almost anything/everything) becomes. I wish I were a poet or composer so I could create art that expresses at least the shapes of my feelings. But I’m not, so I’ll have to do it here. Or gush them forth unfiltered to those I love, unsuspecting as they are. And run the risk of driving them away.

The poet John Keats understood all of this. His favorite flower was the musk-rose, the wild rose. Until a friend gave him a bouquet of cultivated roses.

“To a Friend who sent me some Roses,” by John Keats

As late I rambled in the happy fields,
What time the sky-lark shakes the tremulous dew
From his lush clover covert;—when anew
Adventurous knights take up their dinted shields:
I saw the sweetest flower wild nature yields,
A fresh-blown musk-rose; ’twas the first that threw
Its sweets upon the summer: graceful it grew
As is the wand that queen Titania wields.
And, as I feasted on its fragrancy,
I thought the garden-rose it far excell’d:
But when, O Wells! thy roses came to me
My sense with their deliciousness was spell’d:
Soft voices had they, that with tender plea
Whisper’d of peace, and truth, and friendliness unquell’d.

“. . . how scary it is to be part of the 1%. . . “

Pass through the eye of my grandmother's needle?

Pass through the eye of my grandmother’s needle?

.
Just when I think I can withdraw from the stinking world of, well, “politics” (for want of a better word — “public morality,” perhaps), an event, an idea, a message of some sort draws me back in, and I must respond.

My perception is that a person can do two things that make them fully human. The first is to father or mother a child, and the second is to do an act of generosity or kindness at the most basic level of human need, that is, to help someone find food, shelter, or physical (perhaps medical) care. I’m pretty sure the first is not absolutely necessary (although at my rapidly advancing age I’ve been thinking it might have been fulfilling to try). The second, on the other hand, seems to me to be the unavoidable prerequisite for giving oneself permission to consider oneself fully human.

Anyone whose life is void of such acts or—worse by an order of magnitude almost incomprehensible— whose actions in any way deprive another of basic needs doesn’t share at the most basic level in the project of living as a human being.

I heard recently on TV that 85 persons worldwide own as much of the wherewithal to stay alive as the rest of us billions all together. Even if that number is incorrect—if it’s 85 hundred, or 85 thousand, or even 85 million—we have it in our power to give those people the chance to be fully human.

The basic text of the religion most people reading this follow (or at least know about) says that it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. That’s supported by the saying in that same text that the way one gets into heaven is by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and taking care of the sick.

I don’t give much credence to the “heaven” talk, but I think it’s at least sensible to use that idea as a metaphor for fulfillment as a human being. My guess is that a majority of those 85 (or 85 thousand) give at least lip service to the idea they are going to heaven.

But they obviously are not. Haven’t seen any camels passing through eyes of needles lately. Surely such a phenomenon would go viral on YouTube and Facebook.

However, we have it in our power to give them a chance at heaven (or simply to live fully as human beings here on earth). Caring about our fellow human beings, we need to help them divest themselves them all of that money that’s going to prevent them from getting into heaven when they die–or to live fully as human beings before they die.

I was naked, and you clothed me.

I was naked, and you clothed me.

We can’t, obviously, do anything for that guy from Mexico they say is the richest of the 85 or 85 thousand, but we could help some people in this country with names such as Gates and Walton. Or Thomas Perkins.

According to the webpage “Richest 250 People in the World” (the richest.com. 2014. Web.) Mr. Perkins is the 148th-richest person in the world. I don’t know how anyone calculates this, but where he is in the ranking doesn’t matter. He’s up there somewhere. Since he’s not in the top 85, I suppose quoting him is a bit unfair. However,

‘. . . the super-wealthy venture capitalist [Mr. Perkins] who once owned the largest private yacht in the world as well as multiple mansions, penned a letter to the editor to the Wall Street Journal this week about how scary it is to be part of the 1%, so scary it brings to mind how the Jews must have felt in Nazi Germany . . . “I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich’ . . . This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”’ (Allon, Janet. “10 Most Absurd Right-Wing Lunacies This Week: Pity the 1% Edition.” AlterNet.com. January 25, 2014. Web.)

I have to admit, I’m one of the “progressive [radicals]” he’s thinking of. There isn’t a drop of camel’s blood in me. What I want to do is give Mr. Perkins a chance to get into heaven. For example, all the nations of the world could levy a 90% tax on both the income and the holdings of everyone who makes, say, $1,000,000,000 per year or more. Either 90% or an amount that would leave them $1,000,000.

I’d guess that money could give every hungry person in the world something to eat. For a long time.

Mr. Perkins, accustomed as he is to having $8,000,000,0000 (that’s billion with a “b”) would find it difficult to live on a mere $1,000,000 (with an “m”) per year. I would, too—what on earth would one do with that much money?

I can hear some of my readers complaining bitterly already. Mr. Perkins’s billions are what keeps the economy moving, his money creates jobs. I’m not saying that’s not so. Because I don’t have a degree from Cox School of Business at SMU where students learn how this works, I really have no right to an opinion.

But I do have one question that lots of Progressive Nazis (now there’s an oxymoron for you!) must be asking. If Mr. Perkins’s billions are helping the economy by making more jobs, where are they? Why are so many people jobless around the world?

And if it’s OK for 85 people to own half the world’s goods, why am I worried that when my contracted salary ends on May 31 and I retire, I won’t have enough money to live on? Me with a PdD and 35 years of college teaching experience? Worried, even while I know that I, too, am better off than an enormous percentage of the people in the world.

My home away from home,

My home away from home,

“. . . worship the objects I have caused to represent me in my absence . . .”

Representing the farmer? the artist? my late partner? me??

Representing the farmer? the artist? my late partner? me??

Every day a “meditation” arrives in my email. Although I subscribe to it of my own free will, my writing about it may seem cynical (from the Greek kyon “dog”. . .  Kynosarge “Gray Dog,” the gymnasium outside ancient Athens for the use of those who were not pure Athenians). I’m not a cynic. I’m simply consistently disoriented—not a pure Athenian.

My bafflement seems like cynicism because I get defensive when I find ideas unfathomable.  For example, today’s meditation says

I have a right to my own life. If I don’t live my life fully, it will simply not be lived, because no one else can live it for me. I cannot bequeath it to anyone else to live on my behalf. If I don’t sing my song it will remain unsung, because no one can sing it for me. If I don’t dance my dance . . . If I don’t find the poetry in my day, in my own soul, it will not be found. . .  Life is a spiritual gift and my life is my personal gift from God. . . If I don’t live it, no one else will, no one else can.

I suppose “meditations” are designed to remind the reader of some “truth” so obvious it’s easy to overlook—or never think of in the first place—as they go about their daily life.

NOTE: As I get older, I find it necessary to fight fewer time-and-energy wasting battles. Who cares if I say “the reader . . . they”? It sounds better to me than “the reader . . . he or she.” This use is called the epicene they, and Shakespeare’s and Jane Austen’s multitudinous use of it is good enough precedent for me. If one of my students wants to use it, they will get no argument from me.

The Chicago Manual of Style (one of the Bibles used by academic writers waffles on the subject, but I’ll bet more people can understand my writing than can (or want to) understand the stuff in the American Journal of Sociology, one of the academic journals published by the University of Chicago Press. End of NOTE.

Using the epicene they falls under the category “I have a right to my own life.” If I choose to write so no academic journal would possibly publish what I write, my guess is that more people will understand my writing than that of the journals.  Perhaps these baffling daily email “meditations” are useful, after all.

Useful for the purpose of argument, but ultimately useful for ideas? Not so much. “Life is a spiritual gift and my life is my personal gift from God, from the Universe.” That kind of language simply makes me squirm. This is not something new in my life. I’ve been uneasy around God Talk for at least 50 years.

I remember (and have most likely written about on one of my blogs) the night at Junior High Baptist Camp, at Camp Moses Merrill near Fullerton, NE, (which is now a public campground of some sort, and the Baptists have a new, much nicer camp away from the metropolitan area of Omaha)—the night all of my friends were giving themselves to Jesus, and I sat on the back pew of the chapel, if not crying, at least visibly upset. One of the counselors (one of those older men with whom I was in love at the time) sat beside me and asked me what was wrong.

If I clean my office, will I live forever?

If I clean my office, will I live forever?

I said something to the effect that I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to believe in something I couldn’t figure out logically or feel in my gut. That’s sort of where I’ve been ever since, and the question has gotten more real and more urgent as I have gotten older.

The reality of the question is no longer the teenage question how I can believe in God. I hold onto things—stuff—that once belonged to my parents or grandparents or someone even farther back because I have a great deal of trouble with, “I have a right to my own life. If I don’t live my life fully, it will simply not be lived, because no one else can live it for me.” I’m not sure how to believe logically or feel in my gut that life has happened at all. Holding onto something my great-grandfather owned helps me try to stay here, to assume things are “real.”

I’m sure—as a junior high school Baptist—I was having trouble thinking about giving my life to Jesus at least partly because of my own peculiar neurological make-up (the dissociation of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy). Not much of anything seemed real much of the time. For thirty years I’ve had strong meds that remove that particular obstacle to believing in “reality.”

The chairs of my fathers.

The chairs of my fathers.

But now, getting to be an old man (don’t say I shouldn’t point that out—I’m on average 69/77ths of the way to the end), I wonder more and more about this If I don’t live my life fully, it will simply not be lived. What does that mean? If I don’t get my office organized? Right. If I don’t figure out what to do with the Pennsylvania Dutch barn hex sign I’ve had in my bedroom since its owner, my late partner, willed it to me—ten years ago? If I don’t figure out how to use the online form to buy two tickets for the Bernadette Peters concert I want to attend?

Or if I don’t have some sense that I’ve experienced all the feelings and relationships a human being is “supposed” to feel? I don’t know. What’s reality, anyway? You tell me and the poet Rae Armantrout what’s real. I think she understands what I’m trying to say.

“Exact,” by Rae Armantrout (Pulitzer Prize winner, 2010)

Quick, before you die,
describe

the exact shade
of this hotel carpet.

What is the meaning
of the irregular, yellow

spheres, some
hollow,

gathered in patches
on this bedspread?

If you love me,
worship

the objects
I have caused

to represent me
in my absence.

*

Over and over
tiers

of houses spill
pleasantly

down that hillside.
It

might be possible
to count occurrences.