“. . . as if We had come to an end of the imagination. . . “

Trying to make sense of the morning. Early. No one else is awake at 5:30 AM. Not another window is lighted. It’s never clear when the day begins for my neighbors. Then abruptly lights

. . . if I went up and knocked on their door, they would be frightened. . .

. . . if I went up and knocked on their door, they would be frightened. . .

come on to the right, a floor above. I suppose if I went up and knocked on their door, they would be frightened and/or offended. Who knocks at the door at 5:30 AM? Just to see who lives there. I don’t know anyone who lives on that floor. I’m reminded of The Bald Soprano.

[The doorbell rings again.]
MR. SMITH: Goodness, someone is ringing. There must be someone there.
MRS. SMITH [in a fit of anger]: Don’t send me to open the door again. You’ve seen that it was useless. Experience teaches us that when one hears the doorbell ring it is because there is never anyone there.
MR. MARTIN: That’s not entirely accurate.
MR. SMITH: In fact it’s false. When one hears the doorbell ring it is because there is someone there.
MRS. SMITH: He won’t admit he’s wrong.
(Ionesco, Eugene. The Bald Soprano. E-Portfolios. City University of New York. macaulay.cuny.edu/. n.d. Web.)

“Experience teaches us that when one hears the doorbell ring it is because there is never anyone there.” One of my favorite lines from all the theater I know (which isn’t much, and from the plays I’m familiar with, I can’t quote many lines).

One of the first poets I became familiar with was Wallace Stevens (1879-1955—he died when he was only five years older than I am now). He was, when I was in high school, one of the grand men of American Poetry—Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Robert Frost Medal—all of the honor reserved for very important poets. None of that mattered to me. I loved “Peter Quince at the Clavier.” Memorized it once.

Just as my fingers on these keys
Make music, so the self-same sounds
On my spirit make a music, too
. . . and so on.

For a long time I had a stanza from his “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” as a signature on my email.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.  

At 5:45 AM is the blackbird whistling or just after? The other day I discovered a Stevens poem I don’t remember having read before, and it has been haunting me. I am told I should understand that

. . . Stevens evokes the outer in “Plain Sense” by imagining not simply the absence of any construct, but the absence of the faculty that creates the constructs. Paradoxically, though,

Inflection or innuendo?

Inflection or innuendo?

the imagining of the absence of the imagination is itself a powerful expression of the creative activity of the imagination . . . (Whiting, Anthony. The Never-Resting Mind: Wallace Stevens’ Romantic Irony. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.)

When I comment about such dense scholasticism, I do not mean I think it has no value—au contraire! I understand the necessity of that kind of analysis. It keeps the interest in and understanding of literature alive in the hearts and minds of the people who shape our understanding and even awareness of literary works. If Mr. Simpson at Omaha Central High School in 1962 had not studied Stevens twenty years before, I would not have read his work, and you would not now be reading it (perhaps for the first time).

“The Plain Sense of Things,” by Wallace Stevens.

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

And there it is. The poem that imagines “. . . not simply the absence of any construct, but the absence of the faculty that creates the constructs. Paradoxically, though, the imagining of the absence of the imagination is itself a powerful expression of the creative activity of the imagination. . . “

It’s difficult for me to ponder Stevens’ words. “Yet the absence of the imagination had itself to be imagined.” Is that the same as, “Experience teaches us that when one hears the doorbell ring it is because there is never anyone there?”

It’s hard to imagine the absence of imagination, yet experience teaches us that when the doorbell rings there is never anyone there. If we simply rely on our experience, we will know inherently that there is—or will be—an absence of imagination.

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

When the leaves have fallen (at the end of the time of growth, of fruitfulness) we see things plainly. Our imagination is at an end, and we have only an inert, unmoving “knowledge.”

. . . all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

I’m ready to imagine the inevitable knowledge. If I’d written that ten years ago, I would not have let anyone read it because it seems too formal, too stylized, too phony as if I’m trying to be old and wise and poetic or something.

The fact is, you get to be 69 and you understand there will be an end of the imagination. You must—I must, at any rate—try to imagine it in order to make it last as long as it will. And to keep in mind that I simply don’t know. In a way it’s all guesswork and absurdity. “Experience teaches us that when one hears the doorbell ring it is because there is never anyone there.”

When one hears the doorbell ring it is because there is never anyone there.

When one hears the doorbell ring it is because there is never anyone there.

“. . . historical events exchange glances with nothingness.”

I have been disturbed—shall I be the gay drama queen I sometimes can’t control?—shaken to the core by actions by two governments half a world apart that seem to me to be identical in nature and in scope.

Al Melvin: does his god say "hate?"

Al Melvin: does his god say “hate?”


Both are actions that deny full citizenship in the society in which they were taken, and both are despicable instances of the “tyranny of the majority” which all Americans ought to abhor.

The Arizona Legislature passed a measure on Thursday that allows business owners asserting their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays and others . . .
(“Bill Viewed as Anti-Gay Is Passed in Arizona.” Associated Press. The New York Times. nytimes.com. FEB. 20, 2014. Web.)

Brushing aside Western threats and outrage, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda significantly strengthened Africa’s antigay movement on Monday, signing into law a bill imposing harsh sentences for homosexual acts, including life imprisonment in some cases, according to government officials.
(Cowell, Alan. “Uganda’s President Signs Anti-Gay Bill.” The New York Times. nytimes.com. Feb 24, 2014. Web.)

Both laws were passed at the behest of, the instigation of people who claim to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth who said, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:35, NRSV).

Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to show that faggots can possibly be better neighbors and better understand the Gospel he was trying to preach than Southern Baptists of Arizona.

President Yoweri Museve: does his god say "search and destroy?"

President Yoweri Museve: does his god say “search and destroy?”

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the basis of all of the ritual law and the ethical underpinning of the social code by which Jesus of Nazareth lived.

Of course, Arizonans are not living under that law or ethical code. The christianists of Arizona will tell you that their state’s legal code and constitution are based on the book from which Jesus’s words come—because they want to accrue to themselves the moral authority that would result from that basis and thus the political power of that authority—but they don’t understand the historical working of Constitutional rights and legal structures in Arizona or any other of the United States.

Constitutional Law scholar Kenji Yoshino discussed the erroneous assumption that American jurisprudence is based on the bible yesterday in a conversation with Arizona State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Al Melvin, one of the proponents of the idea that the Constitution allows for the discrimination the Arizona law prescribes. Practicing hatred and discrimination, by Al Melvin’s reckoning, is a guarantee of the religious freedom outlined in the First Amendment.

I frankly don’t give a damn who wins that argument. I simply want to ask the question, “Even though christianists in this country have the right, by the First Amendment to our Constitution, to practice their religion of discrimination  against gays—or anyone else (African Americans not so long ago, and Native American Comanches before that, and immigrants who speak Spanish now)—does not their own religion, which they are so desperate to practice, preclude them from that kind of hatred and discrimination?

Fortunately, neither the Constitution nor federal law allows for the kind of hatred they want to practice through discrimination in the name of their religion, and even if Governor Brewer signs the despicably irreligious law, it will almost certainly be struck down by the courts.

When I was a gay boy growing up in Nebraska, I was discriminated against daily. Not through a law giving Mr. Devor, owner of the shoe store where we bought all of our shoes in Scottsbluff and a member of our Baptist church, the right to refuse to sell my mother shoes for me because I was a budding little faggot but through the horror with which our Baptist religion looked upon me (and I did myself, trying to follow the Baptist thought of all of the adults in my life).

I’m not singling the Baptists out here. That is simply the version of Christianity I grew up with and understood as a child. The Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists and Catholics (although we did not really consider them Christians) all looked upon me the same way, in accordance with their religion.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways (I Corinthians 13:11—there, see, I did learn the Baptist religion; I can quote scripture with the best of them—most likely better than Al Melvin).

I am not saying that religion is childish. Neither am I saying Mr. Devor was childish. When I became an adult, I put an end to my own self-hatred learned from Al Melvin’s religion.

I’m sick of explanations.

Life is not a thing, but the way things behave.

Life is not Al Melvin’s hatred, it’s the way his hatred behaves toward me. And African Americans. And Native Americans. And immigrant Americans. It’s also the way my hatred behaves, to make things clear.

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for hatred, for ignorance, and for bullying in the name of Jesus (or anything or anyone else).

Costumes Exchanging Glances, by Mary Jo Bang

The rhinestone lights blink off and on.
Pretend stars.
I’m sick of explanations. A life is like Russell said
of electricity, not a thing but the way things behave.
A science of motion toward some flat surface,
some heat, some cold. Some light
can leave some after-image but it doesn’t last.
Isn’t that what they say? That and that
historical events exchange glances with nothingness.

Mary Jo Bang is one year younger than I—another old fart who is tired of explanations.
About this poem, by Mary Jo Bang.
Bertrand Russell said, ‘Electricity is not a thing like St. Paul’s Cathedral; it is a way in which things behave.’ And it’s not ‘they’ who say, but Walter Benjamin who said, ‘Things are only mannequins and even the great world-historical events are only costumes beneath which they exchange glances with nothingness, with the base and the banal.’ In September, 1940, Benjamin died under ambiguous circumstances in the French-Spanish border town of Portbou, while attempting to flee the Nazis.
Copyright © 2014 by Mary Jo Bang. This poem [conveniently—synchronously] appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 26, 2014.

“. . . alone with the deep alone, a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.”

In the winter of 1989 I made a retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, in West Park, New York (from the Second Day of Christmas through the day after Feast of the Epiphany). A “vocational retreat,” living at the monastery and participating in the activities of the brothers (including washing dishes) in order to discover whether or not I was suited to the monastic life.

A calling to pray?

A calling to pray?

I returned to Massachusetts for the spring semester at Bunker Hill Community College and waited impatiently for the letter from the Novice Master welcoming me to my life as a monk. I knew that, as a mystic, I belonged in the monastery. In addition, the monastery needed an organist.

Finally the letter came from Brother Robert saying the monks did not believe I had a vocation for the religious life.

I was crushed.

I knew I had (have) a vocation for the religious life. I am a mystic, after all. When I told my AA group I’d received the letter and was trying to cope with rejection, one of the old timers told me I should be proud because, “You’re the only person I’ve ever known who received a message from God in a letter.” I didn’t care if she did work in Gov. Dukakis’s inner circle. She had no right to joke about my life (and death).

(I haven’t broken her anonymity. I don’t remember her name, and Dukakis hasn’t been governor since he ran for President. Think how different our history could have been. George H. W. Bush might never have been President, and George W. Bush would not have had a vendetta against Saddam Hussein for trying to assassinate his father. Who knows how much war would have been avoided?)

The monks said they thought my vocation was for teaching, not meditating, and that I needed to use my gift of playing the organ far more than I would be able to in the monastery.

I consider myself a mystic to this day.

But almost everyone with Temporal Lobe seizures considers themselves mystics.

Mysticism and me. And the great mystery of my inability to share the strength and resolve with which people “believe” in their religion.

I waver about believing in God. Most days I don’t. And then I experience something that makes me wonder. And wonder about the wonder. I’ve written about these experiences before:

As I walked [on the beach at Port Orford, Oregon] the ocean began to extend itself out to the horizon . . .  unfolded itself, rolled itself back as I watched. The undulation of the surf . . . was not, as surf had always seemed before, an unending series of discreet waves crashing offshore a few yards and the foamy edges washing up around my ankles. . . The ocean was all one. I knew the same molecules were pulsating together to make the waves, and the waves were conjoined with . . . the earth in one unbroken moving, life-filled, mass . . . including  . . . my own body, and my mind somehow made up of the elemental universe undulating as far as I could see. . .  the reality of the one water covering the face of the deep . .

This is the continuing mental/spiritual conflict of my life—of everyone’s life who is honest, I think. What is the meaning of our death? How do some people’s implacable religious fanaticism (think of President Museveni of Uganda and his American mentor, Doug Coe of “The Family.” See note below) and my enervated agnosticism exist in the same world? Is our experience of the mystery of existence the same? I answered the question for myself in my writing of November 15, 2009.

Gays must not pray.

Uganda Parliament: Gays must not pray.

And I weep this morning again for the joy I knew then and in the sorrow to know that one day I will simply be a part of the reality—not with a consciousness to love it and be sustained by it, but part only of the elemental structure.

I have grown in four years. I no longer sorrow at being simply a part of the reality. I sorrow at the knowledge my consciousness of it will end. Edward Hirsch describes that mystery better than I.

I’m Going to Start Living like a Mystic,” by Edward Hirsch 

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall.

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering.

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.

I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.

— (Hirsch, Edward. Lay Back the Darkness. New York: Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. 2003.)

. . . the reality of the one water covering the face of the deep . . .

. . . the reality of the one water covering the face of the deep . . .








Can one be a mystic and not believe in a God (or the gods)? Is a mystical view of the world a choice or—horrors!—merely a function of seizures in the temporal lobe? Does religion have anything to do with mystical experience or is it the antithesis of mystical experience?

I’m not sure why I’ve provided links to three of my other writings about mysticism. Because I can’t avoid it. I keep “walk[ing] home alone with the deep alone a disciple of shadows, in praise [or in search] of the mysteries.” It would make much more sense if I were religious or spiritual or sensitive or artistic or brilliant. But I’m not. So I don’t know what to make of all of this. Perhaps the Holy Cross brothers were right.
“The Family is largely responsible for the medieval anti-gay laws just passed in Uganda. President Museveni of Uganda. . . spends time and “sits down for counsel”[with Doug Coe] . . . [Coe is] the leader of The Family . . . the same man who believes that ruthless dictators such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao mirror Jesus’ central message on power. . . [The Family] comprising a number of influential congressmen, senators and other people in strategic positions, works secretively to promote its political, economic and religious ideas. . .  in the United States and across the world. . . One of The Family’s central ideas . . .  is that Jesus Christ’s message was not about love, mercy, justice or forgiveness. Rather, it was about power. The group says that Jesus didn’t come to take sides, he came to take over. (“Museveni, Bahati, named in US ‘cult’.” The Observer. Observer.ug. Wednesday, 25 November 2009. Web.)
Please note this is not the British Observer. You can read a more sympathetic interview with Coe here. If you’re a Christian, make up your own mind if you think he speaks for you, or if you are an American think if you want his power influencing our government.

“. . . Before that dread apocalypse of soul.”

I may have decided in the past few days (a decision that sneaked up on me) the only way to happiness is to be a recluse. Wandering around bumping into all of you folks is too complicated. The moment I decide so-and-so is likeable enough and generous enough of spirit to trust with intimate details of my life, I discover they really don’t want to be bothered.

". . . as the thunder-roll Breaks its own cloud, . . "

“. . . as the thunder-roll
Breaks its own cloud, . . “

And, truth be known, I don’t want to bother with theirs. I want companionship, perhaps even love and sex, but I know what a bother all of that is and how much autonomy any two people have to forfeit for a modicum of closeness.

We all, I am convinced, have the same freakish intuition that whatever pleasure we obtain from being with others—especially with those who try to project their relational willingness with charm and honesty even though we know it’s a ruse—is both vaporous and dangerous.  The danger is not only psychological and/or spiritual. It’s actually physical, too. We can’t get through 24 hours without running into someone literally, making some kind of unintentional physical contact, at best bothersome and at worst (I hear it happens) deadly (especially with cars).

As Ogden Nash observed, “One would be in less danger from the wiles of the stranger if one’s own kin and kith were more fun to be with.” All sorts and conditions of men people manage to invade my space without regard for my feelings. And I theirs.

I used to pray for “all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them” (“Prayers and Thanksgivings.” Book of Common Prayer Online). I think it’s probably still a good idea to pray, if one prays at all, for all sorts and conditions of men people (the 1928 Prayer Book, published 37 years before Helen Gurley Brown took over Cosmopolitan and made the business of relationships absolutelly impossible).

But while people (I’m sure) want to invade my space, I have been known to do idiotic things when I’ve wanted to drag someone into my space—if not my life. I want my dirty socks on the floor in that pile, thank you—and I don’t give a damn if disorder like that makes your skin crawl (but I’ll pick them up for you). And I do wish you’d realize the noise generated by the stuff you watch incessantly on your big-screen TV is driving me to distraction (but, by all means, watch that football game if you like).

I’m tired of this (almost constant) sensation that you and you and you are ripping me apart and taking whatever it is of me you want without so much as a “by your leave.” Or worse, ignoring me altogether.

If a student had written all the above and I were grading it, I’d write devastating (amusing although the student would not get the joke) remarks about “voice” and “style.” Stilted and inauthentic.  I’d tell her to be direct and honest. “Hey, all you people who want me to think you love—or even like—me, stop mucking up my world for no reason. Stop invading my space and giving me nothing in return.” If that’s what the student meant.

I can’t figure out how to say what I need to say—mostly to tell myself—about the distress relationships cause me. I can’t figure out how to write about that unassuaged pain and at the same time give some indication I realize we’re all in the same boat—AND none of us can figure out how to say so. It is an absolute necessity of human existence. This pain of relatedness.

My opening sentence is not quite true. “I may have decided in the past few days (a decision that sneaked up on me) the only way to be happy is to be a recluse.”

The only way to happiness?

The only way to happiness?

Anyone who knows me knows I clearly do not believe that reclusivity (I know, it’s not in the Oxford Dictionary yet, but it will be!) would make me happy. But it couldn’t be more difficult than the uncomfortable and (more often than not) isolational patterns of my life as it is now.

Back in the day, we sophisticated moderns learned to reject almost-out-of-hand the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861). She was a religio/ philosophical lightweight of a Romantic Victorian poet whose work scarcely deserved serious study. Where I learned her sonnet, “The Soul’s Expression,” I have no idea.

“The Soul’s Expression,” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

With stammering lips and insufficient sound
I strive and struggle to deliver right
That music of my nature, day and night
With dream and thought and feeling interwound
And only answering all the senses round
With octaves of a mystic depth and height
Which step out grandly to the infinite
From the dark edges of the sensual ground.

This song of soul I struggle to outbear
Through portals of the sense, sublime and whole,
And utter all myself into the air:
But if I did it,—as the thunder-roll
Breaks its own cloud, my flesh would perish there,
Before that dread apocalypse of soul.

“This song of soul I struggle to outbear,” and I “struggle to. . .utter all myself into the air.” But, like Browning, I know that if I did, my self would be shattered as lightning and thunder shatter the clouds that produce them.

“With stammering lips and insufficient sound /I strive and struggle to deliver right/ That music of my nature,” but I know it’s impossible. I can’t communicate the impossibility of not feeling alone. My soul’s expression is as futile as Browning’s. I have no idea what her soul needed to express. I abscond with her words because I don’t have an expression of my own.

Professor M_____ at the University of Redlands 50 years ago said, in Shakespeare class, all poetry is about “kissin’ or killin’.” I think even with family, friends, and—God forbid—a lover, if I managed to “utter all myself into the air,” I would “perish there.” The struggle to stay connected, for me, is all there is. Struggle. Because at all times I feel so unfathomably alone. Even in the midst of friendship and love.

Not a religio/ philosophical lightweight of a Romantic Victorian poet

Not a religio/ philosophical lightweight of a Romantic Victorian poet

“. . . now limp, now divided, or its traditionally honorable career. . . “

Talking with the HR Benefits Specialist about the the decisions one has to make at the time of retirement. The face to face with the truth I’ve dreaded for months. Even if the specialist is a good friend and has been my main connection with university reality for the past ten years or thereabouts.

Egyptian Onions, now limp, now divided

Egyptian Onions, now limp, now divided

It’s telling that I refer to it as “work” rather than “my position,” or some other term that indicates pride, joy, fulfillment.

I wonder if I was ever suited for professoring, for trying to help young people who are interested in studying and learning in a university setting. Did I fall into college teaching because that was, for reasons I never fully examined, what I had always “expected” to do. “Expected” of myself, and/or “expected” by others.

Age 69 is no time to be wondering about that sort of thing.

Every day I get in my email a couple of “meditation” thingies. Most days, I think they’re just silly. To wit:

I will look at a situation in its highest light today. I will turn it and turn it in the kaleidoscope of my mind, seeing it slightly anew each time, finding a way to view it that allows me to see it in a light that leaves room for acceptance, growth, and movement, while still remaining connected to my authentic self.

I’ve spent most of my life in the presence of positive ideas and of people who espouse them, so I ought to be one of the 1% by now. I kid you not. What could be more positive than the constant teaching of love, repentance, and eternal life of the Baptists—both preached and lived out by my father? What could be more positive than twelve-step programs? What could be more positive than a professional academic faculty urging one on, cajoling, and challenging one to finish a PhD? And so on.

Why do daily doses of advice that I should find “a way to view [any situation] that allows me to see it in a light that leaves room for acceptance, growth, and movement” make me cringe? Why have I not absorbed all of that positive energy over my life to blossom at some point into one of those Coveyites with seven highly effective habits?

My late partner bought me one of those Covey “planners” to get me organized. I could not master the first requirement—learn to keep the damned thing with me. The only usefulness it ever had was the address book, which I’ve used for at least 15 years. But about six months ago in a fit of cleaning and organizing I put it in some logical safe place which I have forgotten, and every time I need the zip code for my brother’s address I have to look it on the USPS website up again. A friend, one of the few people in the blogosphere I know in person—have known since before blogging—was also one of the few friends who understood my dilemma of carrying the planner in order to plan. Most of my friends thought it was funny—funny “peculiar,” not funny “ha-ha,” as we used to say.

Most of my close friends accept the funny “peculiar’ in me (the lion’s share) as part of me (part that they apparently, for which I am grateful, seem to love).

But there’s this thing that happens in my mind whenever I read something like, “The good news is no one can be me as well as me. Being me builds on who I already am. It uses and optimizes my own human and cultural capital. It’s exercise for my personality and my spirit” from today’s meditation thingy. Exercise for my personality and my spirit?

Covey, through and through—although he’d say, of course, that I should develop seven habits that would, besides helping me be me, make me highly successful.

LA Traffic in Dallas: as real as it gets?

LA Traffic in Dallas: as real as it gets?

So it’s really no secret why I am not highly successful. I’ve never developed those seven habits. I couldn’t even, when presented with the possibility of development, remember to carry the book.

So do you want to know what I think? I think there’s something about me that knows that all of that positive thinking (remember Norman Vincent Peale?—he died, by the way, in spite of The Power of Positive Thinking) isn’t really what being human is all about. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know it’s what gets us into the alpha male and now alpha female race to have billions of dollars and be able to own the politics of a (our) country. You know David Koch and Alice Walton.

When was the last time you took off your ten dollar Merona (produced by the Israeli alphas of the Middle East) clothes from Target, or you Billion Dollar clothes from LA Traffic (made by alphas from Los Angeles and sold to alphas in Dallas) and took a walk through a forest or lay on your back in a prairie grassland in Texas at night looking at the galaxies? Felt and saw the source of our “reality”?

Rhonda in HR has been “my main connection with university reality” since the beginning of my “working” at SMU. What does that have to do with, uh, reality? Nothing.

What does developing “acceptance, growth, and movement, while still remaining connected to my authentic self” have to do with reality? What does growing and moving in the system of alpha males and females have to do with reality?

Nothing, that I can see. I may be “funny peculiar.” And I may be stuck at about 15 years of age asking the sophomoric teenage questions of “What’s it all about” (you know, reading On Walden Pond and that stuff)?

But, really, when I ask these questions am I not simply raising issues we don’t wanna think about. You’re gonna die in spite of your LA Traffic clothes. And we should think about that all the time.

“The Traveling Onion,”by Naomi Shihab Nye  

“It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an
object of worship —why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion
entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.” — Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way the knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.
And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,

Naomi Shihab Nye. She has it about right.

Naomi Shihab Nye. She has it about right.


“. . . as if the whole day were sighing, ‘Let it go’ . . .”

In 2010 the people of Oklahoma approved a law barring Oklahoma courts from considering Islamic Sharia law as part of any decision in state courts under any circumstances. On the face of it this is absurd.

"Let it go. Let it go."

“Let it go. Let it go.”





Xenophobic (to say nothing of ignorant—of what Sharia is for starters, and of how their own penal and civil codes work to continue).

Unconstitutional, which U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange ruled on August 16 last year.

Today a friend emailed me the link to a study I find a little difficult to believe in my most rigorous thinking (which, as we all know is hardly rigorous at all). People who are actively homophobic take 2 ½ years off their lives. There’s a mean-spirited little part of me that wants that to be true.

On May 15, I will walk away from my office for the last time as a fully employed faculty member, not because I want to, but because—for reasons that have nothing to do with my teaching—a dean who long ago reached his level of incompetence by the Peter Principle decided I am more of a nuisance than an asset. This is not merely sour grapes on my part. I can document many other decisions of administrators there indicating the truth of my observation. But then, universities—at least the second tiered ones—thrive on such incompetence. They can raise a billion dollars one year and be forced to cut budgets the next. Seems pretty Peter Principlish to me. But what do I know?

I’ve been told that senility brings out the worst qualities in a person, not the best. If that’s true, people who are close to me in 20 years (yes, there’s a family-statistical chance I could live to be 90) better prepare themselves to cope with a quarrelsome, irascible, cantankerous, unpleasant old queer.

If ____phobia shortens the lifespan, perhaps no one will have to put up with me. After all, those forbears of mine who lived into their 90s (an overwhelming number of my parents—both—grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles) were, for the part jolly positive folks who never smoked or became alcoholics. I’ve probably queered (to queer; verb trans. “to spoil; ruin”) my chances from the get-go. (Don’t you just love the arcaneness of our language?)

It’s a good thing the wind blows in the spring as well as the fall. According to poet Jeffrey Harrison, I may have a chance.

A poet of honesty.

A poet of honesty.

Enough, by Jeffrey Harrison

It’s a gift, this cloudless November morning
warm enough for you to walk without a jacket
along your favorite path. The rhythmic shushing
of your feet through fallen leaves should be
enough to quiet the mind, so it surprises you
when you catch yourself telling off your boss
for a decade of accumulated injustices,
all the things you’ve never said circling inside you.

It’s the rising wind that pulls you out of it,
and you look up to see a cloud of leaves
swirling in sunlight, flickering against the blue
and rising above the treetops, as if the whole day
were sighing, Let it go, let it go,
for this moment at least, let it all go

(My goodness, it’s a real sonnet! written in 2010. I trust Mr. Harrison will not mind my introducing my thousands of readers to his work.)

In an interview for Smartish Pace, Harrison discussed the responsibilities of a poet, noting that “perhaps honesty is the primary responsibility—honesty about oneself and about what the world is like.” (“Jeffrey Harrison.” Poetry Foundation. poetryfoundation.org. 2014. Web.)

[If you wonder why I try to be careful about citations, consider this. My students are writing about the 1956 movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I found a statement by Don Siegel, the director, I wanted to share with them. I found the quotation on about 10 web pages before I discovered its source. You have to be careful and honest. Oh, one other thing. Don’t you wish you’d had a freshman composition course in which you wrote about Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Seems to me any professor who requires that should be put out to pasture! Oh, my, what a prickly old man I’ve become.]

I’ve not become a prickly old man. I’ve become old, but I was always prickly. Cross me once, shame on you. Cross me twice, shame on me. Cross me three times, watch out!

Yes, I have this temper. It’s generally reserved for the voters of Oklahoma, homophobes, and incompetent deans, but sometimes it targets other people, places, and things. I’m not going to write about the gravest instance of my flying out of control. Almost 40 years later, it makes me weep even though I have made formal amends for it.

“. . . honesty about oneself and about what the world is like.” Damn, that’s hard. What the world is like is pretty easy if you have either objectivity or brains (I may have objectivity, but certainly not brains). It is true that the world is slipping into tyrannies that I will be glad to leave behind. David H. and Charles G. Koch are the most obvious examples of one kind of tyranny. The voters of Oklahoma are another. The tyranny of the majority. (All the years I lived in Massachusetts I secretly voted Republican because I was disgusted that, for example, mobster Whitey Bulger’s brother was president of the State Senate simply because he was a Democrat in Massachusetts.)

So the older I get, the more honest I try to be. It’s hard after a lifetime of not being honest about who I am. But I don’t want my irascibility to keep me from receiving kindness and consideration when I’m in the home for seniors with reality problems. Which, of course, you will be paying for because my retirement funds are likely not to last as long as I do.

Another reason to be cantankerous.

The source of honesty? Probably not.

The source of honesty? Probably not.

“God’s gonna trouble the waters”

About 20 years ago I was in a graduate seminar at UTDallas on the history of Dallas. Dr. Harvey J. Graff was the professor.

God's gonna trouble the waters

God’s gonna trouble the waters

That semester my newly-discovered allergies to the junk in Dallas air settled in my lungs and, after I passed out in a UTD parking lot and was ambulanced to the Baylor health center in Richardson, I spent two weeks in bed with pneumonia and failed Harvey’s class. Some sleight-of-hand by the Dean kept that off my transcript, and I took the same seminar the next semester.

Except it wasn’t the same course. I had begun my first course project of interviewing several old gay men in Dallas with the purpose of writing an oral history of the gay rights movement in Dallas pre-Stonewall. I don’t remember what my paper was the second time around (it’s on a 3 ½ inch floppy disk somewhere), but I have my recorded conversations with a half dozen of those old guys. Old guys! About the same age I am now. I did not finish that project. I wish I had.

One of the old (?) men I interviewed lived in Dickinson Place, a retirement facility run at least nominally by the Methodist Church. Dickinson was minister of the prestigious University Park Methodist Church, nestled at the corner of Southern Methodist University. I’ve written about the old guy before (back when I was a young 68). He, too, was a (retired) Methodist minister—who had lived the oh-so-common double life of a gay man which my generation is about the first to find unnecessary.

I wrote then mainly about the circumstances in which he was living. I felt sorry for the old guy. He was living in a safe and affordable apartment with his own (very nice antique) furniture, among about 200 other folks his age (even some gay men, he told me), with meals and transportation provided when he wanted them, with pictures of his children and their children decorating the small apartment. But I felt sorry for him in my forty-five-ish way.

I see Dickinson Place a couple of blocks over from Washington Street every time I go to exercise at the Landry Fitness Center at the downtown Baylor Hospital. Yesterday doing my exercise (walking in the “therapy” pool) I realized I should probably be exercising in some more strenuous way. That’s a switch! I’ve been exercising at Landry since approximately March 23, 2013, the day of record for my first physical therapy appointment for “fixing” the pain in my right hip. PT almost weekly (sometimes twice) for eleven months.

It’s time for me to be out on the Katy Trail jogging (even though I’ve been told by all of the professionals that I will not be able to jog again—as if I ever did!).

Every time I walk these days, at some point in the hour I sing to myself (or hum if there’s no one close enough to think the old man has lost his marbles) the Slave song, “Wade in the water.” It’s become my water-walking theme song. I’ve linked to my favorite YouTube recording of it.

I’m amused when I go there to listen to it by the “comments” (comments on YouTube videos are often more interesting than the videos themselves). One popped up a few weeks ago that is particularly inane:

Randy Banks:   The comments on here are so far from reality. . .  Firstly, this is not a SLAVE song, nor inteneded solely for Black people.  This is a Christian song.  Given the soul by Southern Baptist.  This song is not telling a story of slaves people. . . The course a lot of you traveled in your responses to this video is an embarrasment to the Southern Baptist Convention and Christianity in general.  Everything isn’t about race folks, regardless of the American norm to make it appear that way.

I, of course—you can guess—want to shout at the ignorant christianist that his self-righteous arrogance is unbecoming a Christian. Randy has no access to scholarship, so he would never have read the article By Bryan T. Sinclair, “Merging Streams: The Importance of the River in the Slaves’ Religious World.” Journal Of Religious Thought 53/54.2/1 (1997).

It is, I think, a truism that commenters on YouTube videos tend not to be scholars. Here’s my own unscholarly comment. Bryan Sinclair says that when

. . . these songs were sung so ecstatically at river baptisms, it seemed almost as if the slaves were invoking an ancient African river spirit or deity to “trouble the water” in preparing the young neophytes for their initiation bath. As the slaves sang on the Georgia Sea Islands,

Wade in nuh watuh childun,
Wade in nuh watuh childun,
Wade in nuh watuh,
Gawd’s go’nah trouble duh watuh,
From Lydia Parrish’s, Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands, 1942)

River personification might also indicate an African influence. . . These slave songs may be seen as evoking river image of a distant religious past.

My logic is taking a sharp turn to the left (or right) here, so I hope someone (anyone) can follow me. There’s a connection among all these disparate thoughts. Graduate seminar. Dickinson Place. Baylor Hospital and the Landry Fitness Center. Baptists. Retired (closeted) gay Methodist ministers. My own getting old (hip and shoulder surgery required by wearing-out parts of my body and my immanent day to retire). Water walking therapy.

I feel daily as if the waters are troubled. The waters of my life are being troubled, and the troubling is evoking river image of a distant religious past. Randy Banks, in all his racist Christianist ranting does not (I think) understand one reality. He’s right that the slave song isn’t about race. The troubled waters are an almost universal image (google the Bible and troubled waters, for example). An image of the end of slavery, an image of healing, an image of birth. Or an image of aging and dying.

My pool, but not my exercise

My pool, but not my exercise

“. . . the old fellow in front of me dropped his glasses . . .”

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) wrote my kind of poetry.

My kind of poet.

My kind of poet.

Not very elegant. Crass, even, by many poetry lovers’ standards. Doesn’t rhyme, doesn’t have a rhythm recognized by the regular repetition of “feet” either iambs or amphibrachs or dispondees, and it often doesn’t even have images either similes or metaphors or personifications. Almost seems like, as far as what we learned about poetry in high school goes, we should pay no attention to the man behind the INK SPOTS.

Why on earth should I remember this song when I remember so little pop culture? (Not a “rhetorical question.” There’s no such thing. I tell my students if they know the answer to the question, it’s disingenuous to ask it, and, if they don’t, they have no business asking it to make a point.) My mother must have sung it. Several covers of the song exist, but this is definitely the version I remember. Somewhere along the line I knew (because some vocal-major friend sang it when I was in college, perhaps) the tune was the semi-classical song “Mattinata” by Leoncavallo, composer of the opera Pagliacci, which everyone knows.

I did not remember all of these details, I will confess. I had to look them up. I remembered the song, but the rest were vague 69-year-old’s snatches of memory. Some years ago researching them was what musicologists did, but nowadays with Google and Wikipedia, anyone can do this kind of arcane research.

Dr. Robert Nelsen used to refer to “the squiggles on the page.” That was when he was a professor of creative writing at the University of Texas at Dallas and not a college president. I don’t think Robert ever had us read any of Charles Bukowski’s work. Right. We were studying fiction writing with Robert.

ink spots—squiggles on the page—“You’re Breaking My Heart”—MattinataPagliacci—Robert Nelsen—Charles Bukowski. How’s that for a train of thought?

“Helping the old,” by Charles Bukowski

I was standing in line at the bank today
when the old fellow in front of me
dropped his glasses (luckily, within the
and as he bent over
I saw how difficult it was for
and I said, “wait, let me get
them. . . “
but as I picked them up
he dropped his cane
a beautiful, black polished
and I got the glasses back to him
then went for the cane
steadying the old boy
as I handed him his cane.
he didn’t speak,
he just smiled at me.
then he turned
I stood behind him waiting
my turn.

(Bukowski, Charles. “Helping the Old.” You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense. New York: HarperCollins: 2002.)

If I were a real English professor, I’d have you analyze first—uh, I don’t know where we’d start. Here’s where I’d start by myself. When the old fellow in front of me.

when the óld


in frónt

of mé

Well now, it does have a regular rhythm. de-de-dum, dum-de, de-dum, de-dum. If Bukowsi had used the first word that came to mind—as you and I would have—“man,”—the stanza would not scan. Read it with “man” instead of “fellow.” OK, class, that’s boring as hell. Let’s get on with the analysis. Oh! That’s all. That’s the extent of my analysis.

You’ll say that any writing or speech in English has a regular meter. Yep. And the best writing unintentionally follows something like unrhymed iambic pentameter (which we all know from Shakespeare). Why do you suppose all those Renaissance and Elizabethan poets used it? It’s the way we talk. Prove me wrong.

But not all writing or speech creates an image. That’s what makes poetry.

The old fellow in front of me. I’ve seen that old fellow—as you have—a thousand times. I see him in the mirror every time I brush my teeth. Fortunately my hip has healed perfectly, and I no longer have the cane. I bought You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense some time ago because the Publishers Clearing House blurb said it was poems about Bukowski’s cats and his childhood. Some are, some aren’t.

But here’s the deal. This poetry is not simply prose put into short lines. I’m moderately good at writing prose, but here’s my sorry attempt (and I’m not fishing for compliments like,

The banks are supposed to look

The way banks are supposed to look

“Oh, no, your attempt is not sorry”) to answer Bukowski’s poem from the old man’s POV. This entire post is a stream of (almost) consciousness that’s old man thinking. I’ve probably thought this way all my life, but I’m here to tell you that the older you get (at any rate, the older I’ve gotten) the more you (or I) hold onto these strings of ideas. They may not go anywhere, but they’re mine, and it’s comforting to be able to encapsulate them in writing. I’ve been working at this “poem” for three days. Hardly seems worth it.

“Being helped when old,” by Harold Knight

That young blade
watches every
He doesn’t think
how it is
to be old.
Damn! The
Why the fuck
can’t you be careful,
old man?
Break those glasses
and pay for more.
Don’t help much
Thanks, man.
The cane!
That damned cane.
Does he guess
how mortifying
this is?
Struck dumb.
Get that idiotic grin

I’m not yet at the point of thinking about what it’s like to die (at least not thinking about it all the time). But when I’m ready, it’ll probably go something like this. Poem with cats.

“1990 Special,” by Charles Bukowski

weary to the bone,
dancing in the dark with the
the Suicide Kid gone

ah, the swift summers
over and gone

is that death
stalking me

no, it’s only my cat,

(Bukowski, Charles. “1990 Special.” The People Look Like Flowers at Last. New York: HarperCollins Publishers [Echo], 2007.)

only my cat, this time

only my cat, this time


“. . . the mystery. . . of a demon in my view.” (Edgar Allan Poe)

When I care to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision – then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid (Audre Lorde, 1934 – 1992).

A necessary tack

A necessary tack

In teaching writing, i.e. rhetoric, we often resort to poor old Aristotle to try to get students to understand they have to use many different approaches in order to be convincing. One of our favorite tacks (“tack” as a nautical term, “a course run obliquely against the wind”)—yes, “tack” is an appropriate word here because we run obliquely against the wind—is to present the students with Aristotle’s three “appeals” for making an argument. Logos, ethos, and pathos.

Logos, we say, is akin to our word “logic,” but not directly. It’s more than logic.
Ethos, we say, is an appeal to the writer’s credibility.
Pathos, we say, is an attempt to involve our audience’s emotions in our argument.

Or something like that.

Of course, any student who has either received such instruction or who has a modicum of inquisitiveness on their own will realize we have many common and useful words that come, if not directly from these Greek words, at least from the same roots.

pathetic (adj.)

           1590s, “affecting the emotions, exciting the passions,” from Middle French pathétique “moving, stirring, affecting” (16c.), from Late Latin patheticus, from Greek pathetikos “subject to feeling, sensitive, capable of emotion,” from pathetos “liable to suffer,” verbal adjective of pathein “to suffer” (see pathos). Meaning “arousing pity, pitiful” is first recorded 1737. Colloquial sense of “so miserable as to be ridiculous” is attested from 1937. Related: Pathetical (1570s); pathetically. Pathetic fallacy (1856, first used by Ruskin) is the attribution of human qualities to inanimate objects. (Harper, Douglas. “pathetic.” Online Etymology Dictionary. etymonline.com. 2001-2014. Web.)

Every time I need to write about my depression, I feel pathetic in the colloquial sense from 1937. Like everyone who struggles with depression and writes or paints or sings or dances or just talks with their friends I want to make the definitive statement what it feels like to be depressed so the rest of you will understand and not think we are “so miserable as to be ridiculous.”

If you are still reading, you are obviously not one of my f2f friends or relatives (or one of my “followers” here) who have heard all of this before and are really really really tired of it. Some readers who are frightened by my being so open about depression all the time have stopped reading because they are not brave. I apologize to them that I am so persistent in talking about depression. I am not going to go the next necessary step in apology and tell them how I will modify my behavior in the. I will write about this again.

Two days ago I had the wonderful (expand that word beyond triteness and overuse to making “full of wonder”) experience of talking with a student until she discovered the meaning of the word “mystery” in the lexicon of Flannery O’Connor’s writing.

Bringer of jollity

Bringer of jollity

Yesterday I had the wonderful (expand that word beyond triteness and overuse to making “full of wonder”) experience once again of talking with students until they stumbled upon meanings of various concepts about which my classes are writing.

I CANNOT—ever, under any circumstance—TELL YOU THE JOY those experiences bring me. They are the stuff of the reason I live. I thank the gods for those experiences over the past 40 years.

I left my office at 5:15 PM yesterday (having invited students to come to talk between 3 and 4). I sang all the way to my car.

By the time I arrived home (a trip of about 14 minutes, give or take a few seconds), I was in tears.

You can say my tears were understandable in light of my impending (forced) retirement. WTF, I’m 69—it’s time to retire!

But they continued. I was weepy and angry and miserable until I went to a recovery meeting at 7. I was OK for awhile, even long enough to have supper with a friend afterward. By the time I arrived home at 9:30 I was crying again.

I woke up this morning in tears.

That is not the result of my grief at ending my professional life. Otherwise it would have not been a regular experience for the last 60 years, would it?

We all know the medical causes of depression. (A search in the EBSCO data base, Academic Search Complete, through SMU’s library website for “clinical depression” brings up 213,458 articles.)

This is pathetic.

I broke into tears yesterday on my way to my 2 PM class. How cool is that for a professor to be walking across campus crying?

When I care to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision. . .

I have cared all my life to use my strength in the service of my vision. I have had two lifetimes of vision—one as a church (and perhaps recital) organist, the other as a writer and teacher of writing. I’ve had two lifetimes separated by several years of falling-down-drunk-driving-the-wrong-way-on-the-freeway alcoholism (sober for 27 years). I have cared to use my strength in the service of my vision.

I’m not going to blame constant clinical depression (I believe it had begun by the time our family doctor prescribed medication for thyroid deficiency when I was in fourth grade because I was so lethargic I had become a chubby little boy) for my failure to record the complete organ works of Frescobaldi or write the Great American Novel or explain the poetry of Maxine Kumin to the world. Or for my being a drunk.

But being in tears for the better part of 18 hours now is not normal. And it’s a damned nuisance when you’re trying to type. I wish I had Edgar Allan Poe’s genius. Then perhaps I could explain this to you, dear, kind, long-suffering reader.

“Alone,”  by Edgar Allan Poe

A demon in his view?

A demon in his view?

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were–I have not seen
As others saw–I could not bring
My passions from a common spring–
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow–I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone–
And all I lov’d–I lov’d alone–
Then–in my childhood–in the dawn
Of a most stormy life–was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still–
From the torrent, or the fountain–
From the red cliff of the mountain–
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold–
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by–
From the thunder, and the storm–
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view–

“. . . the world in my head Confusing me about the messy World I have to live in. . . “

If you are in the Dallas area—whether or not you are an opera buff (or have never seen an opera) — you need to get yourself to the Dallas Opera production of DEATH AND THE POWERS this weekend. Especially if you think you are au courant with the world of technology. A futuristic opera (the jury is out on whether or not it’s actually an opera) encompassing

Simon Powers joining "the system"

Simon Powers joining “the system”

computers/robots/electronic music/Simon Powers/and death.

It’s (groovy, bitchin, far out, amazing, cool, or stunning—whatever word your generation uses to describe something that is) exceptionally fine and exciting. Libretto by Robert Pinsky (former U.S. Poet Laureate); music by Tod Machover.

My making that announcement is evidence of something. Something I’m going to call “put-that-in-your-pipe-and-smoke-it.”

That phrase, by the way, has nothing to do with your bong. I’ve found several web sources quoting Eric Partridge (the authority on phrase origins) that the phrase is from the early 19th century. One source says that Dickens uses it in The Pickwick Papers, which I’ve never read and don’t intend to read simply to find the phrase. It means something like, “Take that!” or “So there!” or “Think about that even though you’re surprised I have the brains to say it.” (Partridge, Eric. Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day. Updated and edited by Paul Beal. Lanham, MD: Scarborough House, 1992).

What I mean for you to smoke is my realization that I need to stop apologizing for my ancientness. Not so much for my hoariness as for my (rather constant) feeling that I’m not keeping up very well with society, with the “information age” and all of its absurd and dehumanizing “devices.” Or with pop culture.

Take this computer I’m using to put these words down in a form which I can upload here in this blog. Both the computer and the blog are mysteries to me. I simply use them. And, from time to time rather well, I think. This computer is a spiffy Lenovo that I’ve had for a few months. It has myriad apps and programs and uses I can’t even find, much less use. I’d say I use about 1% (if that) of its capabilities. I use it pretty much as I used the first word processor/computer I owned in 1988.

That should give you a hint how au courant I am/have been. It’s possible 90% of the people reading this weren’t even born in 1988. I’ve had a computer of some sort since then (I bought it so I could write my dissertation—PhD, University of Iowa, 1988—without having to use carbon paper). I first logged onto the internet at about Thanksgiving, 1992. Again, it’s possible many people reading this weren’t even born then. I was a college professor, so I had access to email long before hoi polloi did. Email was intended for government, industry, and academic (because our research supported the other two) use only. It should have stayed that way—you wouldn’t have to worry about the NSA knowing whom you’re having an affair with. (First old-fartism.)

All those people in books
From Krishna & the characters
In the Greek Anthology
Up to the latest nonsense
Of the Deconstructionists,
Floating around in my brain,
A sort of “continuous present”
As Gertrude Stein called it;
The world in my head
Confusing me about the messy
World I have to live in.
Better the drunken gods of Greece
Than a life ordained by computers
     —(Laughlin, James. From Byways: A Memoir. (Long, unfinished biographical poem). New Directions
Publishing, 2005.)

So Put that in your pipe (or your bong, I don’t care) and smoke it! (Second old-fartism.)

Put it in your pipe or your bong

Put it in your pipe or your bong

Or see an opera that opens with this little discussion among a bunch of robots.

                         robot leader

Units assembled for the ritual
Performance at command,
As the Human Creators have ordained,
In memory of the Past.

                         robot two

This concept I cannot understand,
At the center of the drama—
What is this
“Death”—Is it a form of waste?

                         robot three

I cannot comprehend, I cannot understand:
If the information of one unit might be lost
It is backed up by any other unit at hand:
What is this
“Death”—Is it an excessive cost?

                         robot four

How can information end?
Is it a form of entropy?
Why did the Human Creators
Before they departed intend
To require a performance on a theme
Impossible to comprehend?

Is it the data rearranged,
As in an error, in a dream?
A real jumble?
Data in memory misplaced
In a random scramble—
Dream-data, the order changed;
That would be something
I could comprehend,
If only the form was changed.
Is that the meaning of this
“Death”—data rearranged?
A dream of something lost
That was meant to be saved?
An unrecovered past?
   —(Pinsky, Robert. “Death and the Powers: A Robot Pageant.” Poetry, July/August 2010.
Web. Libretto of opera by Tod Machover.)

I suppose my writing above sounds petulant, like an angry tirade by a befuddled old man who wants desperately not to be left behind in the modern world.

Well, no, it’s not. I’m ruminating about myself, about my connection to a society that is leaving me in the dust—as it should! I’m still thinking about my friend Thomas J. Hubschman’s  An Elder’s Manifesto.

Who but ourselves, then, the old who know confidently what the rest do not about what it means to be elders in the best sense—matured and yet still maturing, not like fruit that has had its day and drops rotten to the ground, but like old whiskey that keeps getting more complex and offers more possibility the longer it is around?

Even given my (our) insecurity and fumbling with computers, robots, iPads, and all of those things, we elders (yes, my students, at least, think that’s what I am) have not simply “something” to contribute. It is more than “something.” It is all there is. Robert Pinsky, born 1940, understands. Tod Machover, born 1953, is beginning to.

This concept I cannot understand,
At the center of the drama—
What is this
“Death”—Is it a form of waste?