“. . . 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.”

Absurd.

Evil.

Disgusting.

Bigoted.

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.

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