“. . . a solipsist of the highest order . . .” (Michael Blumenthal)

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I can’t quote a single line. (Photo: “Bette Davis the little foxes” by RKO Radio Pictures. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons)

Amateur bloggers are told not to include too many hyperlinks in their writing―that puts people off. My life is a series of hyperlinks. At the very least the stream of my (un)consciousness is.

The poet Michael Blumenthal told me in a private email on November 28, 2013, “I’m so glad ot have you as a reader and the ONLY member of my fan club!”

I quote this because I am as much a name-dropper as anyone else. I left the typo to show that even highly-esteemed poets and law professors sometimes need editors, and it gives me hope that I, too, can be a published author some time.

I know saying “some time” when I’m 71 seems beyond the realm of possibility, but my sister’s sister-in-law Kiyo Sato won Stanford University’s William Saroyan prize for the best NEW writer of the year in 2008 when she was 85, and she is still going strong.

I AM a member of the Michael Blumenthal fan club. I love his poetry, and I like what I know of him as a person (from our few friendly email exchanges). One might think his is the only poetry I ever read (besides Kay Ryan’s and May Sarton’s, about whom I have written here). All one needs do is look at my other blog and note the couple hundred poems by Palestinian poets I have quoted there to know that is not the case.

Anyone who “follows” this blog can surmise why Blumenthal’s phrase “a solipsist of the highest order” has meaning for me―more than “meaning”―it captures the ever-present essence of my solipsistic reality. I write about it fairly often.

I’ve spent most of my life since second grade, when I experienced the first of my seizures, trying to figure out if life is real or not. I live in/with so many contradictions it’s no wonder I can’t figure out what’s real. I’m a gay man who has never been to a Bette Midler concert and cannot quote a single line from a Bette Davis movie (and can’t for the life of me figure out why one of their names has two syllables and the other only one). I’m a kind and generous man with rage issues. I’m a Christian who doesn’t believe in God. I’m basically depressed except when I’m flying high as a kite (there’s a name for that). I’m a love addict who has lived alone for 13 years. Well, you get the picture.

The question is, do these contradictions cause my solipsism or are they the result of it?

I must say here, lest someone think I’m even less perceptive and intelligent than I am, I know Michael Blumenthal’s poem is not about depersonalization disorder or derealization disorder. It’s something about the impossibility of making a connection with a person one is in love with, or at least lusting after. Or it’s about our absolute inability to see others, even those we’re in love with, as real human beings, to care about making a connection with them, so that everyone’s experience is that everyone else looks “right through me into the wall, where large hieroglyphs of motions I am not making lead her to some fabulous beast.”

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With my first and most complicated de-constructionist dancing partner. (Photo by some family member, 1969.)

Michael Blumenthal and I are so different, our lives are actually so contradictory of each other, that we ought not be able even to communicate. He’s a young man of 68, I’m an elderly 71. He’s straight and I’m gay. He’s a celebrated published poet and both a creative writing professor and a law school professor (!?!). I am a retired church organist and first-year English composition teacher. He lived for a year in Africa saving baboons. I’ve lived in mostly pedestrian American cities all my life. He’s Jewish, I’m Gentile (and an activist on behalf of the Palestinians).

If Michael Blumenthal has a seizure disorder, he has not written about it (that I’ve seen).

But seizure disorders and lust and love and dancing aside, as we all learned in our Philosophy 101 class, it’s impossible to think about nothing. Just can’t be done. As long as we are/have something, we can’t imagine nothingness. Even if all we have is a thought.

“Nihilism has no substance. There is no such thing as nothingness, and zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing.” Hugo, Victor. Les Misérables (1862). Pt. 2, bk. 7, ch. 6.

There is no such thing as nothingness.

Even in moments of my most intense depersonalization disorder or derealization disorder (if, indeed, I “suffer” from those presentations), I do not feel “nothingness.” Solipsism, according to Dictionary.com, is “the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.” In my moments of derealization I do not want to know that the world exists. I simply want to know for sure that I exist. That does not make me a solipsist. It’s simply my desperate hope to cling to reality.

My guess is that even those who do not have some clinical presentation like Temporal Lobe Epilepsy have moments of that desperation, moments when we “. . . think [we are] leading her along to some rhythm she could not possibly find on her own . . “ but knowing it is “. . . she who has seen through this subterfuge . . .”

I want to establish and reestablish some hyperlinks soon. I want to find the money (Oh! the reality of money!) and the time to fly to Asheville, NC, to visit one of the men I have most enjoyed dancing with in a deconstructionist tango, then on to Washington, DC, to re-start a research project I began two years ago on the composer David Diamond, then on to Morgantown, WV, to shake Michael Blumenthal’s hand just to be sure he exists, and finally to Cincinnati, OH, to reconnect with another of those men I danced with once (about 1970).

Perhaps if I establish and reestablish these hyperlinks, my dancing with anyone―with everyone―will seem much more real. My hyperlinks may put you off, but they are my only hope.

“DANCING WITH A DE-CONSTRUCTIONIST,” BY MICHAEL BLUMENTHAL
She thinks I am only there
for her benefit, so,
when we move this way,
to old Motown and Rolling Stones,
it is as if there is no text at all,
and, though it seems to me it is I
who am leading her across the de-carpeted floor
of this apartment in East Cambridge,
there is in her eyes the glint of someone
alone with their best pleasure,
a solipsist of the highest order,
and it is as if she is looking right through me
into the wall, where large hieroglyphs
of motions I am not making lead her
to some fabulous beast, a wild subtext
taking her, better than I ever could,
to where she most wants to be. And so,
in a certain way, we are both happy:
I who think I am leading her along
to some rhythm she could not possibly find
on her own, and she who has seen through
this subterfuge of hips and legs
as if I were pure spirit―which is how,
in some way, I had wanted it all along…
and the Supremes and the Rolling Stones
secretive among the speakers, taking it
all in, helping us to forget what it was
that brought us here to begin with.

Blumenthal, Michael. Against Romance. (reprint) New York: Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press, 2006.
Quoted in: Blumenthal, Michael. “Voices neither High nor Low”: Some Thoughts on Diction in Contemporary American Poetry.” Legal Studies Forum. Jan. 2007: 433+. (This article, by the way, is not attributed; however, who else would write an article about poetry in a law journal?)

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“FISH FUCKING,” a Michael Blumenthal companion poem to “DANCING WITH A DE-CONSTRUCTIONIST.” Museum Victoria has excavated 380-million-year-old fossil fishes from Gogo, Western Australia. This page describes how these early fishes were reproducing.

Ursala Le Guin v. (Republican) terrorists

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Mule deer in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Pay my thinking no nevermind (it’s 4:30 AM, after all), but . . .

Is it not tragic that the  R E P U B L I C A N S  who rail against government overreach MANAGED WITHOUT DOUBT TO POISON thousands of children in Flint, Michigan, and probably to cause a fatal outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease there—did it by legislatively

S U S P E N D I N G  D E M O C R A C Y

and GIVING DICTATORIAL POWER to Republican Governor Rick Snyder?

And isn’t it monstrously hypocritical that  R E P U B L I C A N  t e r r o r i s t s continue to defy the Constitution by CONTRAVENING THE RULE OF LAW and seeking to forcefully

S U S P E N D   D E M O C R A C Y

in Oregon by occupying land and buildings owned by the public and steal it for their own use?

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Flint children demand clean water in an October protest. (Photo: Danny Miller /The Flint Journal-MLive.com/AP)

A message to all of the “patriots” who accuse President Barack Obama of Constitutional overreach in his executive orders: nothing he has done is for his own benefit, and all of his actions are well within established protocols, designed

. . . to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . .

not to further the self absorbed political goals of white power.

Ursala LeGuin says it about as well as it can be said:

The Oregonian’s A1 headline on Sunday, Jan. 17, “Effort to free federal lands,” is inaccurate and irresponsible. The article that follows it is a mere mouthpiece for the scofflaws illegally occupying public buildings and land, repeating their lies and distortions of history and law.

Ammon Bundy and his bullyboys aren’t trying to free federal lands, but to hold them hostage. I can’t go to the Malheur refuge now, though as a citizen of the United States, I own it and have the freedom of it. That’s what public land is: land that belongs to the public — me, you, every law-abiding American. The people it doesn’t belong to and who don’t belong there are those who grabbed it by force of arms, flaunting their contempt for the local citizens.

Those citizens of Harney County have carefully hammered out agreements to manage the refuge in the best interest of landowners, scientists, visitors, tourists, livestock and wildlife. They’re suffering more every day, economically and otherwise, from this invasion by outsiders.

Instead of parroting the meaningless rants of a flock of Right-Winged Loonybirds infesting the refuge, why doesn’t The Oregonian talk to the people who live there?

Ursula K. Le Guin

Northwest Portland

For the REPUBLICANS who apparently weren’t listening when they read this at their swearing-in in Congress: They should read Article III, Section 3, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or . . .”
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Please read about the one place in the world where the United States approves of and “gives aid and comfort to” the total S U S P E N S I O N  OF  D E M O C R A C Y.

“. . . My tunes arise from my heart . . .” (Mahmoud Darwish)

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Useless?

In his essay “National Music” Ralph Vaughn Williams says that the “chief glory of music is that it is absolutely useless”―or something like that. I’ve quoted him often enough that I ought to be able to find the statement in my copy of the book, but―believe me―I’m not going to read the book until I find it. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Or if you know the page or that it isn’t there at all (go ahead, prove a negative!), leave me a comment.

By useless, he means, of course, that music serves no scientific or utilitarian purpose. He did not know the work of Oliver Sacks and other neurologists, of course, who have discovered how important music is to the functioning of the brain―not necessary, but more helpful than any other activity (do you hear that, you home-schoolers and student test score junkies?).

In the long run I think he is right. Delight, mental acumen, expression of emotion, communication―all of those things are useless, particularly in a materialistic pseudo-capitalist society. I made a stab at proving him wrong a few times by teaching college courses in “Music as Propaganda,” but that was almost always about words coupled with music. There are precious few musical statements that “mean” anything or serve any purpose politically. “Finlandia,” “God Save the Queen,” Ein Feste Burg, and a few others do, of course. “The Star Spangled Banner” does not rise to that level because it is an anthem to a piece of cloth, not to a nation―we sing our allegiance to a picture rather than to the nation, but don’t get me started).

Since I retired from regular work as a church organist, I have come to understand the glorious uselessness of music. The music I make very seldom serves any purpose except to “invite my soul,” the value of which is unclear.

Playing the organ in my living room is not my only useless pastime. I watch “Death in Paradise,” “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries,” “Antiques Roadshow,” and “Property Brothers” quite regularly on TV. Notice none of those are binge-watchable hit show on cable TV―I don’t have a clue how to download and binge watch and, since watching TV serial shows and going to the movies are both “social” activities in my mind, I probably never will learn how to sit by myself and watch hour after hour of ongoing stories.

But that’s a discussion for another time.

I read quite a lot of useless poetry.

And I play Sudoku on my iPad. That, of course, is not only not useless, it may well be detrimental. I began that habit because someone told me that someone had told them that they had heard on Dr. Oz or some such show―probably one of those “self-help” shows PBS has been playing for twenty years when they are asking for money―that doing puzzles is a good way to keep your mind active. I’ve ignored neurologists’ admonition that you should find another game when you’ve mastered the one you’re playing. Always work a puzzle or play a game you can’t finish, or it doesn’t help your brain.

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Always work a puzzle or play a game you can’t finish, or it doesn’t help your brain.

Actually, playing Sudoku is sometimes not completely useless. I sit in front of the TV watching “Property Brothers” or “Fixer Upper” and play Sudoku when I need a nap in the afternoon and can’t fall asleep. It’s great fun to fall asleep in mid-afternoon with visions of Jonathan and Drew or Chip dancing in my head. (Tarek on “Flip or Flop” doesn’t make the cut.)

I spend a great deal of time virtually every day posting on my other blog. It usually takes 1.5 to 2 hours daily.

I started that blog in February of 2015 because I discovered the wealth of poetry (useless stuff?) written by Palestinian poets. I was enamored of the useless poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye, the Palestinian-American poet who lives in San Antonio. I discovered that she has translated a great deal of Palestinian poetry from the Arabic to English, and because it was she, I started looking into it. Soon I owned 22 hard-copy volumes of Palestinian poetry and about a half-dozen more on my Nook (iPad).

As I read more and more poetry by Palestinians, I began to realize that the nobility, the anguish, the grief, the defiance, the passion of the Palestinian poetry was the same whether it is by Rashid Hussein (1936-1977) writing first-hand about the Nakba, Tawfiq Zayyad (1929-1994) giving voice to the suffering of the 1967 War, Salem Jubran gently striving to express the relationship between Israeli Jews and Arabs, Fadwa Tuqan (1917-2003) disclosing the devastation mothers and daughters have experienced from the Nakba through the Second Intifada, or Yusef Abu Loz and Abdel Rahim al-Sheikh writing of the precarious situation of their people today.

Standing apart (and, it is almost universally agreed, above) in its passion and clarity is the voice of the Palestinian-American Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008).

Inspired by these (and dozens more) poets, I began to try to give a context for their work―or is it to use their work to give context for the news from Palestine? I don’t know. I don’t really know what it is I do every morning. It may, in fact be a useless enterprise―and I think it most likely is. I don’t have any real idea if anyone reads it or who they are.

What I know is that I must do it. I have no choice. This poetry and these (sometimes related) news stories must be together in Cyberspace for some reason I do not know, and I am the only person who can make it happen. Perhaps it is as absolutely useless as Vaughn Williams says music is.

Which is, after all, probably not useless after all.

“A  DIALOGUE  WITH  A  MAN  WHO  HATES  ME,”  BY  MAHMOUD  DARWISH
Rome was burnt, O crazy man
· Rome is more durable than Nero
Rome will not grasp your poems
· She can recite them by heart
Rome will slice your strings
· My tunes arise from my heart
Your voice echoes a miserable past
· My voice echoes a rocket rage
Your path is long
· I shall not tire
Yehuda** sold you
· I shall not be crucified
My ancestors were cremated in Auschwitz
· My heart is with them
· Pull out the wires from my skin
And the wounds of yesterday?
· A shameful scar―in the face of the executioner over there
What do you carry in your head
· A little wheat
What’s in your chest?
· A picture of a wound
Your face reflects a rancor color
· My face reflects the color of the earth
Then convert your sword into plowshare
· You did not leave me land to plow
You criminal!
· I did not steal―did not kill―didn’t oppress
You Arab! You are a dog!
· O man, may God cure your soul
· Why don’t you try the taste of love
· Why don’t you make way for the sun!!

** The Israeli town of Or Yehuda was established in 1950 on the lands of the depopulated Palestinian villages of Saqiya and Kfar ‘Ana. Jews from Iraq and North Africa settled there.

1-IMG_2984The Village of Lifta, Jerusalem, depopulated in 1948. One of a handful of Palestinian depopulated villages where the homes were not destroyed. (Photo: Harold Knight, November, 2015)

 

“. . . then the scaffolds drop Affirming it a Soul . . .” (Emily Dickinson)

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My strange little abode

When my partner died in 2003, I went apartment hunting almost immediately, not for any deep psychological reason or because it was part of the grieving process. That was November, and our lease was to be up in January. I did not want to pay another year’s rent on a huge apartment in North Dallas, wasting money and rattling around in that space by myself. No single man needs two bathrooms.

A friend who knew the city much better than I helped me look for rental ads and then drive around to look at various apartments.

After a half dozen tries we came to the one where I’ve lived since, and I knew immediately it was for me. It is not a cute cookie-cutter place ready-made for a gay-boy’s au courant possessions or valuable art work or trinkets bought with too much “disposable” income. What I have (my stuff and what I kept of my partner’s stuff) is not fashionable or valuable, so it seems to belong in the weird “loft” space I rent― one big room with no walls or doors (except the bathroom, of course). It has popcorn ceiling (how last-year), in the center the huge cement pillar holding the whole building up, ugly (I mean UGLY) apartment-cheap carpet, and a tiny galley kitchen no real cook would want to use.

It’s in the building I fondly call the “dowager” of the neighborhood―built in the ‘50s of concrete and glass, it would take an atomic bomb to tear it down. It’s tired, and it lost its upscaleness about three decades ago.

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My artwork: a painting by my uncle’s late parter, Victor Gugliuzza. Two paintings by the Canadian painter Allen Sapp.

In other words, it’s perfect for me and my odd assortment of furniture and decorations (really―so really you probably can’t imagine it). And for me. And for my cats (whose presence is ubiquitously obvious).

And since 2008, space for the pipe organ, Opus 1 of D. Steuart Goodwin Organ Builders of San Bernardino, CA. Yes, a pipe organ sits in the open space where my dining table once was.

I do not mean to imply, by the way, that I think only gays have finely appointed, stylishly decorated, and elegantly furnished living spaces. Nearly everyone I know does.

I’ve been thinking about my less than stylish surroundings because I have recently met several people who are of far different means and “lifestyle” than mine. I’m pretty sure I can guess that their digs are upscale. One of these folks and I are, I think, forging a friendship. The others I will probably have passing acquaintanceships with, if that. I’ve been thinking about whether or not I would invite any of those people to my home. I would not want them to think ill of me because of my less-then-stylish surroundings

Last night I was in a group in which we were talking about how one develops a loving relationship with oneself. Better late (at 71) than never, I suppose. I woke up this morning having been “warned in a dream” (Matthew 2:13) ―not warned exactly, informed, and not in a dream, in my rested mind―about a fact of my life that I often overlook. It starts with realizing that my apartment is an expression of who I am. I am not an expression of my apartment.

My apartment expresses a mind that is eccentrically organized―if it is organized at all. It expresses a spirit that has little interest in owning physical, worldly things. It expresses an understanding of the purpose of life as striving rather than accomplishment.

It may also be the result of depersonalization or dissociative disorder as symptoms of the wonderfully strange condition Temporal Lobe Epilepsy or something like it. All of that is so ephemeral as to render it impossible to talk about except with my neurologist and psychiatrist.

My apartment, if I could choose definitively what it expresses, is a manifestation of my caring little about what others think of me. That is not, of course, quite true. I care a great deal. But somewhere buried deep down inside me is a loving relationship with Me.

Not with what I own.

Not with my modest accomplishments.

Not with what I know.

With Me.

That relationship is not easy, and it is often obscured by fear and by doubt. I often mistake arrogance and self-righteousness for loving myself. And loving myself does not make me brave or strong. In fact, I most often want to cower in the corner and protect myself.

I’m not saying I am satisfied with Me. I wish I had done more and different things with my life. And I wish I could say I know myself completely. On the contrary, I keep discovering characteristics of Me, some of which I like and some of which I don’t like.

This afternoon I may not be able to say it, but right now I love myself, both what I like of myself and what I don’t like. Those friends I was in conversation with last night may not have heard what I said as an expression that I have a loving relationship with myself. (I said here at the outset I was told in a dream.)

Actually what happened was not a dream. Early this morning I was playing the organ for a few minutes as I often do for reasons of which I am often unconscious. The mystery of music is the same as the mystery of me. And of you.

Some people meditate. Some read inspirational literature. I play a simple organ piece.

“THE PROPS ASSIST THE HOUSE,” BY EMILY DICKINSON
The Props assist the House
Until the House is built
And then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Augur and the Carpenter –
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected Life –
A Past of Plank and Nail
And slowness – then the scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul –

The little prelude by Friedrich Wilhelm Zachau (1663-1712) on Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr
(“All Gory Be to God on High”) which passed for my meditation this morning.

“This is a light-hearted look at my experience of getting old . . .”

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Parkland, the new reigning architectural monarch of our neighborhood. (Photo: Harold Knight, Jan. 7, 2016)

. . . or that’s what the “about” tab above says.

Recently a friend of mine heard gunshots close to his home in San Bernardino, CA. His home of over 40 years is a long way from the scene of the terrorist attack, but hearing gunfire is hearing gunfire. He went outside just in time to see the police arrive and surround a young man who had been shot in the leg lying in his neighbor’s driveway.

Last year my friend was the victim of crime when a man who had been shot in a fight on the street behind his house broke into his house (he was not at home, fortunately) and used the bathroom to try to stop his bleeding. It took my friend days to clean up the blood splattered about his house.

My friend’s home is in what used to be a quiet but not upscale suburban neighborhood which has been annexed by the city of San Bernardino.

He no longer feels safe there. Obviously with some reason.

My apartment is not upscale. The building is the dowager queen of the neighborhood. Built in the ‘50s. Solid concrete, six floors. Somewhat decrepit. In a neighborhood that is coming back after many years of decline with the completion of the new Parkland Hospital, the construction of new apartment complexes, and an upgrade in the businesses coming into the mixed-use zone neighborhood.

My possessions and décor are of a piece with the building. Aging graduate-student eclectic, the kind of stuff I’ve had all my life. Even if I were part of “the 1%,” I would probably live here with my stuff that has sentimental value. The two chairs in my living room, for example. Not comfortable. Not beautiful. But one was my father’s desk chair and the other was his grandfather’s desk chair. Old (and not particularly valuable) wooden chairs in the living room and a portrait of Lincoln on the wall? How not gay-friendly! Hardly seems like I’m gay at all.

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My 71st Birthday Cake. (Photo: Harold Knight, Jan. 5, 2016)

So you’d think all the problems facing aging gay men would pass me by.

Not so. A prevalent problem facing older gay men and women is beginning to stare me in the face: living alone without a support system close by enough to be able to help me instantaneously in a crisis. Although I have fallen with unpleasant results (hip surgery and walking with a cane for nearly two years), I have been very lucky never to have been in that “help me―I’ve fallen and can’t get up” situation. And I’ve never been criminally attacked in any way.

The most difficulty I have is my daily (hourly?) problem of not being able to find my glasses. Or my shoes. (My organ-playing shoes have been missing for a week.)

Or forgetting to pay the rent.

That’s not the sort of problem that concerns me.

For the most part I am healthy (blood pressure yesterday 135 over 80). I take meds strong enough to kill a horse for seizures and mood swings. I asked my doctor if there’s a study on the long-term effects of Carbatrol―does it ruin the liver or kill brain cells or. . . . His answer, “You’re it!”

Not 100% reassuring.

Since my hip surgery I’ve been in the care of a PT and a trainer who have helped me strengthen my hips and legs. I’ve learned important practices that should help me stay upright and safe. (Old Folks take note!) I ALWAYS hold the handrail on stairs no matter how silly I feel. I NEVER get out of my car on one foot―I swing around on the seat and put both feet on the ground before I stand up. I always change positions from sitting to standing and vice versa as if I’m wearing a tight skirt (no, not drag).

I’m beginning to know how to be an old man safely.

I have a plan for maintaining my independence. I hope in the near future to move to a high-rise downtown where I will have people living close by and a concierge to keep at least minimal track of me.

I have ideas for many of the eventualities I can plan for.

However . . . .

If someone breaks into my apartment to clean up the blood of his wounds from a gunfight―or for any other reason; or if I am ever the direct the victim of gun or any other kind of violence; or if I develop Alzheimer’s disease, as happened to my mother, or any other chronic debilitating condition; it is not at all clear what I would do―or more likely what would be done to/with/for me.

Everyone my age thinks about these eventualities.

As a society we are not very good at taking care of people who cannot care for themselves. But we older Americans who are alone are in a precarious situation.

Without family or a strong “secondary” support to advocate for us, to make decisions for us, to carry out our wishes, we are at the mercy of a system, and often of people, who do not have our best interests in mind.

The plight of LGBT persons who are alone is almost certain to be exacerbated.

The reality is that both personal and institutional homophobia is still the rule rather than the exception, especially in places where poorly educated workers predominate (aids in nursing homes, for example). To assume that the 2012 firing of one homophobic nurse at the Dallas VA hospital has made a significant inroad into the problem is quixotic.

I have written letters of inquiry about moving to several retirement communities in Dallas. In each letter I made it clear that I am an out gay man and have no intention of going back into the closet to avoid discrimination from care givers.

NOT ONE OF THOSE FACILITIES EVER ANSWERED MY INQUIRY.

Friends have asked me why I thought it necessary to say I am gay. That none of those facilities even answered my inquiry is the reason. They do not want gays. If they were places I wanted to live, THEY would have asked, “Why did you think it necessary to say you are gay?”

And the fact that my friends asked me the question is an indication that they do not understand the situation of elder LGBT persons.

Would my friends move into a facility where they would be treated with less dignity than others simply because of who they are unless they hid who they are?

I doubt it.

Please watch the trailer and then find a way to see all of the film
Gen Silent.

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30 years after graduate school still living in grad-school eclectic décor (Photo: Harold Knight, Jan. 7, 2016)

BIRTHDAY MUSINGS with appreciation to May Sarton.

In 1984 May Sarton published her enchanting memoir, At Seventy. I heard her read a bit of it at Salem State College in Massachusetts in about 1986. She was the only openly lesbian writer I knew of at that time, brought to the Salem Campus by a gay member of the English faculty. I remember thinking then how lucky I was to meet this elderly poet and hoping that she would write more poetry before she died.

She did. She published a collection of poetry in 1993, and her even more enchanting memoir, Coming into Eighty, in 1994 shortly before she died.

I finally got around to reading all of At Seventy after I heard Sarton had died. By then I was in Texas studying creative writing and wishing I had paid closer attention to this remarkable woman who was in 1986 the only “real live” (that is, published and famous) poet I had ever met. I didn’t yet know I loved poetry; I was adjunct professor of music at Salem State, the job which enabled me to achieve my appointment as chair of the music department at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. The tenured position I gave up (no one does that!) to move to Texas.

May Sarton is in my mind today because I stumbled across a poem of hers from her 1993 collection, and I realized that tomorrow I will turn the age she was when she published At Seventy, that is, 71.

NOW I BECOME MYSELF, by May Sarton

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
‘Hurry, you will be dead before-‘
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

(“Now I Become Myself,” by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton, 1993.)

Sarton is writing specifically about writing a poem that expresses herself, “As slowly as the ripening fruit . . . Falls but does not exhaust the root, so all the poem is. . . Grows in me.” I’m not sure what it’s like to write a poem―or create anything―that “grows in me.” But becoming myself has “taken Time, many years and places; I have been dissolved and shaken, Worn other people’s faces, Run madly, as if Time were there, terribly old, crying a warning, ‘Hurry, you will be dead before―’”

Before what?

Yesterday in its weekly online newsletter, the AARP published its annual “people we have lost in ___” list. First on the list is Fred Thompson, 73, US Senator. Notice the “73.” The list comprises 31 celebrities; the oldest is Maureen O’Hara, actress, 95, and the youngest is Stuart Scott, sportscaster, 49. The average age is 79.3 years. Minus 71, that’s 8.3.

One of the questions a patient in a mental hospital (whatever gentle description it may have) who is committed because they are actively suicidal is, “Do you often think about death?” It’s surprising how many ways there are to ask that question and how soon the patient realizes it’s the same question over and over in disguise. I, at any rate, figured it out.

(I also figured out what the signs on the locked doors, “Elopement Danger” meant and have written a short story with that title, but that’s not germane to my task at hand―just a little comic relief.)

How many ways are there to ask if one often thinks about death?

Or, the real question should be, “Who doesn’t often think about death?”

I read Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death shortly after it was published (1973) while I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa. I had thought about death quite a lot before that, but Becker gave me an organized way to approach the contemplation.

The answer to the “who” question is “Anyone younger than 60 years old.” Someone that age might (and probably does) think about death in some abstract way. We all know we’re going to die. It’s the one idea we have that the “lower” animals don’t. But when it’s news that Fred Thompson, 73, dies and you’re about to turn 71, thinking about death takes on a completely different urgency.

I am neither suicidal nor depressed (more than is normal for me). I am not afraid I’m going to die in two years. My father lived to 97. There is some genetic possibility that I will be here quite a while longer. I am, however, taking stock.

What do I want to do, to accomplish, to finish before I die? How do I want to live? Who do I want to be with?

I have to admit that I really don’t have any well-reasoned, definite (or even off-the-top-of-my-head) answers to those questions. The first question I need to ask myself is, “How important is it to have answers to those questions?” I don’t know.

What I know is that I want to be able to say with May Sarton, without doubt or equivocation, “Now I become myself.” I have a sense of urgency that my work-in-progress attitude needs to begin to find some accomplishment, to be able, without sentimentality or braggadocio, to say,

“O, in this single hour I live all of myself and do not move.”

Thank you, May.
_______________
NOTE: another poem I read today (because someone suggested it to me) is “On Living,” by Nazim Hikmet, 1902 – 1963.
One stanza reads:

I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees–
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

The entire poem is here.

“. . . the long and lonely lives of castaways thought dead . . .” (Kay Ryan)

jerry tree

Standing in front of the tree I planted at St. Paul Lutheran Church in memory of my late partner. What could be more permanent? The fire station that now stands in its place.

Ok. I should not write when I’m pissed off.

No, really. Pissed off.

It’s personal, not political. I think it’s a kind of pissed off that only someone who is going to have his 71st birthday tomorrow can understand.

It’s the kind of pissed off that can come only from hurt.

That probably means I’m being passive aggressive.

On Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Farmers Branch, TX, held its last Sunday Service of Holy Communion. It was one of the saddest mornings of my life. I had been organist and choir director of the church since November of 1994. That was not the reason for my sadness. I can (and do as substitute) play the organ for about any church any time. I even play the organ in my living room.

The sadness was my knowledge―our knowledge even saying it would not be so―that our little family was dying, that we would never reconstitute ourselves as a community, good as our intentions were and hard as we might try (for a while).

I was 65 years old.

I was still teaching first-year writing at Southern Methodist University. They didn’t ask me to retire for another three years.

When I was 68, both of my most significant “communities” disappeared from my life.

The church community was more important because the raison d’être of a church found in the Gospel According to John is, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” From the first Sunday I played at St. Paul until the last, I had no doubt I was loved, and I loved the people. We prayed and played together, and in spite of the vast differences of circumstances and personalities among us, every member was supported by every other member. The church was family.

SMU, it turned out, was a place of employment. I don’t know if it was my attitude/personality that kept me from feeling “community” there or the nature of that beast. I suspect it was the latter.

If you read my post here yesterday, you are probably a bit skeptical of my understanding of that little church as family. If so, you misunderstood what I said. “. . . in spite of the vast differences of circumstances and personalities among us. . .” I doubt any of my friends there would be surprised to read yesterday’s writing. And if they did, they  would not reject me for it. I know how complex they are as persons, and they know how complex I am.

Even though we hardly ever see each other, I have no doubt that we love each other in that strange and wonderful way that church people can, and at their best, do.

Since the church closed and I was the old man eased out of his teaching job, I have had one small community of friends I know I can count on in the same way I counted on the St. Paul family for love and support. It is an indefinable and motley crew, acquaintances from 12-step groups. They are mostly gay men. Mostly. I love those guys. I’m pretty sure they love me, too, “in that very special way. . .” (go to a 12-step meeting if you don’t know that phrase).

I have a theory. I’ve done some research in scholarly journals (a perk of teaching at SMU for 15 years is lifetime use of the library), but I haven’t found much evidence to support my theory:

most 70-year-olds feel the loss of community as keenly as, perhaps even more than, the loss through death or distance of family of origin ties.

Your church closes. You retire. Friends and lovers move away. More friends die. Your parents die. Your partner dies.

If you happen to be pathologically shy (belying the appearance of your work and activity for the past 50 years) or, to use a term I find ridiculous but true, “socially anorexic,” your options for meeting people decrease in number daily.

For reasons I’ve discussed here too often, I physically dislike crowds―parties and such places where friends meet and new friendships are formed. I don’t dislike the people, simply the noise and the fact that large rooms where parties happen are lighted with deadly fluorescent lights.

That means I have to go looking for community. On a daily basis. With the mental and physical acumen of a 70-year-old who really just wants to be at home or having a quiet evening out with an age-appropriate friend or two. Or walking through the Dallas Museum of Art.

So here’s where being pissed off comes in. Am I pissed off because my communities have collapsed and my friends are scattered all around and I hardly ever see them? Is that because I unconsciously send out vibes of loneliness? Or is it simply that I have too high expectations?

I’m having a birthday party. A big strange event, that is―rather than being all about “me” a benefit for my favorite non-profit, the Aberg Center for Literacy. I did this last year, and my friends showed up and raised $800 for the Center.

From the 45 E-Vites I sent out a month ago (with reminders since), I’ve had 12 responses.

Maybe I’m not so much pissed off as curious, and neither as much as fearful, fearful that my communities have finally forgotten me altogether.

Fearful. Is that what happens to 70-year-old gay men who used to be professors and organists? Or straight women who were financial analysts  for Compass Bank? Or any 70-year-old?

Kay Ryan, one of my favorite poets, who is eight months younger than I, wrote this when she was 65. I think she gets it.

LOSSES

Most losses add something—
a new socket or silence,
a gap in a personal
archipelago of islands.

We have that difference
to visit—itself
a going-on of sorts.

But there are other losses
so far beyond report
that they leave holes
in holes only

like the ends of the
long and lonely lives
of castaways
thought dead but not.

From Kay Ryan. The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (New York: Grove Press, 2010).

At home alone playing music I used to play for my community.