“. . . When our grand passion had not yet become familial. . .” (Thom Gunn)

Boston, 1991

Boston, 1991

Somewhere in a box or pile or a file or a stack is a musical creation of mine (or not―it most likely met the same fate as most of my compositions), a small song cycle, a setting of three poems by Thom Gunn from his 1966 collection, Positives. I wrote the cycle in about 1970.

I don’t remember the poems or the music. I wrote the music as part of the work for my MA degree in music composition at what was then California State University at Los Angeles. I chose Gunn’s poetry because I found his book at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and it was the first collection I owned by a poet I knew was gay.

Yesterday I wore an old lavender T-shirt, shapeless and faded―like me―from the Boston Gay Pride Parade in 1991. My first Gay Pride Parade was the 20th in Boston—1990. For it I had a T-shirt that proclaimed in black letters nearly covering the front, “Nobody knows I’m gay!” In 1992 I had a T-shirt with the logo of the Boston Aids Hospice as I marched with the other volunteers from the Hospice (it closed in 1997, after I had moved to Dallas).

A member of the AA group I most often attended in 1991 had been present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. I used to own a book about the riots which contained a picture of her (yes, women were involved in the riots). She was uncomfortable with what she saw as the flippant use by the gay community of Stonewall as a rallying point. She remembered that night only with horror and fear. She could not bring herself to march in Pride Parades.

I was married at the time of Stonewall, but I remember watching the coverage on the national TV news and thinking I should have been there. My wife knew I was gay. Those were the days when many of us―my wife and I included―thought that getting married would somehow end my being gay. (Or, more likely, I thought it would provide “cover” for being who I knew I was.)

I wore my “Together in Pride, June 8th, 1991, Lesbian and Gay Pride” T-shirt yesterday to attend the celebration at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I’m not sure why I didn’t take a selfie wearing it at the event.

Trying to sort out for myself, much less for anyone else, the complexity of my feelings throughout the day yesterday, and especially at the celebration, is seeming to be impossible.

First observation. I was (as I have become accustomed to being) one of the oldest people in the group of 2,000. My guess is there were fewer than 50 of us 70 or older.

Second observation. I was alone.

Third observation. It all seemed too easy.

Fourth observation. My tears over and over again yesterday were of joy, relief, fulfillment, jealousy, longing, and grief simultaneously and progressively, impossible to sort out.

Of course I am elated, overjoyed, and ecstatic at the Supreme Court decision, relieved that that step on the journey to civil rights is taken (I wonder if the LGBTQ community ready now to tackle racism, poverty, and xenophobia in this country).

The only man I have ever wanted to marry died in 2003 after we had been together 12 years. I sometimes long to be with him, and I grieve that we were never able to have a legally recognized relationship.

I grieve—yes, that’s the correct word—for the relationships I have had, beginning with my marriage to Ann. I grieve also that I am alone, that meeting a man I would want to marry, now that I could, seems improbable, if not impossible.

Hugged by the man I would have married

Hugged by the man I would have married (taken 1993)

Most of the crowd of people younger than I that gathered at the Cathedral of Hope yesterday—this is not sour grapes but a statement of fact—cannot know how much I treasure that 24-year-old lavender T-shirt (many of those wonderful folks were not even born in 1991). Or the pictures of my second partner and me taken in about 1985.

Or the memory of my “coming out” in my university newspaper in 1965—4 years before Stonewall.

I have never done anything “important.” Other than be something of a role model for (sometimes frightened and depressed) gay college students for 30 years. And volunteer at the AIDS Hospice. And march in parades. And write some pieces that have been published over the years. And try to be a good partner. And maintain a career viable enough to take care of myself.

One of the men I love and admire most these days was part of the Lambda Legal team that brought Lawrence v. Texas to the Supreme Court. One of my closest friends was a leader in ACT-Up in Boston in the ‘80s. A friend was the founder of the Gay group that still exists in the American Baptist Convention.

I’ve never done anything publicly important for the cause of LGBTQ rights. I’m not one of those the speakers last night acknowledged they were “standing on the shoulders of.”

Except I’ve persevered. I’ve lived a life of quiet (sometimes) desperation, desperation that may or may not have had anything to do with being a gay man (that’s a topic so complicated seven psychiatrists and three neurologists have never been able to untangle).

And now I am alone.

I’m not asking for anyone’s pity. Only some acknowledgement and understanding that my feelings yesterday were justifiably complex and contradictory. Which means they were (are) like my feelings my whole life long. My passions were my passions when they “had not yet become familial.” Could not become familial in the most basic sense.

“THE HUG,” BY THOM GUNN (1929-2004)
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
―(From Selected Poems by Thom Gunn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.)

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

“. . . What hand plucks With what bird’s quill. . .” (Luis Cernuda)

The First Baptist Church of Kearney, Nebraska

The First Baptist Church of Kearney, Nebraska

Yesterday, Valentine’s Day, I began writing. I was distracted by another line of research. I forget what. Now I’m back to yesterday’s thoughts.

My, oh my, as Grandmother Peck used to say. I had a Valentine’s Day e-card from a friend in Paris. He lives there three months of the year. Some old queen left him a time-share condo in his will, or something like that. I don’t remember.  When one gets too old to make memories (I didn’t say too old to do new things—but they don’t become “memories”—there isn’t time left for that), one is ambushed by memories from ages ago for no apparent reason.

Why should a Valentine’s Day e-card bring up memories of the First Baptist Church of Kearney, Nebraska? A card that says only “One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.” Paulo Coellio, The Alchemist. No pictures, no music, nothing more.

Suddenly I was thinking about the monumental stained glass windows in the old First Baptist Church building of Kearney, Nebraska. I wonder if the building still stands. It was (is) a red sandstone Richardson-Romantic style building. How it came to be built in Kearney, Nebraska, I don’t know.

The building has much significance for my family. My father was pastor of the church, 1950-1952. My sister was born in Kearney. When she was about two years old, just getting teeth, she fell on the concrete steps of the church, breaking her two front teeth—and was without those teeth until her adult teeth grew in several years later. People (who?) tormented her for years singing, “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.”

He hardly needed to be "out"

He hardly needed to be “out”

I remember standing in the balcony in the rear of that church sanctuary and touching the glass of the rose window. I remember being down in the front of the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, sitting on the floor with the other children as my dad preached a “children’s sermon.” Perhaps someday I’ll write about it—one of those lessons that we could never be good enough. Baptist preachers, even my gentlemanly father, are prone to preach those sermons. No “No reason is needed for loving” there.

Robert Lowry (1826-1899) was responsible for about 500 of the most popular and musically most pedestrian hymntunes in the American church repertory, tunes using basically only tonic, dominant, and sub-dominant chords.

I learned his hymn (both words and music) “Low in the Grave He Lay” at the First Baptist Church of Kearney. One might well ask how I can be sure because I learned so many hymns as a child in so many different churches. I can be close to certain because I have the picture, the sound, even the feel of standing on a pew leaning against my mother in that sanctuary singing that hymn.

It’s a perfectly mundane, shall I say “silly?” tune. But it’s fun to sing. As a university music student years later I learned academeze for the melody that rises through the tonic chord at the beginning of the refrain. It’s a “Mannheim Rocket.” I had more than a passing interest in the tune. I was fascinated even then by the raised tone (f-sharp) at the end of the verse, the leading tone of the secondary dominant (G major) preparing the “chorus.”

For reasons I cannot fathom I was, yesterday morning, thinking about that Richardson-style buildings and music of the blandest style—both as a result of opening an e-card for Valentine’s Day.

Born in Seville in 1902, the poet Luis Cernuda left Spain in 1938 for permanent exile. With Federico Garcia Lorca and others, he is one of the Generation of 1927, the important avant garde Spanish poets influenced by surrealism.

Cernuda was an openly gay poet in the day when no one was openly gay. I have written about him before—his poem “Musical Instrument.”

“Musical Instrument,” by Luis Cernuda
If the Arab musician
Plucks the lute strings
With an eagle quill
To awaken the notes,

What hand plucks
With what bird’s quill
The wound in you
That awakens the word?

What hand plucks with what bird’s quill the wound in me that awakens the word? I am not a poet or even much of a writer, but I have words.

Those stained-glass windows. That maudlin tune. That e-card valentine. And now the Arab musician plucking his lute’s strings.

What hand is it that plucks the wounds that awaken my words?

My writing plan yesterday (and again today) was to explore poetry by contemporary Arab and Arab-American poets. Obviously, opening the folder “Arab poets” on my desktop turned up the Cernuda poem. Not an Arab poet, but writing about an Arab musician—in a country with an undeniable Arab past.

But that was before I opened the e-Valentine.

My, oh my, as Grandmother Peck would have said.

The point! The point?

“The poet is also a tragic figure because of his conflict with society; his connection with the daemonic power [beauty] gives him the status of a prophet, an interpreter of the divine law,” writes Dereck Harris (1) and quotes Cernuda saying

Su destino todos lo conocemos: enfermedad, pobreza, inforunio. Pero no nos lamentemos de ello ahora: sería farisáico. A nuestro lado puede repetinse en alguien más aquel destino ya cumplido en otros; no nos importaría. Mientras la sociedad esté organizada de la manera que lo estuvo entonces y lo está hoy, el infortunio de Bécquer es y será possible (2).

What else can be the fate of the poet who is concerned “with the relationship between the temporally circumscribed existence of the individual and the eternal spirit of life itself. . . the poet’s aim is to halt the flux of time. . .” (Harris).

The misfortune of Bécquer (and Cernuda, and the Arab poets I’m trying to study) is to write the “relationship between the temporally circumscribed existence of the individual and the eternal spirit of life itself.”

My temporally circumscribed existence, 1950 to 2015, I know. However, the relationship. . .
__________
(1) Harris, Dereck. Luis Cernuda-a Study of the Poetry. London: Tamesis Books, 1975 (page 98).
(2) My translation—I hope it captures at least the gist of the passage: We all know his [the poet’s] destiny: illness, poverty, misfortune. But we should not lament him now: that would be Pharasaic. On the one hand one can repent and, on the other, destiny has made us complicit; it does not matter to us. While society is organized as it has been then and is today, the misfortune of Bécquer is and will be possible.
[The poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, considered the founder of modern Spanish poetry, died of tuberculosis before most of his work was published.]

"Arab Musician," by al-Brazyly

“Arab Musician,” by al-Brazyly

sum link for other blog

“. . . memories are not retrieved but are formed; narratives are actively reconstructed. . . “ (Siân E. Lindley)

My first organ memories - Baldwin Model 5

. My first organ memories – Baldwin Model 5

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If Siân E. Lindley has done her research correctly, and if scientific inquiry (in the United States this is always a matter of debate) can be trusted,

. . . we can surmise that memories are not retrieved but are formed; narratives are actively reconstructed (and co-constructed with others); a life story is interpreted and retrospectively reinterpreted; and narrative truth and belief, rather than objective truth, is bound up with identity. (Lindley, Siân E. “Before I Forget: From Personal Memory To Family History.” Human-Computer Interaction 27.1/2 (2012): 13-36.)

Lindley is a professional researcher; therefore, her conclusions are suspect to Americans. She is

a social scientist with an interest in how technology can be designed to fit, and how it is shaped by, the social context in which it is used (Lindley, “Before”).

Nevertheless (in spite of, not because of, her scientific methods) I find what she says fascinating. We don’t retrieve our memories, we form them so we can retrospectively interpret them to ourselves and to others. Wow! My memory of playing the piano for a wedding for the first time is what I form it to be, not the details of what happened. (If I remembered every detail, it would take as long as the wedding did—I don’t have time.)

I remember distinctly, hauntingly so, a meeting of a graduate seminar studying the writings of Hemingway and Fitzgerald (about 20 years ago). The half-dozen or so of us were seated at a table in a small classroom in the Jonsson Building at the University of Texas at Dallas. The professor (whose name I do not remember) was tall—6’ 3” or something—muscular, swarthy, black-haired, handsome (it’s part of my narrative that I remember what he looked like but not his name). The students in the seminar were mostly graduate assistants teaching in the freshman rhetoric program.

One of my friends said something about the “epistemological” something or the other of the story we were studying, and I knew—precisely at that moment—what I had been thinking for quite a while, that I did not belong in that graduate program. I had been trying to figure out what they meant by “epistemological” for some time—it’s a favorite word among scholars—with no success. “Epistemology” means, according to dictionary.com, a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.” I don’t have a clue what that means. I wouldn’t use “epistemology” in a sentence for any reason.

I would, however, show you the short stories of Hemingway that seem to have gay themes. My paper on the subject earned a B from the handsome professor, not because it was poorly written, but because he didn’t like the subject or agree with me.

For quite a while, my reconstruction, my re-interpretation of that memory was that I’m just not very smart. That is true, of course. But not knowing what “epistemology” means is not what proves that. Not being able to explain why people who irrationally hate President Obama ought to be ashamed of themselves—that’s evidence that I’m not very smart.

Or not being able to sort the flatware in my silverware drawer.

Or not being able to figure out how to get my “smart TV” hooked up to my router so I can watch Netflix movies on the big screen instead of on this computer, which I hate.

The first First Baptist Church

The first First Baptist Church

So what do I remember about playing the piano for a wedding for the first time?

In the far southeastern area our town in Western Nebraska in the 1950s was a small church known as La Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana (I think that’s right—my memory may not be reconstructing that correctly). It was a small but not tiny frame church structure, and Pastor Raymundo was the pastor. He had a wife and one son, Sammy. Our family shared dinner with the Raymundos quite regularly, and—more fun—we went to events at the church, most of which were followed by dinners of Mexican food made by the women of the church.

Sorry, all of you Texans. You don’t know what real Mexican cooking is.

During the summer, La Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana had overflow crowds on Sundays. This was at the height (I think, although I should look it up) of the brasero program, and Mexican workers came to work the sugar beet fields and create the economy of our county.

The Mexican Baptist Church has now—I believe (you’d think I’d do some research and know these things for sure)—joined with the First Baptist Church. The membership is constant because all of the Mexican-Americans are permanent residents, probably citizens.

They created the economy of Western Nebraska

They created the economy of Western Nebraska

My organ teacher gave me a book of organ pieces to learn that included both the Mendelssohn “Midsummer Night’s Dream” Wedding March and the Wagner “Here comes the bride.” I learned to play them (I was in about 6th or 7th grade) just in case someone would want me to play for their wedding.

A young couple from La Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana were getting married, and they wanted the American traditional music instead of the music their church generally used. My father suggested I could play the two wedding marches. My first wedding gig.

I don’t know if the couple or their families were Braseros or American citizens or illegal immigrants. We didn’t ask questions like that—at least we middle schoolers didn’t. The adults may have been concerned with such things, but they did not include us in their conversations if they did.

We just went to their church, and they came to ours, and we got to share in glorious (real) Mexican dinners, and Sammy Raymundo and I were buddies, and things were just fine.

I don’t know what happened.

The epistemology about the nature of the immigration crisis in this country may have to do simply with our collective memory. Somehow we’ve come to the point where our narrative, our reconstruction of the meaning of immigration has gotten really fucked up.

I wonder where Sammy Raymundo is.

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

A scary place?

A scary place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

100% religious.

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

Except their 100% religious belief.

100% religious.

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

It is 100% a religious right.

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

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

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

It is mindless, violent, and un-American.

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

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

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

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

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

George Mason, "father" of the Bill of Rights

George Mason, “father” of the Bill of Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I clean my office, will I live forever?

If I clean my office, will I live forever?

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

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

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

The chairs of my fathers.

The chairs of my fathers.

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

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

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

Quick, before you die,
describe

the exact shade
of this hotel carpet.

What is the meaning
of the irregular, yellow

spheres, some
hollow,

gathered in patches
on this bedspread?

If you love me,
worship

the objects
I have caused

to represent me
in my absence.

*

Over and over
tiers

of houses spill
pleasantly

down that hillside.
It

might be possible
to count occurrences.

“. . . That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse . . . “

Granddad would have wondered where this idea came from.

Granddad would have wondered where this idea came from.

My paternal grandfather’s birthday is today (born January 21, 1885). Archie James Knight was a serious and jolly man, a contractor (he built houses as well as cabinetry), a pear farmer (that is, he had a half dozen pear trees in his yard), a voracious reader, a bass in his church choir—my description could go on and on. He was also something of an old-fashioned disciplinarian. No one came to the breakfast table at his home (or even into the living room) in pajamas.

He was disciplined himself. He worked hard and took care of his family, his children and their children. But he also had something elfin about him. He laughed with a twinkle in his eye, and he was capable of a kind of endearing silliness (endearing to this grandson, at any rate).

Granddad and I had a special bond—at least in my mind—because I was the one person in the entire extended family named for him. My middle name is his name, Archie. He was called Arch, and I have from time to time been known as Arch (in college, for example).

The most enduring memory of Granddad is his reading. He sat in his chair daily reading—reading newspapers, magazines, Bible study books, the Bible itself. Making up for his family’s inability to send him to school past the fourth grade. The photograph of Granddad on Grandmother’s sewing machine is a favorite of all of his grandchildren, taken by Jose Naredo, husband of his granddaughter Jan Noland Naredo. We’d all have that picture in our minds even if Jose had never snapped it with a camera. Granddad in his chair reading.

I’ve been having a great deal of trouble writing the last few days because no matter what I begin writing, whether it makes any sense or not, whether it interests me or not, whether I have some idea where my train of thought is headed or not, I end up wanting to write a brilliant scholarly article—an article that will arrest the attention of the public and explain a very simple truth of which Americans seem to have no idea.

It’s an idea that I think my grandfather would have understood. He was one of those old-fashioned Baptists who held several beliefs that seem out of fashion today. Things such as “soul freedom” (the idea that his relationship with the divine was his relationship with the divine and no one could intervene). And the authority of the scripture (if it’s not in the Bible, don’t bother him with it). The separation of church and state (yes, that used to be a Baptist principle). So he would not—I know his Baptist preacher son did not, at any rate—have had much use for such non-Biblical nonsense as “The Rapture.”

I don’t care if anyone believes in “The Rapture” or not. It’s pretty silly even as silly religious ideas go. But what I wish Americans understood is that the belief in “The Rapture” is directly responsible for the argument over whether or not Iran should be invited to peace talks about Syria.

So I keep getting started writing the kind of personal, flaky, too-self-revelatory stuff I usually write, and I keep running up against my large (and growing) research on “The Rapture,” and “Dispensationalism,” and “Zionism,” and John Nelson Darby and Cyrus Ingerson Scofield. And then I want to write scholarly history. I want to write about the Balfour Declaration and its indebtedness to Darby, and . . . well, I just get bogged down because I don’t have my scholarly act together, but the stuff keeps impinging on everything I want to write and think.

So John Hagee and his Christians United for Israel will just have to run rampant over American foreign policy and the peace of the Middle East one more day because I can’t focus long enough to write what I need to write. Thank goodness Barbara Rossing and others have already written what really needs to be written.

Except for the part of John Hagee using Texas A&M University to further his goal of bringing about the Second Coming by helping Israel (and then getting rid of the Jews).

Oh Me! O My!

O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman

O Me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer.
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.


This hymn is one that I distinctly remember hearing my grandfather sing—that is, the bass line mostly an octave lower than written. It was at the dedication of the new church building of Immanuel Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kansas, the church of which he was a member for most of his long life. The words are by the ever-popular Fanny J. Crosby.

The sewing machine is my grandmother’s which is in my living room.

Praise Him, praise Him—Jesus, our blessèd Redeemer,
Sing, O earth, His wonderful love proclaim.
Hail Him! hail Him! highest archangels in glory;
Strength and honor give to His holy name!
Like a shepherd, Jesus will guard His children,
In His arms He carries them all day long:
O ye saints that dwell on the mountain of Zion,
Praise Him, praise Him ever in joyful song.

Praise Him, praise Him—Jesus, our blessèd Redeemer,
Heav’nly portals loud with hosannas ring,
Jesus, Savior, reigneth forever and ever.
Crown Him! Crown Him—Prophet, and Priest, and King!
Death is vanquished! Tell it with joy, ye faithful.
Where is now thy victory, boasting grave?
Jesus lives! No longer thy portals are cheerless;
Jesus lives, the mighty and strong to save.

“. . . I pretend I am standing on the wings of a flying plane. . . “

Lara Flynn Boyle in her newsworthy dress

Lara Flynn Boyle in her newsworthy dress

Drive yourself crazy. Try to remember all the conversations you have in one day. On top of that try to think about everything you’ve heard or read that someone thinks is “newsworthy” for the day—news headlines on the hour on NPR or news briefs on Yahoo when you log on—items in the news that keep you au courant. “’Catching Fire’ Catches, Passes ‘Iron Man’ as 2013’s Biggest Movie.” “Top 6 Playoff Quarterbacks’ Pre-Game Meals.” “Designer Breaks Silence over Infamous Lara Flynn Boyle Tutu Dress.”

Three conversations I’ve heard or participated in during the last couple of days have stuck with me. KERA’s Krys Boyd talked on “Think” with Darrin McMahon whose new book is Divine Fury: A History of Genius. A conversation interesting and off-putting at the same time. McMahon says an essential ingredient of genius is “drive.” I’ve never been driven by anything except love of chocolate. Right away it’s obvious I’m no genius. ORLY!

I had a conversation with my sleep doctor. It boiled down to his gentle warning that as one gets older, one will naturally sleep less. Less than the 5 or 6 hours I’ve been getting per night for 50 years? Oh, PLZ!

A friend and I had a conversation about match.com. How many people on match.com admit to being interested in anyone 69 years old? None. Zero. At least not gay men. But if I don’t find someone in 6 months, they’ll give me another 6 months free. By which time, of course, I’ll be 70. BFD.

I don’t come close to being a genius, I’m going to be sleepier as the years drag on, and I’m already over the hill. None of these flashes is surprising news. None is news as big as Lara Flynn Boyle’s tutu dress.

When I was in high school a group of us from the First Baptist Church of Omaha went to a conference at the American Baptist Assembly at Green Lake, WI. It was one of the most important weeks of my young life (not hyperbole) for several reasons.

At a worship service the staff organist played three “Intermezzi” by Hermann Schroeder. I’m not sure I was ever more taken with music at church. I raved about it. My good friend with whom I was sitting couldn’t believe I liked the music. “It’s not fit to be played in church.”

When we returned home I asked my teacher if I could get the music and learn the “Intermezzi.” He not only knew them but he played them and had an extra copy. I still use the copy of that score from 1962—with Mr. Wischmeier’s performance markings in it. Four years later I played Hermann Schroeder’s Organ Sonata I for my senior recital in college.

It takes no particular genius to play the Schroeder “Intermezzi.” They’re technically quite simple. A bit of inspiration may be necessary to play them so they sound “musical” rather than intellectual. Eugene hated them because the melodies are angular and they are mildly (not crushingly) dissonant. They are not hypnotic enough to be appropriate for most church services—in which no one wants to be challenged beyond their comfort zones.

I’m not sure why I was thinking of the “Intermezzi” yesterday. I miraculously found the score—I never put a music score away afterPrentend I'm walking

I use it, and my apartment is stacked with piles of music as if I were an old man who can’t keep things in order—and played through them.

Or tried to.

One would think a short (one minute 40 seconds to play) technically straightforward piece of music that I learned 50 years ago would present no problem. It did. I had to practice—it almost seemed as if I’d never played one line of the piece because it was so difficult (time consuming!) to get it right. I was obsessed. I wanted to record it.

It seems unfortunate that I think of Eugene when I play those intermezzi. They soon passed through my conscious world into my unconsciousness. They brought with them a small repertory of music by Schroeder I love. I’d like to think I would have learned that music even without Eugene—but I needed to prove to him that the music is expressive of something important (the older I get the less certain I am what that might be).

When I talk to my friends I pretend I am standing on the wings

of a flying plane. I cannot be trusted to tell them how I am.
Or if I am falling to earth weighing less

than a dozen roses
(Shinder, Jason. “How I Am”).

I knew I’d have to “sleep on” the music before I could record it. The sleep of all these years was not enough. I’d have to sleep with it in my conscious mind. Is that weird or what? Today I played it just fine. Recorded it in one take. The drivenness of my youth took over.

This business of longevity, this accumulation of experience and feeling and thought is more confusing—rather than less—every day. I can re-play, probably with much more musicality now, music I learned fifty years ago. I’m somehow musically (my hands may not agree) in my prime. And yet I can’t find a date because no one is looking for someone 69 years old.

“How I Am,” by Jason Shinder (1955-2008)

When I talk to my friends I pretend I am standing on the wings

of a flying plane. I cannot be trusted to tell them how I am.
Or if I am falling to earth weighing less

than a dozen roses. Sometimes I dream they have broken up

with their lovers and are carrying food to my house.
When I open the mailbox I hear their voices

like the long upward-winding curve of a train whistle

passing through the tall grasses and ferns
after the train has passed. I never get ahead of their shadows.

I embrace them in front of moving cars. I keep them away

from my miseries because to say I am miserable is to say I am like them.
—Shinder, Jason. “How I Am.” The American Poetry Review (November/December 2005).