‘. . . your battery is running low. . .’

I want a computer with balls.

I want a computer with balls.

Of course it is! You told me yourself that it was charged 100% of the time and that’s not good for it, that I need to change the ‘settings’ to keep it charging at 70% so it won’t be damaged. Naturally, I couldn’t find the ‘setting’ to do that [such things are a mystery that only the illuminati can understand], so I unplugged it. You’re worse than a boyfriend. Passive aggressive. I unplug it and the next time I turn you on, you tell me the battery is running low.

MAKE UP YOUR MIND!

I’ll stop with the talking to my computer. What I’d really like to do is throw all electronic devices into the Trinity River and go back to—at the most recent—a Selectric typewriter with balls.

I have an embarrassment of riches of computers. Two here on my desk. The old one that I can trust power-wise because its power supply is defunct, and it has to be plugged in to work at all, and this new $1200 passive-aggressive arrogant Lenovo monster. At least with the old Dell I know the screen will go blank, or the cursor will jump to a previous line, and suddenly I’ll be typing gibberish.

This Lenovo is a ‘touch-screen’ device. Let me tell you how confusing that is. I can’t figure out how to get back to the desktop after I’ve touched an icon [like the picture of ‘email’ that doesn’t take me to my email]. How passive-aggressive is that? Or try to change my password for some built-in function on some ‘app’ I’ve downloaded when it says I’ve entered the wrong one.

On a ten-year-old Dell there’s no, ‘I told you to do thus-and-so, but if you don’t know how, I’m not going to tell you.’

These two computers on my desk aren’t the only ones I have: two desk-top computers in my closet waiting for the important documents on the hard-drives copied somewhere useful so when I die the biographers will have the minute records of my life since about 1995.

You can guess I have a TV remote with which, if I inadvertently push the wrong one of its 200 or so buttons, I can’t watch TV for two hours until I inadvertently push the right one. And a DVD player I can’t figure out how to use even though my young friend Janette wrote out the instructions for me. Of course, if I’d do as everyone I know does and binge-watch movies and TV programs on my laptop, I wouldn’t have that problem. Except, then I’m back to this passive-aggressive digital monster. I’m between a screen and a ‘cloud’ space.

And then there are the iPhone and the iPad—which will need a long posting by themselves.

An embarrassment of riches - and my cat.

An embarrassment of riches – and my cat.

I’ve become my father. The last couple of years of his life he fussed and fumed about not being able to use his computer, or watch TV because he couldn’t figure out the remote. He was 95 at the time, and I’m only 68, so that tells you something right there. He got his first computer when he was about 80 and wrote three books of his and the family’s memoirs on it. I did not inherit his deliberative and logical genes.

I’d like a typewriter with balls. A machine that won’t play games with me, mess with my mind, and thumb its nose at my having been born before the first functional computer (the ENIAC, which became operational in 1946) was built. A green ’52 Plymouth coupe and an IBM typewriter will do me just fine. And I’ll go to the theater to watch my movies (even though buying popcorn and a Diet Coke brings the cost to 40 bucks for two).

There are a few modernities for which I am grateful. In 1970 I had a complete reconstruction of my right shoulder (chronic dislocations) called a ‘shoulder capsulorrhaphy.’ Major surgery, major recovery, major rehabilitation. About three weeks ago I had arthroscopic surgery on my left shoulder. Relatively simple surgery, in this ridiculous monster-sling for five weeks, PT already started, and good as new by Christmas.

More than perhaps anything else, I want to write one good poem. One poem that will be in an anthology somewhere for decades after I die. I won’t, of course, because I am not a genius, or, on the other hand, I did not enter the [lifelong] process of learning a technique, a style, that might have overcome my lack of talent and given me the tools to write poetry in spite of my limitations.

And now my battery is running low. It’s too late for me to change my password or my settings so I can write poetically. Understanding all of the electronic apparatuses and gizmos at my disposal will not make me a poet (or an artist of any kind).

Just a '52 Plymouth for me.

Just a ’52 Plymouth for me.

[French performance artist] Orlan . . . [claims] that the natural human body is not at all natural in our age, therefore in the age of technology the body must be adjusted to the technological, political, and social milieu wherein we live . . . interpreting her work as a peculiar kind of existential criticism. For Orlan the primary boundaries are not the social determinations; what she is not satisfied with is the human body’s nature of ‘being given’ once and for all (1).

I’m afraid my body is ‘given’ once for all. It is what it is. None of the Orlan-style reconstructions will adjust me—or reshape me for the technological milieu in which I live. Or make a poet of me.

Donald Hall was born in 1928. That makes him 85. My favorite of his collections of poetry is The One Day (1988) which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.  That was when he was 60. He had written lots of poetry before that, and has continued to write since then. He was U.S. Poet Laureate in 2007. Hall understands the given.

Affirmation (2)
by Donald Hall

To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes,
and nod our heads when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.
_________________
(1)  Andras, Lajos. “Human Nature as a Social Construction.” Philobiblon  XIII (2008), 185.
(2)  Hall, Donald. “Affirmation.” Without. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.

‘. . . Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. . .’

my powers lying wasted

my powers lying wasted

Yet another [well-meaning, I’m sure] friend emailed me to ask if I am ok based on my posting of last night. She was certain I am obsessed with death, and that cannot be healthy.

I have two primary struggles at the moment. The first is the sling which I am sentenced to hold/ rest/ immobilize my left arm until December 20, my next appointment with the surgeon, dr. Steven Thornton [that’s 21 days and 6 hours from this moment].

The other is this wonderful new Lenovo computer a good friend helped me buy a week ago. I will love it when I figure some things out. Like all new laptops these days, it has touch-screen. I don’t have a clue how to use it. Mysteries abound. It has no ‘start’ icon, so I don’t know how to power it up and down.

The first struggle is related to the second, obviously, because I have to type with one hand [typos such as missing upper case letters are the result of that inconvenience, and such niceties happen when msword makes them happen automatically—deal with it].

I purchased Dragon and the computer help desk at smu installed it on the Lenovo. Dragon is a voice recognition program which works wonders for grading papers but which is useless for writing. I can think no faster than I can type, so speaking is not writing. It’s blathering. Besides, what I deal with daily is hypergraphia, not hyperdictia [my invented word for ‘running-off-at-the-mouth’].

So this writing is slowed down to a crawl, and it’s impossible that I’m obsessed with anything, death or anything else, except hunt-and-peck typing. So the following is probably hunt-and-peck thinking.

Not too long ago I was involved in a conversation which, in retrospect, seems more like that of two college sophomores [can you spell ‘sophomoric?’] than two old grumps in their 60s. we were talking about ‘the meaning of life,’ and I was saying that I don’t see much reason to believe in an afterlife. He’s a somewhat devout roman catholic, so his view is a bit different from mine [although, of course, ‘gay’ and ‘roman catholic’ are mutually exclusive, so his logic is a priori suspect].

He quoted [almost correctly] Goethe’s statement that, ‘It is quite impossible for a thinking being to imagine nonbeing, a cessation of thought and life. In this sense everyone carries the proof of his own immortality within himself.’ It took me awhile to find that the aphorism is attributed to Goethe by Johann Peter Eckermann, in Conversations with Goethe, 1852.

I suppose that’s close to the intellectual underpinning of Faust—the only way to be certain to live forever[hence negating the need to imagine one’s ‘nonbeing’] is to sell one’s soul to the devil. Or something. I’m neither philosopher nor literary critic enough to make that kind of pronouncement.

At any rate, my friend said that, because it’s ‘quite impossible for a thinking being to imagine nonbeing,’ one [that is, I] should stop thinking about death and get on with life, ‘living in the moment.’

Of course, his logic is as fallacious as the logic of essays I read daily by college sophomores.

A thinking being might be able to imagine nonbeing more than to imagine being. I’m willing to admit this may be the [somewhat specialized] thinking of a TLEptic, a child suffering the dissociation of temporal lobe epilepsy, but my great youthful question to myself was, ‘how do I know I exist; how do I know I’m not the figment of someone’s imagination?’ There, Goethe, put that in your pipe and smoke it!

So I’m not obsessed with death. I’m obsessed with life. Not the life of getting and spending and laying waste our powers. I have not become a wordsworthian romantic.

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.     
—–Wordsworth, William, 1770–1850.

But I want to avoid the world too much with me. I get and spend with the best of them. Well, not quite. Alice Walton and I are hardly in a ‘getting’ contest, much less a ‘spending’ contest. I expect her wealth is her attempt to hedge her bets against ‘nonbeing, a cessation of thought and life.’ But if Goethe is right, she shouldn’t worry because the mere fact she chooses not to think about being dead means that she’s immortal. Really?

Rather, she chooses, like all of us, not to think about it. In Rosencrantz’s words, ‘I wouldn’t think about it if I were you, you’ll only get depressed” (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, tom Stoppard).

So I don’t know where I meant to go with this. Only to say I think if you’re 68 years old and aren’t thinking about these things, you’re gonna run up against nonbeing without having been in the most crucial way. If we’re the only animals who know we’re going to die, then pretending not to know it is avoiding—no, denying—the very reality that makes us human.

Why, I write naturally. Why I write, naturally.

Let's stop, grandma. Let's stop grandma.

Let’s stop, grandma.
Let’s stop grandma.

That’s one of those sentences one might give college writing students to remind them of the importance of commas. You know, sentences such as, “Let’s stop grandma before it’s too late!” or “Let’s stop, grandma, before it’s too late.” (Can you tell I’m rethinking Flannery O’Connor in preparation for my classes?)

The clock says it’s only 4:26 AM, and I wake up with my mind going full-tilt (or, should I say, as fast as my mind ever works). I’m thinking about (at the same time) the opening sentence I was trying to construct for a short story last night; my uncertainty how I’m going to support myself a year from now; the noon meeting I need to attend but don’t want to; the need to use my cane if I do go to the meeting; the persistent low-level depression I’ve been in for who-knows-how-long and can’t seem to shake; my giggly delight that a young woman–a stranger–on the elevator at Mockingbird Station asked what my “Das Barbecue” t-shirt referred to; and the nonsensical contradictory messages I receive by email and Facebook–from why the President is acting like a certain German dictator by talking about bombing Syria to why depriving Americans of color of their right to vote is going to save the country; from why we must stop John Boehner from destroying the Affordable Health Care Act and along with it the nation to why gun control laws are somehow antithetical to the natural world and the moral universe, all of those ridiculous “causes” so many people are riled up over that it’s a wonder anyone can sleep.

Fortunately when I woke up at 3:40, none of these things was on my mind. That’s obviously not true–they were there waiting for the right moment to ambush me. If I wake up in the night (although I seldom do–my sleep may seem short to most people, but it’s usually deep and uninterrupted), I go back to sleep quickly. But I know exactly the moment I wake up and the night is over. The fact is, I think, that my brain is already in overdrive thinking about all of those absurdities, and it wakes me up. It doesn’t work the other way around. I don’t wake up and then start churning these useless thoughts around in my mind.

What I want to know is if that’s the way everyone wakes up.

One aspect of the experience is even more discomfiting than the mere waking up and knowing sleep is finished for the night. I have no choice what to do about it.

Why, I write, naturally.

I write about one or all of those subjects that has inserted itself into my mind uninvited. That is, if I’m lucky, I can choose one. Or I find something else to write about that will put those inanities out of my mind.t-shirt

My mother used to say I was always the first one out of bed in the morning. I doubt was writing at 4:30 AM when I was a kid. I don’t know exactly when that started. I know I signed up for organ practice hours beginning at 6 AM when I was in college.  But then I became a drunk, and all of my natural rhythms were suspended until I got sober. Much later. I was finally able to write my dissertation when I was 43 years old. That writing was almost always at 4 AM.

Soon after I finished my dissertation, I changed my mind about what I wanted to do when I grew up, and the serious (to me, at any rate) early morning writing began.

A few days ago a colleague, after I told her about this blog, told me she admired  my discipline in writing every day. Oh, how I wish that were the case.

Here’s what’s going on. It’s hard to tell if this is merely habit or if it some sort of compulsion I can’t control. The compulsion is real enough. Just read Alice Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain. I don’t know how much if any of this applies to me, naturally. But I know how much of it seems to apply to me naturally.

Here’s my point this early morning. I know trying to get all of the stuff that’s whirling around in my head written down is my first priority of the day. Almost every day. And then there are the days I can’t. Can’t figure out where to get started naturally. And that, naturally, keeps me from writing and then I have a nagging frustration in my mind all day long.

And this is what the writing accomplishes. It takes away my almost constant feeling that

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Shakespeare,  Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5)

Everyone knows this speech of Macbeth. But the next line in the play is hardly ever included when it is quoted. Macbeth says to the messenger who arrives while he is speaking, “Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly.”

Thy story quickly. That’s all I’m trying to do. Tell my story quickly so at least for an hour my life’s more than a walking shadow.

And you have your little compulsion, the thing you do every day that at least momentarily takes away your certain knowledge your “life’s but a walking shadow.” And you indulge that little compulsion, it seems to you, naturally.

Is it natural?

Is it natural?

Someone whose mind works in mysterious ways

Tosh the cat

Tosh the cat

The cat loves Core Wellness™ chicken, turkey, and chicken liver formula food. There’s no doubt about that. I put out her usual amount of food, and she gobbled it down. Half an hour later, she was back at her bowl literally “lick[ing] the platter clean.” She seemed desperate to find more of the feast. So I got out a bit more—didn’t even nuke it to warm it up—and she has now licked the bowl clean again. Her name is Tosh, short for Natasha. She’s a sort of tortoise-shell, only not quite. You know, American Shorthair Alley Cat. Funny we don’t breed cats and make them purebred with the same fanaticism we do dogs. I’ll bet a cat could be bred that’s as “smart” as any dog. And she’d be a lot less trouble than a dog.

So that’s where my head is this morning. The cat. Up at 5 and ready to write, and my mind already working overtime on – on what? That’s the question. On June 13 I wrote about an aspect of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. I suppose I should go back over my five years of blogging and see how repetitive I’ve been. I’m pretty sure I’ve repeated myself ad nauseam about TLE. And then I should never again blabber on about the same stuff. Keep track of it. Index it. So I don’t bore anyone with it again. I’d bet that when I begin talking about it everyone’s eyes roll heavenward which means they stop reading because you can’t read with your eyes rolled up in exasperation or indifference. “There he goes again.”

Back to my mind. I’ve started three writings already this morning. We’ll see how far this one gets before I decide that even I can’t decipher what I’m talking about. I wonder sometimes how much of what I experience is a symptom of the way my brain works and how much is a cause of my (what seems to me to be) odd ways of thinking. There’s the rub. “Odd” describes my thinking much better than any celebratory word like “eccentric” or “creative” or (shudder at the idea) “brilliant.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again that I know brilliant people. Have done since high school. Mike, Tom, Betty, Steve, Nancy. Boy do I wish I had had their brains. High school and college would have been so much easier. And then in college Lance and Lowell and Mike and Pete and Carol. And then in graduate school Mike (seems like some “Mike” showed up everywhere I went—they are not the same person) and Rudy and Vicki and –you should have the picture by now. And all of those people were fellow-students. Then there’s the faculty. Most of them were not as smart or talented as many of their students, but there were a few along the way—Pratt, and Ted, and Jack, and Gerhard, and Cynthia, and several more. No Mike’s, however.  I know what it’s like to listen to, to try to converse with, to go to lunch with, even in a couple of instances, to sleep with someone whose mind works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform (oh, sorry, that’s God, according to William Cowper).

Will I ever wash that hand?

Will I ever wash that hand?

Besides all those folks I’ve dared to call “friend” over the years that I know are, in fact, brilliant, there are a plethora of others I’ve met who are both brilliant and famous. I refused to wash my right hand for a week after I shook hands with Zubin Mehta (not quite, of course—but I told people I wouldn’t).

So if I were brilliant or creative or even eccentric, this little project would have been so much easier. I would have dashed off some astounding bit of writing, or at least a bit that made sense, and had done with it. But it’s not that simple. There’s this little matter of hypergraphia. I don’t know for sure if I have it or not. It’s one of the presentations of folks with TLE. And I have a compulsion to write. All the time. I want to tell you or someone about all of these things in my mind, even when there is nothing in my mind. And I write ridiculous stuff and I write brilliant stuff and I write eccentric stuff and I write just stuff stuff and I even write really awful stuff. But write I will. I didn’t realize I had to write until I had written for years (minus the 20 years I was drunk). And then I tried to stop, and then came the computer. And the rest is history.

Sometimes I wake up with writing already in my mind. The writing wakes me up. This morning it was only a jumble. I still haven’t sorted it out.

Gerhard Krapf, genius

Gerhard Krapf, genius

Pardon me, My Paranoia Is Showing (to the NSA?)

I'm running away

I’m running away

If memory serves me correctly, I first sent and received an email message in 1993. If I had known I’d want to write about it this morning, I would have documented at the time it happened.

My late partner had moved to Dallas, but I was still in Boston.  He told me I could almost certainly use email at Bunker Hill Community College where I taught. The chair of the Office Services Department set up my first email account. I think at that time email was available almost exclusively to colleges and certain companies. I taught. My partner worked for Hewlett Packard.

I remember the incredulity with which I read my first message from him, replied, and received his reply. I don’t recall when I first searched the Internet search, but by that time my life had already been irreversibly changed. I bought my first computer in 1987 to write my PhD dissertation. Sometimes I have great fun telling my students the microchip was invented in my lifetime (Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments in 1957). At other times I am shocked and pained when I tell them.

I experience the same ambivalence when I tell them commercial airplane flight, television, talking movies, and many other markers of the genetics of 21st–century life came to be in my father’s lifetime. The atomic bomb; commercially available cars with power steering—Chrysler Imperial, 1951; MacDonald’s—1948; and Nike shoes—1964— all came into being in my lifetime.  There, I am officially an old fart telling kids how good their lives are compared with mine.

Back to email. The omnivorous cookie monster (are those tiny bits of information we leave behind in every electronic place we go still called “cookies”?) has been compiling data on me since 1993. Not just me—all of us, of course. I stopped worrying about “identity theft” and such things long ago. Anyone who has ever “logged on” has entered the world of electronic tracking. “I never,” a friend said in an email recently, “buy anything online because I want to protect my credit card information.” My answer was that she better close her credit card account. It’s too late to cover her email tracks (and I’m not sure she can delete her credit card information).

It’s no accident we use the word “log” to mean “to enter an electronic database.” A log is “any of various records. . . concerning a trip. . . with particulars of navigation. . . and other pertinent details.” “Logging on” is a record of pertinent details of one’s electronic navigation. Of course, we never really “log on” because it is impossible ever to “log off.” The log keeps perpetuating itself even when we are not using our computers.

The great sadness of our keeping track of everyone’s “pertinent details” is not that our 4th Amendment rights are being violated (which they most

Twilight of the shoe salesman?

Twilight of the shoe salesman?

certainly are). The sadness is that the very act of snooping on each other’s “logs”—yes, if you own stock in any corporation, you are snooping on my emails and tracking my internet use and vice versa—tears at the fabric of our society. It’s not terrorists who create a climate of fear and “terror.” We’ve done it to ourselves.

You wanna make money? You gotta be part of the great end-of-privacy society. That’s it.

I don’t know if you personally can get the records of my online purchase of a couple of “occasional” tables from Target, but if you own shares in Target—which your 401(k) is likely to— you are profiting from the record of my purchase. And if you think my purchase by credit card of a pair of Brooks running shoes yesterday at the exclusive Dallas-based family-owned Luke’s Locker store has gone unnoticed for further reference, you are—I assume—living in la-la-land. Even if the manager of the shoe department did notice my t-shirt and ask if I have seen all four Wagner Ring operas in Seattle or only Götterdämmerung.

Some years ago I saw in an FBI report attained by a Freedom of Information Act request the names of people (one of whom filed the request) who were at an anti-Viet Nam War demonstration in the early ‘70s. I attended the rally with the person named. I’ve wondered from time to time if my name might be in such a report. I don’t give a hoot. I never broke the law.

But if my friends’ names are in an FBI report from more than 20 years before I first used email and the internet, whose names do you suppose might be in NSA reports today? Someone whose email and phone records include many communications with Mufid Abdulqader? Am I being paranoid? Of course I am.
anti-Vietnam_protest

I need a rotten group

I’ll show my students , some of whom seem to be reading this blog (who else would have done searches for the arcane topics of our classes –“Taft let us not go to war speech,”  twenty-two yesterday, for example) that I know how to make a proper MLA citation. Why they’re searching now when the semester is dead and gone, I don’t know.

Because Joseph ... did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Because Joseph … did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Grow too old to write? Au contraire. In actuality the longer one has lived, the better the writer they can become. It can be suggested by many from simple observation . . . that instead of losing a writing ability with age individuals actually grow to watch their skills blossom and become fruitful over time. In comparing the senior writer to a younger. . . there are many obvious ways we can see that the elder can be just as skillful in the writing practice, with maybe even a bit of an advantage. . .  life experiences (Voth).

Voth, Lori. “Senior Citizens: Too Old to Write, Too Opinionated to Publish, or Invaluable Resources? How to Benefit Most from Your Elder Artist
Writer Acquaintance.” Yahoo Voices. Yahoo.com. Oct 16, 2007. Web. 16 May 2013.

The question is, “Am I too old to write?”

That’s not the question. I have to write. No matter what. I’m supposed to be grading the final essays for my classes at this very moment. Not grading them will push my completion time back by some unknown but totally unacceptable amount. Unacceptable to the university registrar. Unacceptable to the students. Unacceptable to me. I have too many other urgent deadlines to be stuck here much longer grading papers.

My slavery here is my own damned fault. I’m the one who created the deadline of last week for 57 students each to submit two essays (actually two parts of one essay) totaling 3500-4000 words accompanied by an annotated bibliography.

But before I grade, I have to write.

This morning will be a challenge for two reasons. I did not wake up with a topic already going in my head. (my suspicion about that was confirmed by Dr. Alice Flaherty, who—literally—wrote the book on hypergraphia. I emailed her [Egad! Did I write that post?] asking if it is her experience that we wake up at 4 AM because we are already writing in our sleep, not that we start writing because we are awake. She replied in the affirmative.)

I’ve now passed over into the “happy hunting ground of the insane” (as my college Shakespeare professor referred to the works of the Bard of Avon, meaning that, like the Bible, Shakespeare’s plays can be proof of any damned- fool idea).

She wrote the book.

She wrote the book.

I used to think for sure this need, this compulsion, this whatever it is (sometimes I think it’s just a bad habit or an addiction) would surely dissipate when I got old, that as my brain slowed down (which is most assuredly has), my devoir to write would, too. It apparently has not. The only part of this that has slowed down is my ability to think of the next word.

I want to ask Lori Voth who she thinks she is writing about writing in old age. Her picture at her website appears to be that of a thirty-something with smooth skin and long, flowing, much too silky hair. What can she possibly know about the way I write? Nothing.

However, her piece at Yahoo (I didn’t really read it, so I’m not sure this is true) is about the importance of writing groups for seniors.

Back before 2003 I was in a writing group. We had one member who was a “senior” (she’s still teaching in a university, so I’m not sure she was as senior back then as I thought). My late partner thought it was pretty funny that I had to spend one evening a week at my writing group. He thought my being up at an ungodly hour writing every morning must be enough writing.

The real culprit

The real culprit

He was not a writer (he was a technical editor, which is how we ended up in Dallas instead of living out our lives in civilization, that is, Boston). But he loved to play with words. And my group soon became the “writin’ group” in his best fake Texas accent. But, as words tended to do with him, that evolved into my “rotten group.”

So if Lori Voth is right—whether or not she’s right because, as I said, she has no call to have an opinion—what I need is a rotten group—someone to read the stuff I write and “being. . . unwilling to expose [me] to public disgrace. . . dismiss [me] quietly” (Matthew 1:19).

All I have time for is to quote from a letter I wrote today

The deadline for submitting semester grades is tomorrow, and I still have two classes to finish. I am trying to be responsible (and keep my job).

Akhenaten - is there but one god?

Akhenaten – is there but one god?

Instead of giving in to hypergraphia and writing a less-than-coherent piece especially for posting here, I will use the piece of writing I had no choice but to do when I first woke up this morning.

It’s not in any way humorous or necessarily about growing old. Or, perhaps it’s both humorous because I continue to believe that I have something worth saying, and about growing old because when I write this sort of thing, I realize how old-fashioned I really am. The very fact that I mention Alan Watts (a reference to my friend’s suggestion that I need to read Watts) is enough evidence that I am a fossil.

Below is the substance of a letter I wrote this morning to my dearest old friend (we go back exactly 50 years). We have had a constant (and, I fear, sometimes contentious) debate about politics and what-little-we-both-know about economics. He is staunchly an old-style (think Robert A. Taft, Everett Dirksen, and William F. Buckley instead of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Ted Cruz) conservative, and I an old-style lily-livered liberal (think Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, and George McGovern instead of Dianne Feinstein, Michael Moore, and Al Franken).

Dear _______ ,

You will say that I’m, oh what? not doing research and being mindlessly liberal or something, but this is a concise statement of the sort of thing I fear.

I.e., the wealth of corporations

I.e., the wealth of corporations

“Corporations are getting better and better at seducing us into thinking the way they think—of profits as the telos and responsibility as something to be enshrined in symbol and evaded in reality. Cleverness as opposed to wisdom. Wanting and having instead of thinking and making. We cannot stop it. I suspect what’ll happen is that there will be some sort of disaster—depression, hyperinflation—and then it’ll be showtime: We’ll either wake up and retake our freedom or we’ll fall apart utterly. Like Rome—conqueror of its own people. ” – David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (the fact that this is a quote from a work of fiction makes it more, not less, true in my estimation).

The problem with capitalism is that it makes profit the telos. The invisible hand perhaps at some mythical time in the 18th century guided the marketplace in something like benevolence, but corporations are not invisible or benevolent. They are omnipresent, omnipotent, and (they believe of themselves) omniscient. The power human beings used to attribute to the gods, Western capitalism has granted to corporations.

I’m not sure how you reconcile the mysticism of, say, Alan Watts with the horrific materialism and all-consuming (all puns intended) greed of the corporate life of America (and, in the past 50 years, “globalization”). Just as our education system is designed not to educate but to make sure that a certain percentage of students are failures, so our economic system is designed not to lift everyone’s wealth and comfort but to make sure a certain percentage of people remain enslaved to poverty.

The only students who ever ask me if I “grade on the curve” are B students desperate to be A students. The only people, I would guess, who think it’s OK for 1% of the people of the world to own 50% of the wealth are those who think they have a chance of becoming part of the 1%.

Mysticism and materialism (for every mystic I’ve ever read, beginning with Socrates and moving forward even farther than Alan Watts) do not, cannot by definition, coexist.

Let’s amend the Constitution

I propose a 28th Amendment to the Constitution reading:


“Neither Congress nor any State Legislature shall pass any law limiting any person’s right to be free from violence at the hands of those who bear arms.”

A book I know well says, “We will not regret the past, nor wish to close the door on it.” I have tried for years to come to terms with that concept. To make it part of my self-perception. Internalizing the idea is pretty difficult for me because much in my past I wish had been otherwise than it was.

I know, I know. Everyone can say that—and would if she were being unabashedly honest. But whether wishing it were not so is the same as regretting, I’ll let keener minds than mine decide. My distinction is that I can regret only those choices I made consciously and willingly, while I can wish experiences over which I had little or no control had not happened.

Something old, something new (or nothing new)

My parents Jacobean Rival furniturewith 21st-century computer

My parents Jacobean Rival furniture
with 21st-century computer

My parents were married in 1937. At the time my father was a pastor (a student pastor—he had just graduated from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, and was on his way to study at Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, Kansas). I don’t have the records in front of me, so I’m not sure if his charge was the Baptist church Rosedale, Kansas, or the Baptist church in Winifred, Kansas, both suburbs of Kansas City.

I have heard many times the story of the “shivaree” the church gave my parents when they moved into the parsonage after the wedding.

Shortly after that my parents bought their first home furnishings. They bought a heavy walnut-stained oak dining room table and five chairs (one an armchair) in the popular  Jacobean Revival Style  in vogue at the time. However one may describe the style (heavy, ponderous, dark, overly-ornate—adjectives that come to mind), it’s easy to see it was sturdy stuff.

Today, these 75-or-so years later, I am sitting at the table writing.

The dining set is in my sister’s dining room. I’ve pulled back the table cloth to show the legs, the “globular excrescences of the columns” as Wikipedia describes them. My picture is intended to show that my parents bought furniture to use, not to exhibit. Seventy-five years of use have left the pieces scarred but intact (the chair seats many times recovered). The furniture has been in dining rooms in Kansas, two towns in Wyoming, three cities in Nebraska, and three cities in California.

I don’t know if this furniture is beautiful. I have no objective standard for it. The heavy and overwrought style is nothing I would ever buy for myself. My sister would not buy such furniture, either. However, when one of her daughters asked her for it, she was unable to let it go. I could not have done so.

Here is my commonplace truth about family stuff. Most of us have some physical object that has come to us from parents, grandparents, or relatives even farther back. Some people do not, of course, either because such objects were not saved or because they simply do not want them.

I don’t understand.

My family has kept more stuff from the past than we ought, I suppose. I’ve written before about my grandmother’s sewing machine. It’s in my living room, for goodness’ sake (as she would have said). I don’t sew, and I don’t have room for it. Give it up?

Not on your life.

Not on MY life, that is. However, I am not clinging to the past. I am not stuck in some “family system” (perhaps I am, but that’s not important here) that requires me to hold on to my place in the family by holding on to relics of the family’s past.

Jacobean-Kansan buffet

Jacobean-Kansan buffet

I do hold a certain reverence for the stuff I own (and that my sister, my brother, and our cousins own) that belonged to our forebears. I love these old things because of memories. This table has been the site of family love feasts, family battles; family work (my mother’s sewing comes to mind), family play (dominoes, Rook, puzzles); family devotions, family discussions. It was in one sense the center of our family’s life together.

What the other members of my family feel about old things I do not know for sure. For me, these “heirlooms” (that’s what we’d call them if they were of great monetary value) help me stay grounded.

Either because the quirky seizure activity in my brain makes identifying “reality” problematic a great deal of the time (dissociation being one of the primary “symptoms”), or because I am bent on thinking too much without having the mental acumen to come to conclusions, I have a great deal of difficulty understanding—or believing—that the world did not begin and will not end with my time here.

I believe this table existed in 1937 because my parents told me it did. I believe it will probably exist after I am gone, either in the dining room of one of my nieces or nephews or in the home of someone who will buy it as an “antique.” Contemplating my non-existence after my death is impossible. Terrifying.

It is comforting to know, to be reasonably certain, that “things” I know—that I like or love, that are familiar—can connect me with the most important persons in my life, past and future. That comfort inhabits the present and helps make it—I don’t mean this dramatically—bearable.

There’s nothing profound or unusual about this—pretty ordinary stuff—except that I’ve now said it.

And outside, Rosemary

And outside, Rosemary

The modern computer is (or is not) Beelzebub. This is NOT a rant against technology by an old fart who does not understand it.

What's keeping you alive?

What’s keeping you alive?

About a month ago I had reason to give an old college friend  a book. He had made a wise crack (although he was dead serious) implying university departments such as Queer Studies are simply “fluff” courses and keeping college students from real scholarly pursuits, thus dumbing down education.

He’s right that some college departments are dumbing-down education. Business schools. At Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, for example, no class is offered in economic theory that includes a study of Marxism. That’s not academic discipline, it’s indoctrination (the Cox students go from there with one understanding of the way economics works; that understanding is certainly serving you well, isn’t it? How’s your retirement fund holding up?).  But, as usual, I digress.

I told my friend I’d ordered a book to be delivered to him, one I know has been used in some Queer Theory departments. I thought little else about it.

This evening I noticed the ads gracing the Yahoo page when I opened my email are for Barnes and Noble, using as samples four books by the author of the book I ordered for my friend. I don’t get it.

NO, I DON’T MEAN NOT UNDERSTANDING HOW THIS HAPPENS. That’s the given. We old folks do not understand this modern technology.

But neither do my very modern, sophisticated, au courant (they have no idea what that means) students at SMU. They don’t “understand” it. They don’t have any better idea , than I do how their precious electronic gadgets work. They simply (I mean “simple-mindedly”) use them and use them to build what they think is a life.

My students were bored with/ surprised by/ confused by my telling them in class yesterday that the first working computer was built in my lifetime. That isn’t quite true—I had forgotten the exact year. (I was born in 1945, and—depending on what you consider to be a “computer”—the first one was either 1941 or 1943**.)

My students will write their next essay on Ronald Reagan’s  Challenger Speech. For the old folks reading this, I need not explain. In the speech, Reagan says (Peggy Noonan says through the Great Communicator),

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that.

I was merely trying to help my students understand the “wonders in this century. . . dazzl[ing] us.” They cannot comprehend that there were no computers available to ordinary people until I was already what they would consider “old” (I bought my first primitive affair in 1987 to write my dissertation). And when Reagan made his speech, the cell phone as we know it did not exist.

The Good Ole Days.

The Good Ole Days.

If my students were smart instead of smart-ass, at this juncture in my rant they would ask, “What’s the point?”

The point is that it does not matter one whit whether or not I (or they) understand the technology on which they are constructing their lives. It does not matter an iota whether or not Yahoo is paid by Barnes and Noble to place an ad on my computer tailored just for me.

What matters is the why. Why are we so enslaved to this technology that we are no more enlightened or spiritually evolved than the people who  three or four thousand years ago were enslaved to Beelzebub (whom people of my generation know as “The Lord of the Flies”)?

But it isn’t even the technology we are enslaved to. It, in turn, is enslaved to rampant, personhood-devouring Capitalism. Everything is for sale. Even your thoughts as you read this. What are you thinking about? The fact that you are mortal or the amount you have to pay for “organic” groceries that won’t harm your health? The reality that your time here is limited or the amount you’re going to have to pay your new personal trainer to get healthy so you won’t die so soon? What about the chic clothes you bought the other day attempting to look young?

You and I know I could go on and on and on and on and on and on. The problem is not the technology. The problem is that for all of us—yes, us old folks who rail about not understanding it, too—the technology is the latest tool in our frantic attempt to ward off our fear of death.

That’s all.

** “Computer.” Wikipedia. Web. 5 Mar. 2013. (I know, I know, Wikipedia is not a “source” for research. In this case, it’s good enough. If you want to check it out, go ahead. It says:
The first programmable electronic computer was the Colossus, built in 1943 by Tommy Flowers. . . Konrad Zuse’s electromechanical “Z machines”.  . . The Z3 (1941) was the first working machine featuring binary arithmetic, including floating point arithmetic and a measure of programmability. In 1998 the Z3 was proved to be Turing complete, therefore being the world’s first operational computer.

Fluff or academics?

Fluff or academics?