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

1-useless

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.

1-sudoku 2

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)

 

“. . . the horizon parted and the house greeted the light of day . . .” (Fadwa Tuqan)

French Hill settlement in Occupied Jerusalem. (photo credit: ANGLO-SAXON JERUSALEM)

French Hill settlement in Occupied Jerusalem. (photo credit: ANGLO-SAXON JERUSALEM)

What happened to that light-hearted look at growing old? my friends ask about this blog. It doesn’t quite seem to be light-hearted on the infrequent days I manage to post. What has happened?

Am I less happy than I was on about October 25 (the last time I really wrote a piece for this blog)? Probably not. The not-too-well-kept secret is that I’ve always had something of a struggle to have anything approaching a sunny disposition.

Somewhere about February 15 (exactly February 15) of this year I decided to begin a blog dedicated to gathering bits of news from Palestinian online news sites and publishing a little digest of some I think are interesting or important. Yes, my bias shows absolutely (. . . some I think are interesting. . .) I don’t know if anyone either in Palestine or anywhere else would agree that they are the most important things to repost.

I wish I could remember why I began that blog. One of the joys of old age: I forget more than I remember these days. I should write a light-hearted blog post about that. But there are thousands of such writings by senescent beings out there.

Perhaps I don’t remember because it was nine months ago, and the impetus for my starting the project was some little event or idea that I couldn’t ignore.

And then, for another reason I can’t quite remember, on or about October 1, I decided to go to Palestine for the third time in this century. I signed up to go on the Fall Witness Visit of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.  I had been thinking about returning to East Jerusalem and the West Bank (particularly Bethlehem) for a long time, and when I discovered two old acquaintances would be on the Sabeel Visit, I decided to plunk down the money and get myself over there.

I love Palestine.

I don’t think Israel is much to brag about. French Hill is sort of like a wannabe Bushwick in Brooklyn, or a suburb of Dallas, or any other 21st-century materialistic city. That’s no wonder because it has been built mostly by Americans and others whose lives are controlled by acquiring stuff and self-centered modernity. And also, as nearly as I can figure, by Tea Party types. They might on the whole be better educated and more sophisticated than American Tea Partiers, but they think pretty much the same. Damn! Do I speak in unsupportable and unforgivable generalities, or what?

Palestine, on the other hand, is about as real and interesting a place as you can find. It’s poor and rich, old and young, liberal and conservative, political and apolitical (well, not many apolitical folks), and the Palestinians have too much invested in just trying to stay alive and keep body, mind, soul, and their society together to be interested in any Bushwick or French Hill kind of existence.

Take a young woman from Ramallah who has managed to get a job in Jerusalem. I heard this story last week in Jerusalem. I may have the cities or other specific details wrong, but the story is correct. She is a Palestinian Israeli, born in and a resident of Jerusalem, one of those folks who is caught in a no-person’s land. She made the mistake of marrying the man she loves, who happens to be from Ramallah. She moved there and soon had two sons. Then she found a job in Jerusalem that paid more than any job available in the Occupied Territories. So she now lives in Jerusalem and cannot see her husband and sons because they do not have Jerusalem residency permits. He works as a truck driver and can come to Jerusalem for work, but he has to be out of Israel by 7 PM each evening, and he cannot bring his sons into the city because they were born in the Occupied Territories.

Once in a while he manages to hide at his wife’s apartment overnight, but if he ever gets caught, that will be the end (of lots of things). She can only VERY seldom go to Ramallah because she is a resident of Jerusalem, and those privileges have been virtually taken away for all Palestinian Israelis. She wants to be with her sons. She has petitioned the government of Israel either to be allowed to go to Ramallah regularly or have her children with her in Jerusalem. The official answer? If you want to be with your children, divorce your husband.

This family struggles daily simply to keep themselves together (literally). They are not much worried that “Unique Clothing Is Taking The Fashion World By Storm.” Really, they’re not. Having dinner together this weekend and hugging each other is right at the top of their priority list.

My light-hearted writing about the pitfalls (or just falls—I did it again in Palestine; not to worry, I’ve put the cane away for the second time) of getting older really seems kinda silly at this point. It seems to me that anyone who is not depressed about the situation Palestine, in Syria, in Yemen, in Paris, in . . . has simply capitulated to a materialism that is the same in Bushwick Brooklyn or French Hill Jerusalem.

I have proposed that the second beatitude, “blessed are those who mourn,” offers an apt metaphor for depressive resistance in the age of global neoliberalism. Those who mourn, the depressed, are blessed insofar as they bear witness to the veiled oppression of today’s global hegemony. The concealment of this subjugation is made more complete by a contemporary strategy in which depression is turned into an illness, thus silencing its political importance. (Rogers-Vaughn, Bruce. “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: Depression As Political Resistance.” Pastoral Psychology 63.4 (2014): 503-522.)

One difference between Bushwick and French Hill is, of course, that the genocide in Brooklyn in the name of materialist hegemony was accomplished 400 years ago, while that in French Hill is ongoing.

“THE  SEAGULL  AND  THE  NEGATION  OF  NEGATION,”  BY  FADWA  TUQAN
It crossed the horizon and cleft the darkness,
Mastering the blue, darting on wings of light―
Twisting, turning and still turning.
It knocked at my dark window, and the gasping silence quivered:
“Bird, is it good news you bring?”
It divulged its secret, yet breathed not a word,
And the seagull disappeared.

Bird, my sea-bird, I know now
That during hard times, standing in the tunnel of silence,
All things change.
The seed sprouts even within the heart of the dead,
Morning bursts forth from darkness.
I know now,
As I hear horses galloping the call of death along the shores,
That when the flood comes,
The world will be cleansed of its sorrows.

Bird, my sea-bird, rising from the depths of darkness,
God’s blessing upon you for the good news you bring.
For I know now
Something happened . . . the horizon parted and the house greeted the light of day.

About Fadwa Tuqan.
From THE PALESTINIAN WEDDING: A BILINGUAL ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY PALESTINIAN RESISTANCE POETRY. Ed. and Trans. A. M. Elmessiri. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2011. Reprint from Three Continents Press, Inc., 1982. Available from Palestine Online Store.

The Israeli demolition of a home in the Shufat  Palestinian refugee camp in West Jerusalem.

The Israeli demolition of a home in the Shufat Palestinian refugee camp in West Jerusalem.

“. . . the ordinary man as he always was. . .” (Fadwa Tuqan)

Nancy's Moulin Rouge

Nancy’s Moulin Rouge

When I get old like Nancy Birtwhistle, I want to do something like build/bake the most spectacular cake in the country.

[The 60-year-old grandmother] was branded the ‘queen of consistency’ by judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood in The Great British Bake Off final last week.

The “last week” in the Daily Mail was October 12, 2014. But I’ll bet not ten Americans who were hooked on the BBC/PBS show spoiled the excitement by looking up the result of the contest online before this past Sunday evening when the grand finale played on PBS. Who’d want to ruin a bit of genuine fun and real-life mystery-drama?

I need some advice on how to be retired. Yesterday I arrived at the Athletic Development of Student Athletes center at 9 AM for my regular three hours of tutoring. Then a quick trip to the fitness center for a short workout and 50 minutes of walking in the therapy pool, then back to the ADSA for two more hours of tutoring. Stop by the grocery store. Then home.

Fadwa Tuqan

Fadwa Tuqan

In the evening I spent an hour reading the book one of the students I tutor is reading for his class, and then about two hours researching Palestinian poets. That’s not true. I became fascinated by the life and work of Fadwa Tuqan, 20th-century Palestinian poet, and spent a good deal of the evening researching in university library databases for references to her—and I ordered her autobiography translated by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Today my schedule is easier—9:30 appointment with therapist, 11:00 extra tutoring session for student who has a monstrous essay due, 12:15 workout at fitness center, 2:00 meeting of GED faculty at the Aberg Center for Literacy (six blocks from fitness center), 3:00 meet with dietician back at fitness center, 7:00 twelve-step meeting and weekly dinner after.

It’s pretty obvious why I want to get old like Nancy Birtwhistle and have nothing to do but build cakes that look like the Moulin Rouge. I need some time to myself. That’s because I’m an introvert. It has nothing to do with old age. I was ever thus.

No, really. I always have trouble convincing my friends that’s true. I’m so gabby and so at ease with people and so unafraid to perform, to teach a class, to lead a choir, to. . . – you name it.

About the only upside to being as busy as I was yesterday and will be today is that I wasn’t and won’t be sitting at home alone and lonely, and feeling sorry for myself. OK. Stop. That’s not what depression is. It’s not being lonely and feeling sorry for myself. It’s this nameless, formless Thing waiting to overtake me whenever I make myself physically comfortable on my sofa or stand at the kitchen sink doing dishes or drive to the fitness center or go to a party or participate in a meeting of the GED faculty at the Aberg Center for Literacy.

The good news is that the older I get, the kinder I am to myself for this schizoid life. (Note: I did not use “schizophrenic” or any other pathological word.

Schizo
word-forming element meaning “division; split, cleavage,” from Latinized form of Greek skhizo- comb. form of skhizein “to split, cleave, part, separate,” (Online Etymology Dictionary).

Division. Split. Cleavage. That’s what I have in my brain. There’s this guy who can go out and work with a university football player who—I think by most people’s standards—is physically pretty intimidating and have an easy-going but professional relationship with him. I can go to a meeting of a bunch of volunteer teachers and participate even though my throat gets dry and I have to hold onto the table every time I speak.

But submit myself to going to a party with a bunch of strangers (or even a bunch of people I know)? Not if I can help it. Carl Jung theorized that

The introvert’s attitude is an abstracting one; at bottom he is always intent on withdrawing libido from the object, as though he had to prevent the object from gaining power over him (quoted in Blandin, Kesstan. “Temperament And Typology.” Journal Of Analytical Psychology 58.1 (2013): 118-136).

“Libido,” as I understand it, is the unconscious part of the psyche that’s the source of instinctive satisfaction and pleasure. Of course, the most obvious instinct is sexual pleasure, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about that part of a person’s unconscious that attaches itself to other people and situation—unless, of course, for some reason, a person doesn’t want anything or anyone to gain power over them.

Well, how’s that for psychobabble? All I mean is that I like people, I love people, I fall desperately in love with people, but I don’t want them to have any power over me. The best way to prevent that is simply to avoid them—and to be sure to have enough time alone to recover after a bunch of people sap my energy.

I used to think that if I lived to be 70 years old, I’d be over this or at least have figured how to live with myself in spite of introversion. I didn’t say I’m not happy. Those parts of me that don’t need Lamictal every day are pretty happy—go-lucky, in fact. I know how to have as much fun as Nancy Birtwhistle—but not on TV, not with the whole world watching.

I think most of us are introverts. Some of us have perfected the art to a high degree. But I think most of us are forever devoid of the kind of strength necessary to attach ourselves to others without fear (extraverts may just be crazy).

I can’t even imagine the kind of strength it must take to participate in the lives of others so completely as to be able to write a poem like this—or to have the strength of the person who is the subject of the poem. Even if Hamza is fictitious, he is drawn from the reality of people I have met in Palestine.

“Hamza,” by Fadwa Tuqan

Hamza was just an ordinary man
like others in my hometown
who work only with their hands for bread.

When I met him the other day,
this land was wearing a cloak of mourning
in windless silence. And I felt defeated.
But Hamza-the-ordinary said:
‘My sister, our land has a throbbing heart,
it doesn’t cease to beat, and it endures
the unendurable. It keeps the secrets
of hills and wombs. This land sprouting
with spikes and palms is also the land
that gives birth to a freedom-fighter.
This land, my sister, is a woman.’

Days rolled by. I saw Hamza nowhere.
Yet I felt the belly of the land
was heaving in pain.

Hamza — sixty-five — weighs
heavy like a rock on his own back.
‘Burn, burn his house,’
a command screamed,
‘and tie his son in a cell.’
The military ruler of our town later explained:
it was necessary for law and order,
that is, for love and peace!

Armed soldiers gherraoed his house:
the serpent’s coil came full circle.
The bang at the door was but an order —
‘evacuate, damn it!’
And generous as they were with time, they could say:
‘in an hour, yes!’

Hamza opened the window.
Face to face with the sun blazing outside,
he cried: ‘in this house my children
and I will live and die
for Palestine.’
Hamza’s voice echoed clean
across the bleeding silence of the town.

An hour later, impeccably,
the house came crumbling down,
the rooms were blown to pieces in the sky,
and the bricks and the stones all burst forth,
burying dreams and memories of a lifetime

of labor, tears, and some happy moments.

Yesterday I saw Hamza
walking down a street in our town —
Hamza the ordinary man as he always was:
always secure in his determination.

The Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan, who has died aged 86, forcefully expressed a nation’s sense of loss and defiance. Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general, likened reading one of Tuqan’s poems to facing 20 enemy commandos. (more. . .)‘in this house my children and I will live and die for Palestine". . . An hour later, impeccably, the house came crumbling down,

‘in this house my children and I will live and die for Palestine”. . . An hour later, impeccably, the house came crumbling down,