“. . . to prove we were still among the living. . .” (Simon Armitage)

Morrissey. You can't go on forever

Morrissey. You can’t go on forever

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I managed to delete ten of my postings here. I thought they were “drafts”  —in the “drafts” folder. But, alas, they were the final “draft,” kept for some reason I can’t figure. I was able to reconstruct the last post , but the others will take some doing. Now I know why I save the Word documents on my desktop.

“Are we dead yet?” someone would ask.
Then with a plastic toothpick
I’d draw blood from my little finger
to prove we were still among the living.

A week ago I had blood drawn from my little finger (I assume there was blood although I was in la-la-land—they said I wasn’t asleep from a general anesthesia but didn’t know what was going on because they gave me that other stuff that doesn’t really knock you out). Not my finger, but the palm of my right hand where the finger tendons attach to the hand bones. If I’ve already written about it, that’s a post I deleted. The pinky “trigger finger” surgery was almost negligible.

I wore the dressing for three days, Band-Aids for several days, and today nothing to protect the healing incision.

But—there’s always a “but,” isn’t there—the surgeon said I should not get into a swimming pool until after my follow-up appointment (tomorrow). And I mustn’t go to yoga class (no hands on floor).

I know why old people get stiff and begin to hobble. One thing leads to another to another to another. I can’t do my accustomed exercise—walking in the therapy pool at the Landry Fitness Center. So, rather than take a walk around the neighborhood, I do nothing. And my lower back has a knot from sitting and writing at my computer too many hours, and I’m beginning to hobble. Damn!

It’s been too hot to walk outside. And my tutoring schedule is inconvenient. And I’m depressed. And. . . How many excuses can I think up?

The real reason is I don’t want to do it alone.

At the Landry Center, I have made friends. We barely know each other’s names, but we talk and make jokes and know all of the ailments that bring us there, and gossip like a bunch of little old ladies, which we mostly are.

We get acquainted. One of the women and I discovered she’s the next-door neighbor of and best friends with an organist for whom I substitute regularly. Are we going to socialize outside the pool? I’d bet Linda and I and her neighbors will eventually. The organist and his partner must know some other old fart looking for an old fart to be with (that is interpreted, date).

So I’m not going to run into Linda for a few more days, and I certainly wouldn’t run into anyone I know walking out on Maple or Hudnall streets.

My parents walked every day until they moved to assisted living (they were both about 90). Together. If genetics has anything to do with it, I could be walking another 20 years. Of course, neither of my parents ever drank, smoked, or was 35 pounds overweight, so I’m not sure my prognostication should be for 20 years (I haven’t drunk or smoked for 28 years).

Me--before three surgeries, lethargy, weight gain, and hobbling

Me–before three surgeries, lethargy, weight gain, and hobbling

However, the outlook for hooking up with someone (I mean that in all popular senses of the phrase) grows, I think, dimmer by the day.

Armitage writes, “Are we dead yet?” someone would ask. He was born the year I graduated from high school. Does he even have standing to ask that question?

If you want to know the worst case scenario about how old gay men (and women) live out their years, you can watch the movie Gen Silent. Another instance–a gay couple in Arizona who had been together 45 years went to California to marry. Recently, one of them died, and Arizona refused to put on his death certificate that the other was his spouse. It took a Federal judge to force Arizona to accept their marriage.

In case you think I’m whining, I’m not. I’m simply trying to be realistic. Even if I were not gay, my late-life prospects are not rosy. I’ve chosen to be a low-ranking college professor for most of my sober life, so my Social Security is only about $1300 a month. (The SSA has decided that, if you were poor in your working life, you will be poor in “retirement.” I wonder if the mega-wealthy 1% return their SS checks. One of them could help me out quite a bit.) My “pension” from SMU is about half that. Can you live on $2000 per month?—especially if you are in any way infirm?

I’m not whining.

I’ll be a helluva lot better off than most people, I’d guess. Armitage’s poem is a projection of what one does in old age WITH ONE’S FRIENDS AND ASSOCIATES.

As almost an aside, I have to quote The Guardian from Friday 3 September 2010:

For 30 years, poet Simon Armitage’s admiration for Morrissey has bordered on the obsessive. But could his love survive an encounter with the famously sharp-tongued singer-songwriter?

That’s part of the introduction to an interview between Armitage and Morissey in which Morissey says,

Simon Armitage: we're not dead yet

Simon Armitage: we’re not dead yet

The ageing process isn’t terribly pretty… and you don’t want yourself splattered all over the place if you look pitiful. You can’t go on forever, and those that do really shouldn’t.

(I don’t think Armitage is gay, and I don’t know any of Morrissey’s music. When he was in his heyday, I was a drunk, and since then I’ve not kept up with popular music except for Lady Gaga and a few others.)

I’m not sure where I meant to go with this writing. I’ve been interrupted too many times. But I think this is where I was headed when I began.

All of my favorite sayings about getting old are true. “Getting old is a full-time job.”

Job. And I’d really like to have someone to come home to after work.

“Dämmerung,” Simon Armitage, (b. 1963)

In later life I retired from poetry,
ploughed the profits
into a family restaurant
in the town of Holzminden, in lower Saxony.

It was small and traditional:
dark wood panelling, deer antlers,
linen tablecloths and red candles,
one beer tap on the bar

and a dish of the day, usually
Bauernschnitzel. Weekends were busy,
pensioners wanting the set meal, though
year on year takings were falling.

Some nights the old gang came in –
Jackie, Max, Lavinia,
Mike not looking at all himself,
and I’d close the kitchen,

hang up my striped apron,
take a bottle of peach schnapps
from the top shelf and say,
“Mind if I join you?”

“Are we dead yet?” someone would ask.
Then with a plastic toothpick
I’d draw blood from my little finger
to prove we were still among the living.

From the veranda we’d breathe new scents
from the perfume distillery over the river,
or watch the skyline
for the nuclear twilight.

“God’s gonna trouble the waters”

About 20 years ago I was in a graduate seminar at UTDallas on the history of Dallas. Dr. Harvey J. Graff was the professor.

God's gonna trouble the waters

God’s gonna trouble the waters

That semester my newly-discovered allergies to the junk in Dallas air settled in my lungs and, after I passed out in a UTD parking lot and was ambulanced to the Baylor health center in Richardson, I spent two weeks in bed with pneumonia and failed Harvey’s class. Some sleight-of-hand by the Dean kept that off my transcript, and I took the same seminar the next semester.

Except it wasn’t the same course. I had begun my first course project of interviewing several old gay men in Dallas with the purpose of writing an oral history of the gay rights movement in Dallas pre-Stonewall. I don’t remember what my paper was the second time around (it’s on a 3 ½ inch floppy disk somewhere), but I have my recorded conversations with a half dozen of those old guys. Old guys! About the same age I am now. I did not finish that project. I wish I had.

One of the old (?) men I interviewed lived in Dickinson Place, a retirement facility run at least nominally by the Methodist Church. Dickinson was minister of the prestigious University Park Methodist Church, nestled at the corner of Southern Methodist University. I’ve written about the old guy before (back when I was a young 68). He, too, was a (retired) Methodist minister—who had lived the oh-so-common double life of a gay man which my generation is about the first to find unnecessary.

I wrote then mainly about the circumstances in which he was living. I felt sorry for the old guy. He was living in a safe and affordable apartment with his own (very nice antique) furniture, among about 200 other folks his age (even some gay men, he told me), with meals and transportation provided when he wanted them, with pictures of his children and their children decorating the small apartment. But I felt sorry for him in my forty-five-ish way.

I see Dickinson Place a couple of blocks over from Washington Street every time I go to exercise at the Landry Fitness Center at the downtown Baylor Hospital. Yesterday doing my exercise (walking in the “therapy” pool) I realized I should probably be exercising in some more strenuous way. That’s a switch! I’ve been exercising at Landry since approximately March 23, 2013, the day of record for my first physical therapy appointment for “fixing” the pain in my right hip. PT almost weekly (sometimes twice) for eleven months.

It’s time for me to be out on the Katy Trail jogging (even though I’ve been told by all of the professionals that I will not be able to jog again—as if I ever did!).

Every time I walk these days, at some point in the hour I sing to myself (or hum if there’s no one close enough to think the old man has lost his marbles) the Slave song, “Wade in the water.” It’s become my water-walking theme song. I’ve linked to my favorite YouTube recording of it.

I’m amused when I go there to listen to it by the “comments” (comments on YouTube videos are often more interesting than the videos themselves). One popped up a few weeks ago that is particularly inane:

Randy Banks:   The comments on here are so far from reality. . .  Firstly, this is not a SLAVE song, nor inteneded solely for Black people.  This is a Christian song.  Given the soul by Southern Baptist.  This song is not telling a story of slaves people. . . The course a lot of you traveled in your responses to this video is an embarrasment to the Southern Baptist Convention and Christianity in general.  Everything isn’t about race folks, regardless of the American norm to make it appear that way.

I, of course—you can guess—want to shout at the ignorant christianist that his self-righteous arrogance is unbecoming a Christian. Randy has no access to scholarship, so he would never have read the article By Bryan T. Sinclair, “Merging Streams: The Importance of the River in the Slaves’ Religious World.” Journal Of Religious Thought 53/54.2/1 (1997).

It is, I think, a truism that commenters on YouTube videos tend not to be scholars. Here’s my own unscholarly comment. Bryan Sinclair says that when

. . . these songs were sung so ecstatically at river baptisms, it seemed almost as if the slaves were invoking an ancient African river spirit or deity to “trouble the water” in preparing the young neophytes for their initiation bath. As the slaves sang on the Georgia Sea Islands,

Wade in nuh watuh childun,
Wade in nuh watuh childun,
Wade in nuh watuh,
Gawd’s go’nah trouble duh watuh,
(
From Lydia Parrish’s, Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands, 1942)

River personification might also indicate an African influence. . . These slave songs may be seen as evoking river image of a distant religious past.

My logic is taking a sharp turn to the left (or right) here, so I hope someone (anyone) can follow me. There’s a connection among all these disparate thoughts. Graduate seminar. Dickinson Place. Baylor Hospital and the Landry Fitness Center. Baptists. Retired (closeted) gay Methodist ministers. My own getting old (hip and shoulder surgery required by wearing-out parts of my body and my immanent day to retire). Water walking therapy.

I feel daily as if the waters are troubled. The waters of my life are being troubled, and the troubling is evoking river image of a distant religious past. Randy Banks, in all his racist Christianist ranting does not (I think) understand one reality. He’s right that the slave song isn’t about race. The troubled waters are an almost universal image (google the Bible and troubled waters, for example). An image of the end of slavery, an image of healing, an image of birth. Or an image of aging and dying.

My pool, but not my exercise

My pool, but not my exercise

“. . . we will remember every single thing, recall every word, love every loss . . .”

Today is the day. My 69th birthday. I’m voraciously accepting best wishes from anyone and everyone. So don’t be shy.

The boy she married

The boy she married

I guess it’s time for Lumosity and my trainer. Get mind and body working out and staying (getting) healthy.

The brain exercise rip-offs I can do without. And working with my trainer is on hold until my surgeries are healed (especially the three-inch gash in my tummy). But I will be back to training very soon—if only because it’s so much fun to spend an hour with a cute young thing like Mason.

I have the remaining six weeks of physical therapy for my shoulder. Dr. Miracle Worker is pleased with my progress and says we’ll wait six months before we decide whether or not to fix my right shoulder.

The best thing I can do for my brain is to begin again to read voraciously. I haven’t been reading for about fifteen years. Oh, I read a lot, but mostly academic articles about arcane subjects that serve little useful purpose. I was looking around my “office” (or whatever this disheveled part of my apartment might be called) the other day and realized I have enough unread books here to last me the rest of my life. I don’t need to buy any books.

Or, perhaps, the best thing I can do is learn new music. I started learning a little piece every day a while back, and then I had all of this surgery, and that ended that. I should get back to it. Or simply play a little work by Brahms that I first learned when I was in high school. I’d like to play a recital at, perhaps, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, CA, where I’ve done so before. But I’m not sure I can manage myself well enough to get it ready. I could do a program of my own old favorites. That would require less self-management than self-indulgence.

Growing old(er) is a curious affair. There’s no preparation for it. No one can tell you what it’s like. Suddenly you’ve been around for as long as those old people you thought were so venerable (or mysterious) when you were a kid. I remember when my dad’s dad turned 70. It was 1955. My dad was 40, I was 10. I thought Granddad was about as old as a person could be. Eight years later (1963), he and Grandmother celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and I was sure no one had ever been married that long. He was, of course only 78. And then in 1987, my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary.

And now many of my married friends (at least the ones who’ve had only one spouse) have been married 50 years or close to it. And I am one year away from that mysterious 70th birthday of my grandfather.

Yesterday I was in the bank to deposit a check. I had to show the teller my ID, and she said with great excitement, “We have the same birthday!” I replied that she had a long way to go to be as old as I am. Neither she nor the other teller not the branch manager (with whom I have worked a great deal over the past ten years) believed I’d be 69 today. “You can’t be that old!” But she was glad to find another Capricorn (we always are—together we could rule the world such as, for instance two who tried it, Richard Nixon and Mao Zedung).

That old.

Let me tell you about the disconnect between mind and brain when you are “that old.” My brain is that old. It’s slowing down.

I have all of those problems of memory in the Billy Collins poem I included in my blog yesterday. And more.

Will I ever look like my trainer again?

If I keep training, will I look like Mason some day?”

The disconnect is that my mind doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening to my brain. I am exactly the same person I was thirty, forty, fifty (perhaps not fifty) years ago. I am I. This is he. I think everyone who gets to 69 or older must have this strange experience of wondering who they’re talking about. Old? Me? I look in the mirror, and I’m not quite sure what I’m seeing. Just me. And it’s obviously physically a different me than I saw thirty years ago (or, perhaps, even last year).  But I am who I am.

I doubt that ever changes.

When my father was 97 years old, if I arrived soon after breakfast time at the medical facility of the retirement community where

he lived, I would find him sitting in the hallway shaving with his electric razor. He had found the only electric outlet he could use to do what he, Glenn Knight, always did, that is, keep himself groomed. Daily. Habit? Perhaps, or simply his understanding that, with all the change in his life, he was still Glenn Knight, and that’s what he did every morning. Looking sharp was part of who he was.

I’m beginning to understand the disconnect between what my brain thinks of what’s going on around me, what I’m doing, what I know and feel, and what my mind thinks is going on. My mind thinks “The Boy She Married,” as my late ex-wife was fond of saying, is still bebopping around here planning weird stuff to do and trying, at the same time, to appear to be intelligent and scholarly.

So I want to debunk a myth. Sixty is NOT the new forty, and forty is NOT the new twenty or any of that nonsense. If you are determined to think and act as if that were true, you are determined to deprive yourself of the most mysterious experience of being Homo sapiens.

A favorite growing older poem (written when Ammons was 71)

“In View of the Fact,”by A. R. Ammons

The people of my time are passing away: my
wife is baking for a funeral, a 60-year-old who

died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it’s
Ruth we care so much about in intensive care:

it was once weddings that came so thick and
fast, and then, first babies, such a hullabaloo:

now, it’s this that and the other and somebody
else gone or on the brink: well, we never

thought we would live forever (although we did)
and now it looks like we won’t: some of us

are losing a leg to diabetes, some don’t know
what they went downstairs for, some know that

a hired watchful person is around, some like
to touch the cane tip into something steady,

so nice: we have already lost so many,
brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our

address books for so long a slow scramble now
are palimpsests, scribbles and scratches: our

index cards for Christmases, birthdays,
Halloweens drop clean away into sympathies:

at the same time we are getting used to so
many leaving, we are hanging on with a grip

to the ones left: we are not giving up on the
congestive heart failure or brain tumors, on

the nice old men left in empty houses or on
the widows who decide to travel a lot: we

think the sun may shine someday when we’ll
drink wine together and think of what used to

be: until we die we will remember every
single thing, recall every word, love every

loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to
others to love, love that can grow brighter

and deeper till the very end, gaining strength
and getting more precious all the way. . . .

“. . . In a stable, dark and dreary, who will be the first to kneel . . .”

Who will be the first to kneel?

Who will be the first to kneel?

Among the contradictions, inconsistencies, and dissimilitudes in our celebration of Christmas [or the Winter Solstice or whatever you celebrate at the end of December] is a misconception about the definition of the word “humble.”  Dictionary.com first defines it as “not proud.” Then come the interesting meanings. “Having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience . . . low in rank, importance, status, quality . . . courteously respectful . . .”

Who in America (or any other Western country) wants to have a “feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience?” Not movie stars. Not professional athletes. Not recording artists. Not Rachael Maddow. Or Ted Cruz. Or Alice Walton.

NOT YOU OR ME, EITHER.

You’re educated enough to understand the word “dissimilitude,” and you have a computer of some sort. You probably drive a nice car and know the best restaurant in your city. (Stephan Pyles in Dallas. I’ve eaten there.)

Given all of that, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Humanist, or none of the above, you would not be caught dead kneeling in a pile of cow shit. Might ruin your Gap jeans.

But, with the best of them—even you non-Christian folks—we sing, in the holiday spirit,

In a stable, dark and dreary,
Who will be the first to kneel?

(16th-century Polish carol, “In a manger He Is lying”). Never mind if you don’t know that exact one. You likely know “What Child

Vierne "Final." All those notes!

Vierne “Final.” All those notes!

Is this,” sung to “Greensleeves.” I have Muslim friends who, of course, don’t know those carols. But, believe me, there’s plenty of Ramadan sentimentality to go around. And, my goodness, Chanukah? So we all get ooey-gooey feelings about holidays based loosely on our religion.

Back to my original assertion—you wouldn’t be caught dead with your knees in a pile of horse manure. But you’d sing a song about it and feel ever-so-spiritual (or at least cuddly).

ME, TOO.

Here’s this baby in a place no self-respecting mother would give birth—a manger. Have you ever been in a barn where cows and other such filthy animals live? I’ve helped shoo the cows in from the fields to the dairy barn and sprayed the floor with water to keep the cow shit washed away so it doesn’t get mixed in with the milk. Nebraska, 1959 or so.

That’s as far from the windows of Neiman Marcus on Main Street in Dallas sporting their Alexander McQueen fashions as you can get. But I’ll bet everyone who buys one of those dresses either as a Christmas gift for his wife (do men do that?) or for herself to wear to the Christmas party she simply has to attend would sing

In a stable, dark and dreary,
Who will be the first to kneel?
At the crib where Christ is sleeping,
Who will be the first to kneel?

BUT DON’T GET SELF-RIGHTEOUS.

Those of us who buy our underwear at Target because we can’t afford McQueen will sing it, too. While we all refuse to kneel in the cow dung.

I’m not getting all holier-than-thou here. One of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, said,

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

I’m grateful people like her keep things moving in (at least now and then) the right direction. But frankly, I’m more grateful I was born with weakness, fear, and timidity instead of courage. Epilepsy and bipolar disorder. And self-centered fear. I’m grateful I’m a wimp. Otherwise I never would have discovered that it’s OK to kneel in cow dung. In fact, it’s sort of a natural place to be. For all of us.

Not because I’m a piece of it—don’t get me wrong, I’m not groveling.

No, I’m (I think by this age I can be confident that I am) moving into the real meaning of “humility.” That is, “low in rank, importance, status, quality . . . courteously respectful.”

When I play the organ, it’s usually not very fast. I’m neither physically nor mentally adroit enough to play all those notes. (My “normal” temperature is 97.5.) Nothing about me is athletic—not even my fingers. I used to hate that my organ playing is best when it’s slowest.

Once when I was practicing at the University of Iowa on the Clapp Hall organ (destroyed by a flood) a friend—a real organist (played at the Mother Church in Boston)—wandered up to the loft. I was playing the Bach chorale prelude on Allein Gott (BWV 662), a languid work with the melody ornamented and strung out over a long introspective accompaniment. When I finished she said she was glad someone in the department could make sense out of that kind of slow music.

I resented it. I wanted to play the Vierne “Final” she was working on. No way could I then, or now.

And now I know. Or am beginning to understand. “Low in rank, importance, status, quality” is where I belong. That’s not self-hatred or any of those things your therapist or AA group warn you about. At least for me, it’s where I can pay attention. Where those mysterious tones we call music fit together so I can comprehend them. Where I’m most likely to understand anything. Anything at all.

In a manger He is lying
Who will greet Him as He sleeps?
Baby Jesus, infant Christ-child,
Who will greet Him as He sleeps?
Wake, ye shepherds, and as ye play
Gladsome songs and carols gay,
Seek the Babe ere break of day;
Seek the Babe ere break of day.

Angel hosts have sung their story,
Who will follow the bright star?
Told of Christ in all his glory,
Who will follow the bright star?
Wake, ye shepherds, and sing Noel,
Help the angel chorus swell,
To the earth glad tidings tell;
To the earth glad tidings tell.

In a stable, dark and dreary,
Who will be the first to kneel?

At the crib where Christ is sleeping,
Who will be the first to kneel?
Wake, ye shepherds, Seek out your King!
Play your songs and loudly sing,
Till the air with echoes ring;
Till the air with echoes ring.

‘The mystery which binds me still—‘

I found a picture of an old Kansas City streetcar!

I found a picture of an old Kansas City streetcar!

My current “disability” prevents me from driving my car. Poor thing sits down in the garage forlorn and neglected. I get around with the help of friends and the DART system. [A google search for “Dallas DART system” brings up first Dodge dealers in Dallas, a sign of the materialistic and don’t-give-a-damn-about-global-warming mindset we live in.]

Some of my friends [most of them] either think this is strange or feel sorry for me.

Years ago every major city in America had streetcars. Fuel-efficient electrically powered cars on tracks. They were somewhat limited where they went, but people walked (bizarrely) two blocks to their offices after they got off the “car.”

Just before the Kansas City streetcars were destroyed (both Ka and Mo), my dad and my uncle took their four sons “over town” on the streetcar so we’d remember it. We got on in the west side of Ka and went over the Inter-City Viaduct to the east side of Mo and the Swope Park Zoo.

Then came the General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy, and streetcars were replaced with General Motors buses belching carbon into the air and helping convince all Americans that God made the internal combustion engine and meant for the Koch Brothers to control America.

When I was in high school, we took the General Motors carbon-belching buses around Omaha following the routes of the streetcar tracks that had not yet been torn up.
After school I walked up Harney Street (a full 3/4th mile!) to the First Baptist Church to practice the organ for a couple of hours. Then I’d walk five blocks down to Leavenworth Avenue (after two hours of strenuous pedal practice) and catch the General Motors carbon-belching bus out to Elmwood Park and south to Walnut Street where I got off and walked down the hill two blocks home.

My plan for today requires no wonder or sympathy. I’ll walk two blocks to the Parkland DART station, ride to Baylor Hospital (about 20 minutes). I’ll walk four blocks to the Landry Fitness Center to exercise in the therapy pool for an hour, then walk back to the DART station, catch the Green Line, change trains at Pearl Street, go to Mockingbird station and take the shuttle bus the3/4th of a mile to SMU where I will have my regular session with the 11 members of the football team in my classes who miss more than half the Fridays in the semester.

At that point, I have to become a carbon-producing American and have a friend pick me up in his car because I have a doctor’s appointment at a place I can’t get by train because Dallas is still mostly following God’s edicts about internal combustion and the Koch Brothers.

And Cincinnati, too

And Cincinnati, too

I suppose I couldn’t have lived the way I did when I was in high school and wouldn’t be willing to do this now if I didn’t have a certain affinity with Edgar Allen Poe (no, I’m not claiming to be a poet). I don’t remember when I discovered “Alone,” but I’ve known for decades that he says something I want to say and can’t.

“Alone,” by Edgar Allan Poe

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were–I have not seen
As others saw–I could not bring
My passions from a common spring–
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow–I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone–
And all I lov’d–I lov’d alone–
Then–in my childhood–in the dawn
Of a most stormy life–was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still–
From the torrent, or the fountain–
From the red cliff of the mountain–
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold–
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by–
From the thunder, and the storm–
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view–

Poe’s meaning, of course, has something to do with the deaths of his parents when he was but a very young child and his subsequent life in orphanages. I have no such experience. In spite of the fact I had to walk and take public transportation when I was a kid, I had a marvelously loving and understanding family.

I knew (as perhaps everyone does—but I don’t think so) even before I felt and understood the terror of my first temporal lobe seizure that “I have not been As others were–I have not seen As others saw–I could not bring My passions from a common spring–.” The temporal lobes, by the way . . .

. . . process emotions, fight-or-flight reactions, and are important for short-term memory. Some symptoms of a temporal lobe seizure may be related to these functions, including having odd feelings — such as euphoria, fear, panic and deja vu.

If a person has a temporal lobe seizure, many kinds of feelings and actions get strangely short-circuited. I have “euphoria, fear, panic and déjà vu” even though my seizures are pretty much controlled by hefty doses of Carbatrol and Lamictal.

Dart Baylor station - nicer than you thought, no?

DART Baylor station – nicer than you thought, no?

My willingness to take public transportation stems partly from the fact that, ironically, trains and buses are good places to be alone. In a crowd. Euphoria, fear, panic, and déjà vu are pretty weird to experience when you’re with people.

They’re pretty weird at 5 AM at home alone, waking up thinking (for reasons known only to the divine mind that chose the Koch Brothers) about Goethe’s Faust (read in high school) and knowing this is a morning to leave the driving to someone else. My temporal lobes are not doing too well with emotions yet today.

I’m not saying you should ride the train only if you have epilepsy or want to be alone in a crowd.

“. . . like a mammy bending over her baby. . .” redux

Griff's on the Dock - please don't come here

Griff’s on the Dock – please don’t come here

On November 15, 2009, I wrote about a day alone on the beach at Port Orford, Oregon. I must stop writing about Port Orford, or everyone will rush there to get a tiny corner of the mystical experience—or at least the catch of the day at Griff’s on the Dock (swordfish steak the last time I was there). Then I’ll have to find another (ethereal, lovely, pleasing, rare, incomparable—because I’m not poet enough to find the right adjective) place to go to “sing myself. . . and invite my soul.”

Is that the height of ego, to make a link to my writing in the same paragraph with a link to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself?” (But this is a lecture with hyperlinks in place of footnotes, so if you want the full effect, you should follow them. Please, however, if you don’t click on any others, read the poem at the last one.)

I reread what I wrote on that November day and wonder. How I could write anything so overblown. How could I possibly post for all eternity (or at least until the internet disappears) such purple prose?  As I reread my writing, I am reminded of one of the most successful poems in English—not of Whitman’s extravagant genius.

My poem is by Joyce Kilmer (1886 –1918). That I know it proves I’m in my senescence. We memorized it in second grade. No teacher since about that time has read it to her class (if by some quirk of history she knows it). It’s not on any standardized test.

“Trees” (1913)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

You can enjoy the poem best in the 1939 recording by Paul Robeson—a “parlor song” by Oscar Rasbach, published in 1922. I don’t mean to make fun either of Kilmer (he died fighting in World War I) or of Rasbach. I simply use their work as the background for what I need to say this morning.

Star Dust

Star Dust

“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” That is one of the best critiques of poetry (perhaps art in general) I know. Kilmer’s poem works brilliantly because it goes on to prove that a poem is not as beautiful as a tree. I know, I know, that’s silly. But true. The musical setting (which I first accompanied on the piano when I was in high school—it was even then a popular vehicle for amateur singers) is commensurate with the success of the poem.

My posting on November 15, 2009, originated in my growing, and by now nearly overwhelming, understanding that I am simply part of whatever it is that makes trees. I wrote that day a somewhat confusing and confused (because it’s based in lack of knowledge of physics, chemistry, and/or astronomy) description of my body as part of the inter-planetary dust that makes up the earth. Star dust, apparently.

The day I was walking the beach at Port Orford I understood a kind of connection with the physical world that I’ve known a very few times in the last 68 years. I felt a kind of bodily peace that resulted in a slowing of my mind and deep awareness both that I am alive and that I will soon enough die. I have blogged about that experience before (surprise—I’ve blogged about everything I think before), seeing Wind Cave in South Dakota when I was a kid. About being submersed in solid ground, not water.

This writing began in my mind as a discussion of the healing power of water. (I am as sentimental as Joyce Kilmer.) No, really. For seven months I have been walking almost every day in the therapy pool at the Tom Landry Fitness center at Baylor University Hospital. I’m not going to speculate about that too deeply here because I don’t know how. This writing would have begun there it I did.

What I know is this. I have met a small cadre of old folks like me, many of whom have much more serious physical problems than I. But we all walk, work out, exercise, do Yoga—you name it, we do it. And the water helps us heal—or, perhaps, it heals us. Someday I will find a way to explain. Of course, there’s the actual physical phenomenon. I walk (forward, backward, and sideways) for an hour. The water buoys me up so I do not damage my healing hip. The water provides resistance so I strengthen my muscles without straining.

But I get into some kind of meditative state that I cannot explain, that I don’t understand, that I would rather not talk about. It’s the same sense I had in Wind Cave and on the beach at Port Orford. Yesterday a metaphor came to mind. I won’t even try to say why. It would spoil it if I did.

It’s from James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Creation.” OK, so I don’t believe in God, and I have no idea how to put my experience of life and the sureness of death together. But I somehow believe and understand

Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image
.

Perhaps there are poems lovely as trees.

Then he stopped and looked and saw That the earth was hot and barren. So God stepped over to the edge of the world And he spat out the seven seas --

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas —

Mud or Jasmine, or, shouldn’t I know how to say this by now?

jasmineThis is about the life of my feelings that—were I a brilliant artist of some sort—I should be, but am not, able to create in a way that you’d understand without my having to be explicit. A painting, a short story, a chorale prelude for organ (except Brahms as pretty well exhausted that possibility). Something you’d find beautiful but not quite be able to pinpoint why it’s expressive or what feeling it’s about.

Something more noble than public kvetching. If you don’t want to hear about one person’s (pretty minor in the great scheme of things) difficulties, don’t read any further.

Yesterday I practiced the organ for two hours at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church where I will play the 11 AM service in the chapel on one of my favorite organs today. On the way to the church, I stopped at FedEx and made photo copies of the hymns so I won’t have to lug the fat hymnal around.

Therein, of course, hangs the tale. I did that because it’s ridiculously difficult to carry the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 accompaniment book walking on crutches. Those damned things were supposed to be outta my life by yesterday. They’re not. Day after tomorrow? If the PT says so. What a bother. My hip feels just fine (that’s a lie, but no one needs to know how it feels because everyone is sick of hearing about it, and—I think I’ve discovered—many people simply don’t want ANYONE, especially someone they like/love to be incapacitated).

The FedEx store didn’t open until 10 AM on Saturday, and I got there at 9:50 and had choices about what to do. So I waited, and then it took 30 minutes hobbling around to do the copying. So by the time I got to the church it was 10:30, whereas I had intended to be there at about 9. My own fault, obviously. You don’t need to point that out.

The practice was difficult. It’s been more than a year since I played a service. My hands are stiff from holding me up on the damned crutches, and the organ’s pedal board is flat so one has to stretch legs (even the one of which one is under doctor’s orders not to flex) sideways to reach low and high pedals.

I was feeling out of sorts—mainly because I wanted someone to at least commiserate with the way I was feeling, if not fix it.  I was feeling impossibly alone even though a friend had dragged me fewer than 12 hours before to see one of the finest movies of the year, “Mud,” starring Matthew McConaughey.

Yellowstone mud?

Yellowstone mud?

Now there’s a work of art that grandly explores the kind of small feelings I was having: loneliness, fear, unrequited love, physical difficulty, and frustration at the inability to accomplish a goal. Grand explorations of the (petty or simply insignificant?)) feelings I was having.

And then last night I saw “Blue Jasmine,” starring Cate Blanchet. The same feelings, the same angst, but with the twist that, while Mud accepts his responsibility for his impossible situation, Jasmine does not.

Of course, in neither case are the lines so clearly drawn. Responsibility, limitations, and damned bad luck get all intertwined with the actions and )limitations of others—especially the ones we (I, at any rate—don’t know about you—and Mud and Jasmine) love and want to be able to count on. Then, of course, there’s one’s own psychological and emotional and neurological make-up to contend with.

There’s a very real sense (and this is so commonplace I don’t know why I even bother to write it down, much less share it with you) in which the whole problem is that I (we, you and I) don’t want to be alone. Never mind all that stuff about how we were born alone and we will die alone.

While we’re here, we don’t want to be alone. And if we do want to be alone, we’re probably missing out on some aspect of being Homo sapiens that helps make sense of being here at all. When I feel joy, it hardly seems real or important if I can’t share it. And when I am frustrated, angry, frightened, or sad, if I can’t make a real connection with someone, it just gets the better of me.

???????????????????????????????To some degree that’s what both Mud and Jasmine are experiencing. And it’s what I was being overwhelmed with yesterday. I’m luckier, perhaps, than either of them. I get to go over to that big church and participate in the Holy Mysteries—no, silly, not the Eucharist! The MUSIC—and do that thing that I can always (yes, always) rely on to make a connection. Make a little music. It’s better when there is (are) someone (someones) to share it with that I really know and love, but even the connection with strangers will do.