“. . . we can catch our breath and turn transfixed. . . “

Washing dishes is, believe it or not, a two-handed job.

Washing dishes is, believe it or not, a two-handed job.

Everyone knows the old saw, “Getting old is not for sissies.” A friend has a better aphorism: “Getting old is a full-time job.”

I’m pretty sure my shoulder’s damaged rotator cuff and torn tendon were not the result of old age. I don’t have an explanation such as a fall or any other incident I can remember that would have caused them. Especially so short on the heels of more or less the same problem in my hip. Dr. Miracle Worker did that one, too.

The fact is, I don’t think of myself as much older than I was when I finished my Ph.D. So that full time job of getting older is for you old people. My birth certificate and driver’s license say I’m about to be 69. I expected that to happen someday, just not this soon.

I intend to write soon about that getting older business. But it’s taking second place to the current problem which is this damned sling my arm is in. Three more weeks. So I’ve documented a few of the ordinary tasks I’ve had to learn to do, or simply not do with my arm in this ridiculous contraption.

Try to put your socks on with one hand. When you discover you need a pedicure, it’s too late because you’ve already snagged three socks.
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You need either your big brother close by to zip you up, or a better friend than most of us have. Or you can wear nothing but sweats.
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Some essentials are possible but forbidden.
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Making music is required regardless of difficulty.

Each winter as the year grows older
we each grow older, too.
The chill sets in a little colder;
the verities we knew seem shaken and untrue.

When race and class cry out for treason,
when sirens call for war,
they overshout the voice of reason
and scream til we ignore all we held dear before.

Yet I believe beyond believing
that life can spring from death,
that growth can flower from our grieving,
that we can catch our breath and turn transfixed by faith.
—Words: William Gay, 1971
—Music: Annabeth Gay, 1971

Stuff an old man will never understand (does he need to or want to?)

"The gods are just and of our pleasant DE-vices make instruments to plague us."

“The gods are just and of our pleasant DE-vices make instruments to plague us.”

For a couple of days, my iPad would not open one of those ridiculous keypads at the bottom of the screen (keypad? annoyance!) when I opened “Safari” (why ‘Safari’?) to Google something. I was stuck. One search I wanted to do was to find out what movie was being filmed at the other end of The Main Street Garden using the Old City Hall as the set. They kept faking an explosion audible for blocks around inside the old building, and then a crowd of extras would rush in, not out, the front door. Take after take.

The infernal iPad would not give me a place to type in a search for city permits (type? how many hours did I spend 50 years ago learning not to poke at a QWERTY keyboard with one finger?). They had a street blocked, so obviously they had a permit.

For some reason I remembered the little black keyboard I bought to make it possible for me to write even minimally (note: 4-syllable adverb) on the iPad. When the iPad is resting on that thing, it won’t open a keyboard on the iPad itself. So I found the keyboard—15 feet away on the kitchen counter—and turned it off. Voilà! The iPad opened a keyboard. How was I to know the two gizmos were talking to each other even half a room apart?

That seems spooky. Unnecessary. Inconvenient. Absurd. And ultimately (4-syllable adverb) incomprehensible.

The movie, by the way is a Zombie movie. We took a walk across the park and got there just in time to see a bunch of guys dressed unmistakably (5-syllable adverb) as Zombies come out of the building. I’ll never see the movie, of course. I’m 68. Why would I see a Zombie movie. Except the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956, which I will use in class.

I have a cute little 2012 Honda Civic I bought on December 31(paid cash for—some things I do understand, such as how you pay double for a car when you finance it—and, more importantly—how impossible car payments would be when I’m forced into retirement next year).

I do not remember a car my father owned, my late ex-wife owned, my partner the organ-builder owned, or anyone else’s car I ever used

Information the way God intended it should be shared.

Information the way God intended it should be shared.

on a regular basis (including mine) that did not have a “dome light” that turned itself on when you opened the door. So they’ve been standard equipment on cars for at least 60 years (I don’t remember if the ’47 Ford my dad owned before the ’52 Plymouth had one or not). Here, suddenly, I pay cash (lots of cash) for a 2012 car that does not have one. Oh, the light is there, and I can turn it on manually, but it doesn’t go on automatically.

This has been a particular pain in the ass (literally) as I have struggled to get in and out of my car with a cane and/or crutches for the past six months. I’m sure one of the little buttons on the steering wheel controls the automatic illumination, but I can’t figure it out.

Why have they turned a simple thing like having a “convenience light” come on when you open a car door into an electronic puzzle? Do I sound like my dad did when he was 68? Well, of course.

Fortunately when the *^+#-ing car turned on its dashboard warning light that told me I needed to check the air pressure in the tires (yes, it came on automatically!!!!), I found the express service center for the closest Honda dealer. Here’s something straight out of “Bizarro World”: the Honda dealership and its express service center are separated by the Aston Martin dealership. Honda→Aston Martin→Honda. I kid you not. So I’m going to go over there today and ask them how in blazes you get that stupid little light to come on. Of course, that’s going to happen right after my 9:30 AM physical therapy appointment when Grady is going to tell me I can finally quit using the damned crutches so the “convenience light” won’t be so important.

Then there’s Netflix, Spotify, iTunes, and “The Cloud.” I won’t even begin with my confusion about all of that. I won’t begin because I don’t understand any of them well enough to know what my confusion is. Voodoo. That’s what they are. All of them.

My dad was baffled by the remote control for his TV. Well, actually that’s not a good example for anything. I am, too. Why can’t I get a remote that simply turns the TV on and off, changes the channels and the volume, and starts/stops a CD video I want to watch. What are all of those buttons for?

Well, Dad should have stayed around for “Orange is the New Black” and tried to watch it on his computer. But then, I don’t suppose the infernal electronics would have bothered him nearly as much as the Lesbian sex, had he been able to play it.

So you can have your gizmos. I’ll stick to Frescobaldi, music of the 16th century played on an instrument that has one electronic component—the blower.

“The bait is the hope for a hand on your brow” **

Samuel Pepys tells all

Samuel Pepys tells all

We know I spew too much stuff out in public that I should keep private. Unlike Samuel Pepys, I am not yet dead, so publishing details of my life is probably more exhibitionism than literary inventiveness, and talking about other people is, I suppose, rude. Yesterday (that is, March 31, 1660) Pepys reported that, “At night Mr. Sheply, Howe, Ibbott, and I supped in my cabin together.”

That I post stuff here (and on Facebook) and that you read it and then you post stuff and I read it is a phenomenon I am beginning to study. Is this taking the place of actual face to face encounters? How is it that society has changed since the advent of this online stuff? Why I write is a life-long mystery that has something to do with the seizure activity in my brain, but these days everyone is doing it.

The choir of Calvary Lutheran Church in Richland Hills, Texas, is making a “Musical Mission Trip” to Scandinavia and Russia in June. Viktor Anderson, the director, asked me months ago to go with them and play a little organ music. I was so excited about the trip when he first asked that I immediately paid the fee to hold my place, cleared my calendar, and began talking with Viktor about music (and the amazing organs I will get to play).

Then came a series of events over which I had no control (in some ways they were my choices and actions come back to haunt me), and I slumped into the kind of depression and fear that have been the stuff of my life so much of the time.

This is neither a “tell-all” about the vagaries of my little life nor a contemplation of depression (which I know intimately but know very little “about”). I will report the three main depressing events.

  1. Winter (I need say no more except March 21 is the most important day of the year because it is the day sunlight takes over from darkness).
  2. I fell on (not in) my bathtub on February 1 and have had pain in my right hip ever since (muscle relaxants, pain killers, and physical therapy notwithstanding).
  3. SMU’s English Department decided I must retire after the spring semester, 2014.

Rather than a “tell-all,” this is a “ponder much.” The pondering is this. This is a time when I am in love (old farts like me can fall in love), when I

Holy Cross ChurchFinland

Holy Cross Church
Finland

have weekends free for the first time in over 50 years (the church where I was organist closed), when I am caught up in (when I have time, which isn’t much lately) researching the life and musical work of David Diamond, when I have a spiffy brand-new car that’s paid for – I could, and should, simply to remind myself, go on and on.

And with all of that, I am fighting off the kind of depression that has in the past landed me in the hospital (yes, the mental hospital). Sheesh! How do you explain that? You might have an explanation, but I don’t.

Except for this. I can’t help it. It’s the way the universe put this particular manifestation of homo sapiens together. It is what it is. Much of the time these days I can say to myself, “Self, you’re depressed. So what? It is what it is. Carry on. Deal with it.”

But sometimes I can’t when it piles up and rolls over me. I am neither unique nor particularly interesting when this happens. But I can’t belittle it or underestimate its power, and if you do, you are a jerk.

Why do I write at 4 AM?

Why do I write at 4 AM?

Things pile up in my mind. That saps my energy (as does constant dull pain in my hip—which is, thank goodness, getting better). Then I can’t make myself work, do things like grade papers. That makes me angry with myself, and I get more down, and I can work even less, which makes me angry at myself which makes me more depressed . . .

And in the middle of this I’m in love, I have a new car, AND there’s this trip to Scandinavia. I can’t afford it now. Who in my financial position can take $4,000 out of their retirement pittance (it really is a pittance—remind me to write about what happens when you don’t start your career until you’re 42).

Then generosity steps in. I can’t say how. But it’s gracious. I think it’s what the Southern Baptists sing about. “Amazing grace.” It’s not that I was lost and now am found. And I’m pretty sure it’s from people, not from God. Pretty sure. But I’m ready to accept it.

Do you get the import of the lines from Liz Walner’s poem?

. . . the blind river of sadness rolls
on and in it, a hand is always reaching up
to pick fish from the night-time sky.

I do.

** A  Calculus of Readiness
by Liz Waldner

I, too, come from the city of dolls.
A small palm is my umbrella.
This takes care of above
but below, the blind river of sadness rolls
on and in it, a hand is always reaching up
to pick fish from the night-time sky.

The lines on the palm of the hand lure a trout
with a strand of hair from the head of a doll.
The bait is the hope for a hand on your brow.
Shadows play on the wall. Or the face of a doll.
The plants eyeing each other
is all.

I would not call the stars generous.
They don’t cry enough for dolls to play Drink Me.
They don’t cast a covenant’s fishy rainbow
yet leaf faces watch the open window
where they hang far and hard.
The rein of starlight a second hand
with which to play Go Fish.
Now Give me a hand, plants. Now give me
good-night, stars.

Of Cars, Cakes, Cumpleaños

2028 -- 28,000 miles

2028 — 28,000 miles

Fifteen years from now when my cats petition the DMV to take away my license to drive because I’m just too absent-minded to be behind the wheel, some lucky person is going to get one of those little-old-grandmother-who-drove-it-only-to-church deals on my car.

I bought my 2012 Honda Civic Coupe on December 31, 2012. In the 40 days since then, I have driven it 470 miles. It needs its second fill-up of gas this morning. At that rate, in 2028 someone can expect to buy a 2012 Honda Civic with 28,800 miles on it. My birthday—my 68th—was three days after I bought the car.

A good friend of mine was car shopping yesterday because the hybrid battery in his Prius is not long for this world. His situation is like mine in one convivial respect—his birthday was Friday (he’s a young thing, only 55). Can we extrapolate from this that buying a car is a birthday event?

Make a place for the birthday cake

Make a place for the birthday cake

In January my inamorato hosted my birthday party. (It was a gentle affair, with my closest friends surrounding me with love and jollity.) He moved his African violet collection from his dining table to the counter to make room for my birthday cake. The cake—dense, rich, and chocolate—by the way, was uncommonly special to me, a one-of-a-kind gift from another friend. `birthday fb

My car-shopping good friend’s birthday party was last night at one of his (and many of the guests’) favorite Thai restaurants. It was another warm and jolly affair in which, as he said, circles of friends from all areas of his life “collided.” The collision was wonderful.

His cake was colorful, fruity, and much healthier than mine.

`birthday alanAll of this sweetness (literal and figurative) is much more than car-buying and cake. We old guys (and our not-quite-yet-old friends) need birthday parties as much as you youngsters do. Remember, if it weren’t for us, the world would still be wearing gray flannel suits, skinny neckties, button down collars, and wing-tip shoes. We loosened up the world for you. You owe it to us to keep the party going.

Here’s where my old-man mind needs help. I want to make some clever connection between the expensive collision insurance on my new car and the “colliding” of Alan’s circles of friends. There’s a great metaphor here, but I can’t work it out. You’ll just have to write it for yourself. And keep the party going.

Birthday boy with old age in background

Birthday boy with old age in background