“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. . .” (Robert Herrick)

rosebudsOne of my students is on the cusp of failing because she has not submitted the longest essay of the semester. The essay is a 10-page expository essay on the work of the French performance artist ORLAN (I’m not shouting—that is legally her name, not Orlan).

I have written many times about ORLAN. I think she’s one of the most fascinating people in the world, and, while Paris is not one of the places I’m anxious to see before I die, I would buy ticket there if I knew I could meet her. The best of my writing about her is from three years ago—best because I am going to get my tattoo either today or tomorrow.

I’d guess most people think ORLAN is crazy or at least has some deep-seated psychological issss-ues that cause her to want to hurt her body. I don’t know. I’d also guess that anyone who is invited to lecture at the University of Nebraska—Nebraska?—can’t be publically certifiable.

I can’t imagine why my student has not finished her essay—she has written one almost-spectacular essay about ORLAN already, and she’s the only one of my students fluent enough in French to read ORLAN’s writings in the original.

I plan to become an authority on ORLAN—perhaps write a book about her after I’m sure I understand Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Maurice Merleu-Ponty, and all of the other (mostly French) thinkers who’ve influenced ORLAN according to C. Jill O’Bryan.

But back to my student. For some reason as I was trying to elicit an email response from her (six of mine to her—with notice requested that they were read) the cliché “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” popped into my head. Not that my class is rosy nice or anything, but she has a chance to get a grade in Discourse 1313 or she will have to take it over. Every student at SMU has to get through a section of Discourse 1313, and I can guarantee her none of the others are as fun as mine (except perhaps the one taught by one of my colleagues with Bart Simpson as its main research topic).

At any rate, I’ll bet almost everyone who might be reading this will be as surprised as I was to discover that “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” is the first line of a bona fide poem that could be studied in a section of Discourse 1313 in which students research 17th-century English poetry. What, I’d guess, most people would assume being an academic is all about. Ugh!

Sans-titre-1

But back to my student. Music academia has an honorary fraternity for graduating student musicians. Pi Kappa Lambda. I don’t hold it against Linda that she was the one person from my college graduating class inducted into the fraternity. I think it was because the university knew Frederick Loewe would rather have dinner with her than with me. That’s right. He attended the University of Redlands—never graduated—and gave the School of Music lots of money, and the Pi Kappa Lambda inductee went to Palm Springs for dinner with him.

The Chairman of the School of Music told me one of the reasons they chose Linda over me was that, even though my GPA was high enough to graduate with honors (I didn’t because I didn’t finish my honors research project—do you see where this is going?), the faculty was distressed because they thought I had never worked up to my potential. The example he used was the Advanced Counterpoint class in which all of my work was A-quality, but I earned a B because I submitted nearly every assignment late.

So here’s my very bright, talented student getting ready to blow her chance to be inducted into Pi Kappa Lambda (well, she can’t be because she’s not a musician), and all I can do is sit helplessly by and wish it were not so, and beg her to “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

I, of course, am only now submitting her class’s grades because I’m still in the process of grading those essays on ORLAN. I have a reason—I was sick enough to go to bed for four days the week before finals, so I started the process a week behind. I have a good excuse. I wonder what hers is.

I’m not going to get into an orgy of self-flagellating for my regrets. I’ve never been able to get myself organized. There are at least three reasons for that—which I’ve also written about here. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, Bipolar II Disorder (diagnosed before it became the disease du jour), and simple lack of understanding the need to be organized Johnny-on-the-spot in this world. Pi Kappa Lambda isn’t the only honor I’ve not been awarded.

What most people probably don’t know (unless they were English majors) is that Herrick’s poem is titled “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” It’s about sowing wild oats—pretty explicitly sexual oats.

Well, I sowed my wild oats—sexual and otherwise—when I was in college. And that’s why I am so grieved by my student’s incipient failure. She would be the last person in my classes I would expect to fail. Bookish. Smart. Inquisitive. Bilingual. Has everything in the world going for her.

One aspect of teaching I will not be sorry to leave behind is the grief—I’m not being hyperbolic or maudlin—I feel every time a student fails. Surely an 18-year-old has plenty of time left to find out how difficult it is to be a human being on this planet. Especially to live in a society in which enough is never enough and too much is simply the incentive to get more.

“To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” Robert Herrick, (1591 – 1674)

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying,

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

The prize for winning the prize

The prize for winning the prize

Nietzsche, the Fantasticks, and all that jazz. . .

Permission granted

Permission granted

The drama group at the School of Theology in Claremont, CA, presented The Fantasticks about 1970. I was rehearsal pianist, played just enough of the accompaniment for the singers to learrn their songs. I could not play that kind of music although I wanted to so intensely that I was heartbroken when a real pianist came in for the performances. (I could do it now, by the way.) But the producer/director (a close friend) didn’t want a production that sounded like a cross between bad Bach and bad jazz.

Last night, for reasons too complex to try to explain here, I sang in my car all the way home after dinner, “I’d like to swim in a clear blue stream where the water is icy cold . . . just once, just once before the chance is gone. . .” I couldn’t play the piano in the style of the show in 1970, but I did learn all of the songs, for which I am grateful (why do the kids put beans in their ears, anyway?).

Like every gay boy in America, I knew “Much more” before I played it. Barbra Streisand recorded it in 1963. One of my university voice-major friends sang “My Name Is Barbra,” by Leonard Bernstein in a student recital, and that gave us (the “serious” music students) permission to listen to Streisand’s albums. After all, if she sang music by Bernstein. . .

So last night I was singing “Just once, just once”—because I had been talking about what I’m going to do for the rest of my life as a lonely old man.

When I talk about these things, my friends (none of whom are yet 69) think I’m complaining or being depressed, which I am—wait until you’re 69 and see how you talk. Or, perhaps I’m not. Perhaps it’s all a put-on. I love being old. Well, no, I don’t love it. I am surprised by it and intrigued about how one is “supposed” to act and feel. I don’t feel 69, so it’s hard to believe I am. If I’m going to act my age, I’ll have to join the Prime Timers, and I don’t want to run around with those old guys (unless one of them is single and looking).

“Just once, before the chance is gone. . . “

Can you play me now?

Can you play me now?

I published my “bucket list” (sorry, Kay, that seems from this vantage to be a good name for it) here a couple of weeks ago. One of my favorite daydreams is not on the list. I’d like to put into words—just once!—my perception of my life, and, by extension, your life, too. “I’d like to be not evil but a little worldly wise.”

The preceding sentence is so sophomoric—no, teen-agerish—I wish I hadn’t written it.  I should delete it and recast my thinking. But I am sophomoric (always have been), and I’m afraid my thinking is more and more teen-agerish all the time.

About 20 years ago when I was taking courses for my second PhD (none of my friends, I remind you, is old enough to talk about starting their life [1] over twenty years ago), I was bewildered and befuddled by such important philosophers as Nietzsche and Heidegger and Lyotard.

So the other day I decided to try again to read some of that stuff. I found Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil in the Gutenberg Project, and I began to read. I sailed through the first three paragraphs thinking I understood them, and came to the sentence in the fourth paragraph,

. . . we are fundamentally inclined to maintain that the falsest opinions (to which the synthetic judgments a priori belong), are the most indispensable to us, that without a recognition of logical fictions, without a comparison of reality with the purely IMAGINED world of the absolute and immutable, without a constant counterfeiting of the world by means of numbers, man could not live—that the renunciation of false opinions would be a renunciation of life, a negation of life. TO RECOGNISE UNTRUTH AS A CONDITION OF LIFE. . . [2]

Whoa! Perhaps I get it. “Without a constant counterfeiting of the world by means of numbers, man could not live.” That’s exactly what capitalism, for example, is. A counterfeiting of the world by means of numbers. We make this stuff up. Here, trickle down some numbers so a few people are counterfeited to be better or more deserving or—something! Who knows what?—and we’ll make up a society based on those numbers. And everyone else will internalize those numbers and try to figure out a way to get in on the equation.

Or throw some numbers around about, say, the national debt. All that means is we’ve figured out how to numericalize the way we do business so that we always keep (what? 40% of?) our friends poor so we can keep a few rich, and we structure our “national” (another counterfeit number) life around not taking care of that certain number. Or global warming. Or war in Afghanistan. Or the latest iPhone apps. Or—whatever it is you think is real today.

Dementia? Brilliance?

Dementia? Brilliance?

We have a set of ideas about “the absolute and immutable” that we know in our heart of hearts is “purely imagined,” but admitting that would be “a negation of life” as we know it.

Nietzsche was crazy—went crazy. Mad. Insane. Did he think this stuff up because he was insane, or did his thinking this stuff drive him crazy?

And if I keep trying to sort out the real from the counterfeit in the way I live for the two or twenty years I have left, will I be (or am I already) crazy, too? Before the chance is gone.
__________________
[1] Apropos of nothing, I’ve been meaning to comment on the epicene “they.” It is perfectly acceptable in English. Only the most traditionalist academics will refuse its use. “Epicene” comes from the Greek epíkoinos, meaning “of both sexes.” My saying, “None [singular] of my friends . . . their life [plural]. . .” has roots as elevated as saying “his life” would be here. “’Tis meet that some more audience than a mother, since nature makes them partial, should o’erhear the speech.” — Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act III, Scene 3, line 2311). That’s the example from Shakespeare I know best because I played Polonius once.
[2] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Translated by Helen Zimmern in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche (1909-1913). Project Gutenberg. February 4, 2013. Web.

What is a bucket list, and why is this so weird?

A few catfish friends

A few catfish friends

Who would have thought the origin of the term “bucket list” is from the phrase “kick the bucket.” You know, things I want to do before I “kick the bucket.” Die.

Never occurred to me until I did a Google search for the term.

I found many strange sites looking for the origin of “kick the bucket.” One is now on my list of all-time favorite internet grotesqueries. The MLA citation:

“Death” (redirected from “Kick the Bucket”). The Free Dictionary by Farlex. encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com. 2014. Web. 4 Jan. 2014. (Copied from the Wikipedia article on “death”).

The article begins, “Death is the cessation of all biological functions . . .”

There’s nothing particularly odd or grotesque about that. At the top of the page was the link to an ad. That’s not odd—advertising is the purpose of free sites. However, this one, I’m sure, was individually chosen for me, The Free Dictionary by Farlex’s page defining “death” (redirected from “kick the bucket”) is sponsored by, are you ready for this?

Villagio of Carrollton. “Assisted Living & Memory Care: Beautiful and Active Lifestyle.”

Beside the ad was the illustration for “Death.”

Retirement Living?

Retirement Living?

The description of “Villagio of Carrollton” begins, “Villagio’s vibrant Life Enrichment program features new adventures, exciting opportunities to learn, and wellness activities. Our programs help build meaningful friendships, allow freedom of choice . . . “ It’s a “Senior Living” facility.

I don’t know if these ads stay on pages, but I’ll bet this one appeared especially for me because my computer (and, therefore, Google) knows I’ve been writing about getting old. You probably won’t see it if you click on the link because such ads are individualized (big brother IS watching you!).

More Catfish Friends

More Catfish Friends

I was thinking about my “bucket list” because last night at my birthday party (what a GREAT party – thank you, my friends) a couple of people asked me about my list. Here is part of my list—not really in order of importance except the first two.

  • First or second is a trip to Easter Island. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. I’ve been fascinated by it since childhood, that’s all. I want to see those big heads! And I also want to see the Andes, which one almost has to do to get there, going through Santiago, Chile.
  • The second or first is to teach for a semester or a year or some length of time at either Dar al-Kalima College in Bethlehem or Birzeit University in Birzeit (just north of Ramallah in the Central West Bank). This is not an unrealistic pipe dream

I have a particular reason from history or philosophy or music or some “discipline” for wanting to see each of these. Some are obvious, some are not—and some may not be for any reason anyone would guess. In no particular order:

  • attend the entire Wagner Ring Cycle at Bayreuth;
  • see the Angkor Wat in Cambodia;
  • see the Valley of the Kings in Egypt;
  • see the Emperor Penguins in Antarctica;
  • return to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and spend a week there;
  • visit Japan (no particular destination);
  • attend Christmas Eve services at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London;
  • play one of the Silbermann organs J.S. Bach is known to have played;
  • play the organ at St. Sulpice in Paris;
  • see lions, tigers, elephants, etc. in Kenya;
  • see all of the musicals playing on Broadway in one season (any season);
  • attend an opera at the Sydney Opera House;
  • see Machu Picchu.

I don’t have much to say about any of this except that the list has not changed over the years. And most of the list falls in the category of pipe dream. I have another list of activities I would like to participate in that don’t necessarily involve travel I can’t afford.

The reality of my bucket list, however, is that it has one item on it that outweighs all of the others together. And achieving it will make all the rest into nice fantasies, unnecessary ever to achieve to be happy.

I have a favorite poem about friendship. It worries me that I like it because Richard Brautigan was such a troubled person (a successful suicide). But the idea that a friend can drive lonely thoughts from a friend’s mind and, at the same time, the friend might not even know it is happening is comforting to me.

“Your Catfish Friend,” by Richard Brautigan

If I were to live my life
in catfish form
in scaffolds of skin and whiskers
at the bottom of a pond
and you were to come by
one evening
when the moon was shining
down into my dark home
and stand there at the edge
of my affection
and think, “It’s beautiful
here by this pond.  I wish
somebody loved me,”
I’d love you and be your catfish
friend and drive such lonely
thoughts from your mind
and suddenly you would be
at peace,
and ask yourself, “I wonder
if there are any catfish

in this pond?  It seems like
a perfect place for them.”

I’ve arrived at one of those places in my thinking and writing where I cannot pull together or finish what I intended to say. Some connection between “bucket lists” and friendship. My bucket list is really friendship. Relatedness. If Machu Picchu or Bayreuth, or even Dar Al-Kalima College ever become realities, that’s great. But at this advanced age (here I go again) what I really want is to be a catfish in a pond where you think one ought to be and vice versa.

How corny is that? Weird?

So I experienced that last night. Here’s a Christmasy little song for the 11th Day of Christmas while I show you the wonderful simple gifts my friends gave me for my birthday. My Catfish Friends.

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.

REFRAIN:
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring.
Let him bring us up a glass of beer,
And better we shall sing.
REFRAIN

God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.
REFRAIN

It’s my Christmas, and I’ll Whine if I Want to

Slumming?

Slumming?

This falls under the category “bellyaching.” But if you can slog through the self-pity, you might find a joke at the end.

I have an average of 37 tasks to complete with student essays (grading, checking, averaging grades, etc.) every day for the next five, and here I am writing this nonsense. Even worse. I took the time to make the recording attached here. I can’t help myself. I wish I could. But, you know if you’ve ever read my blog before (same old, same old) my little compulsion to write, and it has to be satisfied before I can do much of anything else except drink coffee.

If I don’t do those 37 tasks (or more) every day, the SMU Registrar and I are likely to be having conversations on Christmas Day. That thought prompted my singing to myself, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas.”

Have yourself a Merry little Christmas, Let your heart be light;
From now on your troubles will be out of sight.
Have yourself a Merry little Christmas, Make the Yuletide gay;
From now on your troubles will be far away.

I won’t have any trouble making the Yuletide gay, of course. And, in fact I will have a Merry little Christmas. My brother, sister-in-law, sister, and I will be together—just the four of us—without a failing loved one to care for or anyone to move or, well, ANYTHING to do but be together.

A commonplace we all know is that depressed people are massively depressed around Christmas. I’m not yet, but I could be. I can’t drive. I have this enormous ridiculous sling on my arm—except when I take it off, as I have at the moment (I’m wearing the little take-a-shower sling; don’t worry, I’m crazy but not stupid). I have work that piled up starting when I was out of class for a week instead of one day because the surgery was suddenly fixing the biceps tendon in my shoulder not a little tear in the cuff.

You may rememberthe concert Carol Burnett and Beverly Sills gave at Met together a long time ago. Someone asked Beverly Sills if she thought she was “slumming” by doing comedy sketches and singing with Carol Burnett. She said of course she was—but not because the music wasn’t worthy of her. No—because she was not in the same comedic league as Carol Burnett and didn’t really belong on the stage with her.

Most of my friends, I think, see me as a serious music snob. A couple of years ago, my brother, sister-in-law, sister, and I were

I DO have a sense of humor.

I DO have a sense of humor.

visiting Dad in the extended care facility where he lived. There was a piano in the “common room,” and I sat down to play. I played a few hymns, and a little crowd gathered. I tried to stop, and they wanted more. A book of show tunes happened to be on the bench, so I began playing show tunes. I went on longer than I should have, but the old folks were eating it up, and who am I to pass up an audience?

When I finally stopped, my brother and sister each told me they had never heard me sit at the piano and have fun. Whoa!!!! Where have they been all my life? Sacramento and Baton Rouge, I guess.

I’m like Beverly Sills. How’s that for ego? Of course, I mean I’m not very good at playing the piano and having fun. What PhD in organ is?

Here’s the point. When I play “serious” organ music, I try to do it just right. You know, professionalism and all that nonsense. I am not a natural performer. Ask any of my real-organist friends. So when I’m having fun, no one quite knows what to do about it. I recorded “The Chipmunk Song” and posted it on Facebook. You should have read the comments about how wonderful it was that I could (apparently for once in my life) have fun.

I hope at least a few people who read this have figured out by this time that I’m having fun. Oh, yes, it’s dead serious, too. I am stressed out almost to the breaking point. But I also think it’s pretty funny. (Those of you who are not Bipolar really can’t imagine, I suppose, how something can be eating my lunch and making me laugh at the same time.)

I’ve recorded “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on the mechanical action (church) pipe organ in my living room. It sounds (if we are honest about it) pretty silly. It certainly does not show off Steuart Goodwin’s organ-building in the best light. But then I’m not sure anything I could play would do that.

So here I am, alone in my apartment (where I have been alone for most of three days) trying to catch up on work I should have finished days ago, but writing this because I can’t stop. And I recorded (inappropriately) one of the great songs of all time—I’ll write about irony in music someday. And my experience teaches me that hardly anyone will know how much of this is a joke and how much isn’t. Except me and the Chipmunks.

Merry Christmas, all!

“We’ll have an old fashioned wedding”

"We'll have an old fashioned wedding"

“We’ll have an old fashioned wedding”

.

Somewhere in my apartment is a CD box set of Fred Astaire movies. Most are with Ginger Rogers, of course, but I’m pretty sure You Were Never Lovelier with Rita Hayworth is part of the set. I don’t remember which songs are in which of those movies—and I have no head for remembering lyrics wherever they are from. However, I remember “I’m old fashioned, I love the moonlight” from You Were Never Lovelier because the lead-in dialogue includes Fred saying to Rita, “I’m a plain, ordinary guy from Omaha, Nebraska.” He says “Nebraska” with an accent he didn’t learn in the first six years of his life (in Omaha). His odd pronunciation is beside the point, except it’s one reason I remember the song.

I think that set of CDs is here somewhere, but a couple of weeks ago I got the urge to watch You Were Never Lovelier and couldn’t find it. That was for the better because I hate watching movies on my old TV set –and I steadfastly refuse to watch movies on my laptop. The TV is enormous—a 29-incher—and old fashioned, not flat-screen or digital or plasma.  Its worst attribute is that it is not “shoebox” shape, and it cuts images off on both sides of the screen.

My late partner and I bought the TV about 15 years ago when old fashioned TVs were dirt cheap, and a flat-screen anywhere near that size would have cost too much not to seem obscenely self-indulgent.  Now the flat-screens are as cheap as the old fashioned ones were then. We intended to replace the monster when the prices of flat-screen came down. But he died 10 years ago, and I’ve never had any thought of spending that kind of money on myself.

For most of the time since he died, I have not cared. Shoebox shape didn’t matter for watching “Antiques Roadshow” or reruns of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or “Criminal Minds.” And once in a while “Masterpiece Theater.”  Any show with a continuing story line that needed watching regularly was frankly impossible. For years I would not have remembered what night a show was on even if I had decided to keep up with it. I have basic dish network, provided as part of my rent, and can’t see spending money on TV. (Remember the old Tom Lehrer song with the line, “Now there’s a charge for what she used to give for free in my home town?”)

My urge to watch You Were Never Lovelier originated with my reading about New Jersey’s fight over same-sex marriage (two weeks ago Governor Christie was still planning to sue to keep them from happening). For some reason I had a vision of the governor standing in court singing, “We’ll have an old fashioned wedding” from Annie Get Your Gun. You know, “We’ll have an old fashioned wedding Blessed in the good old fashioned way.”  Old fashioned weddings are definitely two-sex affairs.

An ordinary boy from Omaha Nee-braska

An ordinary boy from Omaha Nee-braska

From “old fashioned wedding” to “I’m old fashioned, I love the moonlight” was a simple mental step and then to You Were Never Lovelier (I did have to look up the name of the movie even though I remembered the song).  I like Ella Fitzgerald’s singing “I’m old fashioned” better than Hayworth’s version. I don’t suppose Ella ever danced while she sang.

That I remember a song simply because in the dialogue leading to it someone says he’s from Omaha, Nee-braska, seems at this moment absurd.

I’m old fashioned.

That has nothing to do with loving the moonlight or wanting a wedding. I had an old fashioned wedding once—yes, in a church with bridesmaids and everything. I even have pictures, but they’d be harder find here than You Were Never Lovelier. I think there are fewer and fewer old fashioned weddings.

Or perhaps gays and lesbian weddings are bringing old fashioned back. I don’t know. I’ve been to only one, and it wasn’t very old fashioned.

But there’s a whole lot of me that, were I to marry, would want an old fashioned wedding. It wouldn’t matter that I’d be marrying a man. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get or be married. But old fashioned sounds good to me.

I’m not going to make a list of the old fashioned things I’d like to see, but can you imagine John Boehner inviting President Obama to come to his Congressional district and help him plant a tree?

The fact is I never saw Astaire and Hayworth or Rogers movies until I was older than 50, except for the odd late-night TV showing here and there. I had never really paid attention to them. I first took Ella Fitzgerald seriously when a fellow graduate student was writing his dissertation on her in the 70s. Even then I didn’t pay close attention to her music until 1990 (I was 45) when Red, Hot and Blue, an album of Cole Porter songs by various performers, was released to raise money for AIDS research. That led to my buying one of Ella’s Cole Porter albums.

Cole Porter never sounded so wonderful

Cole Porter never sounded so wonderful

I have to remind myself of the convoluted details of my discovery of music (and much else) that I love. One’s understanding of “culture” doesn’t simply happen. It takes effort. I never thought, “Now I’m going to set out to understand something I didn’t understand before.” Or did I? A great part of my being old-fashioned is not simply longing for the way things used to be. More importantly, it’s longing to understand some of what has made me who I am. Before it’s too late.

And that’s not Katy Perry or The Hunger Games.

Soon and, Oh, So Very Soon

earthAccording to the World English Dictionary online, “soon” is an adverb that means “in or after a short time; in a little while; before long.”

If you are reading this, you already knew that, and soon you will stop reading because you will think I’m pointing out the obvious, and you will wonder (at least I would if I started reading this) why I bother to post this for the whole world (that is, about 100 people per day) to read.

According to the lyrics of a song that has been published, I’d guess, in every major church hymnal of the last 25 years,

Soon and very soon

We are going to see the King
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
We’re going to see the king
No more cryin there,
We are going to see the King

The lyricist-composer is six-time Emmy winner Andraé Crouch, popular gospel and rhythm and blues performer and composer.

‘‘Spirituality is the personal quest for understanding answers to ultimate questions about life, about meaning, and about relationships to the sacred or transcendent, which may or may not lead to or arise from the development of religious rituals and the formation of community’’ (p. 18). . . spirituality is a search for answers to ultimate questions that are related to a transcendent realm (1).

“. . . personal quest for understanding answers to ultimate questions.” I don’t like the word “spirituality” because people who don’t want to seem religious use it to mask the fact that, when they use it, they are in fact talking about religion. I don’t use words with unfailing precision, but I can see obvious dissimulation. You wanna be religious? be religious, don’t try to sound au courant by calling yourself “spiritual.”

“Soon” we are going to see the King.

For the person with a religious spirituality, the meaning of life involves the preparation for a destiny beyond the present life. . .  For most Christians, there is resurrection from the dead to join God in another life. . .   For the person with a nonreligious spirituality . . . Since there is no afterlife, the individual is motivated to build a ‘‘paradise’’ here on earth and to extend life for as long as possible to enjoy the fruits of his/her labors (2).

I recently read most of an article that posits a greater benefit from “religion” than from “spirituality” in relationship to longevity of life (3).

Our ability to prolong life  . . . adds urgency to the desire to find meaning in aging and dying. Questions such as what it means to age successfully and what is required to do so, and what it means to die well . . .  occupy an increasingly prominent place in both private conversations and those about health policy and medical care (4).

Isn't she loverly?

Isn’t she loverly?

What’s the difference between living to be 68 and living to be 98? If you’re thinking in terms of how you are going to feed yourself if you don’t have a $600,000 retirement fund stashed away in a 401K somewhere, it can seem like a long, long time. If you’re thinking in terms of the 4.54 billion years the earth has been spinning around the sun, it’s less than a nanosecond.

Perhaps I didn’t get started at it soon enough, but it seems a little late for me to be “. . . [involved in] the preparation for a destiny beyond the present life.”  I think perhaps I’ve also waited too long to get “. . . motivated to build a ‘‘paradise’’ here on earth and to extend life for as long as possible.” My desire to “.  . to age successfully and [discover] what is required to do so, and what it means to die well. . .” may be an exercise in futility at this point.

But I wonder.

The first requirement for dealing successfully with growing older is to acknowledge that it is inevitable and is in fact taking place every moment one is alive. And there is only one outcome of aging. Thus truly to accept one’s own aging, and the aging of others, is of necessity to acknowledge one’s mortality (5).

Since mortality is going to happen soon and very soon (in a nanosecond),

All I want is a room somewhere,
Far away from the cold night air.
With one enormous chair,
Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly?
Lots of choc’lates for me to eat,
Lots of coal makin’ lots of ‘eat.
Warm face, warm ‘ands, warm feet,
Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly?
Aow, so loverly sittin’ abso-bloomin’-lutely still.
I would never budge ’till spring
Crept over me windowsill.
Someone’s ‘ead restin’ on my knee,
Warm an’ tender as ‘e can be. ‘ho takes good care of me,
Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly
(6)?

A not so enormous chair

A not so enormous chair

Don’t get all squirrely on me. I’m not obsessed with death. I’m not in a Bipolar depression. I’m just thinking about how one figures out what’s important for getting through the nanosecond. At this point, I have more than one enormous chair, and I think I’ll be warm. It’s choc’lates that are the problem. And a ‘ead restin’ on my knee. Can one ever be sure of those?
_____________
(1) Cicirelli, Victor G. “Religious And Nonreligious Spirituality In Relation To Death Acceptance Or Rejection.” Death Studies 35.2 (2011): 124-146. Quoting Koenig, H. G., McCullough, M., & Larson, D. B. Handbook of religion and health: A century of research reviewed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press (2000).
(2) idem.
(3) David B. Larson, et al. “Spirituality in Physical Health and Aging.” Journal of Adult Development 7.2 (2000): 73-86.
(4) Schenck, David, and Lori Roscoe. “In Search of a Good Death.” Journal of Medical Humanities 30.1 (2009): 61-72.
(5) Sapp, Stephen. “Mortality And Respect: Aging in the Abrahamic Traditions.” Generations 32.2 (2008): 20-24.
(6) Lerner, Alan J. “Wouldn’t it be loverly?” My Fair Lady. Broadway Musical. 1956.

Caravaggio, Cervantes, Madeline Kahn, and my friend Sandy

Frankenstein or Frankensteen? Only Madeline Knows for sure

Frankenstein or Frankensteen? Only Madeline Knows for sure

The artist Caravaggio (born September 29, 1571) was fascinated by St. John the Baptist. He painted the beheaded New Testament “forerunner” of Christ many times, including once as a nude young man. I remember the name Caravaggio from my “History of Civilizations” class at the University of Redlands. My organ teacher for some reason taught the portion of the class on painting. Must have been because he was President of the American Society of Aestheticians at the time and had a Picasso in his dining room.

All I remember about Caravaggio is he was a precursor to Baroque painting (why else would a 19-year-old organ student who wanted nothing more than to play Bach brilliantly remember an artist?). Baroque. Paintings of the beheading of the saint. I’m pretty sure they didn’t show us the painting “St. John the Baptist, Youth with Ram.” I would have remembered that.

I read Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (born  September 29, 1547) in Spanish class in high school. Well, some of it. Miss Nichols thought it was more important to read sections of the original than to read the entire work in some sort of dumbed-down version for school kids. So we struggled. I remember a great deal more of Man of La Mancha (lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh, 1965) and the “Impossible Dream” than I do of the original (who doesn’t). I’m probably one of three people in the country whose favorite song from the show is not “The Impossible Dream,” but “I like him.” You can figure that out. 1965. Junior year in college. Whom did I like?

(A totally off-topic sidebar: One of the students in that Spanish class, the assistant principal’s daughter, read Atlas Shrugged the year we read Don Quixote and became an “objectivist.” She was one of the most thoroughly unpleasant people I ever counted as a friend. I wonder what Robyn thought when Rand began accepting Social Security and Medicare. Omigod, collectivism at its worst! Can we spell “hypocrite?” And what about all those pseudo-conservatives and pseudo-libertarians playing at “democracy” in Washington who spout her idiotic and hack ideas—which, when lung cancer from smoking caught up with her, she obviously did not believe. Oops! Sorry for the irrelevancy.)

Madeline Kahn (born September 29, 1942) became my favorite comedic actress when I saw her in Young Frankenstein at a midnight

Not the Caravaggio they showed us in college

Not the Caravaggio they showed us in college

preview showing in Iowa City, IA, in 1974. Why wouldn’t they preview it there—before a wild crowd of University of Iowa students (I was in graduate school)? I read Frankenstein after I saw the movie, and then saw the movie again when it came out for real (and I’ve seen the musical—unfortunately without Madeline Kahn). For three semesters I used the novel and the movie in my class “Writing about the grotesque.” Not because I think they are grotesque, but because they made the students think. Who’s grotesque, the monster or Frankenstein? Or Frankensteeen?

In 1995 (or 1996—who can remember such things?) I attended a retreat of the Via de Cristo movement in the Lutheran church. I went mainly to get the people of the parish where I was organist off my back. The lay “rector” of the retreat became a cherished friend. Sandy (born September 29) and I eventually participated together in the Lutheran group working for equality for LGBT persons (including ordination to the clergy) in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA now ordains openly LGBT persons.

The retreat was an important milestone in my life for two reasons. It was the first time I ever “came out” formally to a church group (I was “out” to friends, but had never said so publically in a church gathering) and explained to them some of the intellectual and emotional difficulties I had always had with the church in general. But, more important than that, quite by accident I had a private conversation with a pastor in which I tried for the first time in my life to explain my (atheist?) understanding of the futility (and terror?) of human existence. He heard me without judgment. And at a later point he was coincidentally instrumental in my getting medical assistance for a bout of severe depression. I cannot overstate my gratitude to Sandy and Richard.

The connections among all of these observations and personal recollections may not be obvious. But all of this is what I was thinking about when I remembered Sandy’s birthday this morning. I looked on one of the “Famous Birthdays in History” websites—which I often do on the birthday of a friend, hoping to discover the birthday of a famous person with which I can make a connection for a greeting for my friend. The connection(s) today are probably obvious only to me.

Picasso and my kerfuffle

Picasso and my kerfuffle

But they come down to this. Ernst Bloch, the neo-Marxist philosopher wrote in his Atheism and Christianity (sorry, my copy is at home and I’m not, so I can’t give an exact reference), “Only an atheist can be a good Christian.” Jurgen Moltmann, the Reformed Christian theologian replied, “Only a Christian can be a good atheist.”

Sandy and Richard are two friends who can most nearly understand why the juxtaposition of those two statements is so important to me. They will also understand why Caravaggio, Cervantes, Madeline Kahn (and even the ridiculous Ayn Rand) are part of the kerfuffle in my mind that is still looking for some kind of resolution of the contradiction. Knowing full well there is none.