On being nagging, self-righteous and preachy, or “Do you think my mind is maturing late. . .” (Ogden Nash)

Which frivolous woman is it she wants to disenfranchise?

Which frivolous woman is it she wants to disenfranchise?

Wisdom does not necessarily come with age. Some of us will simply never be wise. That’s particularly sad if we’re (or so we’ve been told too often in our lives) above average in intelligence. Then we think we have all of these great ideas that are, in fact, small ideas grown large in our own mind.

And they do not add up to wisdom.

The poet Ogden Nash was 61 years old when I graduated from high school. My Junior English teacher in high school had introduced me to his poetry (along with that of e. e. cummings, and I have had the two of them intertwined in my mind since then). Eight years later (1971) Nash died. He was the age I am now. (e. e. cummings died while I was in high school at age 68, a year younger than I am now. He smoked too much—try to find a picture of him without a cigarette.)

I can recite from memory more of Ogden Nash’s poems than those of any other poet (with the possible exception of Charles Wesley, but he doesn’t count because I learned all of his poems to hymn tunes which are what I in reality remember—he lived to be 81).

Celery raw
develops the jaw,
but celery stewed
is more easily chewed.

The cow is of the bovine ilk
one end is moo, the other milk.

One would be in less danger
from the wiles of the stranger
if one’s own kin and kith
were more fun to be with.

Three Nash poems of the many that often float unbidden to the surface of my mind when I wonder why they appear. No, I know exactly why they are there. I want to be clever and funny like Ogden Nash. Celery raw or chewed. Pure (unproductive) genius.

I learned the word “senescence” from Ogden Nash.

Senescence begins
And middle age ends
The day your descendants
Outnumber your friends.

I don’t know for sure when I memorized that one. Probably while I was in high school and Mr. Simpson was guiding my intellectual development. Mr. Simpson, by the way, committed suicide the year after I graduated and went off to university.
Until a couple of years ago (see the title of this blog) I gave the word “senescence” little thought. For one thing, I knew I’d never have any descendants, so I was safe. My descendants will never outnumber my friends, so I must not be in danger of my middle age ending.

He knows who the Anti-Christ is--listen to him.

He knows who the Anti-Christ is–listen to him.

One of my favorite “presentations” as one (presumably) with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy is “viscosity.” I have no idea what that means, applied to personality traits. Gooey? Sticky? I have a sticky, gooey personality? (Look up Norman Geschwind, the teacher of my first neurologist, and you’ll find the word.) I write here about other more fun “presentations” often. Hypergraphia, increased religious interests—others. I don’t like to think about “increased aggression,” although that could give me some solace about my anger issues.

But I will take solace in—whether or not it’s true—the idea that TLEptics tend to be serious, with a certain lack of humor.

Read my blogs!

I’m serious to the point of being “nagging, self-righteous and preachy” when I think I am right—when I wonder why the hell the rest of you don’t see things my way. I wish it were not so. I wish I could be cheerful and happy and invite pleasant banter about ideas, and exchange ideas freely and joyfully with others.

Sorry. It ain’t going to happen.

Take my posting here yesterday. What a grouch! I said on Facebook that I need a marketing firm to make my little campaign palatable to everyone and get a real movement going. Look! I know most people who read my stuff agree that the Voter ID laws are horrendous. But the laws have been passed, and all that’s left to do is let the ‘Publicans running the states know we don’t approve. In Texas you can do that EASILY by simply filing a protest when you go to vote and they ask you for some form of ID you either can’t produce or that seems superfluous.

I don’t have a clue how to say all of that so that is seems inviting or fun or even like a good idea. There’s not a gimmick or a jingle or a “hook” in my entire mental arsenal.

I hope that’s because I’m TLEptic and not simply an opinionated, unbending old grouch (the old isn’t applicable because I’ve been this way all my life).

Ogden Nash has a poetic gem titled “Lines on Facing Forty.” When I first discovered it, I thought 40 was obviously over-the-hill. The mind of anyone over 40 must be rotting.

I have a bone to pick with fate,
Come here and tell me girly,
Do you think my mind is maturing late,
Or simply rotting early.

Now I’m facing 70 (in three months; Nash didn’t get there). I’d say my irascibility is a measure of my approaching senility except I’ve always been querulous.

So if you’re going to vote for some Republican who thinks gays shouldn’t serve in the military because they would need a massage before going into battle; or if you agree with some pseudo-Conservative talking head who thinks young women should be disenfranchised; or if you go to church to be taught that President Obama has prepared the way for Armageddon,  I will, as a curmudgeon whose senility has reached the edge of asperity, frankly tell you that you are an idiot.

Period. And I don’t have a funny or endearing way to say it. I’m both senile and TLEptic. Wait til I’m really old.

If that pisses you off or makes you pity the over-the-edge old grump, well, I’m too senile to understand.

He knows how to please gay soldiers!

He knows how to please gay soldiers!

“. . . reveals a deliberate and systematic plan. . . “ (Peige Desjarlais)

Being senescent is not as continually jolly as I hoped when I began writing this blog.

Bethlehem, 1880

Bethlehem, 1880

I may say I’m senescent, but no one under 65 may. I heard on TV news yesterday that the “elderly” Aretha Franklin is coming to town. She’s 72. She ain’t elderly regardless what the 20-year-old copy writer says!

Does everyone in their senescence have memories lodged in their minds that won’t go away?

The past two weeks I’ve written daily—as usual. But my mind goes to an uncomfortable memory I can’t shake, August, 2003. I haven’t been able to write about it.

A few years back a friend asked me to remove her from my email “contacts” or stop sending her mass-mailing messages. She did not want any more of my “political” messages.

Since that day I have wondered how anyone who is able to think logically (which my friend certainly is) can say the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by the Israelis is “political.”

Ethnic cleansing—the appropriation of the land of a people and dislocating them, usually accompanied by mass murder of civilians propelled by the belief that one nation has the right to the land of another—is not a matter of politics. It is a matter of morality.

My guess is we’d have to search hard to find an American who would say the “Caliphate” founded on religion declared in Syria and Iraq is a good thing. If someone thought so, they would not say it. They would be ostracized—or worse! We’d have to search hard to find a single American who would say the Russian annexation of Crimea is a good thing. If someone thought so, they would not say it. They would be ostracized—or worse!

But the Israeli annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, its declaration that its state founded on religion extends from the Jordan to the Mediterranean is, in the thinking of Americans, somehow justified.

This does not raise a political question. It is a simple question of right versus wrong.

The erroneous political commentary is that Israel has a right to defend itself, most recently to punish Hamas for kidnapping and killing three Jewish boys. Never mind this is “. . . an arbitrary starting point. Just one day before the kidnappings, a Palestinian man and a 10-year-old child were killed in Gaza by an Israeli airstrike. Why wasn’t that the starting point of the violence? Has the media [and thus the American people] internalized Israel’s narrative to such an extent that they only see Israel as ‘responding’ to violence rather than initiating it?” Always?

Americans want the State of Iraq somehow to rise up and defend itself.

America is willing to destroy Russia’s economy to bring an end to the civil war in Eastern Ukraine.

Why does that thinking not apply to Israel and its inch-by-inch, illegal settlement-by-illegal settlement ethnic cleansing of the homeland of the Palestinian people—the ethnic cleansing** that began in 1948 and has continued unabated until July 30, 2014? If we want the people of Iraq to defend themselves against ISIS and the Ukrainians to defend themselves against Russia, why do we not want the Palestinians to defend themselves against aggression?

The falsity of the reasoning leading to Israel’s right to defend itself is proven by the fact that no one follows the logic to its rational end, that the Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves.

All peoples have a right to defend themselves
The Palestinians are a people.
Therefore the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves.

Deir Yassin Massacre, 1948

Deir Yassin Massacre, 1948

Anyone who repeats the illogical and time-worn assumption that only Israel has a right to defend itself is repeating propaganda, not logic, and certainly not Truth. (This is not an idea original with me. Fortunately those with far more authority than I are of the same mind.)

The only reason to say one people has the right to defend itself and another doesn’t is that we have chosen sides—not that the idea is either logical or moral. It is either propaganda or nonsense—or both.

I have friends who think that the problem in Gaza is Hamas. They cannot (or will not?) understand that the problem pre-dates Hamas. Hamas did not exist at the time of Israel’s 1967 conquering of all of Palestine. The problem is not (and never has been) Hamas. The problem is Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians—bordering now on GENOCIDE in Gaza.

The formation of Hamas was a reaction to the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people; Hamas is not the cause of the “conflict.” Hamas is the result of the “conflict.”

That August day in 2003 I stood with a group of Americans at the edge of an olive orchard behind the home of a Palestinian family. Much of the orchard had been uprooted, and access to the rest was restricted by chain-link fences topped by coils of razor wire. The fence enclosed a gouge in the earth about ½ mile wide with a newly-constructed divided highway running down the middle. This highway was restricted to Israeli citizens (Jewish) and military, even though it was in Occupied Palestine.

When I returned to a place near that farm six years later, our group could not get to the farm because it was on the other side of the Apartheid Wall Israel had finished in the interim.

Some will object to my use of “Apartheid.” Dictionary.com defines the word as “any system or practice that separates people according to race, caste, etc.” Once one has seen the Wall and the system of Jewish-only highways dissecting Palestinian land and connecting the illegal Israeli settlements, one has no qualms using the word “Apartheid.”

And so, because Israel has a right to protect its Apartheid system, it has the right to destroy the homes of 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza, to bomb hospitals, to destroy the only power plant in Gaza, and to murder over 1000 Palestinians—so far—mostly civilians, 1/3 of them children. They have the right. The Palestinians have no rights.

Anyone who can contemplate that carnage or see the Apartheid Wall without revulsion has no moral compass.

** “Ethnic cleansing is a crime under international law, defined as the intention to create an ethnically homogenous territory through the expulsion of an ethnic or religious group. It is often related to, but not the same as, the crime of

Bethlehem, 2014

Bethlehem, 2014

genocide. The United Nations defines acts of ethnic cleansing as the “separation of men from women, the detention of men, the explosion of houses” and repopulating homes with another ethnic group. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, like other members of the dubbed “new historians”, counters the dominant Israeli narrative that the Palestinians fled voluntarily or under the orders of Arab leaders of surrounding countries. His study of Israeli military archives reveals a deliberate and systematic plan by the Zionist militias to ethnically cleanse the Arab population of Palestine by occupying villages and their homeland and some 530 Arab villages were destroyed and depopulated along with other urban centers. A society descended from people who settled the region as far back as the Canaanites was destroyed in a matter of months in the process of making the borders of the Jewish state.”
From:
Desjarlais, Peige. “Excavating Zion: Archaeology and Nation-Making In Palestine/Israel.” Totem: The University Of Western Ontario Anthropology Journal 21.1 (2013): 1-14.

“. . . outdo the pleasures of the brilliant concert. . .” (Galway Kinnell)

. . . how little flesh is needed to make a song.

. . . how little flesh is needed to make a song.

Enough of politics! of ballots rolled into joints and smoked. Let’s talk about sex.

The old Boston Garden. North Station. From the North Shore train into the city, I headed down to catch the Orange Line out to the college for my day of teaching. About 1990. We residents of Boston’s North Shore were “green” way back then. We rode the train the 25 miles to work rather than drive.

In the station I met an acquaintance headed out to catch the train out to Salem. He lived in the city and worked for Essex County in Salem. I’ve forgotten his name even though I was only 45, with my mind as intact as it had ever been. I was a relatively attractive dude. He was more than relatively attractive.

He walked straight toward me, and I said “Hello.” He was with a woman, both of them dressed for the office and carrying brief cases, and I assumed she was a work colleague. He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, said nothing, and walked past me.

I found out later my assumption was correct, that since he didn’t know my last name, he didn’t want to have to introduce us or explain to her how we knew each other, so he ignored me. Any gay man—and lots of other folks—knows this scene. He was a “trick,” not a friend. Different from most tricks. I had been with him several times and absolutely sorta kinda fantasized we’d be real lovers or partners or something. Delusional, of course.

That morning I was rejected as well as delusional. Funny how certain moments, unimportant in the scheme of things, stick in one’s memory.

The giant billboard in the station displayed a photo of Steven Tyler clutching a microphone to his incredibly wide open mouth, his hair swirling about him—if you’re older than 30, you know the picture—announcing an Aerosmith concert later that week at the Garden. Boston’s own Aerosmith.

In my rejection, I decided I must buy a ticket. I knew Aerosmith’s recent releases of “Dude” and “Janie’s Got a Gun.” One of my students who fancied himself the next Steven Tyler insisted I listen to the album, and then I saw the video of “Janie” on M-TV.  “Janie’s Got a Gun” lodged under my skin in a way few pop songs do, for reasons I will write about some day.

I had a much-too-sensorially stimulating evening as a wanna-be teenager (except, as I recall, many in the audience were about my age—Aerosmith had been around for quite a while). I was into Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll (minus the Drugs—I was clean and sober by then—and minus the Rock ‘n Roll—I was, after all, an elitist classical musician).

Funny. Of all the concerts, both classical and not-so-classical, I’ve been to since then, the sensory memory of that evening is still clear. I think—no, I know—that’s because I attended the concert to assuage my hurt.
Isn’t that what sex is all about? The ultimate drug of escape?

Aerosmith "Dudes"

Aerosmith “Dudes”

No, you say?

Of course I know better. I’ve been through enough therapy and 12-step meetings and retreats and seminars and—you name it—to know that’s not what sex is all about.

So why am I writing now with an Aerosmith concert as the central theme of the piece, an Aerosmith concert I attended with sexual fantasies not as merely an overtone but as the raison d’être?

Like all so-called “rhetorical questions,” that one is disingenuous. If I know the answer, why not simply say it, and if I don’t know the answer, I have no business asking the question as part of an “argument.”

Forget about becoming emaciated. Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song. . .

My “argument” now takes a sharp ninety-degree turn. Forget about becoming emaciated. Don’t worry about eating. Doesn’t (what, sex? love? companionship?) “outdo the pleasures of the brilliant concert?”

The rhetorical question again. Kinnell’s poem is a litany of images of eating (my favorite is “book lice clicking their sexual dissonance inside an old Webster’s New International, perhaps having just eaten out of it izle, xyster, and thalassacon”).

[NOTE: “Izle” – ember; “xyster”– surgical rasp or file; “thalassacon”—this must be a real word, too, but I can’t find it anywhere]

Here the connection between eating and sex is explicit. But with the wren, Kinnell is piling image upon image. Don’t worry about not eating because even the wren, tiny as it is, can sing. In the middle of the contemplation of eating and sex comes the contemplation of music and– and what? Sex? And back to eating? Casanova throwing his spaghetti out the window because—apparently—eating spoils love-making?

Now I am as confused as ever I hope to be. These wonderful images—Monarch butterflies in their migration from—from where? Ohio, Wisconsin?—to Mexico. To the exact forest where they were born. Singing, eating, migration, sex, love, death, rebirth?

What did you imagine lies in wait anyway
at the end of a world whose sub-substance
is glaim, gleet, birdlime, slime, mucus, muck?

[NOTE: “glaim”– viscous substance; “gleet”– discharge, as from a wound; “birdlime”—a sticky material smeared on trees to catch birds]

. . . navigate, working in shifts, all the way to Mexico. . .

. . . navigate, working in shifts, all the way to Mexico. . .

Now I’ve written myself into a corner where I don’t know what I’ve been trying to say, or where logic (there is none here) will take me next. “Why regret?”

Doesn’t it outdo the pleasures of the brilliant concert
to wake in the night and find ourselves
holding hands in our sleep?

The brilliant concert. The wren. Aerosmith. I don’t know what the poem means or what I meant to say here. Except I want no regrets about any of it.

About anything. Missed love. Concerts. Eating. Not eating. Anything. The memory of waking in the night holding hands with someone in my sleep?

Oh, yes. I nearly forgot. I’m going to a Lady Gaga concert next week.

“Why Regret,” Galway Kinnell (b. 1927, Providence, RI)
Didn’t you like the way the ants help
the peony globes open by eating the glue off?
Weren’t you cheered to see the ironworkers
sitting on an I-beam dangling from a cable,
in a row, like starlings, eating lunch, maybe
baloney on white with fluorescent mustard?
Wasn’t it a revelation to waggle
from the estuary all the way up the river,
the kill, the pirle, the run, the rent, the beck,
the sike barely trickling, to the shock of a spring?
Didn’t you almost shiver, hearing book lice
clicking their sexual dissonance inside an old
Webster’s New International, perhaps having just
eaten out of it izle, xyster, and thalassacon?
What did you imagine lies in wait anyway
at the end of a world whose sub-substance
is glaim, gleet, birdlime, slime, mucus, muck?
Forget about becoming emaciated. Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song.
Didn’t it seem somehow familiar when the nymph
split open and the mayfly struggled free
and flew and perched and then its own back
broke open and the imago, the true adult,
somersaulted out and took flight, seeking
the swarm, mouth-parts vestigial,
alimentary canal come to a stop,
a day or hour left to find the desired one?
Or when Casanova took up the platter
of linguine in squid’s ink and slid the stuff
out the window, telling his startled companion,
“The perfected lover does not eat.”
As a child, didn’t you find it calming to imagine
pinworms as some kind of tiny batons
giving cadence to the squeezes and releases
around the downward march of debris?
Didn’t you glimpse in the monarchs
what seemed your own inner blazonry
flapping and gliding, in desire, in the middle air?
Weren’t you reassured to think these flimsy
hinged beings, and then their offspring,
and then their offspring’s offspring, could
navigate, working in shifts, all the way to Mexico,
to the exact plot, perhaps the very tree,
by tracing the flair of the bodies of ancestors
who fell in this same migration a year ago?
Doesn’t it outdo the pleasures of the brilliant concert
to wake in the night and find ourselves
holding hands in our sleep?
(From Strong Is Your Hold.  2006)

“The perfect voter has a smile but no eyes . . .” (Denise Duhamel)

The perfect symbol

The perfect symbol

In the fall of 1968 I wandered into the Democratic Party Headquarters on Euclid Avenue in Upland, CA, headquarters for the western part of San Bernardino County. Hubert Humphrey was the Democratic nominee for President. Even though he was part of the Johnson Administration responsible for the war in Viet Nam, against which I was one of those irreverent “hippie” types who demonstrated, I could not imagine voting for Nixon. My candidate, Robert Kennedy, had been assassinated a few months earlier.

The election of 1968 was the first in which I voted. It was the first of five in which I worked as a volunteer for the Democratic candidate, except for the 1972 election when I worked for a pittance of a salary for the McGovern campaign. In the election of 1976 I met Jimmy Carter at a neighborhood party in Iowa City when he was “Jimmy Who?” and decided to volunteer for his campaign when he answered a question from one of my neighbors with a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man in an Immoral Society. That he even knew the book was enough for me—his quoting it was the icing on the cake.

After Ronald Reagan was elected Acting President in 1980, I never again participated in “politics.” I was mildly interested in supporting Michael Dukakis. (I had, after all, met him three times and met his cousin Olympia at a concert of the Boston Classical Orchestra conducted by his father-in-law Harry Ellis Dickson for which I wrote the program notes because the chairman of their board of directors was a colleague of mine on the faculty at Bunker Hill Community College—there, I’ve dropped all the names I can possibly drop.)

Looking back on my dabbling in politics, I’d say having some kind of personal knowledge of a candidate is the best reason to vote for or against her. Every other reason—party affiliation, philosophical agreement, religious compatibility, is dangerous. In fact, it’s absurd.

While I was toying with the idea of working for Dukakis, one of my friends was toying with the idea of working for George Bush the Elder because her family’s summer home was in the same exclusive neighborhood of Kennebunkport, and she rubbed elbows with the Bush family as part of the social elite of Maine (I suppose she still does).

Politics is a slug copulating in a Poughkeepsie garden.
Politics is a grain of rice stuck in the mouth
of a king. I voted for a clump of cells,
anything to believe in . . .

My disillusionment is not quite as complete as Denise Duhamel’s seems to be, but it’s close. Her poem says “a slug,” not two slugs. In the slug kingdom it’s possible for one slug to copulate—and thereby reproduce. It’s not masturbation. They don’t often fly solo—usually it takes two slugs, but what happens to the slug playing the part of the male when they are finished is pretty gross.

I think it’s an apt description of American politics. Devouring parts of (or, more likely, ALL of) one’s opponent is the name of the game. And—excuse the extended metaphor—we all seem to slither around in the garden dirt when it comes to politics or even talking about (I won’t say “discussing”) any of the problems that are in the process of tearing American society apart.

I carried my ballots around like smokes, pondered big questions,
resources and need, stars and planets, prehistoric
languages. I sat on Alice’s mushroom in Central Park,
smoked longingly in the direction of the mayor’s mansion.

We all carry our ballots around and ponder big questions—what to do with 52,000 starving, frightened, unmoored children knocking at our doors seeking shelter, safety, and a way to survive as human beings; how to prevent the next mass killing with licensed guns of school children; what to do about the absoluet certainty that the NSA, the NRA, every bookseller and garden supply seller in the country knows you’re reading this—and then instead of finding an answer to any of these questions, we light our ballots on fire, inhale the smoke, and blow it toward whatever politician we think should have helped solved the problem long ago.

Politics: Wonderland or La-La Land?

Politics: Wonderland or La-La Land?

We make ourselves the perfect voters, smiling our way to the ballot box with eyes closed to the realities we are voting on. We accept without investigating that banks and billionaires are the oppressed in America. We accept without investigating that Hamas is a “terrorist” organization. We allow demagogues to convince us that changes of world-wide power structures are the fault of one man rather than the inexorable result of our own materialistic “globalization.” We allow the interpretation of human life that a corporation is the same as a living, breathing body. And so on.

We set ourselves up in armed gated communities prepared to make war on anyone who is not “like us.” STAND YOUR GROUND!

I doubt I will ever again walk into a “party headquarters.” I may never vote again. I don’t want the shame of being a slug slithering in the garden copulating with myself.

My advertised purpose in this blog is to write light-hearted pieces about the process of growing old. I don’t know if this is light-hearted or not.

Slithering in the dirt

Slithering in the dirt

Well, here’s some jollity. Since I “retired,” I’ve taken some actions that might be seen as out-of-character because they are frivolous and odd (perhaps “odd” is not out of character). Only one is obvious and public—the bold and conspicuous tattoo on my left arm. Its Latin phrase, by the way, is the first words of the Medieval hymn,

Day of wrath, O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets’ warning,
heav’n and earth in ashes burning!

So last Thursday evening did you watch fireworks with glee and patriotism? Heaven and earth with ashes burning. Has that become the best symbol of our “democracy?” Firepower?

“Exquisite Politics,” by Denise Duhamel (b. 1961)
The perfect voter has a smile but no eyes,
maybe not even a nose or hair on his or her toes,
maybe not even a single sperm cell, ovum, little paramecium.
Politics is a slug copulating in a Poughkeepsie garden.
Politics is a grain of rice stuck in the mouth
of a king. I voted for a clump of cells,
anything to believe in, true as rain, sure as red wheat.
I carried my ballots around like smokes, pondered big questions,
resources and need, stars and planets, prehistoric
languages. I sat on Alice’s mushroom in Central Park,
smoked longingly in the direction of the mayor’s mansion.
Someday I won’t politic anymore, my big heart will stop
loving America and I’ll leave her as easy as a marriage,
splitting our assets, hoping to get the advantage
before the other side yells: Wow! America,
Vespucci’s first name and home of free and brave, Te amo.

Just because. Another patriotic poem. From Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America, edited by Virgil Suárez and Ryan G. Van Cleave. University of Iowa Press, 2002.

“Patriotics,” by David Baker (b. 1954)
Yesterday a little girl got slapped to death by her daddy,
out of work, alcoholic, and estranged two towns down river.
America, it’s hard to get your attention politely.
America, the beautiful night is about to blow up

and the cop who brought the man down with a shot to the chops
is shaking hands, dribbling chaw across his sweaty shirt,
and pointing cars across the courthouse grass to park.
It’s the Big One one more time, July the 4th,

our country’s perfect holiday, so direct a metaphor for war,
we shoot off bombs, launch rockets from Drano cans,
spray the streets and neighbors’ yards with the machine-gun crack
of fireworks, with rebel yells and beer. In short, we celebrate.

It’s hard to believe. But so help the soul of Thomas Paine,
the entire county must be here–the acned faces of neglect,
the halter-tops and ties, the bellies, badges, beehives,
jacked-up cowboy boots, yes, the back-up singers of democracy

all gathered to brighten in unambiguous delight
when we attack the calm and pointless sky. With terrifying vigor
the whistle-stop across the river will lob its smaller arsenal
halfway back again. Some may be moved to tears.

We’ll clean up fast, drive home slow, and tomorrow
get back to work, those of us with jobs, convicting the others
in the back rooms of our courts and malls–yet what
will be left of that one poor child, veteran of no war

but her family’s own? The comfort of a welfare plot,
a stalk of wilting prayers? Our fathers’ dreams come true as nightmare.
So the first bomb blasts and echoes through the streets and shrubs:
red, white, and blue sparks shower down, a plague

of patriotic bugs. Our thousand eyeballs burn aglow like punks.
America, I’d swear I don’t believe in you, but here I am,
and here you are, and here we stand again, agape.

“. . . why bother to get in a car and pretend you are going a different place . . .” (James Tate)

Concrete surrealism?

Concrete surrealism?

On the floor of the parking garage between the stairway and my car is a penny. The penny has been there for several days. It appeared the day before the city of Mosul in Iraq was taken over by the “militants,” the “terrorists,” the “Sunis,” or “ISIS”—whoever they are. I’m pretty sure most Americans think they know who they are, depending on their political party.

The penny may have fallen from my pocket when I pulled my keys out of my pocket. It may be someone else’s penny. It doesn’t matter. I check the penny when I go to my car to make sure it is still there. Last night it was.

I could describe my thinking about the penny several ways. Serendipity. Absurdity. Chance. Fate. Funny. Weird. Perhaps Surreal.

André Breton (1896-1966), the first proponent—at least the first explicator—of Surrealism in art, described it as “thought expressed in the absence of any control exerted by reason, and outside all moral and aesthetic considerations.” Although he was describing a movement in the arts, I can play with the idea. Make it as concrete as—well—as a penny on concrete.

Surrealism is most likely best known through the paintings of Salvador Dali. “The Persistence of Memory.”

I’ve been thinking about that penny on the parking garage floor. My thoughts have no “control exerted by reason,” and the penny is certainly outside all moral and aesthetic considerations.

What can be moral about a penny on a slab of concrete? I know, I know. It’s not art.

Just now a bird that had been sitting on the sill of the window of my fourth-floor apartment took off flying and hit a wing against the window. My three cats ran to the living room.

The United States should destroy all pennies. No one cares about a penny. A penny saved is apparently not a penny earned. Restaurants have changed their menus these days to read $12 instead of $11.99. The penny is headed toward obsolescence.

When I next go down to my car, if the penny is gone, does that mean someone has finally decided a penny earned is important? Does it mean the ISIS forces have relinquished their hold on Mosul? Does it mean the bird on my window sill has returned and the cats are under the bed?

Imagine a town where, on the 27th of June every year, the citizens gather to draw lots from a black box a hundred years old. The person who draws the slip of paper with a black dot on it is stoned to death without remorse or questioning on the part of the citizenry. It is done every year because it has always been done. No fuss, no guilt, no excitement. Mrs. Hutchinson is stoned to death before lunch, and all go back to their daily activities without another thought.

I’m working with some young men who are, to an extent, illiterate—“showing lack of culture, especially in language and literature” (dictionary.com). They can read but they have not, through no fault of their own. Never during their education has anyone challenged them to figure out, for example, a short story. And so, they read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and cannot figure out what is happening.

I helped the young men understand the facts of the story—that Mrs. Hutchinson is going to be killed randomly and unapologetically, that everyone will participate in killing her—and the young men understand it completely. What, I hardly need to ask, in their experience is done simply because it has always been done with no thought of the consequences?

The young men I work with are black.

I will ask them—now that they understand the story—what they think of the news this morning about three executions carried out in the United States in two days.

". . . free mankind from the bourgeois shackles of logic and reason . . ."

“. . . free mankind from the bourgeois shackles of logic and reason . . .”

Obviously, I am not writing in the style of Surrealism because—in case you can’t tell—I am not expressing my thoughts “outside all moral and aesthetic considerations.” We use “surreal” to refer to actual events as well as a style of art; that is, “having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic” (dictionary.com).

The execution of three men in two days is “surreal”—and can be carried out only by ignoring “all moral and aesthetic considerations.” I know exactly what the push-back against my thinking will be. It will be akin to the thinking of the townspeople in “The Lottery.” That is, ultimately, no thought at all.

The three executions will join the penny on the pavement, the bird against the window, Americans’ dangerous lack of comprehension of the situation in Iraq, the illiteracy of five young men who have high school diplomas, and more of the common ordinary unquestioned realities of our day-to-day.

André Breton was doctrinaire and uncompromising. He

aimed for . . . a total transformation of the way people thought. By breaking down the barriers between their inner and outer worlds, and changing the way they perceived reality, he intended to liberate the unconscious . . . and free mankind from the bourgeois shackles of logic and reason which thus far had led only to war and domination (“Surrealism.” Encyclopedia of Art History. visual-arts-cork.com. Web.).

Perhaps we need to break down the barriers between our inner and outer worlds so we can “find the ultimate in the ordinary horseshit.” Or at least begin to understand that a penny on pavement, another war in Iraq, a bird flying against the window, and executing black men are not the ultimate, but they may lead us to the ultimate if we can ever get over thinking we are acting reasonably when we are not.

James Tate, an American poet influenced by Surrealism, is the poet “. . . of possibilities, of morph, of surprising consequences, lovely or disastrous. . .” according to his friend and fellow poet, John Ashbery.

“South End,” by James Tate
The challenge is always to find the ultimate
in the ordinary horseshit why bother

to get in a car and pretend you are going
a different place to live each day as if

in ignorance of each other’s desires
betrayals are not counted Saturday night

when it was real warm read the paper and fell
off early in a hot flea-infested building

one must pass by the simple objects suitcase
coffee cup tennis shoe to take account of

life which passes by I sit here and stare
watch a ball game or tease the crazy kid

sunday afternoons are worse everything is
closed nobody drops in they all have

families and places to go so I walk
a straight line from this chair to

that table so what I paid fifteen dollars
for that table the dues and still

I’m foiled in every dream some folks
sit out on the front stoop all night

slowly they roll through the dead plum
trees and fill the air with a numbing moan.

Our best-known work of surrealism.

Our best-known work of surrealism.

“The centre cannot hold.” (W.B. Yeats)

[Oh, dear me. I don’t know where this came from.]

The second coming - slouching toward Bethlehem.

The second coming – slouching toward Bethlehem.

.
In case you were wondering (wandering? pandering? laundering? sauntering? bantering? blundering? floundering? countering? countervailing? countermanding? contemplating? illuminating? ruminating? pondering? wondering?) about my prediction for the November election, I expect the election will be a watershed in the history not of American politics, but of life as we know it, simply because

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Anyone who has even a slight list to the left as they walk will stay home on November 4 for fear of falling over. It’s not that they lack all conviction, it’s that they have already decided that it’s better not to walk at all than to risk falling. That leftward list is made more pronounced because the center of gravity has moved to the right, and they think, therefore, that it cannot hold them up.

Most of my friends are fed up with the reality that President Obama landed in the viper-ridden oligarchy of special interests in Washington, D. C., in 2009, and immediately understood a) that the agenda on which he ran was dead in the water in the political reality of the Gerrymandered US Congress that cannot (now or probably ever again) represent the majority opinion on any issue facing the nation, and b) the real power in the United States lies on Wall Street and on 37th Street North in Wichita, KS, and no one can do anything against that monolith no matter what platform they ran on or what majority of votes they won.

The most dismal truth of all of this seems to be (note, I said “seems,” not “is”) that President Obama and those tens of millions of people who elected him apparently did not understand that the causes they thought he might champion could not have been successfully championed by anyone, and, in racist America, an African American President would have virtually no power to change anything.

Now I will slip into delusion. That’s OK. I’m used to it. The earliest of my own writing about the Koch Brothers I can find is from September 3, 2011. Somewhere, however, I wrote about them long before that. It was before 2003 because my late partner demanded that I prove what I said. I eventually had enough verifiable research that he began talking about the Cock Brothers as a phenomenon that could happen only in the lower Midwest, if you get his double entendre.

[I also, by the way, wrote about the “Project for a New American Century” before the 2000 election in which its horrors were institutionalized. My friends would not believe me, but we live today in the pernicious shadow of that document.]

The centre cannot hold.

The centre cannot hold.

I was wrong when I predicted Romney’s election in 2012. I still believe had it not been for his “47%” comment he would have been elected.

I’m not trying to establish my credentials as a prognosticator. I write and think with only second-hand information, and that not very clearly. But here’s what I think.

President Obama has clearly been a disappointment to anyone who would allow the word “liberal” or “radical” or even “progressive” to be said or written in any proximity to their names. You name it, he has not done what such people want him to do.

In order to accomplish those things, he would have needed a willingness (to say nothing of an ability) to act against (do herculean battle against) the powers that be in Washington. The powers of big business, bigger money, and a Congress so Gerrymandered in favor of the Koch brothers and Donald Trump and Karl Rove, and Ted Cruz that it can never again—I’m not being hyperbolic, it will take a revolution to change it—represent majority opinion.

gerrymander
1812 as both a noun and verb, American English, from Elbridge Gerry + (sala)mander. Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, was lampooned when his party redistricted the state in a blatant bid to preserve an Antifederalist majority. One Essex County district resembled a salamander, and a newspaper editor dubbed it Gerrymander. (Harper, Douglas. “Gerrymander.” Online Etymology Dictionary. 2014. Web.)

William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” describes our situation.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned . . .

The falcon, flying farther and farther out of control cannot hear the command of the falconer. The centre cannot hold. Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Our anarchy is not, of course, the classical anarchy of the far-left. It is the anarchy of a government and society spinning out of control except for the unprincipled moment-to-moment decisions by the oligarchy in favor of actions and doctrines that will benefit them without any thought for what those doctrines will do to the vast majority of the population.

Yeats’s vision of the Second Coming is not comforting.

Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again. . .

The monster of the Second Coming, the “anarchy . . . loosed upon the world,” has a “gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.” The Second Coming is a “rough beast . . . slouching toward Bethlehem.” Whatever we thought the “first coming” meant (wherever we thought took place), the second coming—in the same place—will mean darkness, not light.

This will happen because

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I don’t know if “progressives” are “the best.” I do know, however, that they have no conviction.

“The Second Coming,” by W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Gerrymandering to exclude progressives.

Gerrymandering to exclude progressives.

“. . . the fire of the sun has tricked you blind. . .”

eagleA friend with whom I agree probably 90% of the time on matters of art (especially theater), politics, philosophy, self-care, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, posted on Facebook the trailer for documentary film, The Brainwashing of my Dad, which is in production to be released August, 2014.

His posting will stretch our friendship almost to the breaking point.

The film, it appears, describes what happened to my mother. My dad, too, in a minor way. Mom listened to Rush Limbaugh daily for the last few years of her life (until Alzheimer’s). She changed from being basically non-political to being a somewhat rabid conspiracy theorist. The conspiracy being the liberal left out to destroy the country.

My parents came to visit Jerry and me in Dallas. How Mom could listen to Rush regularly and think nothing of coming to my home and sleeping in the bed I shared with my partner while he and I slept together in the next room still boggles my mind. This was the late ‘90s before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere, and Rush was ranting and raving about the “gay agenda” that was destroying society as we knew it.

Of course, he was also ranting and raving about the incipient salvation of the world when that philandering liberal stooge, Bill Clinton, was no longer President, and a true patriot like—well, we weren’t sure yet which Republican it might be—would be President and things would settle back into the paths God intended America to take.

While my parents were with us, I came home from class to discover Rush’s voice blaring through the apartment. I turned the radio off and

The liberal media? Huh?

The liberal media? Huh?

announced that I would not allow that lie-based trash in my home. Sometime later I was in my parents’ home in California when my dad announced (for reasons I don’t remember because I never watched it) that he would not allow CBS’s lie-based show “60 Minutes” in his home. It was part of the “liberal media” that had almost succeeded in brainwashing America.

America brainwashed by liberals?

That is such an absurd concept I don’t know how to think about it, much less write about it. Americans—especially Rush Limbaugh’s devotees—have no clue what a liberal takeover of this country would look like. I feel an urgent need to explain. That’s why my friend’s Facebook posting is going to stretch our friendship almost to the breaking point.

I have enough imponderables in my old age. What will happen to me the moment I die? for one small matter. Anyone my age who is wasting his or her time thinking that government is in the hands of either the liberals who are destroying society or the far-right who want to destroy it is simply a coward. That is, all of that political nonsense is a way to avoid the absolute non-political essence of thinking about one’s life. Neither Rush Limbaugh nor Al Sharpton can help me or anyone else face the final moment of truth—the moment of death.

Thinking with any kind of emotional intensity about politics is a smokescreen to hide the real issues of one’s life: what happens when I die? Is living alone an unnatural state or the best way to ponder the mysteries of life? Do I need to be in love to feel complete (how much are human beings like apes, elephants, and dolphins)? How can I be sure I have achieved the right balance of taking care of myself and working to care for the poor, homeless, and hungry? Does it matter if I leave no “worldly goods” to anyone, if I use up every penny I have? Does it matter how I use up whatever I have? Does it matter if I’m contentious or nice? What’s the use?

“Exquisite Politics,” by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton

The perfect voter has a smile but no eyes,
maybe not even a nose or hair on his or her toes,
maybe not even a single sperm cell, ovum, little paramecium.
Politics is a slug copulating in a Poughkeepsie garden.
Politics is a grain of rice stuck in the mouth
of a king. I voted for a clump of cells,
anything to believe in, true as rain, sure as red wheat.
I carried my ballots around like smokes, pondered big questions,
resources and need, stars and planets, prehistoric
languages. I sat on Alice’s mushroom in Central Park,
smoked longingly in the direction of the mayor’s mansion.

Someday I won’t politic anymore, my big heart will stop
loving America and I’ll leave her as easy as a marriage,
splitting our assets, hoping to get the advantage
before the other side yells: Wow! America,
Vespucci’s first name and home of free and brave, Te amo.

“Politics is a grain of rice stuck in the mouth of a king. . . America, Vespucci’s first name and home of the free and the brave.” How free am I?

It seems to me right here, right now, sitting alone, recovering from a horrendous week-long cold for which I received not one single hug or delivery of chicken soup (I’m not feeling sorry for myself—simply stating the truth about aloneness most people don’t know yet, but will someday) that we Americans have been brainwashed—one and all—into a trance, a coma, in which we truly believe we are (living in) the land of the free and the home of the brave, that if we believe we are right strongly enough and argue strenuously enough, we will leave this life “as easy as a marriage, splitting our assets.”

And I say, with Daniel Mark Epstein that “The fire of the sun has tricked [us] blind.”

Epstein. I hope I look that good when I'm that old. Oh, yeah, I am that old.

Epstein. I hope I look that good when I’m that old. Oh, yeah, I am that old.

“Heading Home,” by Daniel Mark Epstein

I watched the miles, I saw my life go by,
A drumbeat of bare trees and frozen ponds,
Forlorn stations, ruined factories.
I must have dozed, my head against the glass.
Women I dreamed I would have died for once
Mourned me in a dream. South by southwest
Our train cleaved the horizon, pushed the sun
Toward somebody else’s sunrise, while
Heaven and earth denied my day was done,
Painting a fantastic continent
Of cumulus and ether, air and mist,
Real as any land to a waking man.
A wall of purple hills sloped to the shore
In fluted cliffs; cloud archipelagos
Edged with golden beaches jeweled a sea
Bluer than our sky. Had I missed my stop?
Now was I on my way out of this world,
Alone on the express to Elysium,
Lotus trees, the lost woman of my dreams?

Shadows deepened and the speeding train
Rolled on into twilight. Slowly then
I came to myself, cold, woke to the thought:
This is how it must be at the end of the line.
You cannot tell the water from the sky,
Mourners from the dead, or clouds from land.
The fire of the sun has tricked you blind,
And earth, air and water join in one.