“Life isn’t fair, but government absolutely must be.” (Ann Richards)

The Supremes

The Supremes

In a scene of the original stage musical Hair, three black women in identical pink sequined dresses stood together and sang “White boys are so pretty” as a parody of the Supremes (the song was too controversial to be in the film version). At the end of the song they stepped apart to reveal they were in one large dress with three neck holes.

Listen up, Texans. It’s time to take a stand.

This state’s election of smug, pseudo-conservative (read: “selfish”), old, (presumably) straight white men to all of the statewide offices is no reason to shirk our duty.

Everyone knows the Texas voter ID law is un-Constitutional. A court said so. And then Antonin Scalia and his old Catholic men friends on the Supreme Court essentially said, “So what?”

On October 9, 2014, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos held that

. . . [Texas] S.B. 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose. . . . The Court further holds that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.

On October 19, the Supremes—dancing in their one-dress-fits-five à la Hair—struck down her ruling. Every time the five old Catholic men on the Supreme Court hand down one of their rulings without benefit of female or Protestant points of view, that image from Hair comes to my mind, the five of them in one sequined dress singing, “White boys are delicious.”

OK. I know that’s disrespectful. And please don’t say I’m being anti-Catholic or something. I’m simply amazed that the Supreme Court has a 6-3 majority (all of the men and one of the women) representing one segment (and not the majority) of our population.

Of course, a ruling by a Hispanic woman judge could not stand. Especially one appointed by President Obama.

The Supremes

The Supremes

I’m not a Constitutional scholar and can’t explain details of the universal right to vote of Americans. Please go to this article for details (Douglas, Joshua A. “The Right to Vote Under State Constitutions.” Vanderbilt Law Review 67.1 [2014]: 89-149). The discussion of Federal Constitutional rights is pages 95-101. The rest of the article explains the rights guaranteed under the various state constitutions.

(Don’t be put off if you have never read a law review article. It’s clear and easy to read—and you’ll be surprised how knowledgeable you feel when you’ve finished. Read only the five pages I’ve suggested, and you will know all you need to know.)

Those of us who care about the Constitution and our rights guaranteed under it can and MUST make our voices heard.
In Texas that’s easy: When you go to vote and the election clerks ask you for more ID than is necessary, show your IDs, but tell them you want to file a protest. They will give you a form (if they don’t have one, that’s cause for another protest).

In my protest I said that being asked for more personal information than is necessary is a violation of my right to vote under the Federal Constitution, detailed in the 15th Amendment and made universal in the 14th Amendment.

Public announcement, Mineola, Texas, 1939

Public announcement, Mineola, Texas, 1939

Fill it out. Give it to them or take it home and mail it.

Spread the word. Let the state know through this legal protest what you think of the law.

My friend Rita Clark of Dallas, who was an election clerk at a polling place in the last election (the first to use the draconian law), sent me this email detailing the effect of the Jim Crow law. Notice particularly the last paragraph. Even a former election clerk needs investigation.

Harold – You are so right! I worked as an election clerk in the last election and I was so distressed by what I saw happen to authentically registered voters that I decided I’d never take that job again. At least (I didn’t make a precise count) 12 to 15 voters were sent away from our polling place due to some perceived discrepancy in their voting registration or other ridiculous “error.” Of that number, at least four of them were elderly, had problems walking, but somehow, on walkers, made their way to the front desk only to be told they could not vote that day – some said they had been registered at the same address for 50 years – some were just too distressed by the whole ordeal that they left promising never to try again.
I’ve been working on a couple of campaigns this year and when I encounter people out in the neighborhoods they often say they won’t be voting because of the “hassle” or (I suspect) because they “don’t look American.” I am so disappointed in our “democracy.” I’ll continue working on the campaigns this time but I don’t know if I can do it again.
I voted yesterday – and Yep! they had to call downtown to clear me – didn’t like my registration info – I’ve never had it happen before. I really don’t know how we got in such a deep hole with this. I think we’ll hear more stories as the election goes along. The heroes of this story are the people with “foreign-sounding” last names and those who have a certain look—and they still go to vote! God bless those brave folks!
Thanks for sending your suggestion. I’m going to see if I can file a protest today.
Rita Clarke

You can join the group I’ve started on Facebook. But whatever you do. . .


“Dust’s certainly all our fate, so why not make it the happiest possible dust . . .” (Michael Blumenthal)

Everybody loves Saturday night on Main Street

Everybody loves Saturday night on Main Street

A cousin, a year younger than I, lived in London for many years as a (seemingly) hot-shot powerfully successful corporate lawyer for some big American company. I remember hearing the tales—and now and then seeing pictures—of his and his family’s life in London from my aunt and uncle after they would visit him. I haven’t seen or heard directly from my cousin since about 1985, the last time I was in the same city he was when he was studying for the LSAT. A little late in life, wouldn’t you say? Yes. He had been an English professor at some small college in far west Kansas but decided he wanted to make a real living as well as, with Dorothy, not be in Kansas anymore.

His late father told me once the only person he knew who writes better than I do is my cousin—and that’s why his lawyering was so successful. (One might wonder how much writing my uncle had read that we were his two favorite writers. But that’s another story.) The practice of law is all about writing, he said. And the practice of being successful in this world was all about being his son, in his eyes.

In about 1985 I was at my aunt and uncle’s home in suburban Kansas City with my partner, and my cousin refused to come to dinner.

Yes, I am miffed. Don’t like my cousin. Don’t ever want to see him again. I have my reasons. Homophobia.

He’s unkind. I’ll be unkind in return.

The other night Stephen Colbert interviewed George Saunders who was promoting his book on kindness, Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness. It’s now one of those books on my Nook that I haven’t read yet. George Saunders was pretty entertaining talking about kindness, how easy it is to be kind instead of mean, and how seldom we all choose to do so. Even Stephen Colbert managed to be kind a couple of times during their conversation.

Through their entire conversation I kept wondering if either of them had read the poem, “Be Kind,” which was the first of Michael Blumenthal’s poems I read. It came in a poem-a-day thing I subscribe to. I’m not educated enough to go looking for such work. I’ve written about Michael Blumenthal and that poem before (the text is at the link). After I did so, I wrote to Blumenthal, and he not only replied with a kind and funny little letter, but also put me on the list to receive his holiday (Christmas) greeting. I told him I am a member in good standing of his fan club.

Michael Blumenthal is an attorney turned poet. He is not, as far as I can tell, homophobic.

Last night (Saturday) a friend and I were walking on Main Street in Dallas. The traffic was heavy, and people were strolling about and sitting in restaurants have a grand time. I saw only one homeless person in the four blocks up and back we walked. (We were on a mission to have a Fluellen Cupcake.)

As little as three or four years ago there would have been virtually no traffic on Main Street on a Saturday night. Things have changed. I think, not being a social scientist or city planner or demographer, the change finally tipped over into city life when the Joule (boutique) Hotel and its (ridiculously upscale and expensive) restaurant finally opened across the street from the small sculpture garden the developer also owns, with its one sculpture, the big eye—and the center of upscale socializing shifted to Main Street (from wherever it was before).

Immediately the city was flocked with the beautiful people and the wannabes. It’s the happening place again. Minus the poor and the homeless, of course.

Sculpture for the beautiful people

Sculpture for the beautiful people

I do not want to sound unkind. I like the bustle as much as anyone. I think it’s fun. Cool. Groovy. Bitchin’ (how many old fashioned words can I dredge up?). If anything I say sounds unkind, it’s probably because I am jealous. No way can I afford to eat at the Joule restaurant (or have my car parked for $25 by their valets—they park on the same level where I park for $2 in the public garage over on Commerce Street a block away). And there’s not much left of me that would be one of the beautiful people even if I could afford to shop at LA Traffic clothes, also in the Joule.

I do not want to sound judgmental. Michael Blumenthal wrote a poem he titled “Suburban.” The first line, “Conformity caught here, nobody catches it,” came to mind last night as we walked. One can catch conformity anywhere, I think. Conforming is likely to be unkind if one is a gay elitist pseudo-intellectual like me; or an English professor turned homophobic lawyer; or one of the beautiful people; or a suburban golfer clutching his putter; or a lawyer turned poet; or a valet at a fancy hotel; or a clerk at a cupcake shop; or a homeless person invisible in the happening city.

It seems to me conformity is the first sign, the first sign of unkindness. Are we unkind because we conform, or—worse—do we begin to conform because we are unkind?

“Suburban,” by Michael Blumenthal
Conformity caught here, nobody catches it,
Lawns groomed in prose, with hardly a stutter.
Lloyd hits the ball, and Lorraine fetches it.

Mom hangs the laundry, Fred, Jr., watches it,
Shirts in the clichéd air, all aflutter.
Conformity caught here, nobody catches it.

A dog drops a bone, another dog snatches it.
I dreamed of this life once, Now I shudder
As Lloyd hits the ball and Lorraine fetches it.

A doldrum of leaky roofs, a roofer who patches it,
Lloyd prowls the streets, still clutching his putter.
Conformity caught here, nobody catches it.

The tediumed rake, the retiree who matches it,
The fall air gone dead with the pure drone of motors
While Lloyd hits the ball, and Lorraine just fetches it.

The door is ajar, then somebody latches it.
Through the hissing of barbecues poets mutter
Of conformity caught here, where nobody catches it.
Lloyd hits the ball. And damned Lorraine fetches it.

TRAFFIC LA - a shop for the men at the Joule

TRAFFIC LA – a shop for the men at the Joule

“Auntie . . . told me I should travel slowly or I would see too much before I died . . .”

Delores De Rio. Size 4?

Delores De Rio. Size 4?

Being eternally and overwhelmingly ignorant has compensations. For example, every time I discover a poet I whose work I didn’t know, it seems as if they wrote a poem that morning, for me alone.

Case in point. I’ve been following Sandra Alcosser’s Auntie’s advice most of my life and didn’t know it. I do travel slowly. I have not travelled the world. I suppose by most people’s reckoning I’ve done quite a bit of travel. Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, the Channel Islands, France, Spain, Brazil. Jordan, and Palestine. All 48 of the “continental” states.

But as gay men go, those who have worked all their lives and have no one to care for except themselves so they have plenty of “disposable income,” I’ve been almost nowhere. I have friends who take two or three cruises a year.

I’ve never been on a cruise. For two reasons. I can’t imagine being on a ship in the middle of the ocean and unable to get off when I wanted to. Once the idea got into my head I wanted off the ship—NOW!—they’d have to sedate me or send a helicopter to airlift me out.  

And I’ve never had the money to travel. I’m not complaining or regretting (that’s not quite true) the particulars of my life. I’m solely responsible that I was a drunk until I was 41 and never had full-time work in my profession until I was 42. Exactly what Dean Anne Minton saw in me that allowed her to hire me to teach music at Bunker Hill Community College in spite of my résumé I will always wonder and be grateful.

I have “travel[ed] slowly [and] I [have not seen] too much.” I’ve spent almost a month in Palestine (including Gaza—not many Americans can say that). I spent three weeks in Brazil (one week in the Amazon Rain Forest)—4th of July on the Beach at Ipanema. I wrote about that a year ago, so I suppose I should simply make a link to that posting and be on my way writing about something else.

However, it’s amazing what a difference a year makes.

For one thing, Sandra Alcosser wrote “Hats” for me this morning. She’s a year older than I am, and was the first Poet Laureate of the State of Montana. Anyone who lives only 481 miles from Worland, WY, the first place I remember living, has to be OK. (Driving between the two small cities, you pass within about 40 miles of Yellowstone National Park—where I have also spent some slow travel time.) Especially when she was up early enough to write a poem for me this morning.

Auntie lies in the rest home with a feeding tube and a bedpan . . .
Surely this is not the place of women in our world, that when we are old and curled like crustaceans, young girls will laugh at us, point their fingers, run as fast as they can in the opposite direction

When I turned 30 years old, I was so cocky and pig-headed (and, well, drunk) I hardly noticed except that at some time earlier I had gotten it into my head that I’d die when I was 27, so I was surprised to be hitting 30. When I hit 40, I was in the deepest point of drinking and barely noticed—wanting to finish my PhD and have a good job like all of my friends.

I had a grand party at Jaxx Steak House in Farmers Branch, TX, for my 50th birthday, living with the man I loved, in graduate school again, this time studying writing, and playing the organ for a small church. I could hardly have imagined a better life. I had a grand party with friends for my 60th birthday under much different circumstances. I was professoring at SMU, still playing the organ for the small church, but alone because my partner had died of melanoma. It was a difficult birthday because I was lonely, not because I thought 60 was old or in any other way unpleasant.

My next birthday will be my 70th. I’m not particularly looking forward to it. I won’t, most likely, be like Sandra Alcosser’s Auntie, lying in the rest home with a feeding tube and a bedpan . . .  old and curled like [a crustacean]. No, if I follow my family’s genetic pattern, that won’t happen for about 20 more years.

I will be, however, “eternally and overwhelmingly ignorant.” By my next birthday I will have been retired for about six months. As that time approaches, it seems no matter what I do I’m travelling too fast, seeing too much before I die—but remaining ignorant of what much of it means or, more importantly, what to do about it.

Ginger Rogers in her Lilly Daché

Ginger Rogers in her Lilly Daché

It’s more important to decide what not to see than what I should see. I don’t need to see women’s health clinics in Texas closing because of the unscientific belief perpetrated on the American people about when human “life” begins. I don’t need to see the ignominy that 19% of Texans are functionally illiterate while state officials trumpet an “economic miracle.” I don’t need to see 27% of Texas children living in food insecurity while Senator Cruz rails about cutting government budgets.

I don’t need to see wars, rumors of war, and both imperialism and apartheid still (in the age of enlightenment?) basically controlling the world.

I don’t need to see climate change deniers winning seats in the US Congress.

“. . . would see too much before I died . . .” I suppose nearly everyone will. If we all see these things, why don’t they change? That’s not a “rhetorical question.” It’s the sad—and getting sadder—question of an almost-old man (Auntie will, I’m sure, share the idea with an old man) who has already, perhaps, seen too much.

“Hats,” by Sandra Alcosser

Auntie lies in the rest home with a feeding tube and a bedpan, she weighs nothing, she fidgets and shakes, and all I can see are her knotted hands and the carbon facets of her eyes, she was famous for her pies and her kindness to neighbors, but if it is true that every hat exhibits a drama the psyche wishes it could perform, what was my aunt saying all the years of my childhood when she squeezed into cars with those too tall hats, those pineapples and colored cockades, my aunt who told me I should travel slowly or I would see too much before I died, wore spires and steeples, tulled toques. The velvet inkpots of Schiaparelli, the mousseline de soie of Lilly Daché have disappeared into the world, leaving behind one flesh-colored box, Worth stenciled on the top, a coral velvet cloche inside with matching veil and drawstring bag, and what am I to make of these Dolores del Rio size 4 black satin wedgies with constellations of spangles on the bridge. Before she climbed into the white boat of the nursing home and sailed away–talking every day to family in heaven, calling them through the sprinkling system–my aunt said she was pushing her cart through the grocery when she saw young girls at the end of an aisle pointing at her, her dowager’s hump, her familial tremors. Auntie, who claimed that ninety pounds was her fighting weight, carried her head high, hooded, turbaned, jeweled, her neck straight under pounds of roots and vegetables that shimmied when she walked. Surely this is not the place of women in our world, that when we are old and curled like crustaceans, young girls will laugh at us, point their fingers, run as fast as they can in the opposite direction.

Her Elsa Schiaparelli mini top

Her Elsa Schiaparelli mini top


“. . . now limp, now divided, or its traditionally honorable career. . . “

Talking with the HR Benefits Specialist about the the decisions one has to make at the time of retirement. The face to face with the truth I’ve dreaded for months. Even if the specialist is a good friend and has been my main connection with university reality for the past ten years or thereabouts.

Egyptian Onions, now limp, now divided

Egyptian Onions, now limp, now divided

It’s telling that I refer to it as “work” rather than “my position,” or some other term that indicates pride, joy, fulfillment.

I wonder if I was ever suited for professoring, for trying to help young people who are interested in studying and learning in a university setting. Did I fall into college teaching because that was, for reasons I never fully examined, what I had always “expected” to do. “Expected” of myself, and/or “expected” by others.

Age 69 is no time to be wondering about that sort of thing.

Every day I get in my email a couple of “meditation” thingies. Most days, I think they’re just silly. To wit:

I will look at a situation in its highest light today. I will turn it and turn it in the kaleidoscope of my mind, seeing it slightly anew each time, finding a way to view it that allows me to see it in a light that leaves room for acceptance, growth, and movement, while still remaining connected to my authentic self.

I’ve spent most of my life in the presence of positive ideas and of people who espouse them, so I ought to be one of the 1% by now. I kid you not. What could be more positive than the constant teaching of love, repentance, and eternal life of the Baptists—both preached and lived out by my father? What could be more positive than twelve-step programs? What could be more positive than a professional academic faculty urging one on, cajoling, and challenging one to finish a PhD? And so on.

Why do daily doses of advice that I should find “a way to view [any situation] that allows me to see it in a light that leaves room for acceptance, growth, and movement” make me cringe? Why have I not absorbed all of that positive energy over my life to blossom at some point into one of those Coveyites with seven highly effective habits?

My late partner bought me one of those Covey “planners” to get me organized. I could not master the first requirement—learn to keep the damned thing with me. The only usefulness it ever had was the address book, which I’ve used for at least 15 years. But about six months ago in a fit of cleaning and organizing I put it in some logical safe place which I have forgotten, and every time I need the zip code for my brother’s address I have to look it on the USPS website up again. A friend, one of the few people in the blogosphere I know in person—have known since before blogging—was also one of the few friends who understood my dilemma of carrying the planner in order to plan. Most of my friends thought it was funny—funny “peculiar,” not funny “ha-ha,” as we used to say.

Most of my close friends accept the funny “peculiar’ in me (the lion’s share) as part of me (part that they apparently, for which I am grateful, seem to love).

But there’s this thing that happens in my mind whenever I read something like, “The good news is no one can be me as well as me. Being me builds on who I already am. It uses and optimizes my own human and cultural capital. It’s exercise for my personality and my spirit” from today’s meditation thingy. Exercise for my personality and my spirit?

Covey, through and through—although he’d say, of course, that I should develop seven habits that would, besides helping me be me, make me highly successful.

LA Traffic in Dallas: as real as it gets?

LA Traffic in Dallas: as real as it gets?

So it’s really no secret why I am not highly successful. I’ve never developed those seven habits. I couldn’t even, when presented with the possibility of development, remember to carry the book.

So do you want to know what I think? I think there’s something about me that knows that all of that positive thinking (remember Norman Vincent Peale?—he died, by the way, in spite of The Power of Positive Thinking) isn’t really what being human is all about. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know it’s what gets us into the alpha male and now alpha female race to have billions of dollars and be able to own the politics of a (our) country. You know David Koch and Alice Walton.

When was the last time you took off your ten dollar Merona (produced by the Israeli alphas of the Middle East) clothes from Target, or you Billion Dollar clothes from LA Traffic (made by alphas from Los Angeles and sold to alphas in Dallas) and took a walk through a forest or lay on your back in a prairie grassland in Texas at night looking at the galaxies? Felt and saw the source of our “reality”?

Rhonda in HR has been “my main connection with university reality” since the beginning of my “working” at SMU. What does that have to do with, uh, reality? Nothing.

What does developing “acceptance, growth, and movement, while still remaining connected to my authentic self” have to do with reality? What does growing and moving in the system of alpha males and females have to do with reality?

Nothing, that I can see. I may be “funny peculiar.” And I may be stuck at about 15 years of age asking the sophomoric teenage questions of “What’s it all about” (you know, reading On Walden Pond and that stuff)?

But, really, when I ask these questions am I not simply raising issues we don’t wanna think about. You’re gonna die in spite of your LA Traffic clothes. And we should think about that all the time.

“The Traveling Onion,”by Naomi Shihab Nye  

“It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an
object of worship —why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion
entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.” — Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way the knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.
And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,

Naomi Shihab Nye. She has it about right.

Naomi Shihab Nye. She has it about right.


“God’s gonna trouble the waters”

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

God's gonna trouble the waters

God’s gonna trouble the waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My pool, but not my exercise

My pool, but not my exercise

“. . . religion . . . a matter . . . in which no other, & far less the public, [has] a right to intermeddle.”

A scary place?

A scary place?

Marlise Muñoz is the latest victim of an insane and deadly religious war in the United States.

“Conservatives” (that is, apparently, those terrified of science) are waging a war in this country that is every bit as sectarian and brutal, and—where they win the war—results in a despotism every bit as un-Democratic and cruel as any these same “conservatives” claim to hate in countries where “Islamists” are in control.

When I was in junior high school (1957-1960), we lived in the house at the corner of the northwest city limits of Scottsbluff, NE, the corner of Avenue I and 30th Street. All of the land between our house and that corner was vacant. The First Baptist Church was eventually built there. I don’t know where the city limit is now. There’s a shopping center to the west across Avenue I from there, and houses cover the hillside to the north, so I assume the city limit has succumbed to the Nebraska small city version of urban sprawl.

From our yard, we could see St. Mary’s Hospital (Roman Catholic) on the hillside north and east perhaps half a mile away (at an extension of Avenue B). We lived there for 5 years, and I never once was closer to St. Mary’s than our yard.

My brother and I had our tonsils removed at the Methodist Hospital downtown on Broadway. I remember that overnight stay well. And I remember being taken there many times to visit friends and acquaintances.

. . . in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle. . .

. . . in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle. . .

But St. Mary’s was a mystery—because it was Catholic, and we Baptists had no reason to associate with it. I remember a few times my father, the Baptist preacher, had to go there to visit a parishioner. When he came home, it almost felt as if Mom wanted to fumigate him.

Besides the obvious historic animosity of Baptists toward Catholics, Mom had a (fairly sound?) reason for not wanting anything to do with St. Mary’s Hospital. After all, she explained, if a woman was delivering a baby and there were compilations, the Catholics would let the mother die in order to save the baby if it came to that.

This was well before Rove v. Wade and before the Catholics and Baptists joined in their un-Holy Alliance to declare religious war on the rest of us.

The late Marlise Muñoz and her husband Erick Muñoz of Ft. Worth became casualties in that religious war. Her brain died from an apparent embolism last November, but—because she was pregnant—her body was kept alive on machines until two days ago, kept alive against her prior stated wishes and the wishes of her family. Kept alive by the religious laws of the State of Texas.

The political struggle over abortion is a religious war. The Catholics, most Baptists, and other “conservatives” are hell-bent on forcing their religious belief on the rest of us. A “conservative” victory in the religious war carried out in the Texas legislature made it illegal to discontinue life support on a pregnant woman—even if the woman was brain-dead. Saving an unviable fetus in a situation that could be described only as cruel and inhumane for the family of the mother is a victory in the religious war.

That a human being, Homo sapiens, has a soul is 100% a religious belief. One hundred percent. It does not matter whether or not I personally think I have a soul, but if I did, it would be 100% a religious belief.

100% religious.

The belief that the soul is somehow “created” the moment a human sperm enters a human ovum is also a religious belief. “Conservatives” can show us all the ultra-sound pictures of all the fetuses they want, and they have proven nothing. Nothing.

Except their 100% religious belief.

100% religious.

I do not mean in any way to say that reproductive rights are not a struggle for women’s rights (which “conservative” women seem to be willing to give up for the sake of the religious war). Reproductive rights are absolutely about women’s rights. But the basis of those rights is as much in the Constitutional declaration that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” as it is in the right to privacy or any other right.

It is 100% a religious right.

Every time the Congress or some state legislature passes another restriction on abortion, they are passing a law respecting an establishment of religion. They are using the power of the majority to force their religious belief on all of us.

As a matter of public policy—that is, an establishment of religion—those who believe in the human “soul” cannot constitutionally force their beliefs on the rest of us.

That they have done so is sectarian violence not unlike the sectarian violence that is tearing Syria apart, or the victory of one sect over all others in Iran, or the official and legal banning of religion in China. It is the same. It is forcing the view of one religion onto everyone else.

It is mindless, violent, and un-American.

Jacquielynn Floyd of the Dallas Morning News summed it up pretty well.

But the freakish, dystopian hell superimposed on [Marlise Muñoz’s family’s] loss was an inhumane synthesis of factors outside their control: obscure and misinterpreted law, cover-your-butt bureaucratic paranoia and hysteria surrounding reproductive politics (Floyd, Jacquielynn. “Marlise Muñoz case was about bureaucracy, politics — and cruelty.” dallasnews.com. 27 January 2014. Web.)

“Hysteria surrounding reproductive politics.” The Christianist majority’s war on the religious beliefs of the rest of us.

Which, for the time being, they have won. They have imposed their religious will on the nation as surely as His Eminence Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei imposes his religious will on Iran.

1813 May 31.  (Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush).  “…the subject of religion, a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his maker, in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle.”

George Mason, "father" of the Bill of Rights

George Mason, “father” of the Bill of Rights

To express the “inner children” of a bunch of grownups

Not that innocent

Not that innocent

My siblings and I have many traditions together that are perfectly silly and would make sense to no one but us. For example, one might assume the three ice cream cone ornaments on my brother and sister-in-law’s Christmas tree are cute flights of fancy. What could be better to express the “inner children” of a bunch of grown-ups than ice cream cone decorations on the Christmas tree?

It’s not quite that innocent.

In 1985 our dad found descendants of our grandfather’s siblings (Granddad was one of nine brothers and sisters) from all corners of the country and organized a Knight Family Reunion at the ancestral home in Buford, Arkansas. All together, we were a crowd larger than the population of the town had ever been, even when people actually lived there.

My brother and sister-in-law lived in Wichita, Kansas. I flew there to drive to Buford with them, and our sister and her family drove from California to meet us so we could drive in a little two-car caravan from Wichita to Buford. We extracted from our brother, who was driving in the lead, promise to stop soon for a break to get a drink and use the facilities at a Dairy Queen. We had agreed–for some reason–a Dairy Queen would be a good place.

We passed one a fairly good distance from Wichita, and he did not stop. Then, down the road, another, then another, then another. He did not stop. Ever.

In retaliation, my sister and I began giving him Dairy Queen memorabilia for his birthdays, for Christmas, for any occasion that seemed appropriate, and eventually just because. It is a habit that brings us much enjoyment and laughter. So ice cream cones hanging from his Christmas tree are a nod to, a continuation of mutual tradition tying us together in the same way making snicker-doodles from Mom’s old recipe and countless other rituals based on our common private heritage do.

A little birthday jaunt?

A little birthday jaunt?

Sometimes I think about my professional colleagues and wonder what kind of silliness they participate in with their siblings. And I am embarrassed. Their family traditions probably have to do with Milton or Shakespeare, Charles Dickens or Annie Proulx, post-Structuralism or Bauldrillard’s Simulacra. We are so common compared with academics, writers, and other highly professional folk.

The traditions of my friends with more money than they need (I do have a few of those) involve giving white elephant gifts of Alexander McQueen fashions or season tickets to the Cowboys games or birthday trips to the Iguazu Falls in Argentina. At least birthday dinners at the new Joule Hotel in downtown Dallas. (Oops! I did take a friend to Stephan Pyles’ “Stampede” for his birthday last year and had one of Stephan’s Heaven and Hell cakes for my birthday, but I assure you those will not become “traditions”).

If my friends had contacted Nate Berkus to come and work his gay boy magic in my apartment, the transformation would have been so dramatic his show would not have been cancelled. I don’t even know the “traditions” of my own kind of people.

I cannot imagine myself–in the first place I don’t have the wardrobe for it–having dinner at the Dallas home of the friend of my friend where President Obama dined (the President didn’t actually eat because that would have required another level of security that her home was not equipped to handle–he only talked and socialized). My friend has both the wardrobe and the credentials for such an Important Event. More importantly, he knows which fork to use for each dinner course.

I am, I realize, stuck in a groove. The 33 and 1/3 rpm disc in my brain is scratched, and the needle cannot move on past this infinite loop, this interminable repetition. I’m stuck in place and can’t move on.

My perennial question is, it seems to me, so simple that someone ought to be able to provide an answer that would allow me to move on to some other pressing issue. It’s a two-part question. First, how did we humans, over dozens of millennia, get ourselves organized into societies with, on the one hand, people who give each other trips to South America and get to invite the President to their homes (even in Dallas) for dinner, and the rest of us who give each other plastic Dairy Queen ice cream cone Christmas presents? Second, which of us when we die, based on our relative comfort and importance in this life, is going to be closer to or more of a part of the ground of being, the God particle, the Lamb on His throne, however you want to describe it.

Or are we all going to be equally dead, so being rich and famous or even a hot-shot academic is ultimately meaningless?

A once-in-a-lifetime birthday cake?

A once-in-a-lifetime birthday cake?

If the last question is the right one to ask, then I have one further question that is probably un-American, un-Christian, and simply not nice. Why do we let those people (you know who they are) own so much of what should belong to all of us to allow us to get through this life with the same amount of ease, of comfort, of opportunity to think about it and enjoy ourselves? Why do we let this continue century after century after century (and become a more and more pronounced discrepancy in the United States hour by hour)?

I wouldn’t give up my family’s Dairy Queen tradition for anything. But I wonder when the time will come that all of us, all 7 billion of us, have the the opportunity to develop whatever family traditions we like–besides traditions like hunger and oppression generation after generation.