“We all get bored: between mainstream culture (buy things) and nature. . .”

The poet Henri Cole said of his need to write every day

. . . I do want to extract some illustrative figures, as I do from the parables in the Bible, to help me persevere each day at my writing table, where I must confront myself, overcome any fear of what I might find there, and begin assembling language into poetry (1).



Immediately when I quote from an established writer (or musician, or political observer, or. . .) my fear is that someone (myself included) will think I’m favorably comparing myself to them (2 – please note). That’s often the trouble with quoting someone in order to make a point about what’s going on in one’s own mind. I’m saying only that Henri Cole, with his word-skill honed over decades, has managed to say something that resonates in my expressive life.

Every morning “I must confront myself, overcome any fear of what I might find there, and begin assembling language. . .” I have no illusion that what I write is poetry, or even that it’s good prose. I write. That’s all. I assemble language. Most of the time I can’t tell when it is assembled whether it’s sincere, artless, good, bad, or indifferent. If I like its looks or sounds, or if it seems to mean anything I feel or think, I am apt to post it here—or tuck it away in a folder on my computer desktop intending to come back to it someday and make it into something useful or delightful.

I’ve been thinking, talking, writing (privately) about emotions—feelings—whatever the word might be. Trying to think about (much less write about) my feelings directly is a risky proposition on many levels. It is perhaps the most immediate process of “confront[ing] myself, [trying to] overcome any fear of what I might find there.”

One of my close friends and confidants refers periodically to the work of Pia Mellody at The Meadows clinic in Arizona. Yesterday, trying to write coherently about some of my feelings (in a way that sounded objective enough to post here for the whole world to see), I searched for her on the internet. I searched for her because I know one of her basic ideas is that there are eight primary emotions.

Anger, fear, pain, joy, passion, love, shame, guilt.

Mellody works with her patients to help them learn to sort out which of the eight they are feeling at any given moment and to concentrate on them rather than mixing them with other “secondary” feelings. Sorry for the psychobabble.

I am pretty sure I feel each of them on a regular basis. Anger, pain, and shame most regularly.

These days one of them has crept into my consciousness in a way it never has before. I am not a brave person. I’m too self-absorbed and too unconscious of the world around me very often to have the sense to feel fear. I’m not afraid of much because I don’t put myself into situations of derring-do physically, mentally, or spiritually. I’m too cautious to feel much fear. I either hide, or I let others of the eight primaries take over and guide my thinking and action (usually anger or pain). Bipolar II disorder I think makes people angry and passionate, not fearful. Who has time to be afraid if you’re swinging from high to low in ways you can’t control?

However, I am facing a situation I do not know anything about. I know many people who have faced (are in) the situation, and, frankly, I see few of them whose response I want to emulate. Fortunately for me, my own father is one of those few. But it is an almost overwhelmingly fearsome prospect.

The unknown I am facing is, of course, that 89 days from today I will teach my last class as a fully employed college professor. On May 31 I will receive my last monthly paycheck from Southern Methodist University. I don’t know what it’s like not to have an amount of money deposited in my checking account adequately to support the (not very lavish, let me say) style of living to which I have become accustomed—that is, having a place to live, clothes to wear, and enough food for both me and my cats.

How are you feeling today?

How are you feeling today?

For anyone in the bottom 99% of the economic population, retirement ought to be a frightening possibility.

Anyone who began working for any educational institution after about 1980 has no retirement plan–only investments they bought over the years through some kind of 401 plan (mine isn’t even as secure as a 401(k) because the government decided people who work in private schools shouldn’t be given a guaranteed income in retirement—I guess because we make so much money) and let their funds be invested at the whim of the stock market. My total investment portfolio from my years at SMU was worth $4,000 less yesterday than a week ago. Every point the stock market loses means a loss of about 1% of my retirement income. And a market crash like the 2009 crash will render me income-less.

And I’m 69 years old. Statistically that means I have a 50% chance of hitting 90 because I’ve hit 70.

So my writing about feelings has devolved to thinking and writing about one emotion. I’ve got 89 days of writing to figure out how fear fits into the overall scheme of my life. And get over it. I want to arrive at a point of accepting reality as the French poet Charles Pierre Baudelaire (April 9, 1821 – August 31, 1867) apparently did.

Dead broke.

Dead broke.

Baudelaire’s Ablutions, by Roger Fanning (3)

Baudelaire, dead broke, nonetheless allowed himself
two hours for his morning ablutions.
(Warm water can be a narcotic too.)
His razor scraping whiskers cleanly off
sounded like a file rasping
against prison bars. Never did this man
gulp a cup of coffee, bolt out the door
with a blob of shaving cream on one ear,
and go to a job. He composed himself.
Dead broke, he explored (in prose) six waterdrops
that quake in a corner of Delacroix’s painting
Dante and Virgil! Meanwhile, through his window
intruded softly the spiel of a fishmonger
as well as the stench. Many, many vendors still
singsong their wares, as a sort of wishwash drizzle
inducing human animals to mope, to yawn.
We all get bored: between mainstream culture (buy things)
and nature (in this case, rain), people tend to snooze.
Poetry jolts awake the lucky few. I praise
the mirror-gazing mighty poet Baudelaire,
my hero, a fop full of compulsions,
a perfectionist to whom a single
tweezered nosehair brought tears of joy.
(1) Cole, Henri. “About the Author.” Poets on Poetry. Randomhouse.com. n.d. Web.
(2) If you are worried about my incorrect (that is, not agreeing in number) use of the pronoun “them,” see my note “Singular ‘They’” in the heading above. Let’s start a movement to end the absurd “his or her.”
(3) Fanning, Roger. “Baudelaire’s Ablutions.” New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology (2000), 78.

“So as not to be the martyred slaves of time. . . “

howtheuniverseworks_artheadA funny story.

Twenty-ish years ago my psychiatrist in the Neurology Department of Harvard University Medical School decided he and several patients could benefit from a seminar on ending procrastination. One of those “life-changing” seminars such as play interminably on PBS during pledge campaigns. The psychiatrist intended to make reservations. Finally at about 5 PM the day before the seminar, he called and apologized for waiting until the last minute and asked if they had room for three or four more participants.

The woman in charge of reservations, he told me later, laughed and said, “Of course we do. We have almost no reservations. This IS a seminar in procrastination, after all.” Of course.

I forgot to go.

My psychiatrist’s patients were exclusively Temporal Lobe Epilepsy patients . . .

[If you read my blog, you’re tired of hearing about it. But, please, my writing yesterday was the beginning of writing about the gift I now understand TLE to be.]

. . .  which I have known at some level, since Dr. Donald Schomer gave me a name for it, is more a blessing than a curse.

I love “How the Universe Works” on the Discovery Chanel. 16,000,000,000 years ago. Physicists talk about quantum physics or parallel universes, ideas that boggle the mind. The Swiss Institute for Particle Physics and its atom-smashing machine. But my understanding of creation is stuck at laughing at Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory.”

But there’s something about thinking about time. Is time real? How do we know we’re not going backwards? Or that everything in the universe is happening at once in a zillionth of a second and it will be over before you read the next word?

TLEptics experience dissociation on a grand scale. Lasting for days. Weeks. We also have astonishing déjà vu experiences. I’ve lived entire days over in a second or two. And no one else has a clue what’s going on unless the TLEptic tells them. Most of us never do because it would seem we were frankly crazy.

Perhaps we were (are).

Or perhaps we have momentary flashes of experience of the passage of time the rest of you don’t get to have. What does it mean to

First Methodist Church, Omaha

First Methodist Church, Omaha

live a day again in a second? My neurologist says he can touch a certain place in my temporal lobe with an electrode (assuming I let him poke a hole in my skull) and give me as long a déjà vu experience as I want.

So what is time? Experience stored physically in the brain? And what time is it now? Who knows?

When I was in high school (we say “when” as if we are measuring “time” and some has passed since the experience we’re talking about—perhaps it hasn’t happened yet and I’m imagining it’s going to happen, or perhaps everything we know is happening all at once), I was a darling of the little old ladies (mostly younger than I am now), members of the American Guild of Organists in Omaha, NE.

The Guild met monthly at yet another church with some organist playing to show the capabilities of the organ. After a meeting at the First Methodist Church, I found a copy of J.S Bach’s The Little Organ Book on the organ bench. I brashly sat at the organ and played number 45, Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig!

Ah how fleeting,
ah how insubstantial is man’s life!
As a mist soon arises
and soon also vanishes again,
so is our life: see!

I played the little piece to the oohs-and-ahs! of the little old ladies. I’ve played it countless times [“times”] since, mostly at funerals with those congregations totally unaware of the appropriateness of the music.

A student in one of my classes would, by this point in her essay, have a comment from me to the effect, “What’s your point?” I would point out to her that she had not begun with a clear thesis, so her writing seems to have no point. So I’ll create a thesis right now [“now”]—or tell you what my point has been all along although you’d never guess it.

The passage of time may be a figment of our collective imagination. We have clocks, both analog and digital, to measure a “reality” that we cannot prove is real. I know this is one of those sophomoric twists college kids like to ponder and argue well into the night (as long as they have enough beer). I admit to being sophomoric.

Or. . .

I still play the Bach Ach wie flüchtig! I play it much more slowly than is normal (or than I played it to show off for the little old ladies). I like to hear all the notes in my old age. [You can listen to the Dutch organist Ton Koopman play it in the standard fashion here.]

Or perhaps I play much more slowly now because I think this is beginning to be the end of my life when in reality it’s the beginning. Or this very moment is eternity. Or we don’t exist at all. Or, if we do, we should be getting ready to die. Is that too startling, depressing for you? You should be a TLEptic. You’d have had a lifetime [“time”] to think about these things.

“Be Drunk,” by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
(translated by Louis Simpson)

You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”