“. . . to freeze a moment in time. . .”

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“. . . to make sure I could see the images of trees, cars, and houses . . .”

Recently I was walking around my neighborhood after sunset but before the darkest night. As usual I carried my iPhone in my pocket. I carry it when I walk to use as my ID in case anything untoward should happen and―perhaps more important―to take pictures. I’ve become one of those millions of inveterate would-be photographers that smart phones have created.

I love the word “inveterate.” Its root means “to grow old” as in “veteran,” but its general use is to imply “habitual.” As I grow old(er) I become more and more intransigent in my habits, especially the annoying habits that are of little significance except that they are annoying.

One of those annoying habits is not writing in a straight line but interrupting my rhetorical flow, such as it is, with interjections and explanations that are probably neither interesting nor helpful to whatever “argument” I mean to make.

A few days ago I heard on the radio a travel writer―one who goes around the world and writes about his experiences so the rest of us can travel vicariously through his descriptions―claim that he does not carry a camera when he travels. He wants to think and write about what he sees rather than trying to freeze a sight or moment in time so he can relive the past by viewing his pictures. He said cameras make a person “intellectually and expressively lazy.”

Mea culpa. But I was intellectually and expressively lazy long before Steve Jobs and his associates invented the iPhone.

On my recent walk around the neighborhood I was trying to organize my thinking around the intriguing patterns of light created by streetlamps and lights in the windows of houses I passed, trying not to be intellectually and expressively lazy. I went about six blocks east on the main street of the neighborhood and turned south onto a residential street so quiet it almost seemed no one lived there. I gave in to the urge to take iPhone pictures in the dark, or not-quite-dark, of the artificially lit street. The fascinating patterns of light were more than I could resist trying to freeze in a moment of time.

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“. . . I had passed a tree next to the sidewalk shadowed against the light of a streetlight . . .”

I took a couple of pictures and checked to make sure I could see the images of trees, cars, and houses in the phone’s photo app, that it had, in fact, taken pictures in the almost dark. A few yards back I had passed a tree next to the sidewalk shadowed against the light of a streetlight. I retraced my steps and took a picture of the pattern.

As I turned to continue down the street, I discovered the moon, about three-quarters full, familiar on a clear night―mid-way between horizon and zenith in the west, bright and warm, brilliantly white, a small slice of its upper left shaded, a few days into the waning phase.

I was spellbound. I felt as if I had never seen the moon before, as if it were a phenomenon that had just that moment appeared in the sky. For an instant I wondered, “What is that?”

Of course I recognized the moon, but the juxtaposition of the moon with the manufactured lights on the street, on which I had been concentrating and in which I had taken delight a few seconds before, startled me. My intellectual laziness, my attempt to find shapes and forms that pleased me rather than to see the world as it is, made possible a moment of surprise. “What is that?” The natural world impinged on my delight in the manmade world. Seeing the moon, really seeing the moon, on several occasions has given me pause.

My ophthalmologist told me the moon is the farthest object that we can see and focus our eyes on. I have a slight astigmatism, and seeing the moon singly rather than doubly, he says, is the best way to know that my glasses are doing their job. One of my favorite opera arias is Baby Doe’s “Silver Song” in Douglas Moore’s opera The Ballad of Baby Doe. “Gold is a fine thing for those who admire it, but silver, silver is the color of the moon.” I am fascinated by images of and writing about the moon.

However, my periodic “discovery” of the moon, unnerves me. The moon is impossibly distant, inaccessible to mankind except for a few astronauts. And yet, we can see it, we can study it, we can know a great deal about it. Every sighted human being has experienced the moon visually, but we cannot touch it. We can focus our eyes on it, but it is forever out of reach.

The moon is for me, when I see it, when I really see it, especially when I am looking for something else, the embodiment―can something so distant, something that I will never touch be an embodiment―of the mystery of my life. This is one of those moments I wish I had trained myself to think as a philosopher or write as poet. I am not, perhaps, expressively lazy, rather, expressively unskilled, unqualified, ineffectual. As I grow old(er), I want more and more to be able to describe my experience of the moon. Or, rather, my experience of the finite and the infinite.

No matter what words I think of, my writing seems sophomoric, even ridiculous.

The moon is finite (as is the earth and the sun and every other object in space). It will take a few billion years or so for it to crash into the earth or disintegrate on its own or be swallowed up in a great explosion of the sun. But it will cease to exist. Everything will in the form we know it. And yet, we see the moon month after month, and twelve men have walked there. Every Homo sapiens has seen it. Can we can say the moon is and it is not?

I am and I am not. Like the lights on Fairmont Street in Dallas, I exist. Like the lights I exist as a pattern, a form. Now you see it, now you don’t. In our experience, save for twelve of us, the moon is but a pattern, a silver light in the sky. The lights on Fairmont Street will burn out and can be replaced. In a billion years the moon will irreplaceably cease to exist. I will irreplaceably cease . . .   img_5731-copy

“. . . then the scaffolds drop Affirming it a Soul . . .” (Emily Dickinson)

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My strange little abode

When my partner died in 2003, I went apartment hunting almost immediately, not for any deep psychological reason or because it was part of the grieving process. That was November, and our lease was to be up in January. I did not want to pay another year’s rent on a huge apartment in North Dallas, wasting money and rattling around in that space by myself. No single man needs two bathrooms.

A friend who knew the city much better than I helped me look for rental ads and then drive around to look at various apartments.

After a half dozen tries we came to the one where I’ve lived since, and I knew immediately it was for me. It is not a cute cookie-cutter place ready-made for a gay-boy’s au courant possessions or valuable art work or trinkets bought with too much “disposable” income. What I have (my stuff and what I kept of my partner’s stuff) is not fashionable or valuable, so it seems to belong in the weird “loft” space I rent― one big room with no walls or doors (except the bathroom, of course). It has popcorn ceiling (how last-year), in the center the huge cement pillar holding the whole building up, ugly (I mean UGLY) apartment-cheap carpet, and a tiny galley kitchen no real cook would want to use.

It’s in the building I fondly call the “dowager” of the neighborhood―built in the ‘50s of concrete and glass, it would take an atomic bomb to tear it down. It’s tired, and it lost its upscaleness about three decades ago.

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My artwork: a painting by my uncle’s late parter, Victor Gugliuzza. Two paintings by the Canadian painter Allen Sapp.

In other words, it’s perfect for me and my odd assortment of furniture and decorations (really―so really you probably can’t imagine it). And for me. And for my cats (whose presence is ubiquitously obvious).

And since 2008, space for the pipe organ, Opus 1 of D. Steuart Goodwin Organ Builders of San Bernardino, CA. Yes, a pipe organ sits in the open space where my dining table once was.

I do not mean to imply, by the way, that I think only gays have finely appointed, stylishly decorated, and elegantly furnished living spaces. Nearly everyone I know does.

I’ve been thinking about my less than stylish surroundings because I have recently met several people who are of far different means and “lifestyle” than mine. I’m pretty sure I can guess that their digs are upscale. One of these folks and I are, I think, forging a friendship. The others I will probably have passing acquaintanceships with, if that. I’ve been thinking about whether or not I would invite any of those people to my home. I would not want them to think ill of me because of my less-then-stylish surroundings

Last night I was in a group in which we were talking about how one develops a loving relationship with oneself. Better late (at 71) than never, I suppose. I woke up this morning having been “warned in a dream” (Matthew 2:13) ―not warned exactly, informed, and not in a dream, in my rested mind―about a fact of my life that I often overlook. It starts with realizing that my apartment is an expression of who I am. I am not an expression of my apartment.

My apartment expresses a mind that is eccentrically organized―if it is organized at all. It expresses a spirit that has little interest in owning physical, worldly things. It expresses an understanding of the purpose of life as striving rather than accomplishment.

It may also be the result of depersonalization or dissociative disorder as symptoms of the wonderfully strange condition Temporal Lobe Epilepsy or something like it. All of that is so ephemeral as to render it impossible to talk about except with my neurologist and psychiatrist.

My apartment, if I could choose definitively what it expresses, is a manifestation of my caring little about what others think of me. That is not, of course, quite true. I care a great deal. But somewhere buried deep down inside me is a loving relationship with Me.

Not with what I own.

Not with my modest accomplishments.

Not with what I know.

With Me.

That relationship is not easy, and it is often obscured by fear and by doubt. I often mistake arrogance and self-righteousness for loving myself. And loving myself does not make me brave or strong. In fact, I most often want to cower in the corner and protect myself.

I’m not saying I am satisfied with Me. I wish I had done more and different things with my life. And I wish I could say I know myself completely. On the contrary, I keep discovering characteristics of Me, some of which I like and some of which I don’t like.

This afternoon I may not be able to say it, but right now I love myself, both what I like of myself and what I don’t like. Those friends I was in conversation with last night may not have heard what I said as an expression that I have a loving relationship with myself. (I said here at the outset I was told in a dream.)

Actually what happened was not a dream. Early this morning I was playing the organ for a few minutes as I often do for reasons of which I am often unconscious. The mystery of music is the same as the mystery of me. And of you.

Some people meditate. Some read inspirational literature. I play a simple organ piece.

“THE PROPS ASSIST THE HOUSE,” BY EMILY DICKINSON
The Props assist the House
Until the House is built
And then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Augur and the Carpenter –
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected Life –
A Past of Plank and Nail
And slowness – then the scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul –

The little prelude by Friedrich Wilhelm Zachau (1663-1712) on Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr
(“All Gory Be to God on High”) which passed for my meditation this morning.

“. . . any recent attempts on your part To save our fellow-citizens from themselves. . .” (Carl Dennis). An open letter to my friends—all 47 of you.

The Sea of Galilee in the Occupied Territories of Palestine

The Sea of Galilee in the Occupied Territories of Palestine

Dear Friends,
If you’re anything like me—social scientists say anyone who knows me in the flesh and I are apt to be pretty much alike—

. . . Homophily—the tendency for similar individuals to associate with one another—is a widespread and well-documented social phenomenon. . . individuals who are similar with regard to race, ethnicity, sex, age, religion, education, occupation, social class, attitudes, opinions, and beliefs are more likely to associate with one another than would be expected by chance. . . . (Curry, Oliver, and Robin Dunbar. “Do Birds Of A Feather Flock Together?” Human Nature 24.3 (2013): 336-347.)

Homophily. If you know me F2F, we have that going on, and if you’re reading this, we could. We have in common the level of education and class that allows us the belief that the Internet is a way to communicate. I would hope individuals whose “race, ethnicity, sex, age, religion, education, [etc.]” are different from mine are reading this, but I doubt it.

You are almost certainly white, more-or-less middle-aged, more-or-less middle class, educated, kind, generous, and sensitive. You hate murder and killing (even if you—unlike most of my friends—like guns).

One of my doctors told me yesterday I have a way of putting people at ease, a charming if off-the-wall sense of humor. She said she’d bet most people who meet me like me. Our conversation centered on the amount of Prozac I might be required to take every day. I want to get “by” not “high.”

The truth is, I want much more than getting by.

I think I can say this to almost anyone reading this: It’s time for us to get off our comfortable keisters and do something to make the world a better place. Getting by is not enough.

In 2008 I had the privilege of meeting a remarkable woman who has had the courage and determination to make a difference for the better in the unbelievably difficult situation into which she was thrust in at the age of 15, and in which she has lived since then. We had an online connection and friendship well before we were able to meet in person, and we have remained friends since then. That amazes me, and that she counts me as a friend humbles me.

Hope, at the Church of the Heptagon on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, Occupied Territories of Palestine

Hope, at the Church of the Heptagon on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, Occupied Territories of Palestine

In 1948 Samia became a citizen of a nation that does not yet exist, a prisoner in her own land, a “freedom fighter,” an advocate for the right of her people to determine for themselves not only the government under which they live, but the future existence of their culture for her children’s children.

From April 18, 1775, to September 3, 1783, terrorists shot canons and muskets and set booby traps to terrorize the nice British soldiers in places like Massachusetts who wanted only to occupy and own 13 little countries along the Atlantic coast of North America. The British soldiers were protecting the privileges of the most modern democracy in Europe. Ultimately, the owners of the land were the King and Parliament of Britain. Taxes and other privileges of governance belonged to them. That included lining the coffers of the religious establishment of Britain, the Church of England. Colonists were allowed to practice their own religion, but they all paid taxes for the support of the Church of England.
We know how the eight years of terrorism turned out. The terrorists won, and the forced support of the King, the Parliament, and the Church of England ended.

A few days ago a friend sent me an email. He is younger than middle-age, (at least) middle-class, highly educated and way above average in intelligence. I think the world of him. He’s one of those younger people an old geezer like me counts on to carry on the highest ideals of our society. He’s probably surprised at the depth of my fondness for him. His email said, in part,

. . . [the “Holy Land”] is full of total assholes. Of course there are more than a few Palestinians who think like terrorists and regret only that their rockets aren’t enough to reduce Jerusalem to a smoldering rubble full of bodies. Of course there are Israelis who have long since forgotten the humanity of their neighbors, who arrived as a stateless nation and then callously created a stateless nation of men, women, and children who deserve self-determination and an international media that is not determined to choose sides. I trust you are much more educated about all this than I am. Animosity is a powerful thing, though, more powerful than media coverage, and I regret to say that there is probably no new perspective that will make the Holy Land a place of peace.

Above I gave a real historical example of the accomplishments of a bunch of terrorists. Here’s a make-believe example. Suppose the United Nations, urged on by the United States, declared that Mexico—because it had the first claim on Texas—would be given a swath of Texas from the Rio Grande up to and including Dallas. The Mexican army moved into Dallas, declared the people of Mexican descent and the “illegal” alien Mexicans who were already here to be the rightful owners of everything from the Myerson to the Frito Lay headquarters and all of Dallas County. They began pillaging everything in sight, ripping off the economy, not letting those of us who thought we owned property here vote, and, in fact, throwing us out of our homes—especially the ones in Southlake, University Park, and Preston Hollow—and took over the entire downtown and Galleria areas.

Would you and I, the rightful owners and residents of Dallas, be justified in fighting back? If we did, would we be terrorists who want “to reduce Dallas to a smoldering rubble full of bodies?” What recourse would we have, especially if the United States was giving the Mexican government $3,000,000,000 a year to keep us in our places?

Terrorists?
Freedom fighters?
Patriots?
Exactly what would you call us?
I’d like to hear your thoughts.

The best to you,
Harold

“Thanksgiving Letter from Harry,” Carl Dennis, 1939

I guess I have to begin by admitting
I’m thankful today I don’t reside in a country
My country has chosen to liberate,
That Bridgeport’s my home, not Baghdad.
Thankful my chances are good, when I leave
For the Super Duper, that I’ll be returning.
And I’m thankful my TV set is still broken.
No point in wasting energy feeling shame
For the havoc inflicted on others in my name
When I need all the strength I can muster
To teach my eighth-grade class in the low-rent district.
There, at least, I don’t feel powerless.
There my choices can make some difference.

This month I’d like to believe I’ve widened
My students’ choice of vocation, though the odds
My history lessons on working the land
Will inspire any of them to farm
Are almost as small as the odds
One will become a monk or nun
Trained in the Buddhist practice
We studied last month in the unit on India.
The point is to get them suspecting the world
They know firsthand isn’t the only world.

As for the calling of soldier, if it comes up in class,
It’s not because I feel obliged to include it,
As you, as a writer, may feel obliged.
A student may happen to introduce it,
As a girl did yesterday when she read her essay
About her older brother, Ramon,
Listed as “missing in action” three years ago,
And about her dad, who won’t agree with her mom
And the social worker on how small the odds are
That Ramon’s alive, a prisoner in the mountains.

I didn’t allow the discussion that followed
More time than I allowed for the other essays.
And I wouldn’t take sides: not with the group
That thought the father, having grieved enough,
Ought to move on to the life still left him;
Not with the group that was glad he hadn’t made do
With the next-to-nothing the world’s provided,
That instead he’s invested his trust in a story
That saves the world from shameful failure.

Let me know of any recent attempts on your part
To save our fellow-citizens from themselves.
In the meantime, if you want to borrow Ramon
For a narrative of your own, remember that any scene
Where he appears under guard in a mountain village
Should be confined to the realm of longing. There
His captors may leave him when they move on.
There his wounds may be healed,
His health restored. A total recovery
Except for a lingering fog of forgetfulness
A father dreams he can burn away.

Carl Dennis describes the writing of this poem.

Garden,  Church of the Loaves and Fishes, Sea of Galilee, Occupied Territories, Palestine

Garden, Church of the Loaves and Fishes, Sea of Galilee, Occupied Territories, Palestine

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. . .“ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

For sale in Dallas

For sale in Dallas

A couple of days ago I was walking along St. Paul Street in downtown Dallas. A homeless man was rifling through the trash receptacle at the corner of Elm and St. Paul. He pulled out one soda can and put it into the clear plastic bag of cans he held over his shoulder. I’ve seen him on the street before, but always at a distance.

As we approached each other, we looked AT each other, not past each other. Our eyes met, and I said, “Good morning.” He said, “Good morning. It’s hard today.” I asked him what was hard, and he explained that, with all the construction on the downtown streets, he was having trouble making a living.

Streets are torn up for construction of the free trolley from downtown to West Village, and the DART rail is being repaired between the St. Paul and Ackard Street stations. I was out of sorts because I had to get off the train at the American Airlines Center and take a bus to St. Paul Station. Five extra minutes, and two extra blocks to walk. This gross inconvenience is going to last on weekends until November 30.

My new acquaintance explained the construction had reduced foot traffic on St. Paul Street, and that meant fewer soda cans in the trash. He usually collects about ten pounds a day, but these days he’s getting only about six pounds.

He said he was down about $20 a day in income and things were tight. I, of course, had my “give it forward” $20 bill in my wallet. I gave it to him. He offered his hand to shake, and said—as every person I’ve passed the money on to has said—“God bless you.” With the Ebola Crisis, I should not have touched his grimy hand, but I did.

Not to single anyone out, but how much does a liberal TV host make a year?

Not to single anyone out, but how much does a liberal TV host make a year?

From THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMN RIGHTS. (I challenge you to read it)

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people. . .

. . . Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom. . .

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 6.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person. Before the law or otherwise, I would say.

For those who think the United States should not be a member of the United Nations, that we somehow are giving up our independence by trying to be members of the world community, here’s what our Constitution says about $20 bills.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Or, if you must,

“. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I suppose all along when I’ve been wondering about, terrified of, the “meaning of life,” and about my (incipient, it seems to a 70-year-old) death, that about sums up what I need to be worried about.

Please be a good friend and remind of that the next time you read my kvetching about anything.

The Stewpot, Dallas

The Stewpot, Dallas

“. . . ordination in the ordinary. . .” (Stephen Cushman)

He got around to it.

He got around to it.

I wonder. I wonder if all people in their 70th year begin to work at projects they had not imagined attempting in their younger lives—or, conversely, stopped working at activities they have previously thought were important and rewarding.

How many careers can one be retired from—or begin—at age 69?

In the heart of the California Gold Rush country a replica of the cabin Mark Twin lived in for a year just after the Civil War (he was about 30) was built after the original cabin burned down. It is a California Historical Landmark because it’s where Twain wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens, if you must) was born in 1835. He published his greatest work, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in 1885—when he was 50. Of course, he had published a half-dozen novels before that, and numerous short stories, opinion pieces, and a biography of Ulysses S. Grant.

I’m sure many academics have written densely obtuse articles about the importance of “place” in Twain’s novels and short stories. Living in Calaveras County, California, when he wrote “Jumping frog;” in Connecticut when he wrote A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, etc. And a return in memory to the scene of his childhood and young man-hood, the Mississippi River, for Huck Finn.

But one does not need to play academic mind games to appreciate “place” in Huck Finn. The physical setting is obvious. Mark Twain, as a steamboat captain, knew the Mississippi “like the back of his hand” (sorry I can’t be obtuse but simply use clichés). And having grown up in the South, he knew obvious and blatant racism and discrimination, knew it to the core of his being.

And then, when he was 50, he wrote a magnificent story of love and respect. Love and respect between two men who should not have, according to the mores of their society, had anything to do with each other. Everyone knows that except for the idiots who get the novel banned from use in high schools because they know nothing of love and respect. That the sense of place in the novel is important—the Mississippi and the culture along it are characters in the story—is so obvious I’m not sure why I’m even thinking about it.

Oh, yes. Back to what I was thinking about.

About 15 years ago I was in the thick of writing my best unfinished novel. It takes place mainly in Texas, but with strong ties to (and some scenes in) Iowa and Boston. I was living in Dallas, having moved here from Boston, and I had moved to Boston after living in Iowa for my PhD work. I can’t think an original or fresh thought to save myself.

The protagonist of that shelved novel is gay. What a surprise.

There’s some damned good writing in my novel. Damned good! It would have been the dissertation for my second PhD if I had finished it. Sigh. Too late.

When I had written about 2/3rds of it, I finished my PhD exams and was about to be thrown jobless out into the big bad world. Fortunately my little non-tenure-track full-time lecturer job fell into my lap. I took it largely so I could finish my novel.

Non-tenure track faculty don’t have to attend meetings, serve on committees, or “publish or perish.” I was going to write in all that spare time. Of course, I was also Music Director at a small church and had many other obligations.

A sense of place

A sense of place

Chief among them to keep myself out of deep depressions, which I’ve managed to do most of the time.

I’d like to finish that “on-the-shelf” novel, or at least use some of the writing in another one. But it’s on 3½-inch floppy disks I have no way to use. Stuff happened. New job. Ex-wife died. Went to Palestine and had a life-changing introduction to the real world. Partner died. Mother died. Brother-in-law died. Father died. You know, stuff. I tried to go back to the writing about ten years ago and realized the person who had written all of that stuff no longer existed.

I’ve lived in Dallas almost 21 years. The longest I’ve lived anywhere. That was not my plan. A few years tops, then a professorship somewhere beautiful with my partner, and retirement in style and ease. My sense of place is so centered here I find it hard to remember Nebraska, California, Iowa, and Boston. Not really. But I remember them in ways that no longer exist.

Next month is “National Novel Writing Month.” Accept the challenge of the organization NaNoWriMo. Write a 50,000 word novel in November. Let’s see, that’s 1666.666666666667 words a day. When I’m not so distracted I can’t do anything that makes sense, I write at least 1500 words every morning. I could write 1666.666666666667 a day, but this blog would go into hibernation.

a-round-tuitI have something of a plot in mind. A gay 70-year-old retired writer of sociological works about racism who lives in Dallas has a family crisis with his younger brother, the owner of a small business, and his best friend, a 50-year-old woman (not a fag-hag) professor of sociology at a local university gets dragged into the middle of it all, and his other best friend, a gay 60-year-old artist steps in to save the day, and unexpectedly the protagonist and the artist discover they’ve been in love for the 20 years they’ve known each other and suddenly drive over to New Mexico and get married.

Trashy enough?

Well, stay tuned. I may write a 50,000-word novel in November, and I may not. Would that be returning to an activity I once thought was insanely important? or giving up sanity for something different? What if I have a stroke next week and can’t use words anymore?

I may get around to it, and I may not. Around to it.
Today: exactly 1,000 words.

“No Place Like Home,” by Stephen Cushman
My ocean’s the one bad weather blows out to.
To face the other, waves all driven
by prevailing winds, I have to turn
my back on my family. May they forgive
this westward spree, my losing my head
to ravens that ride the thermals in circles,
to the shrub-covered bluffs of coastal scrub
and chaparral, to coons in the avocado trees;
may they not worry that I see signs
warning Great White Shark Area,
Rutting Elk May Be Aggressive,
and Hazardous Surf, or that one night two
quick earthquakes burped through the ground;
and may they repeat, when I return
slightly burned from the land of poppies,
all the lessons they ever taught me
about ordination in the ordinary.

Stephen Cushman has published several collections of poetry. He is Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

“Time tells me what I am. I change and I am the same. . .” (Mark Strand)

Never. That’s when I was in the peak of physical condition, able to do what I wanted to do and feeling healthy and sexy.

Yep. Never.

And for a gay man, that’s a somewhat sad statement. We’re supposed to ooze sex and health and attractiveness. I guess so other gay men don’t have to think twice about hooking up with us. And life is fun and frolicsome.

I think I’m basically a poet who does not know how to write poetry, so my poems come out in these somewhat (absolutely?) disjointed 1000-word “essays” full of bizarre connections and metaphors and similes and other poetic devices, the names of which I don’t know.

My poem might begin with a grey dawn.

My poem might begin with a grey dawn.

My poem might begin with a gray dawn.

If I can’t write poetry, perhaps I can write about poetry. I want to write a little piece about “Monocle de Mon Oncle” by Wallace Stevens, but it’s long (longer than my attention span can follow), and I don’t have any idea what it “means.”
Here’s the second stanza. I dare anyone to read it and not be simply transfixed by the words, whatever they mean.

A red bird flies across the golden floor.
It is a red bird that seeks out his choir
Among the choirs of wind and wet and wing.
A torrent will fall from him when he finds.
Shall I uncrumple this much-crumpled thing?
I am a man of fortune greeting heirs;
For it has come that thus I greet the spring.
These choirs of welcome choir for me farewell.
No spring can follow past meridian.
Yet you persist with anecdotal bliss
To make believe a starry connaissance.

I’d love to be able to put some words together as mysteriously and exquisitely (I think I have never typed “exquisitely” before) as Stevens did. Even if neither I nor anyone else knew what they meant.

The “About” page in the masthead on this blog says,

This is a light-hearted look at my experience of getting old (I’m 69). I’m a (soon-to-be-retired) college professor. You can read more about me at my very serious blog, http://sumnonrabidus.wordpress.com/
I will post silly stuff I find elsewhere, and I will write original stuff. I will tell stories and expound my opinions. So, welcome aboard.

It’s a lie in at least two ways. I’m not a “soon-to-be-retired” college professor. I am officially retired (ask Medicare). And I very seldom post silly stuff, either my stuff or stuff I’ve ripped-off from someone with a more obvious sense of humor than I have. (Unless, of course, all of my stuff is silly.)

I do tell stories and expound my own opinions. Seldom do either seem to be light-hearted. As it happens, when my thoughts about getting older materialize, they are seldom “light-hearted.” Here’s where I’d like to be a poet. I’d like to be able to express my not-light-hearted thoughts about aging without sounding as if my thoughts are depressed or dark. I’d say they’re pensive or earnest or sober—like my general personality. That’s not exactly what I mean, either. Anyone who knows me well would say that, if my ideas are like my general personality, they will at least lean toward the depressive. However, it is possible to be depressed and think in a way that is not depressed. I suppose that seems like a logical impossibility, but it’s not.

I empty myself of the names of others. I empty my pockets.
I empty my shoes and leave them beside the road.
At night I turn back the clocks;
I open the family album and look at myself as a boy.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to say I know what Mark Strand’s poem “means.” Mark Strand is a Canadian-born American poet, born 1934. He has received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and was appointed Poet Laureate 1990. He is, by the way, 80 years old and still teaching at Columbia University.

I empty my pockets, too. I’m trying to divest myself of the stuff of my life that is no longer meaningful—all that stuff in my pockets that I might as well pitch. And that includes even some people who are not good for me. I don’t know about turning back the clocks. I have little desire to be young again—but I do open the family albums and look at myself as a boy. Trying to put my mind at ease about how I came to be the man I am.

A blog I found looking for information on him says Mark Strand is one of the 10 manliest poets. Wallace Stevens is on that list, too. I think the blogger guy has a problem with his own manliness. I don’t have such a problem. Because I don’t know what “manliness” is. If I don’t know what the Second Law of Thermal Dynamics is, how can I have a problem with it?

I don’t suppose “manliness” has much to do with the physical. I don’t have to worry about never having been “in the peak of physical condition, able to do what I wanted to do and feeling healthy and sexy.” Even in order to be attractive to other gay men.

And I don’t need to worry about being “manly” (or write a blog in which I list my ten nominees for manliest poet—does that strike anyone else as a sad enterprise?).

I would indeed find it strange—ironic? (probably not in the actual literary sense of the word), lightening of heart—to discover here in my incipient old age that I’ve known myself, my “manliness,” my (in)ability to write poetry, all of those things that used to perplex me.

Time tells me what I am. I change and I am the same.
I empty myself of my life and my life remains.

My poem might begin with a radiantly blue morning glory.

My poem might begin with a radiantly blue morning glory.

My poem might begin with a radiantly blue morning glory.

“The Remains,” by Mark Strand
I empty myself of the names of others. I empty my pockets.
I empty my shoes and leave them beside the road.
At night I turn back the clocks;
I open the family album and look at myself as a boy.

What good does it do? The hours have done their job.
I say my own name. I say goodbye.
The words follow each other downwind.
I love my wife but send her away.

My parents rise out of their thrones
into the milky rooms of clouds. How can I sing?
Time tells me what I am. I change and I am the same.
I empty myself of my life and my life remains.

Mark Strand was born on Canada’s Prince Edward Island on April 11, 1934. He received a BA degree from Antioch College in Ohio in 1957 and attended Yale University. In 1962 he received his MA degree from the University of Iowa. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry. He served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1990 to 1991. He is 80 years old and teaches English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.

 

“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