“Colour awakes on earth. . . “ (Jan Struther, 1901-1953)

The second coming of Mrs. Miniver?

The second coming of Mrs. Miniver?

I am amused.

I am easily entertained. “Project Runway,” “Love it or List it,” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” are entertaining. “Car Talk”—Click and Clack—Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Regular listeners know about the punny gag names the Magliozzi brothers used for credits at the end of their programs. One of my favorites has always been their Russian chauffeur, “Pikup Andropov.” And then yesterday I saw it—a sign that I had never noticed before.

I’m entertained by any number of things every day that I find interesting or quirky or that remind me of something else, or that I think only I have noticed.

But amusement—real amusement—is another matter. I don’t laugh very much. I laugh at David Sedaris reading his own wonderful nonsense (I heard him a few days ago). I remember his one-liners days later and laugh again—Crucifixes are sexy because “the cross was invented to make a man’s shoulders and abs look good.” I am not amused by amusement parks.

My father was amused by Tom and Ray once. He was visiting me in Boston. We were in my car with the radio on, but I had no idea Dad was listening—he usually couldn’t hear the radio. But Ray said their legal advisors were Dewy, Cheatum, and Howe, and my dad lost it. Sometime later he asked me to write those names down for him. He was writing his will. Remembered entertainment.

I haven’t confirmed this with a dictionary but my use of the two words is to say “entertainment” happens in the moment and is pretty much over when it’s over, but “amusement” hangs around. If something is truly amusing, I think about it later—and am entertained by it over and over. My guess is the word comes from the same root as “muse,” that is, “think.” I don’t know, and I’m not going to look it up. I giggle when I am entertained. I laugh (often to myself) when I am amused.

The Russian Chauffeur

The Russian Chauffeur

I am amused by the concept of the Second Coming of Christ, especially if it’s accompanied by The Rapture or Armageddon or Pre-or-Post-Millennialism. Don’t get all huffy on me. I don’t mean disrespect for anyone’s beliefs. I just find it entertaining over and over again—that is, I am amused—to think about the idea of Jesus suddenly riding down to earth (from where?) in a chariot and gathering everyone up and judging us and then starting this 1,000-year-long war. When he wins he sets himself up to rule the earth in peace and justice for eternity. Why bother with Armageddon or the Rapture or any of that stuff if he knows he’s going to win? Does Jesus need some entertainment? Some amusement? Just think what FOX News will do to sensationalize that war! What entertainment!

I’m sorry to be irreverent. I doubt anyone who might read this believes in the Rapture or Armageddon (a city in Palestine—between Nazareth and Jerusalem—I’ve been there). But I should not be crude and disrespectful anyway.

Now that I have offended and apologized, I’ll get back to the immediate source of my amusement. But, oh no! I don’t remember what I was amused about when I started this writing yesterday. A writing teacher once told me that the way to keep an idea going if you’re interrupted is to stop mid-sentence and the idea will reform itself in your mind when you come back to it. That didn’t work this time.

The reason I don’t know why I began talking about amusement is that the main idea, the purpose, of this writing was not to be anything directly about amusement. I could plead age here. I’m too old to remember such things. The short-term memory, they say, is the first to go. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think the idea was so bizarre that even I, like all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put it together again.

On the other hand, perhaps my inability to remember is a perfect metaphor for what I wanted to write about.

I need to remember without any doubt that November 15, 1986, was the most important day of my life. It was the first day of now 28 years—continuously, day by day—that I have not been drunk.

I don’t know exactly where I was going with the idea of amusement yesterday, but I have a clear idea today. My sobriety has been more or less a trajectory of learning to be amused rather than simply entertained. I’m not sure that before that day 28 years ago I had been truly amused for many years. Entertained, yes. Amused—remembering experiences long enough to develop any long-term pleasure from them—no.

Part of that inability I obviously have little control over. Clinical depression. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Thank goodness—and I mean a depth of gratitude that phrase cannot begin to relate—for medical relief from those conditions. And gratitude for my neurologist who gave me a new way to think about those things: “Remember, it’s your brain that’s depressed, not your mind.”

So I am amused by the idea of the Second Coming. Perhaps because I have been amused by the dozens of (bizarre) hymns I’ve played on the organ in church about it. I was thinking of one a few days ago and being mildly amused. And then I thought, it’s a pretty good metaphor for this 28 year change in my life. I don’t have any idea what the religious language means, but I know about “Night’s left behind at last.” So I guess what I am really amused by is my mind’s ability to make all kinds of kinky connections these days. Amused and grateful. Connections like this: Jan Struther who wrote this hymn also wrote the 1942 Academy Award winning movie, Mrs. Miniver.

High o’er the lonely hills
Black turns to grey,
Birdsong the valley fills,
Mists fold away;
Grey wakes to green again,
Beauty is seen again–
Gold and serene again
Dawneth the day.

So, o’er the hills of life,
Stormy, forlorn,
Out of the cloud and strife
Sunrise is born;
Swift grows the light for us;
Ended is night for us;
Soundless and bright for us
Breaketh God’s morn.

Hear we no beat of drums,
Fanfare nor cry,
When Christ the herald comes
Quietly nigh;
Splendour he makes on earth;
Colour awakes on earth;
Suddenly breaks on earth
Light from the sky.

Bid then farewell to sleep:
Rise up and run!
What though the hill be steep?
Strength’s in the sun.
Now shall you find at last
Night’s left behind at last,
And for mankind at last
Day has begun!

A small town in Palestine?

A small town in Palestine?

“The Past—it was a feverish dream”

on the margins of the sea remember. . .

on the margins of the sea remember. . .

[Note to those who’ve asked: the pictures are mine taken at Paradise Beach and then early morning in the cove at Port Orford, Oregon—my favorite hideaway.]

In 1986 Thanksgiving fell on Thursday (November 27); Christmas also fell on Thursday (December 25); New Year’s Eve fell on Wednesday, of course (December 31). In 1987 my birthday fell on Saturday (January 3); Presidents’ Day fell on Monday (February 16); Mardi Gras fell on Tuesday (of course), March 3—it was late that year.

A few weeks ago I came across this delicate poem. In addition to thinking it is a lovely (dare I use such a pedestrian word) I thought, “This is going to be useful sometime.”

SONG OF QUIETNESS
by Robinson Jeffers

Drink deep, drink deep of quietness,
And on the margins of the sea
Remember not thine old distress
Nor all the miseries to be.
Calmer than mists, and cold
As they, that fold on fold
Up the dim valley are rolled,
Learn thou to be.

 The Past—it was a feverish dream,
A drunken slumber full of tears.
The Future—O what wild wings gleam,
Wheeled in the van of desperate years!
Thou lovedst the evening: dawn
Glimmers; the night is gone:—
What dangers lure thee on,
What dreams more fierce?

But meanwhile, now the east is gray,
The hour is pale, the cocks yet dumb,
Be glad before the birth of day,
Take thy brief rest ere morning come:
Here in the beautiful woods
All night the sea-mist floods,—
Thy last of solitudes,
Thy yearlong home.

When I read the poem, I remembered reading Robinson Jeffers’ work in high school. I can’t for the life of me remember what poems of his we read. I know he was one of the “modern” poets we read. He died while I was in high school, 1962. I know virtually nothing about him except what I have looked up online just now. So this is not some long-lost poetic love of mine. The only reason I read this poem was that I knew I had heard of Robinson Jeffers before. My, that’s a long way ‘round to some point!

Drink deep, drink deep of quietness. . .

Drink deep, drink deep of quietness. . .

So now I know why the poem haunted me.

Drink deep, drink deep of quietness,
And on the margins of the sea
Remember not thine old distress
Nor all the miseries to be.

On Sunday, November 9 (I’m pretty sure that’s the date although I can state very little about my life at that time with any certainty—I used to say I know the ‘70s happened because I’ve read about them, but the same is true for much of the ‘80s) I went to play for Sunday morning services at Grace Church (Episcopal) as usual.

The evening before, my partner and I had thrown a birthday bash for a good friend (bash? – the three of us). I started drinking wine that day in the middle of the afternoon as I was cooking and continued with vodka, more wine, and then some Drambuie after dinner.  When I arrived at the church, I thought I had a really bad hangover. Then I realized I was still drunk.

The following Saturday (November 15) I did not have any alcohol to drink, and I have had none since. I made it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, my birthday, Presidents’ Day, and Fat Tuesday without drinking. I knew by that time that I really did not need to get drunk again. And I never have.

Remember not thine old distress.

That is, in some ways, bad advice for someone like me. I need to remember the old distress, or I might not be able to drink deep of quietness. . . on the margins of the sea.

This seems (as I’m thinking about putting it down here in writing) to be too sentimental to express the deepness of my gratitude that, with other demons that I have to fight on an almost daily basis (depression, seizure disorder, old age?) I do not have the demon rum hanging around my neck.

Be glad before the birth of day,
Take thy brief rest ere morning come:
Here in the beautiful woods
All night the sea-mist floods,—
Thy last of solitudes,
Thy yearlong home.

Jeffers is, I suppose high school English teachers would tell their students, using the sea as a metaphor for death –thy last of solitudes. I take it differently. It is a song of quietness, of knowing that today, even though this was not true yesterday or the day before, I can take brief rest ere the morning come. Simply be quiet. And be grateful for twenty-seven years of sobriety.

Be glad before the birth of day, Take thy brief rest ere morning come

Be glad before the birth of day,
Take thy brief rest ere morning come