“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.