“. . . made real by the existence of others and the casual way a crowd pauses together on a concrete curbside. . . “

I make coffee the old fashioned way

I make coffee the old fashioned way

One mystery solved. I know one thing for sure I will do when I retire. I will drink coffee, lots of it. And I will write.

I make coffee the old-fashioned way, not-quite-boiling water through a filtered cone, not on a timer set so I don’t have to think about what I’m doing but can stumble still asleep to pour a cup of coffee. The process wakes me up, not swallowing the first cup.

I’ve been writing early in the morning so long I hardly ever think about how important it is to me—except when I’ve been doing it hypergraphically and can’t not do it. Then, when it’s over—or I have to stop because I will lose my job if I don’t—I think about what I’ve been doing. Sometimes I find great joy in it. Sometimes it’s simply absurd. Sometimes I’d do almost anything not to have to do it.

The fact is, writing is more important to me than anything except playing the organ. And these days it’s easier.

I sent a poem to a friend for her critique. She wrote back, “Omit the maudlin words—tears, love, ‘feel of the thing’—and use words that convey alienation. Fumbling.” The poem is about my frustration with modern instruments of composition, computer, iPad, iPhone.

“Omit the maudlin words.” Oh my god! Omit the maudlin words? I wouldn’t have many words left if I did that!

Take “weeping,” for example.

I assume “weeping” is one of those old-fashioned maudlin words only someone my age would use instead of one that might be used in a Tweet. I don’t know what that word might be, so I will use “weeping.”

Here’s the progression of “weeping” events from yesterday.

Lately I’ve been singing hymns (or anything for which I can remember both melody and words—which means, for the most part, hymns) as I walk to and from my office or do the dishes or clean the cat boxes or any such daily task. Sometimes I think them, sometimes I hum, sometimes when I’m alone, I sing them aloud. I sing them to keep my mind from spinning out of control.

Yesterday shivering from my car to my office in the cold, I found myself humming my mother’s favorite hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” The refrain is

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

My mother said the hymn is based on Psalm 30. She quoted verse 5 of the Psalm, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Or sometimes, verse 11, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness” (King James Version).

Thomas Hubschman, a cyber-friend (we’ve never met but we carry on an exchange of ideas on FB and here) wrote in 2011,

Who would have thought old age would be such a riot of strong feeling? We look like dried-up fruit, most of us, past our sell-by date, too juiceless to be up to anything more than maintaining our precarious vital signs. Who would guess that inside these parched exteriors torrents of emotion are rushing like spring floods?

Last night as I was watching “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS, I was weeping. If I find a less maudlin word, I will use it. Not weeping consistently, but an occasional outburst sobs and tears. I don’t know why.

Stability and grace of a homeland

Stability and grace of a homeland

This is not an unusual event.

For some time I have thought this weeping is part of my Bipolar II cycling of mania and depression, or emotions made fragile by TLE, or more recently because I realize the pain of being alone.

But I have begun to think not.

I weep for the children of Palestine who do know the stability and grace of having a homeland.
I weep for my students who are convinced that the purpose of education is to make money.
I weep for the racism evidenced by so many people’s irrational hatred of President Obama.
I weep for my own aloneness.
I weep for the homeless man asleep in the doorway of Neiman Marcus on Sunday morning.
I weep for my friends who are convinced owning an instrument of murder is their God-given right.
I weep that I don’t have a plan to maintain a sense of usefulness in my retirement.
I weep that love is so difficult to find.
I weep that California is running out of water.
I weep that my Caucasian neighbors think my Asian-immigrant neighbors are not worthy of notice.
I weep that all of my family does not live in real love for one another.
I weep for the twenty would-be-suicide bombers killed by accident in Iraq yesterday.
I weep for leaders who are moral cowards—and those of us who keep electing them.
I weep for the pain each of us inflicts on the rest of us.

If a less maudlin word than “weep” is available, I hope someone will point it out to me. And if I should have more faith that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” I trust that I will discover my weeping is maudlin and stop.

Thomas Hubschman says, “We are the grownups society so desperately needs to lead it to better things and stop wasting its time, effort, money, and lives on the boogeymen under the bed. It’s time we started acting like grownups.” I wonder if it takes being grown up to have enough sense to weep. My weeping is not maudlin. And it’s neither helpless nor hopeless.

I’m not sure what has given Tessa Rumsey the insight to say poetically something, I think, of what I mean. She’s only 43 years old. But I love her poem about our lives together. About the occasion for weeping.

“More Important than the Design of Cities Will Be the Design of Their Decay,” by Tessa Rumsey.

Where did you grow, before your roots took hold in the garden?
Curiouser and curiouser, this allegiance you seem to have with rocks.
Bluish blooms bathed in perfection, the moon shines fresh as you melt away.
Loneliness is a laboratory; its territory is forever defined; for reasons beyond our conviction
It cannot be lessened; only redirected and made to resemble a crumbling heaven or the year’s
Grand delusion: I shall no longer want for that which left me long ago—go slow, said the soul,
That you may know the streets of your abandoned city more intimately than any joy
Or cherished season. We were in collusion, this city and I, creating a mythology of desolation;
Feeling utterly evacuated; yet methodically structured; in a post-Roman Empire; previously
Doomed sort of way—and what did the soul say, but know it better, then in a fever, go deeper.
There are days, I told the translator, when the veil drops and I am no longer inside the No-
Place most familiar, built by me long ago, and I walk through the world as if made real
By the existence of others and the casual way a crowd pauses together on a concrete curbside—
Perhaps one of them is weeping, perhaps another will gently reach out and twist a knife
Into my heart and we will lock eyes, and I will fall to my knees, and for a moment
He will hold me. What will I remember? The cold blade’s cruel demeanor? My body
As it seizures? Or the gesture of my destroyer, showing me that in this life, I was not alone.

(Rumsey, Tessa. “More Important than the Design.” The Return Message by Tessa Rumsey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005.)