“No one else is around to drink with you from the watery fog. . .” (Edward Hirsch)

"Now you’re walking down to the shore. . ."

“Now you’re walking down to the shore. . .”

These days there’s a lot of prattle by the talking heads on TV from FOX to MSNBC about President Obama’s “legacy.” Usually the topic is what the President is doing to shape (or reshape or create or change or . . .) his legacy.

The other day Diane Rehm’s guest on her NPR interview show was the British actor David Thomson. I didn’t hear the entire program, but I heard a few moments of his speaking to the idea that all of us are to a certain extent acting—acting out the role in which we want others to see us.

Don’t jump to conclusions. He was not saying we’re all phonies. Far from it. His point was that we all decide (maybe several times in our lives) how we want the world to see us—what our role is in the drama of our lives. I think that’s a powerful idea.

I’ve been thinking lately about that concept. My legacy. That, of course, is a luxury. For anyone who is simply and constantly trying to keep warm or figure where the next meal is coming from, a legacy is the last thing they have to worry about. And that’s—what?—90% of the world’s population. That I have the time, the awareness that anyone might think of me when I am gone—the luxury of knowing who the “leader” of my nation is—places me in the tiniest minority of the people now living or who have ever lived.

I heard only a few minutes of David Thomson’s discussion with Diane Rehm, and I have not read his book. I can hardly claim to understand his ideas. No matter. My legacy. My acting. My acting as if.

We’re all “method actors,” I’d say. We feel the feelings, we immerse ourselves in our experience, in our real and perceived worlds, and then “act” accordingly. Somewhere along the line my experience, both real and perceived, took me down several conflicting paths. I suppose that’s universally true. I don’t need to rehearse mine—it’s pretty much in evidence throughout this blog.

Yesterday I saw my new talk-therapist for the second time, and I began revealing as best I could why I was there. First, I was having a minor version of what I have heard described as a “panic attack.” It’s just the way I live—and my guess is everyone else does, too. I didn’t want to be there. I suddenly was aware of my heart (I don’t know if it was racing or pounding or what—I was simply aware of it). I could not sit still. I seldom can except when I’m at my computer keyboard or working a Sudoku puzzle. I was acutely aware that I did not want to be there.

". . .but the sea and the sky were also yours. . ."

“. . .but the sea and the sky were also yours. . .”

So we talked. I talked a little about me. He talked a lot about anxiety. My skin crawled and I had to rub my head, and I wanted to scream. He sat calmly in his chair wearing his tie with his handsome gray beard immaculately trimmed and prattling on, and I slumped in the easy chair in my t-shirt with my hair and beard that have not been groomed for two weeks. At one point he was talking about the experience of the victims of the Holocaust (he’s not Jewish—his father was a famous Methodist theologian) and the numbers tattooed on their arms, “Not like the impressive ones you have.” I wore a long-sleeved shirt the first time we talked, so he hadn’t seen them before. At one point I saw the skinny young intern—did I say skinny?—(my therapist teaches at UTSouthwestern Medical School—I see six doctors there, lucky me) staring at my tattoos, and I knew they were both curious about them. Why does a retired church musician/college professor have all those tattoos? I think—although I may be projecting or hoping—that was the unasked question of the hour.

So then he asked me something—I forget what—that the answer was logically to tell him about tutoring college athletes. Specifically about the one last semester that I bonded with in a way the NCAA says we’re not supposed to, but which—I am pretty sure (because he told me so)—has helped keep him in school in the midst of a situation I would not have been able to handle when I was 19 years old. And then the one this week who told me the story of his (for me, literally, unbelievable) growing up, and his violent high school years, and his landing in college with almost no preparation and no skill for staying there. And the words of the director of the program as I left at the end of the day were, “Have you gotten through to another one of the boys?”

So President Obama and I are worried about our legacies. I wonder what the most important thing is that he’s ever done. Bet it has nothing to do with being President. I’ll bet it has to do with his making a connection somewhere sometime with someone—someONE—who could barely connect with anyone. And it makes the fact that he has not written the great American novel or been a concert organist or published books and books of poetry or any of those other things he MIGHT have done pretty much irrelevant.

And in those days in 2031 when he’s 70 and looking back on his life and alone—of course, he’ll never be alone, but he’ll be lonely—it’s that minute when some kid who’s had a rough, even violent, life said to him, “But I’m going to do this,” and admitted he could use his help along the way, that will make him weep in a way no actor on stage has ever done.

“What the Last Evening Will Be Like,” by Edward Hirsch (b. 1950)
You’re sitting at a small bay window
in an empty café by the sea.
It’s nightfall, and the owner is locking up,
though you’re still hunched over the radiator,
which is slowly losing warmth.

Now you’re walking down to the shore
to watch the last blues fading on the waves.
You’ve lived in small houses, tight spaces—
the walls around you kept closing in—
but the sea and the sky were also yours.

No one else is around to drink with you
from the watery fog, shadowy depths.
You’re alone with the whirling cosmos.
Goodbye, love, far away, in a warm place.
Night is endless here, silence infinite.

(About Edward Hirsch.)

"No one else is around to drink with you from the watery fog, shadowy depths."

“No one else is around to drink with you
from the watery fog, shadowy depths.”

sum link for other blog

“. . . The heaven’s weight / Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid . . .”

Stropped-beak fortune?

Stropped-beak fortune?

Poetry. I wish I’d begun to love poetry much earlier than my 60s. Not to love but write the stuff. It takes more practice. One cannot sit down and whip off a poem. I suppose some folks do, but my guess is that every poem worth reading has been perspired over and dreamed about and cursed at before it reaches the shape in which we read it.

I especially love to read poetry containing a phrase or word that sounds so right, so perfectly in place, so congruent with the rest of the work that I don’t question its position—but then I have to admit I have no idea what it “means,” either because I don’t know the words or because I can’t see why they go together logically.

Stropped-beak Fortune / Swoops, making the air gasp. . .

In about 1997 or -98 a friend (she was not “a” friend; she was in some unfulfilled way my best friend, something I’ve been trying to write about for several years to no avail) invited my partner and me to a party to meet her daughter who was stopping by Texas on her way from living in Turkey to going to graduate school in Arizona. Or some such set of facts that I have memoried in the back of my mind.

[NOTE: I realize more completely with the passage of time that what I think are solid, factual memories are impressions—I live in a world illustrated by Monet, Pissarro, Cassatt, and Matisse. Whenever I talk about the past, I have a real memory of an event, but I describe the essence of the event, not its details. My memories and impressions come out side by side with the “truth,” so they don’t mix but sit unblended in what I say. The light of exactitude gets mingled with the color of my feelings. I never set out to tell an untruth, but all I can do is tell my truth, and that may not have been the truth about an event when it happened, much less now that it has circulated in my memory. In literature classes much is made of the “unreliable” narrator. Believe me, when I tell stories from the past, even if I have every factual detail correct, the narrator is unreliable. Or totally reliable. Your choice.]

My friend’s daughter either had recently been married or was about to be. My friend had either been to Turkey to visit her, or she hadn’t. Either I knew most of the people at the party or I didn’t. I know my friend eventually went to Jordan to be with her daughter at the birth of her granddaughter, and that she came home and too soon died of leukemia, her death being an almost impossible reality for me to face—we spent the last Christmas Day before she died together in her room at the Zale Lipshy University Hospital at UTSouthwestern Medical School.

Stropped in the barber shop

Stropped in the barber shop

What the blank is “stropped-beak Fortune,” and how does it “swoop[ ], making the air gasp?” A strop—I remember this from working in a barber shop in the ‘50s where razors were single-bladed and had to be sharpened, stropped, between customers—is a piece of leather on which one sharpens a blade. So “stropped-beak fortune” swooping, “making the air gasp” is fortune so cutting, so dangerous, so ominous—so sharpened—that like a bird of prey it swoops down on its target fast and powerfully enough to terrify the air even before it finds its victim.

When I get my mind out of the impressionistic paint-blotches of both my memory and my view of what’s going on right now (the truth is most likely that my memory is impressionistic because my understanding of what is happening at any given moment is at best the misty outline of reality), I realize that “anything can happen.”

Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,
Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleeding on the next.  (Seamus Heaney)

On a fall day I was walking across campus back to my office after lunch when a shadow passed over my head and in my peripheral vision I saw a swoop toward a tree, heard a cry, and looked up just in time to see a hawk fly off with a squirrel in its talons—freakish for a university campus in the middle of a city in the middle of the day. I knew squirrels lived on campus, but hawks? I assumed I was hallucinating until someone yelled at me, “Professor, I’m glad you saw that, too, because no one will believe me!” He was a former student and knew how to find me if his story needed corroboration—and I him.

Anything can happen.

“God willing” (a phrase often used by the priest I knew to acknowledge that “anything can happen”) on May 15th this year I will submit the last set of semester grades for which I will be responsible as a professor. I hope on that day to have a clear understanding, not simply an impression, of what’s happening.

I will be 69 years old, living alone (does that necessarily mean feeling lonely?), having to learn to survive on much-reduced income, and required to learn to organize my time completely on my own. A short list of the “anything” that can happen.

Is it possible to change anything on that short list? Can I either by desire or by plan make any of those impressions into a more solid or different reality? Where is Edward Hopper when I need him?

My friend’s daughter lives now in Santiago, Chile. On the way to Easter Island. (See my “bucket list.”)

“Anything Can Happen”

Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter
Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head
Before he hurls the lightning? Well, just now
He galloped his thunder cart and his horses

Across a clear blue sky. It shook the earth
And the clogged underearth, the River Styx,
The winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.
Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,
Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Ground gives. The heaven’s weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.
Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.
Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.

          —Heaney, Seamus. From District and Circle. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2006).

Anything can happen

Anything can happen

“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.”

Will beauty save the world?

NOVEMBER: NATIONAL EPILEPSY AWARENESS MONTH

No idiot he.

No idiot he.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s most often-quoted line (at least in the circles in which I run—and I do run in circles) is, “Beauty will save the world” (Prince Myshkin in The Idiot).

Dostoyevsky was epileptic.

The Idiot is my favorite novel. I’ve seriously contemplated learning Russian simply to be able to read it in the original. How’s that for grandiosity (see Google search for Bipolar II disorder)? I have The Idiot as a Nook book, as an eText on both my computer and my iPad, and, best of all in a BOOK, the miraculously compelling 2004 translation by David McDuff. I’ve read The Idiot at least four times and am about 1/3 of the way through the McDuff translation.

I first read The Idiot in 1987 in preparation for teaching an “Introduction to World Literature” course as an adjunct in the English Department at Salem State College in Salem, MA. Why I was teaching that course, I’m not quite sure, but by the third semester I had some idea what I was doing. I used The Idiot because one of the Professors in the department suggested when I told him—because the fluorescent lights in the classroom were killing me—I am epileptic. He thought I would enjoy it for myself, and, as long as I was going to take the time to read it, I might as well use it in class.

Lest you think in some way I am comparing myself to Dostoyevsky—don’t. Your Google search above may have listed grandiosity as one of the presentations of Bipolar II Disorder, but even I am not that daft. Not even my epilepsy is the same as Dostoyevsky’s. He had full seizures. Mine are tiny, half-seizures, little storms in my head that have no physical manifestation. Partial seizures, they are called. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy is my diagnosis (neurologists call it something else these days).

Prince Myshkin, the protagonist of The Idiot, is a full-blown, full seizure epileptic. I love the guy. While I have nothing in common with Dostoyevsky, I have a kinship with Myshkin that simply is.

He was thinking, incidentally, that there was a moment or two in his epileptic condition almost before the fit itself . . .  when suddenly amid the sadness, spiritual darkness and depression, his brain seemed to catch fire at brief moments . . . His sensation of being alive and his awareness increased tenfold at those moments which flashed by like lightning.  His mind and heart were flooded by a dazzling light.  All his agitation, doubts and worries, seemed composed in a twinkling, culminating in a great calm, full of understanding…but these moments, these glimmerings were still but a premonition of that final second . . . with which the seizure itself began.  That second was, of course, unbearable. . . (The Idiot, Section V).
Dostoevsky_Grave
My experience used to be of the same quality, but of an order of magnitude so much smaller that it hardly seems the same. I knew that “sensation of being alive [with my] awareness increased tenfold at those moments which flashed by like lightning.” My moment was a high pitched ringing (always B-flat) and then an explosion into white noise, and then the seizure, which was (is—very rarely now) a sense of dissociation, of otherworldliness, of being-there and not-being-there. When I was a kid, the feeling could go on for days. Wandering around certain I could pass through walls because I had no body.

So then, in 1984, that all changed. I was diagnosed with TLE, the medications (heavy doses of Carbatrol and Depakote) began, and I zoned out. Have done ever since. I’ve had one real seizure in Dallas—a complete black-out doozy. In Target. Police called and everything. Very dramatic.

I asked my neurologist a few years back if anyone had a study of the long-term effects of Carbatrol (I’ve been taking the same massive doses for 29 years). He said, “You’re it!”

So enough about me, already. Here’s what I want you to think about as you look for a way to support to the Epilepsy Foundation this month.

. . .  Myshkin is the embodiment of an insolvable conundrum. . . [that] has to do with the fact that Dostoevsky’s ideal “I” can never be achieved because to reach it, one must annihilate one’s actual “I” and join “in a blissful synthesis with the all,” where the “I” no longer exists. . . .this conundrum perfectly reflects what happens during Myshkin’s epileptic attacks. In the moments before a seizure, Myshkin achieves a sense of “a lofty serenity, filled with pure, harmonious gladness and hope, filled too with the consciousness of the ultimate cause of all things” (an intimation of the ideal “I”). But a moment later, “stupor, spiritual darkness, and idiocy” follow—the annihilation of the self in the seizure and its aftermath . . .Yet epilepsy can only take us so far as an exegetical device by which to understand . . . what happens to Myshkin at the end of the novel. . .  epilepsy with the “destruction of personality” that accompanies it is pointedly rejected by Dostoevsky as the reason behind Myshkin’s relapse into idiocy. The triggering event must be sought elsewhere.
(John Givens . “Dostoevsky’s Idiot and the Christology of Comedy.” The Russian Review 70 [January 2011]: 111. )

NEAM-Facebook-LogoYou have to read The Idiot to understand this, obviously—and probably much more Dostoyevsky than that (I think the same conundrum is present in the other Dostoyevsky novels I’ve read—especially Crime and Punishment, which you have no doubt read).

But when a kid is sitting in his second grade class and have a feeling of “a lofty serenity, filled with pure, harmonious gladness and hope, filled too with the consciousness of the ultimate cause of all things,” it’s more terrifying than anything else. And he probably will not have worked out what it means—or even for sure what the feeling is—by the time you’re 68. But it’s fun trying (no, it’s not—it’s crazy-making).

I just wish they’d turn off all fluorescent lights in the world.

“There was no reason behind it; it was just the way things were.” In which I say way too much.

pillsYesterday I heard Terry Gross interview Allie Brosh whose blog, “Hyperbole and a Half” is one of the most popular blogs in the world. A million followers. She’s even published a book of her postings. Wow! I’m jealous.

In her postings she tackles (and in her interview with Gross) depression. I know how dangerous it is to write about depression here. Lots of people get upset and think I’m about to off myself or something. I get loving and caring messages from friends and loved ones—I am not being in the least sarcastic: they are loving and caring, and I love and care for them in return, and I am grateful for them.

I was put off a bit by Ms. Brosh. Why should she get rich and famous off of her depression when I just struggle? I heard her driving home from an appointment with my psychiatrist.  An appointment Dr. Bret had shuffled her schedule to accommodate because I sent her an email that began, “I am so fucking depressed I can’t work. . .”

Ms. Brosh said (in the midst of a long conversation—which you know was fascinating because Terry Gross was guiding it),

I think there’s a common misconception that depression is about something or depression is sadness or some form of negativity. It can represent a sadness or a self-loathing . . . [my depression] circled back on itself and made me dislike myself more because I was so sad and I didn’t know why and I felt like I needed a reason. … It took me a long time to figure out that something was broken on a fundamental level. There was no reason behind it; it was just the way things were. (Brosh, Allie. “Even When It Hurts ‘ALOT,’ Brosh Faces Life With Plenty Of ‘Hyperbole’ .” Interview with Terry Gross.  Fresh Air.  NPR. Nov. 12, 2013. Web.)

At that point I ceased being put off by Ms. Brosh. “There was no  reason behind it.” Let me tell you the reasons behind my depression: yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my partner’s death (12 years we were together); I have agreed that, after a 30-year career, my teaching will end next spring; I am about to have (next Monday) surgery on another joint (first my right hip, now my left shoulder); the person with whom I have shared for five years the most arcane and shocking of my political views and he his with me—and we have loved and respected each other deeply—died last Thursday; my health insurance issues and paperwork for the year have piled up and become so complex that I cannot figure the mess out; I can’t figure out how to be in love and have a relationship at the same time (the two are, I’ve decided, mutually exclusive); and I am so far behind in my work that I’ll never catch up and feel total failure and incompetence as a result.

I hope this isn't copyrighted.

I hope this isn’t copyrighted.

Now listen. It is not in any way dangerous for me to say these things here. I said them in email yesterday so we all know the NSA and God-knows-what-other federal agency has record of it although I am probably not a person of interest to them except for my continuing friendship with many Palestinians, who, because they want their land back and want to be free are—by virtue of the US indenturedness to Israel—the next best thing to terrorists, and a bunch of them are probably reading this right now. Oh, speaking of depression.

So Dr. Bret upped the dosage of my SSRI anti-depressant to see if that will do anything to make it so I’m not so fucking depressed I can’t work. Thank the gods for this writing stuff that I have to do so I can feel every day like I’m accomplishing something, even though it’s just spilling my guts out here in public. But more important than the massive doses of Prozac (there are, of course, other drugs involved in the cocktail) she has cleared a weekly hour for me to see her even though she’s not a talk therapist.

Now if you are still reading, you know more about me than even my sister or my AA sponsor should, and you’re probably thinking, “What’s wrong with him? Doesn’t he have good sense?” Well, no. He doesn’t. Listen to Ms. Brosh. She’s the now-published authority on the subject (if that sounds like sour grapes, it is except that I thank her for saying what every clinically depressed person in the world knows), that “. . . It took [us] a long time to figure out that something was broken on a fundamental level. There was no reason behind it; it was just the way things were.”

Dr. Bret reminded me yesterday of a few things about myself. First, I do remarkably well for a guy who is saddled with both Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and (presumed, although who the fuck knows for sure?) Bipolar II Disorder. Boy, I really shouldn’t say that in public. I do remarkably well. I may not be the chair of an English department (I used to be chair of a music department), and I haven’t published the great American novel (yet). And I’ve never played an organ recital at Notre Dame in Paris (or even at Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas).

I thought taking pictures when I was crying would make me laugh. Not.

One evening I thought taking pictures when I was crying would make me laugh. Not.

But through all of this shit, I have pretty much supported myself, made a few friends, stayed sober for three days short of twenty-seven years, and learned how to get eleven black members of a university football team to sit around a table with me and talk about such things as what is “conformity” and how do we all buy into it, and how does that show up in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Body Snatcher,” and how are they related. Not bad for a 68-year-old white faggot about to lose his job because he can’t teach any more.

So fie on depression! If I have to sit at home and cry alone on my sofa while I watch “Project Runway” or “America’s Funniest Home Videos” in order to summon the courage to face the world, so be it. This too shall pass. Or perhaps not. And I have to write this or go through the day like a madman wondering why I’ve got all these pent-up feelings, and if that happens, you better watch out or you’ll be on the receiving end of some explosion.

A river runs through it (my life, that is)

Laramie Peak - from a shorter distance than my childhood vantage

Laramie Peak – from a shorter distance
than my childhood vantage

.
On a bookshelf in my apartment, next to the two histories of our family my dad wrote and published, are three books (1).

Yesterday I was nostalgic—no, feeling a tad sorry for myself because here at 68 when I should be seeing the world with my husband and joying in the company of my grandchildren, I am alone with three cats. My mild nostalgia/self-pity is not a big deal. But I saw the books and my mind wandered to Dad’s work when he was my age.

At that time my parents lived in Sacramento. He was semi-retired, doing interesting work as an interim pastor sent to various places to work with churches without pastors. One of those places was Spokane, WA. My then partner and I visited my parents, and the four of us made a trip to Glacier National Park. A delicious outing.

For some time before he died (until he could not physically or mentally maintain his concentration—he was, after all, 97), Dad was writing a memoir tracing his life’s journey along the Oregon Trail.

He was born in Kansas City, MO, and lived (after five years in Wyoming) in Kearney, Scottsbluff, and Omaha, NE, all on the Platte River—and the Oregon Trail. Eventually he moved to California, that home in Sacramento—the ultimate goal of many pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail.

I am, as I said, in a nostalgic mood (or something related to that), so I will do a bit of river-remembrance of my own. And in the process, some Oregon Trail thinking which will be of interest to my siblings and about two other people.

My brother and I were born in Douglas, WY, on the North Platte River. Douglas is a small town nestled at the foot of Laramie Peak.

Later, we lived for two years in Kearney, NE, where my sister was born. The city is on the Platte River which is formed by the confluence of the North Platte and South Platte Rivers about 100 miles west of there. From Kearney, we moved to Scottsbluff, NE, which is (once again) on the North Platte River. “Nebraska,” by the way, is an Anglicized version of the name French explorers gave the river as a transliteration of the Omaha Indian name meaning “Flat Water.” Folks in Western Nebraska say the river is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

A mile wide and an inch deep

A mile wide and an inch deep

Scotts Bluff, a siltstone outcropping (once under the water of the great inland sea) which has remained intact because limestone deposits harder than the sandstone kept the soil beneath them from eroding away, looms over the city Scottsbluff. From the top of the Bluff, Laramie Peak, 120 miles west, is visible on a clear day. That as I was growing up I could look west and see the (to a kid, faraway) place where I was born gave me a kind of comfort. Two promontories, both beside the Platte River.

We used to say ruts on the south side of the Bluff were made a hundred years before by wagons on the Oregon Trail. I doubt that, but I’ve never looked into it seriously.

We moved from Scottsbluff to Omaha, about 10 miles north of the confluence of the Platte and the Missouri (the city may have expanded that far south by now, for all I know).

The romance of the river ends there for me. I boarded a Greyhound bus in the fall of 1963 and headed to Redlands, CA, to go to college, and except for the following summer never lived in Nebraska or by the Platte River again. I was, however, in the state that was the destination of those pioneers on the Oregon Trail. I’ve lived all over the country since then, but I did complete the “westward ho!” as my father did.

Somewhere I have pictures of Laramie Peak faintly visible on the horizon from the top of Scotts Bluff. I took them before I had digital photography (the last in 2001). I, of course, can’t find such pictures on the Internet because people look east where the towns are when they are on top of the Bluff.

If you read my blog regularly (thank you) you know that you have to tolerate a great deal of sappy sentimentality and a lot of self-revelation no one should make in public. Yesterday I saw my psychiatrist whose job is to help my neurologist keep my meds in balance. [Note to myself: write someday about the “entitlement” that makes me eligible for this incredible care that I can’t afford. Hmmm. ACA anyone?]

At any rate, Dr. Bret. She always schedules me at the end of the day so we can talk for an hour instead of the 15 minutes my insurance (without co-pay) pays for. She understands all of my “issues” better than anyone else. Depression.

The chasm I cannot cross

The chasm I cannot cross

She said, “I think you have trouble finding people to be kind to you.” What? And then, “You know, you are fragile.” What? Ho, ho, ho! you’re saying to yourself if you know anything about me and co-dependency and addiction and all of those ways in which I’m screwed up.

I do have trouble finding people to be with who are kind to me. I’ll write about that the day after I write about my “entitlement.”

But fragile? I’m the bull in the china closet most of the time (not to be confused with other closets). I do not have a delicate nature. And I do not have one of those fine, sensitive “artist’s” minds.

From the time I was six years old until I was fifteen, I was regularly in a place (not figuratively, literally) from which I could see, staring over a chasm of 120 miles, the place where I was born. The chasm was (is) the earth. I don’t have pretty language for this. But I have known my whole life that I’m caught in that space, that I can see the place from which I came. But I can’t get there from here.

Yet.

________________ (1)

•             Franzwa, Greory M. The Oregon Trail Revisited, 4th Edition. Tucson, AZ: Patrice Press, 1988.
•             Haines, Aubrey L. Historic Sites along the Oregon Trail. Tucson, AZ: The Patrice Press, 1981. (Foreword by Russell E. Dickenson, Director, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior.)
•             Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road, Second Edition. Lincoln, NE: Nebraska State Historical Society Publications, 1979.

If you’re over 60 and not asking that question. . .

How far can infinity go?

How far can infinity go?

Yesterday (October 9, 2013) on NPR’s All Things Considered Philosopher Samuel Scheffler said,

. . .  when you start to think about how you would feel if you knew that life would end shortly after your own death, lots of the things that you now do might come to seem pointless. Like, if you’re a cancer researcher, will you still find it meaningful or valuable to pursue cancer research? Quite likely not. I think we implicitly take it for granted that our activities belong to an ongoing temporal chain of human lives and generations, and that if we imagined that, you know, a giant asteroid were going to destroy the earth so there was no future for humanity, suddenly lots of what we now regard as valuable would seem pointless.

He also pointed out that most of us believe—no, know—the earth will eventually cease to exist. The universe is expanding, and the whole enterprise will eventually blow itself to bits—or simply keep expanding into infinity of both time and space. That is, of course, a ridiculous statement because the universe is already “infinite.” Or is it? Does the universe have an edge, an end? What’s beyond it? Nothing. And how can there be “nothing?”

He's a philosopher.

He’s a philosopher.

Two years ago (precisely—on October 10, 2011) I wrote about my need to hear (participate in) a burial service from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer after my father died. (This is somewhat amazing—coincidence?—because I had no idea until I Googled it that I wrote that on October 10.) That little posting explains a great deal of what I’m thinking this morning. I guess I’m simply stuck—unable to move on in my thinking. It’s not my fault my family does not possess the same genetic predisposition to genius that, say, Samuel Scheffler’s does. I have no way even to ask the right questions, much less give the right answers.

So I continue to think in my small infinite circle of questions and answers, never ending, without—as far as I can tell—ever having had a beginning.

If the universe is already infinite, how can it be expanding? Infinity is getting larger? There’s more infinity out there somewhere? A couple of days ago Dr. Peter W. Higgs of the University of Edinburgh and Dr. François Englert of the Université Libre de Bruxelles were announced as the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of the “God particle” (the “Higgs boson” particle—which I have also written about but cannot find the post). Because of their work, we now know that everything in the universe is held together by particles. Go figure. So the universe is expanding outward (into infinity), but we now know how to look inward and see the end of infinity. Higgs boson particles are as far inward as we can go. And I want to know if there are an infinite number of them to keep filling up the expanding infinity of the universe.

Further evidence that “I’m simply stuck—unable to move on in my thinking” is my posting in my other  blog on November 15, 2009, when I wrote about some sort of mystical or religious or some such experience on the beach at Port Orford, Oregon.

Of course I’ve been trying to write this essay my whole life. You’re trying to write it, too. It’s all any of us ever does.

One night when I was on the beach at Port Orford (as I said the last time I wrote about the place, I must stop writing about it before all of you rush there to have a mystical experience), I noticed that there were two identical moons hanging in the east overland, but creeping (as I stayed on the beach for two hours) toward the zenith. Two moons. I know there were two because 1) I haven’t had a drink of alcohol for 26 years, and 2) there were two even if I closed one eye. I was not seeing double. There were two moons.

Later this morning I have an appointment (my third) at the ophthalmology clinic at UTSouthwestern Medical School. They’ve been trying to figure out why I see two moons. Apparently it’s not as vexing a question as we thought. I have an astigmatism. My cornea is misshapen. Dr. what’s-‘is-name is going finally to figure out what to do about it. I may well have hard contacts to reshape my corneas very soon.

But I’m not sure there won’t still be two moons even if I can’t see them anymore. I’m not thinking about “parallel universes” or anything spooky like that. Quantum physics and consciousness are not/are the same thing as far as I know. And I can’t be bothered with questions like that. I think mine is a much more basic question—the kind of question an old guy who isn’t really very smart might ask.

“What the *bleep* is consciousness? And, furthermore, how long does it last?” I’m still asking the same question I did at church camp on

Where infinity begins

Where infinity begins

the hillside at Chadron State Park in Nebraska more than 50 years ago. Except, of course, it’s more urgent now because I’m 50 years closer to the end of it. “Eternal life?” Even if I “believe in (Him) and have (it),” what is it? Don’t give me some fantastic palaver from Revelation or Ezekiel. Don’t ask me to have faith. Just tell me.

What is eternity? Exactly the same as the outer edge of the expanding universe, I should think. An infinite expansion of infinite nothingness.

It’s even harder to contemplate “nothing” than it is to contemplate the meaning of Ted Cruz’s rantings. It can’t be done. What infinity will I become part of when I die?

If you’re over 60 and not asking that question . . . well, I don’t know what you’re up to.