Weekends

In contemporary American society, many citizens endure a dualistic existence in which the work week stretches forth like some dreary dust bowl landscape.  Punctuating these dismal five-day journeys is the weekend, that carnival luridly lit on the horizon, its distant Ferris wheel and roller coaster barely in view.

You trudge through the sands of the days, Monday, Tuesday – Humpday –  Thursday, the carnival getting closer, the music audible, Pink singing over a calliope:

Just when it can’t get worse, I’ve had a shit day (NO!)
Have you had a shit day? (NO!), we’ve had a shit day (NO!)
I think that life’s too short for this, I want back my ignorance and bliss

David Levine: The Thunderbolt

Like the work week itself, the weekend possesses its own life cycle, beginning with the boundless hope of Friday afternoon, the happy hour gathering, dinner and a movie, snuggling with your baby sipping something intoxicating on the sofa as Lester Young blows his tenor Saxophone through those Bose speakers you shouldn’t have indulged in but did.

Saturday is just slightly less hopeful – unless, of course, if you’ve slept deep into the afternoon and awaken to the desolation of strewn clothes, unbrushed teeth, and a WC Fields-grade hangover. In that scenario the weakening October afternoon sunlight is as tragic as Van Gogh reaching for the razor.

On the other hand, if you’re older, chances are you wake up feeling fairly upbeat, peruse the paper (digital or otherwise) leisurely on the porch, deck, or patio. Yard work, a fishing excursion, a novel, quilting, football, cooking, model airplanes – it’s up to you because you live in the land of the free and don’t need to set that alarm tonight.

And, as the pop songs say, Saturday nights are made for dancing or getting behind the wheel of your Oldsmobile as you barrel down the Boulevard with Tom Waits cranking on the stereo:

Then you comb your hair
Shave your face
Tryin’ to wipe out ev’ry trace
All the other days
In the week you know that this’ll be the Saturday
You’re reachin’ your peak

Oh, but the night is going, going, after midnight – that means Sunday, Sunday with its tolling church bells and lengthening shadows. The weekend balloon is leaking helium, wrinkling around the edges. [cue Nato King Cole]: The party’s over . . .

nat-king-cole-anthology-3cd

The philosopher, Robert Grudin, has thought long and hard about our perception of time. He offers this bit of wisdom:

The years forget our errors and forgive our sins, but they punish our inaction with living death.

Here’s that self-righteous celibate Thoreau:

Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air–to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light. That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.

 

 

Portrait of the Drudge as an Old Man

 

God knows how many hours I’ve spent grading essays over the last 33 years. [1]

Outside of faculty meetings and writing report cards, assessing essays, — i.e., untangling twisted syntax, striking through flaccid phraseology, performing CPR on near-dead verbs (not to mention dealing with grammar and mechanics)[pant, pant] – is for me the least enjoyable aspect of teaching English.

How many essays over the years are we talking about?  Let’s see.  Seventy some odd [2] students writing ten compositions a year comes to – drum roll – 700.  Multiply 700 by 33, and you get 23,100.

[Cue the Godfather, James Brown]: Good Gawd!  That be way more than an ass/shit/truck load!

How high would they reach if stacked one-on-one?  My pal Horatio is cutting me off: ‘Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so.”

Let’s just leave it like this: I’ve spent approximately 5,775 hours of my life correcting papers – i.e., 240 days, the equivalent of eight months, i.e., three-quarters of a year, one percent of my life.

But here’s the thing. That percentage is going down.  I’m retiring.  I only have 232 to go!

[Sigh]  An ass load.


[1]God knows precisely, but goddammit, I’m going to try to figure it out.

[2]And some odder than others

An Embarrassment of Riches: Pat Conroy, Log-Heaving Lowcountry Highlanders, and/or James T Crow?

If I were a decent human being, someone who cared about his unborn grandchildren, I would be out canvassing, ringing doorbells door-to-door and begging voters to cast their ballots because, if Republicans control Congress and the Presidency, we’re up the River Styx for sure.

But, the thing is, I sort of look like a homeless person.  My hair, though scant, is unruly, like my beard, and my clothes, no matter how hard I try, always look like I’ve slept in them.

I’d be afraid that when I rang a doorbell and the working mom checked me out through the peephole, she’d call the cops.[1]  I’m a suspicious looking person.  Salespeople stalk me at department stores.

And anyway, hey! [Cue the Beach Boys] I wanna have fun fun fun, /Till my sons take the car keys away!

Too much with too little time.

Caroline and I drove down to Beaufort Friday afternoon for the Pat Conroy Literary Festival. There, we got to see Megan and sit at the same table with her and her Uncle Tim and meet her mother Barbara for the first time.  I absolutely adore Megan, whom I consider the funniest woman I know outside of showbiz. There were speeches I couldn’t hear, but it’s not the PA’s fault.  The folks at my table laughed at words that to me were less than whispers.  Maybe I need to go do something about my hearing?  Afterwards, you could buy books and get them signed.  A tribute volume for Pat has just come out, Our Prince of Scribes.

Megan Conroy, Caroline, and I-and-I

The B and B where we stayed was .6 of a mile from the dinner at Tabby Place, so we walked Saturday morning to retrieve Caroline’s car. We had expectantly bumped into a couple of former students at a bar and took an Uber “home” to the B and B.  The inn itself I’d call Southern-Gothic Lite, with the proprietor a California transplant taking over dead mama’s mansion. He blinked very slowly a good bit, but he didn’t resemble Anthony Perkins, and the bath wasn’t equipped with a stand-alone shower.

Oh yeah, the walk.  What a beautiful day.  What a beautiful city.

IMG_3039.jpg

So we left Beaufort without breakfast or coffee to pick up Brooks and meet Caroline’s dad at the Scottish Games on the grounds of Drayton Hall.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay long enough to enjoy the complete array of contests and parades. We had to catch some of Porch Fest, Jim Crow’s set at three followed by Brother Fleming’s at four.

Too much with too little time.

For me, Porch Fest ranks right up there with the X-mas parade as Folly’s premiere parties  This year marks its 5th anniversary. It’s a community-enhancing exercise; musicians are booked to perform at various houses on Folly Beach simultaneously.  Luckily, Jim and Fleming were playing at different times and only a couple of blocks apart. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to catch Danielle Howle because she was playing at the same time as Fleming.

You just wander into the someone’s yard, meet some new neighbors maybe, open a beer, and listen.

Here’s a peek.  First Jim, accompanied by Timmy Morris, and then Fleming.

Like I said, Too much with too little time.


[1]Of course, my Joe Cunningham for Congress sweat shirt might have made me look more legit.

Shuffling Off to Brownsville

Shuffling Off to Brownsville

1 November 2018: Soldiers Deployed to Border to Confront the Saddest Caravan This Side of the Bataan Death March

 

You may know the mid-century cliché,

the crazed artist

spazzily slinging

paint on canvas,

an object of derision.

That’s the Trump Presidency,

sort of,  kind of.

Clown hair instead of beret,

and it’s shit being slung not paint.

Splat!

distracting you

from yesterday’s

splat!!

the story about

Splat!!!

Splats of yore — outrages

from. like two weeks ago,

have already disappeared,

hardened, crumbled into desert dirt.

Splat!!!!

Clunky Titles, Funky Poems

Relatively early in his career, Yeats would come up with long, unwieldy titles for some of his poems.

Here’s one:

To a Poet, who would have me Praise certain Bad Poets, Imitators of His and Mine

You say as I have often given tongue

In praise of what another’s said or sung.

‘There politic to do the like by these;

But have you known a dog to praise his fleas?

 

So in this vein, I humbly present:

A Subliterate Buddhist with Work Issues Writes to His Love Seeking Seventeen Syllables That Will Deliver Him from the Eternal Cycle of Birth, Suffering, and Death

 

Oxygen, shallow breathing, white noise, now!

O, lay a haiku on me, sweetie.

This here samsara got me so so down.

 

These damned desires breed so much sorrow.

Can’t concentrate on my breathing.

Got so much shit going down tomorrow.

 

O, O, O, lay a haiku on me, my love,

A haiku with the hashtag samadhi,

One that makes me the one I’m not thinking of,

One that will set this monkey mind free.

 

 

Um, om?

 

Fast Track Cultural Revolutions

Each April, as lilacs push their way out of the dead land, I provide my Brit Lit students an overview of the early 20th Century, showing them how art reflects a culture’s history, science, psychology, philosophy and how the alchemy of art can alter the way in which we see the world.

I show them these three photographs, taken a mere decade or so apart:

circa 1910

circa 1917

circa 1921

See what you get when Picasso and Planck start to play ping pong:

Picasso: The Guitar Player 1910

Obviously, between the years of 1905 and 1920, Europe underwent a radical change in perception, a cultural revolution, and you don’t have to don a deerstalker hat nor peer through a magnifying glass to identify the motive in this case.  I offer the analogy of European culture as a gorgeous stained-glass window – a millennium in the making – that has been shattered by “the Death of God,” the de-objectification of science, and WWI. Modernists like Eliot and Joyce and Picasso pick up the pieces, arrange them in different patterns, trying to make sense of chaos.

Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina

Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow

Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.

DattaDayadhvamDamyata.

Shantih    shantih    shantih

 

TS Eliot, The Waste Land

 

To my mind, the enormous sea change in the public’s perception of homosexuality in the last ten years rivals that of the rapid cultural transformation embodied in that shift in fashion from the corsets and bustles of the Edwardians to the short flimsy dresses of the flappers.

However, in the case of homosexuality, the reasons for the shift in the public’s attitude are not that obvious.  I’ve been soliciting opinions from my colleagues and friends, and they not only disagree, but occasionally offer opposing suppositions.  Like virtually everything else, the phenomenon is probably much more complicated than it might seem.

Obviously, one possibility for the shift in the public’s perception of same sex marriage lies in an erosion of traditional Christianity, which you could certainly argue is the case in post-Christian Europe.  However, with 77% of Americans identifying themselves Christians in 2009, and given that the movement within Christianity has been a shift from mainline to evangelical churches, it seems dubious to suggest a “falling away from God” is the reason for the increasing tolerance of “the love that dare not speak its name.”

Oscar Wilde: Who would ever have guessed?

In fact, presupposing that the temple/church has possessed a monolithic view of marriage through the ages doesn’t stand scrutiny – as the shift from the polygamy of the OT to the monogamy of Salt Lake City s attests.  Actually, traditional European marriages were established on the bedrock of property rather than on misty marshes of eros[1].  In fact, from what I understand, this loving-your-spouse innovation arose from of all places, English Puritanism.  John Milton himself wrote tracts espousing[2]incompatibility as grounds for divorce.  Here’s a layperson-friendly summary from Stephanie Coontz[3]

Parents arranged their children’s unions to expand the family labor force, gain well-connected in-laws and seal business deals. Sometimes, to consolidate inheritances, parents prevented their younger children from marrying at all. For many people, marriage was an unavoidable duty. For others, it was a privilege, not a right. Often, servants, slaves and paupers were forbidden to wed.

But a little more than two centuries ago, people began to believe that they had a right to choose their partners on the basis of love rather than having their marriages arranged to suit the interests of parents or the state. Love, not money, became the main reason for getting married, and more liberal divorce laws logically followed. After all, people reasoned, if love is gone, why persist in the marriage? Divorce rates rose steadily from the 1850s through the 1950s, long before the surge that initially accompanied the broad entry of women into the workforce.

A slippery slope indeed: John Milton enabling George Jones

In keeping with history, friend/colleague posits that the AIDS epidemic is responsible for the sea change.  The epidemic underscored that homosexuality was more widespread than heterosexuals imagined and acquiring the disease (unless you were a hemophiliac or a junkie) became a sort of outage in itself.

As more and more exited the closet, this theory suggests, the more we discovered that this once-called abomination was prevalent among kind, gentle souls, the saintly professor, your first cousin, your brother, your son or daughter (cf Dick Cheney).

This theory seems reasonable to me, but I would also add that, at least among the educated, it has become abundantly clear that sexual orientation is essentially innate.  I certainly didn’t make the post-pubescent decision to become hethero/(morose?), so it doesn’t seem likely that others would decide they would choose to be gay.  Why would someone, especially in the ‘50s and ‘60s when “rolling queers” ranked just behind quail hunting as a redneck pastime? And, if indeed, you’re born gay, shouldn’t you be allowed to fall in love and to marry?

Whatever the reasons for this rapid transformation of attitude – imagine Gore coming out for gay marriage in 2000 and Dubya merely demurring that although against it himself, he thought it was a matter for individual states to decide – I can’t imagine the tide ever reversing on this issue, despite the Trump Administration’s dreams about turning back the clock.  He would be better off, I think, concentrating on keeping his hands to himself.


[1]The Misty Marshes of Eros, soon to be out in paperback.

[2]Pun intended

[3]I swear that’s her name.