Alms for Oblivion


“The Walking Lesson” by Jacek Yerka

Back in my teaching days, I’d sometimes ask my students what they considered the worst invention in the history of mankind. Typical answers included gunpowder, nuclear weaponry, Whoopie cushions, etc.

I’d do my ol’ slow shake of sage educator’s head routine and admit that those contraptions were indeed pernicious but that the worst invention in mankind’s horrid history was the clock, which was a by-product of womankind’s worst discovery, agriculture.[1]


I’d go on and invite them to imagine a world without clocks, a world of delicious imprecision governed by states of light rather than the ticking of mechanical hands or the silent progression of illuminated digits.

Now that most of us have placed ourselves under house arrest, we can experience for a time an existence not governed by sixtieths – seconds, minutes, hours – especially if we don’t have children involved in distance learning.

Here’s a snippet from a Facebook post written by a former student of mine who suffers from an auto-immune disorder:

Oddly, as the next week took shape, with the kids out of school and the shutdown picking up steam, my anxiety eased. It wasn’t because I was less concerned about the virus and my potential exposure, but because so many other self-imposed stressors were instantly out of my life. Just like the pollution in Venetian canals seemingly cleared up after a short period of decreased activity, my mind seemed to clear up when we couldn’t race from work, to after school activities, sports practices, piano lessons, social commitments, and whatever else had previously cluttered my schedule. We couldn’t grab dinner on the go, and stopping in at the grocery store 3-4 times a week no longer made sense. We went on more walks and bike rides the week of March 16th than the previous six months. We watched the sunset each night from our back porch instead of driving 45 minutes to volleyball practice. We’ve had family meals almost every night. We’ve had family movie nights, and we haven’t missed a church service because our church quickly got online. We’ve reached out to friends over Facetime, text, or calls that we’ve not found time to connect with before. And we see others doing the same. In short order, despite a deadly threat, I was more relaxed than I’d been in a long time.

Yes, the world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, and as Ulysses points out to Achilles in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, “Time hath, me Lord, a wallet at his back/Wherein he puts alms for oblivion.”

No telling what will follow this pestilence — recession, depression, repression, armed insurrection?  I dunno.  What I do know is that my coffee cup is empty and that there’s a bottle of Jameson’s on the kitchen counter.  I think I’ll have another cup sweetened by another dollop and enjoy this beautiful mid-April morning while the getting’s good.


[1] Most anthropologists posit that pre-agrarian female gatherers put two and two together regarding seeds and soil, which would explain the Pandora and Eden myths. Hunting’s fun. Plowing desert soil not so much. It’s all her fault.


Perhaps There Is Reason for Optimism

Galaxies, constellations, solar systems, stars, and planets go round and round and round in their gravitational grooves. Days are born to die, to dawn, to die, to dawn, time and time, again and again.

Yang 陽: Tribalism is brain stem stuff: Tar Heel, Blue Devil, Tyger, Tyger[1] A twig snaps; adrenalin pumps. My Territory. My Toy. My Girl.[2]   My Generation.[3] Godzilla demands that parking space. Brainstem stuff.

Life yearns to be. The lowly weed cracks through concrete in the dying strip shopping center off Folly Road. That weed feeds on the CO2 of the homeless man who instinctively dodges it with his shopping cart. Yin

Ayahuasca Shaman by Paul Heussenstamm

Ayahuasca Shaman by Paul Heussenstamm

A millennium from now, in the Amazon, ringed round a fire, Sons of the Wind tell of a time when the jungle was dying and silver birds were flying overhead buzzing with water rising and the white ghosts sighing into tiny blinking talk boxes but how Tucano chased them away with the sun itself . . .

Again and again, time and time, dawn to die, gravitational grooves, round and round, planets and stars and solar systems and galaxies.

[1] Burning bright in the darkness of the night . . .

[2] Talking ‘bout my girl, my girl.

[3] P-p-p-people try to put us down.

Time, Time, Time Ain’t on My Side

But at my back I always hear

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near

Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress

 I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

Eliot, “Prufrock”

Of course, time seems to pass more rapidly as we age because of the forever diminishing frames-of-references that years represent.

For example, when I was five, a student at Miss Marion’s kindergarten, a year was a fifth of my life and seemed as expansive as a continent.  The previous Christmas seemed like a far distant outpost several time zones removed, separated by a progression of slow transpiring days that unfurled and closed like lazy morning glories.

[check out the vines on the left as Cat Stevens rejoices]

Now, that I’m 61, a year seems like one revolution on a Tilt-a-Whirl that’s gone haywire in Max Sennett short – each successive whirl faster – last Christmas seeming a day or two ago and the next a day or two away.

But here’s the thing.  For the past week it’s as if I exist in a Rod Sterling directed Twilight Zone adaptation of a Kafka short story.

Every time I reach for something, it’s the very last one available!  It’s ubiquitous.  Uncanny.

For example, the day before yesterday, I had to replace the toilet paper roll in the master bath and the very next day needed to replace the roll in what we euphemistically call “the powder room.”  Coincidence – of course – but then last night as I unfurled the dental floss, the spool unwound and spit out the last remaining thread . This morning’s dry dog food scooping found the cup hitting the bottom, the food not completely done, but within three or four days of depletion.

And here’s the clincher: at school, I forgot to hit the staple function on the copier in the work room,[1] so had to staple my Romanticism tests by hand, and guess what, not only did the first stapler I used run out of staples, but the next one did as well!

To be honest, though, there was plenty of looseleaf paper to distribute to my students who are at this very moment in time explaining why this stanza of Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” conforms to the subject matter and poetic conventions of Romanticism:

What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind;

In the primal sympathy

Which having been must ever be;

In the soothing thoughts that spring

Out of human suffering;

In the faith that looks through death,

In years that bring the philosophic[2]


[1] By the way, in those halcyon days before email, the copy room called the Lounge, and perhaps the fact that we in the working world are so busy there’s no time for contemplation may also play a role in the seeming acceleration of time’s passage.

[2] Of course, when I was copying my rubric for grading my students’ responses the copier ran out of paper.  I swear!