Friday, May 29, 2009

The Whisper

(With thanks to Mary Oliver)

It's today and finally
I begin
though inside and
out I hear
the usual voices shout
"I Need!" "You Must!"
and my legs are shaking,
lassoed by threads
of very good duties.

As the poet says:

"It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones."

These other calls
come from ahead
reach back to lift me if I like
as I trip and stumble over
rubble and tear away
at tiny twines
fall down make a mess
and hear finally

The whisper of my own shaky voice:

"I need!"
"I must!"

Monday, May 25, 2009

Chess Projections

McGregor loves chess. At the prospect of playing, he jumps around and pumps the air like a boxer getting ready for a match.
Of course I usually lose to him, 9 times out of 10. It's a mystery to me how McGregor sets things up: no matter what I go to do, all his pieces are so backed up. He's been thinking according to a plan, whereas all I can ever think to do is attack.

About 4 p.m. McGregor said, "Let's order a pizza," so we did. When you're old and your IRA might die, why not live for the moment.

Later I played chess against myself; there's a program on my computer that lets one do that. I'll make a move as white, and then the board turns around, and I need to move as black. How instructive. Whether I'm white or black, the opposing side seems in so much better shape. Whether I'm black or white, the other player is so much better than me!! Of course I always fought to a stalemate. Just goes to show after all: you can't win.

There must be some wisdom lurking in that experience, but perhaps not.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Random Musings

The writing biz is just awful.

My friend drove us to a gigantic bookstore full of volumes such as "the history of poop" and "365 nights of sex," and we were going to hear how our worthy projects could join these on the shelves. And once again received unwelcome news that it's all hustle hustle hustle.

But first: four poets read their award-winning compositions. The poems were mediocre, which I suppose was the only bright spot in the evening. They won awards for writing worse than me.

That's the whole point, though, innit? Effort trumps ability. These poets hustled and found some contest and wrote into it. So on to the panel of poetry journal editor, author, and editorial consultant. It reminded me of Donald Barthelme's remark that St. Anthony went into the desert to find the answer. "Alas! It was the same old answer!"

I.e., writing now is really selling, and you have to have the "platform." You need the web site, the list of 5,000 to 10,000, you need a bunch of subscribers to your blog. Subscribers???

But you can't publish something you've already put out there on your blog. OK. And your blog, explained the author promoting his book about sports something told me my blog can't just be "random musings."

"You've been reading it!" I told him. I didn't like the uncomfortable chair, the megastore atmosphere, and the bad news I heard for not the first time. But I accepted it, because this is what you have to do if you want to somewhere somehow locate an audience.

P.S. If two or four of you read random musings, could you please send a link to all your friends. Thanks


Monday, May 18, 2009

Retired Again

It's happened before in other places: my job as Children's Ministries Coordinator got de-funded; so today marks the first day of my third time retiring.

Since my job doesn't exist, I will no longer be doing it. As I was making my good-byes, many people at church wrote kind notes, said gracious things. The teachers even threw me a little surprise party on my last day.

But only one person, one of the dads, a newcomer who was wearing jeans and a work shirt to church--well, he was the only individual among hundreds who murmured to me, "Are you going to be all right, financially?"

I felt touched and said, "Well, I don't know. I'm calling it 'retirement' and will see how it goes."

The third retirement is starting out a bit differently. In earlier ones, there was a feeling that whatever I had done in the world of work and ministry went poof. This time it doesn't matter so much. When I used to feel, along with my dear departed Den retirement as "the interval between work and death." it doesn't seem that so much this time. By the third time retirement is not such a novelty. This time, I have plans.

This interval means more time to write and pursue writing. So far, I've been very successful. If you want me to blog about what I accomplish, though, you must post a comment and ask. I don't want to bore my two or four readers!!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How to be Happy

The Grant Study, a longitudinal survey following Harvard men from college to death, began in the mid-thirties. I just finished reading an article about it in the Atlantic. The study is acquiring data on what makes people healthy, happy, and live long, which seems to be a working definition of happiness.

George Vaillant, the study's author, or producer, names several elements to produce happiness: exercise, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, education, stable marriage, and normal weight. Well, we do what we can. Another factor is the use of "mature defenses," altruism and sublimation, comparmentalizing (displacement), intellecutalization; rather than projection et cetera with which neurotics are so familiar.

Dr. Vaillant believes in data collection but also the power of narrative and his students are told to be ready for "obscure literary references" such as Anna Karenina, the Doll's House, and Death of a Salesman. Oh dear (that these are obscure, I mean). He says the material of these men's lives is worthy of a Russian novelist.

I would love to hear Tolstoy on the subject of altruism as a defense, but never mind. I am familiar w/ Dr. Vaillant's work after working in addictions therapy for many years. He is a seminal thinker, and I appreciate his work so much. (I also knew his first wife Nancy, in whose living room the Boston chapter of NOW was begun--collateral benefit from their divorce?) But the main thing I'm mulling is something else. Perhaps it's not fair to ask, having not read the giant study, but why is happiness and health held out as the summum bonum. Is there something more meaningful than one's own personal happiness? Is there a higher desideratum to pursue than even health? (To me, of course, that would be Jesus, saving one's soul, serving the world et cetera)

Well I'm sure the scientists would say yes, that religious faith is very good for health and happiness! (Oh good grief!) And I'm forgetting that the study is entitled to have a topic of what factors contribute to health and longevity; it doesn't claim to offer the answer to the riddle of existence. But there's just something so AMERICAN about the approach.

There, having sublimated for a while, think I'll go overeat for a bit. Have a good day.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Underground Man

Just finished Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground, and I was blown away. If you haven't read it I think you might love it.
The protagonist, a spiteful antihero, hates himself and everyone else and spends much time explaining that is human nature, contrary to what so-called rational men believe. Being rational somehow takes away his individuality; the only freedom is to misbehave, in his mind. And what a mind it is; it is reminding me of Shouts and Murmurs much of the time. The agitated self-centered one is ludicrous.

U.M. is so paranoid that he makes a weeks-long project of passing a certain person in the street who doesn't notice him. The antihero spruces up his wardrobe, even sells his racoon coat collar and has a beaver collar sewn on because he can't push past the certain person wearing a raccoon collar. I won't reveal the outcome of that little business. Underground man tries to challenge people to a duel because he takes such affront; but no one takes him seriously enough to duel with him. He is even an antihero to his valet; everyone has more dignity than he, even a prostitute, and this is his shame-y hell. At the end what will happen with the prostitute, whom he halfway wanted to save? Will she come to the house? He dreads it, he wants it, he agonizes. When she comes: more suspense, as you don't know if he will kill her or marry her. You have to read it that's all: U.M.'s wit and spite are irresisitible. Plus, it is brilliant philosophical denunciation of Reason as a hope for a sane society.

This is who we are without God: trapped in total banal depravity. Yet this person should he turn to God and devote himself to prayer, will be among the "last" who will come "first." He is the sinner Jesus came to save.

The man of Reason, the well-ordered, fitting-in man, the cheerful virtuous successful man, has no need of God. His prosperity, his intelligence, his goodness stand as barriers to his recognition of the U.M. in his own soul.