Monday, June 30, 2008
Sultry Sunday. What with the rental I got to drive to Atlanta, the alley behind the houses gleams dully with red cars in summer light.
Linda’s friends organized a wonderful party in a section of Alpharetta studded with sprung-up-in-the-night mini-mansions. I had more time to talk with Jonathan and Bekka than I have in years. Bekka is smart and attractive and hard working– Hermione Grainger from Harry Potter is who comes to mind. She says she doesn’t have a boyfriend because she’s around her brothers too much, and knows what boys say, but also what they mean. Jonathan is a sort of saint. He needs to take the next step before one can tell exactly what kind.
The event was a little odd to me, as none of those people knew dad, but we appreciated the society and the diversion offered by the festivities.
The hardest moment I have had so far was rounding the corner past Dogwood Forest into my sister's street. One time only I saw dad toodling on his scooter down that street to visit his grandchildren. It was an image of paradise. I thought he would have at least a few years of riding that scooter down the street.
Drove home from Atlanta listening to Beethoven string quartets
I put on dad’s ring, gold and white gold with a big diamond in the middle.
This is Sunday night. On Sunday nights I call dad on the phone, to keep up, to help him conquer his computer, to hear some old story he is suddenly in the mood to tell.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
From a former neighbor:
"I am saddened to hear about your father's passing. He was a kind man who helped me when I was a teenager and there were problems going on at my house with my brother. I lived in the neighborhood and became acquainted with him. I spent many an evening with him talking and playing games. I moved to Arizona when I was in high school, but still kept in touch with him. After I was married my family and I came to visit and stayed with your dad. He was a bright spot in my life when I needed somewhere to go for peace. I will miss him a lot. Thank you for letting me know. I am so sorry for your loss.
Off to Atlanta for the memorial service.
My mother and father are both gone now. Though I have been living on my own for 35 years, I rose this morning wondering, "What am I going to do?"
Friday, June 27, 2008
Working hard on In the Country of the Young, as I can and do when somebody shows the least interest.
Word came from the Jerwood Opera Writing Fellowship. I didn’t have to read the email to know we had not gotten it. I am not one who EVER gets the money, or the prize, anything up front or easy, anything without having to work for it ten times over, and I’m afraid my luck might have ruined Frank’s. On the other hand– I hate my occasional impulse to be fair– it’s hard to see how I would have profited from the fellowship, the libretto already being written. Frank and his unwritten music is another story.
My sister discovers that dad had no life insurance after all. Goodyear supplied $13000 worth, but as part of financial hard times sent out a message, in 2007, that policies would be cancelled if a one-time $250 premium were not paid. Father, of course, making sometimes $8000 in the course of a day, grudged the premium, and so we are out $13000. Linda said, "This is so like dad," and it is. She reminds me that we still have money coming, and that we shouldn’t blame him. I don’t blame him and, at this point, am managing to live without expectations, not even speculating on what chickens to count, hatched or no. But I might add: yes, we may have money coming to us, but at no point was that his intention.
I do not blame him for anything, knowing how much of his life and how many of his decisions were based on fear. There were times when reason or evidence might have overcome fear. . . but that seemed never quite to happen.
Is grumpiness a stage of grief?
Brief, swift rain, enough to ruin the front seats of cars whose windows were left open.
DJ and I drove to the North Carolina Zoo in Ashboro yesterday. It was meant as a sort of vacation, but is itself a rather grueling undertaking, especially if you set your mind on seeing everything. Ocelots, giraffes, the vivid-bottomed baboons, rhinos asleep and at peace in the shade of great trees. A whole heard of Spanish-speaking kids trying. English like "black bear" and "bison" in their mouths.
Have managed not to think of dad in ways that would make me sad, but rather in ways that bring on happy recollection. It is a strange thing, though, for all the tastes and interests and hobbies and idiosyncracies of an individual suddenly to come to nothing. It’s like a great tree falling in the forest, feeding all its resources back into the ground, becoming raw materials again. The plans he made for his end, some things strangely emphasized, something strangely shrugged off, are so like him, and like no other plans will be again.
Cast as Touchstone in As You Like It. I thought it was odd casting, but I resolved to do it, so as not to spend all the summer evenings in front of the DVD player. I told the director I thought it was odd casting, and she said, "Well, when you’re casting for a clown you don’t necessarily cast the silliest person who shows up."
Classmate Mike McKovich writes: "My dad died when I was twelve, and I still miss him."
Our dad provided for his own end by setting aside money for a party, for gifts to those who were kind to him at the Dogwood, and to reimburse gas for those who helped move him out.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Dad has been dead for almost twenty four hours. Exhausted, I went to bed early last night. I had the strangest feeling, as if someone had cuddled up against my chest as I slept, a child, I thought, a fearless, happy child. Then the phone rang and I knew what news it would be. And I knew who the child was. I rose up and went walking in the night, to the rose garden on Griffing Place in the deep darkness, where all there was of the roses was the fragrance. Nobody really knows how to say goodbye. I suppose I’m no worse at it than anybody else. Luckily the sensation of the happy, fearless child, the child-soul liberated from a disappointing life and a catastrophic body, was so strong that it carried me through the walk and into bed again, and it is that I hold with me now.
C must have spread the word among our classmates, for I received a number of touching condolences. One was from TE, whom I scarcely in school, who wrote:
One of the greatest comforts is to hear the memories of people who you didn’t even know had memories of those you love, for in them, too, they are still alive. I still remember something LaNeita said about my mother, and an anecdote shared by Lynda Sarver, and I was happy, for it was not only me who remembered her, and that was precious beyond words. Dad had I life I didn’t know about, and others did. I hope in coming times I will know more, and take delight.
My prayers are with you and your family. I’m so sorry to hear of the passing of
your father who was a fellow Brother in the Masonic Lodge and knew my father. I
remember your Dad from Boy Scouts and his commitment to the Scouting
Organization. You know, David, you were blessed with a father who made a
commitment to make the world a better place and make a difference. He touched on
so many lives throughout our childhood and then as adults. What a gift to have
such a role model. God has blessed us in so many ways and having our parents as
long as we have is his way of blessing us. A gift from God that we take for
granted at times. Both of my parents are still living, but are nearing the end.
I too am blessed and will one day prepare as you are for the final resting place
in Gods house. will pray for you this evening and in the coming months and years
that God will help heal your heart. Your Friend --
When I’ve thought of him today, it is mostly of him laughing. I have his laugh, fast, raucous, chaotic, bawdy, pure. I don’t know why I should think of that, but I am grateful beyond words that I do.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
My sister phones first thing to say she thinks this morning will be dad’s last. Recent days have been an evolving drama of collapse, each minute something new or worse gone wrong with him. He’s apparently in a period of apnea, where he has to fight for every breath. A horse with a broken leg may be allowed to rest, but not a ninety year old man into whom enough morphine cannot be pumped, who must be watched as he slips through the levels of torment lest something unethical transpire to end the suffering too soon. It is institutional torture. It is the medical profession’s way of remind us they have control over life and death, and it is evil.
Meanwhile, cousin Michael heads for the bone marrow transplant which may save his life, or prolong his suffering, or God only knows what. I am mortified to have complained last night about a sore foot.
Note to self: do not get cancer.
The sore foot was achieved by standing a long time for the Cantaria Concert, which I believe was a success. Larry and Janie Wilson were there. I couldn’t quite get through my head why. Leah Karpen. The Bryants. Owen and Michael A, who had never gone to a choral concert before. People who talked to me familiarly about Edward in New York. We went to the Usual afterward and had a drunken celebration, several Cantaria factions altogether, and I think that was very, very, well, for we were happy in each other’s company. It has been long since I have been quite so drunk.
Beau, the baritone florist, wanted to do flowers for the church. We talked about that for a while, and then he said, "What kind of church is this?"
"What does that mean?"
"Well, literally, that we are governed by bishops."
"What does THAT mean?"
He wanted tp know where the church came from and how it was different from other churches, and soon I found myself leading him to the court of Henry VIII. The Village Explainer in me is always delighted by such opportunities.
Went to Montford Park and auditioned for As You Like It. The chubby factotums who run the place skittered through my audition the whole time, but I suppose I got points for enduring it. I played Jacques at Hiram long ago, and discovered as I read that I remembered the lines pretty well.
Father had a moment of lucidity a few days ago, at which time he looked at my sister and said "You’re fat. Do something about it." One hopes he could have been joking. One shrugs, sighs, and assumes probably not.
Work on The Falls of the Wyona has been going like a house afire.
Drove to Crazy Lady café on Church Street in Hendersonville for a performance of Kind Eyes and several other pieces by other authors. For Kind Eyes I had one good actor and one bad one, and you’d think that would achieve a kind of acceptable average, but it doesn’t. It’s like trying to drive with two flat tires and two good ones. All the plays were pretty bad and worsened (or at least not improved) by bad acting. There were two good actors: my rat was one, and my student Grant was the other, intelligent, natural, graceful. I was proud of him. Most of the people in that room have been working for years to perfect their craft, and the fact is that no measure of work or honest effort will ever make them good, and I cannot explain why that is, or present the justice of it. They do everything right, by the book, what innumerable speakers at innumerable conferences have said, but it is still trash. Grant is a good actor and they are not if he has one line to his resume and they pages. The best they will ever do will be presented before ten of their best friends in a restaurant in Hendersonville and STILL be a waste of time, and I say that in wonder at the unfairness of the world. Theater is a gift that can be enhanced by skill but not bestowed by skill. I have a feeling that is the same with all the arts. I cannot explain it, cannot justify it. But it is as it is. Why people love what can never love them back is a mystery we must wait for eternity to explain.
Father is in a coma, breathing hard, mindless, senseless so far as anybody can tell. It is too awful to think about, what the habit of being puts us through. The hospice nurse said he is waiting to say goodbye to someone, and though I doubt very much that it’s me, Linda put the phone to his ear and I spoke. I didn’t say anything important. But I walked in the last light, and, standing in my garden, touching the thick, rain-damp living stems of the towering hollyhocks, I thought what I should say. I called to him through the night air. I said. "Eugene, the world has not been fair to you. The hand was not evenly dealt. Let it go. Let it go now. Start again. Trust the new turn of the wheel. Let it go, and in one moment be made new. Start again. Start again."
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Sometime yesterday evening summer crept in soft and sultry. I think I was at the Usual with the Cantaria gang after our dress rehearsal. The big moon was trampling behind the thinnest blue cloud. I think Cantaria sounds exceptionally good this time, and I have not always thought so.
My valerian is taller than I, and jousts with the dogwood for room. The yellow columbine I bought for DJ puts forth for a second rank of blossoms. The water gardens team with fish, and with vegetation, though I am still waiting for a flower.
I drive to the park beside the French Broad and read Tolkien when I can snatch a moment. The motion of the river past the still trees is hypnotic. When some red neck woman in stretch pants is not braying indignation at the top of her lungs over the cell phone, it can be paradisal.
A phrase like "braying indignation" sends me to what I believe will be my personal theme for the summer. In the past I have traveled summers, so there was not time for concentrated introspection. But I think it is time, and past time, for me to confront the deadliest of the Seven within me, which is wrath. I don’t think people who know me would consider me particularly angry; part of the proof of that is their astonishment when I, publically, am. But I know it. I know that most of yesterday was sunk under strata of fury, and only exhaustion brought me out of it. My wrath is not spontaneous or irrational, and that is the root of the problem. If it were merely crazy, I could observe that and steer a course away. I have a long, slow fuse; I consider and weigh; I allow a hundred chances for the cause of my anger to right itself. I assume that I am misinformed until I can assume it no longer. So, when the anger flows up around me, it seems justified; it seems rational; it seems, in fact, necessary. But if it were all those things, it is still futile and wasting. I come out of it ugly and exhausted, and though anger does right some wrongs, the ones it has not righted I still cannot let go, and the morass around them deepens, and my fury deepens, and, whether I am right or wrong, no good can possibly come out of it. The last damnation is my refrain, But I am right, uttered, as if by a child, in the assumption that will make the difference.
Who is listening when I cry, But I am right? No one, apparently, to whom it matters.
I look at my father in his last hours and see that he is weighed down by suspicion and fear and mistrust. I will not be weighed down by these, but I will by anger if I don’t steer a different course. I remember DJ’s observation from a magazine that people like me are "over-observant and indignant." Few things have been so self-revelatory. What do I do about it? Catch myself, stop myself. Leap into cold water if the same infuriating thought enters my head twice in the same day. I don’t know. Maybe mindfulness will be a start. I cannot yet be Buddha. I cannot stop wanting the things I want, or believing that injustice can be challenged and fought and sometimes defeated. But maybe I can develop a sense for when the battle is lost, or when, God help me, I may be on the wrong side.
My aerobics buddy Lynn turned to me while we were waiting for class to begin at the Y and said, "You know, I can’t believe you’re an artist. You’re so calm and such a good listener. I bet all those frantic people you have to hang out with drive you crazy." I suppose they do, now that I think of it, but my secret smile was for my perception of my own frenzy, which is either well hidden or so much less than that of others (whom Lynn observes) that I should no longer fear it.
I’m the last to know that Chall and JF are opening (or perhaps have opened) a sort of cabaret down by the river. It’s what is needed there, if the community but knew it. If I had known exactly where it was I would have gone there in the blue light and uttered a spell of profitability over it.
My loaner copies apparently never coming home, I bought a new copy of Lord of the Rings and, after painting, drove to the riverside park and opened it, and read in the cool and dapple, and for two hours I was happy. A strong wind was blowing, and there were waves on the river that didn’t always have to do with the current.
When I bought the book, Byron said, "You look great. You look slim." I would have bought it anyway.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Titus is ill and couldn’t levy himself off the green chair even for breakfast. He reminded me of myself yesterday, in the lethargy of misery, barely stirring from the couch. Maybe we share something lethal in the air. I was like someone sunk in darkness in a movie, though in movies such a condition is generally observed and cared about it and it becomes a plot point leading to some romantic or comic salvation. In real life it just wears–or it always had worn–out.
Received a call from David Verga late in the evening. We met at the Usual for Whisky Night. A few weeks ago he ate too many mushrooms and had a vision which he called a vision of his ultimate horror. His ultimate horror is absolute solipsism: the conviction that there is no God and no love and no world, but only his own perception, and everything that is, his mind created to give consciousness someplace to abide. He was brought out of it by going upstairs and finding his brother, who clearly was not, at that point, a figment of his imagination. I agreed that this would be the ultimate horror. Of course, in the telling, my mind went back to exactly the same thing which had been happening to me that whole day through. His ultimate horror is worse than mine, and I was grateful that things were not reversed. Perhaps that inequity is evened out somewhat because I do not dose myself with hallucinogenics, and it takes me longer to locate and confront the roots of my horror. I have never doubted that the world perceived by my senses is real. I have never doubted that God is real. What I felt yesterday, and what I suppose you’d call my ultimate horror, was that I stood outside the circles of that reality, insubstantial, unobserved, all my efforts futile because I was not included in God’s love. I was able to make a pretty objective case for this as I lay on the couch all afternoon between waking and drunken stupor. Characteristically, my revery did not end in revelation and correction as DV’s did, but only wore thin and eventually faded away, exhausted rather than redressed. Today I am tired but not in an especially metaphysical mood. I doubt that I’ll worry about anything, much, but just try to get my work done. The ox-like mental constitution of the Ohio farm boy wins again, if you can call that winning. Let’s say, "endures."
DV observes that MG was a model for Playgirl way back when. I do a little research. It’s quite true.
Evening: Titus is recovered. I wrote the play End Time in four days. Father eats 100 calories a day, but the hospice nurse says he could linger like this for "weeks." She says this because if his death were imminent, round the clock nursing would be covered by insurance. This way, we have to pay. Linda bears the brunt of all this while I sit here and complain.
Visitors at the studio yesterday, some from UNCA, and it was good to see them. MG came with his wife. Whatever MG is talking about, all I can think is, "Man, you are so fucking beautiful." I wonder what it was like going through life looking like that? It seems not to have affected him as, I’m certain, it would have me. Unconscious Adonis. Despite good visitations, the Stroll was a catastrophe, and I tottered home almost too exhausted to go to rehearsal-- though, of course, I had to, the concert being less than a week away. Rebounded from the studio and lay down, and sank into darkness until I had to get up again. It wasn’t anything in particular, but everything in aggregate. This is a life in which a "Maybe" amid a thousand "No’s" seems like salvation. Yet, there really aren’t any lasting Maybe’s–just momentary hesitations in pronouncing "No," a hesitation which I take, desperately, idiotically, as a kind of blessing. It’s wasteful and futile and cruel, and there are moments, amid the many wherein one smiles and strives, where one must lie down in the cinders and dream of something else.
My sister left a coffee gift card for me at Mountain Java. The day had been going so badly they had to convince me it was for me, rather than some luckier person with the same name.
Father sleeps twenty two hours a day. He says a few words and then falls asleep. "What were you dreaming?" asks my sister. "Of a white church with a white congregation and a black preacher."
J and DJ and L and I go to Asheville Pizza after rehearsal. Our waiter, Ian, recognizes me because the manager names me as his favorite teacher. Ian says, "But I thought you were black." I put a hurt look on my face and say, "But I AM black." He runs off, bewildered. Ian is a theologian and says Communism is the Kingdom of God without Christ. I don’t understand that, exactly. Love proceeding from a political apparatus rather than a Person? He was briefly married. He came here to rest and sling brews for a while. I was so wildly attracted to his grave and goof-ball boy-man energy I could hardly contain myself. No. That is not true. It was sadly easy to contain myself, whatever was happening inside. It is all contained. Who counts this a victory?
Emails from the University of Iowa about the flood devastation. Context adds to horror when you hear, "The Theater and the Fine Arts Building are under water."
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Found another review of Edward the King online. Those Google alerts evidently don’t work so well as one supposes. The reviewer is Robin Kavanagh from a publication called The Edge out of Boston. Kavanagh is not an experienced theater-goer, though inexperience provides insights of its own. He supposes that flaws in his comprehension (and, in one case, flaws in the performance) are flaws in the play. I think that reviewers should have a little preparation, ideally, a little understanding of what they might see when the lights go down, but even if there isn’t much perception, there is honesty in this review, and as a playwright I want to speak to the first time play goer, if I can, as well as (or perhaps more than) the sophisticate. So, I read and heed. He ends the review with:
. . . Though I thoroughly enjoyed this play, I still found myself at a loss for words as I left the theatre. It is a heavy story that has symbolism threaded throughout. Days later, I am still trying to analyze exactly what went on between the characters and what the end was meant to say. I would definitely see it a second time, if only to increase my understanding of what is an intricate and interesting story.
I want to teach a class in play going someday, and one of the first lessons will be the dangers of trying too hard. Laboring to "figure it out" usually precludes figuring it out, and ALWAYS precludes enjoyment.
One cannot defend against a stupid review, or against the stupid parts of a good one. One cannot even defend against very good things said which one believes to be untrue, even antipathetic to one’s aims. One smiles and hopes one children make their way despite it all. One smiles and takes pleasure in being so inclusive and various that people can say wildly opposite things about the same goddamn moment. Just put the play on. Just say the words. Let someone hear them. Then write anything you want.
Kavanagh’s was not by any means a stupid review. It was an honest and thoughtful one. It just exhausted me by bumbling past open doors and then pounding on the wall where no door was intended. It disappointed me (as much writing does) by making no distinction–and feeling no need to make a distinction–between incidental and temporary qualities and quirks of perception and the thing actually perceived. The subway ride was hot and irritating and my girlfriend really wanted to go somewhere else and I don’t like going to shows that aren’t musical: therefore, the first act dragged.
I have done the same thing, though, and because my writing is better, the effect is worse because people think I always know what I’m talking about when sometimes I’m grumpy or distracted just like anybody else. In love with my own delusions of objectivity, it took me a while to realize this, and to acknowledge damage I might have done to people or productions which might have had gentler treatment had I not been importing some fury or another from outside. I am resolved to take the (rather minor) blows to Edward semi-uncomplainingly because of this. One incident that sticks in my mind is comments I made in my blog (which were then imported into all the word, and not by me) about John Crutchfield’s play at NC Stage. It’s not that I didn’t believe what I said, but I could have refrained from saying it, or not put it in a public blog, or emphasized what was good (which I did, actually, but that part was not made so public). . . except that I was so angry. . . about. . . something. I don’t even remember what. Didn't have anything to do with John or his play, but still covered him and it with its shadow. That moment came to mind whenever someone said something stupid or extra- Edwardian about Edward. It’s the fair play of a sharp world. I’m going to take it, as I say, semi-uncomplainingly, and resolve in the future to check myself five, six times, to insure that what I’m saying is really about what I think it is.
Day two of Studio Stroll an hour off. I am he who will be there with an ingratiating smile plastered across his faces though he KNOWS nothing will come of it.
Michael Minor’s wife keeps the blog of his fight with cancer. Somebody should tell her she is a very good writer, witty, perceptive, in command. May the story she is writing have a happy ending.
Father eats big meals and remembers days when he was confused on days when he is not, but cannot explain the difference.
Incredibly disappointing and boring River District Studio Stroll. Maybe fifteen people ventured onto our mezzanine, and maybe half of those actually poked their heads into my studio. I thought bad weather had driven the crowds away, but I climbed the stairs and the main floor was buzzing. Location, location, location. Talked with Richmond. That was some consolation. Not quite enough. Got a lot of painting done. Didn’t care. Maybe I’m done with painting. There was rain, and that was well. In the morning, before I went to the studio, I had been writing like a house afire.
This is the day sponsorship I bought at WCQS so I could hear them say Happy Birthday to W.B. Yeats.
Meeting with Glen about the play he has chosen to direct. We went for food, and he stopped mid-sentence, and said grace before he began to eat.
Email saying that Michael Minor has passed some sort of crisis related to reception of chemo, and is better. The cancer is smaller. His breathing is easier. He ate. Even for these small things, blessed be.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Retired early last night, maybe exhaustion from the bike ride, and woke to see two calls from my sister. No messages. Must be about my father. Is he dead? Has he crossed some new boundary of disintegration? Has he rallied back into perfect clarity? In any case, my anxiety is hard to account for, seeing how I can do nothing immediately about any of it. I suppose I don’t want her to face alone whatever new thing, or whatever old thing, she’s facing. It is dark and a few birds are singing. I’ll wait until there’s a little light. It’s a simple truth that I don’t know how to react to my father’s dying. Most of my reactions now are to the tribulations it’s putting my sister through. Because of that, and because of what must be his own bewilderment and agony, I wish it were a brief process, a briefer one than it’s been.
6 AM. Made the call. It was nothing. Maybe the happy news that dad is, for the most part, happy and completely disengaged with the world. It was observed that he was taking surprisingly well to complete dependence, and he said, "I have beautiful women bathing me."
Bathroom reading is Ned Rorem’s diaries. He’s wrong about everything he pauses to judge, though he may be so on purpose, to demonstrate that equal conviction goes into prejudice and to wisdom, so why bother to distinguish the two? He says that "bitterness is my glue," and that is exactly right, the gut-fear that something may be high and true and eternal, that the shrugging cavalier cynicism of the beautiful, moderately talented youth may have been a dead end after all. Nevertheless, I read him, page after page, every several years, thinking what glory might have been if that style were connected to something more important than name-dropping and sneering at the general folly of his betters.
I suppose I would name-drop if I knew anybody whose name is drop-able.
My sister sends a connection to the blog of Michael Minor, my– what is it? Second cousin?–cousin Diane’s oldest boy. He’s dying of cancer in Cleveland Clinic. A handsome boy. I remember how his mother longed for him before he was born. I held him under Walter and Marian’s Christmas tree long ago. Father’s situation is understandable. Part of life. When the young are afflicted, even terribly, like that, it too is understandable when they recover and it becomes One of Life’s Lessons. But when they suffer and there is no hope and they die with their young friends and lovers watching them, it cannot be endured. Not even God–especially not God–has the right to cruelty, toward any end whatever. That which is cruel is not God, nor is cruelty different for God than it is for us, nor is cruelty mitigated by our ignorance of ultimate ends. If the salvation of the world depended on Michael Minor’s dying of cancer, then the world would need to be remade some other way, by some other power ready for the task. Is it any wonder that I am a Gnostic?
But the argument is that God does not cause these things. They are accidents inherent in a material and organic world. I do in fact accept that argument. I do not, however, always remember it.
I shall tend the garden and simmer down in the heat of actual day.
Evening. I kept exploring the material online relevant to my cousin Michael. I sent him messages. I gave money to. . . to something which bore his name. Then I did something which surprised me. I was so overcome with grief at reading the things that people said about him, that I began to pray. That is not unusual, but usually when I pray I lay out, quite reasonably, all the ways in which my request is just, or overdue, or not too harmful, as though God were a loan officer at the bank considering all the assets and deficits. Sometimes I do something quite different. I howl like a wounded animal. This was one of those second times. I heard myself sobbing please. . . please. . . please. . . outside of reason, outside of argument or justice or any plan that might uphold the world. Please, do this for me. I want it with a passion that cannot be expressed except with this sobbing, this howling. Please. Please. Please. I have not considered. I have not measured. I have cried out. My heart is broken. My voice is an animal’s voice. Please. Please. It would be wrong to pray this way for my father, but it is not wrong to do so for a young man struck down, and so I did, and at the end of it–though I don’t know what effect it might have; Michael may be dead even as I write–I had the unaccustomed conviction that I had done something absolutely righteous, absolutely pure.
Except now I can hardly move from my chair.
Yes, I know how God wants to be approached. I forget that too, sometimes. I am good at it, too. If I would just keep mindfulness from day to weary day.
Blast-furnac-y and arid as it is, the water gardens are full, and nothing in the garden is wilted enough to require an application of hose. I bless the heavens for this, and pray that it happens again today.
Biked to school this morning. It’s not a long distance to a crow, but the hills will be annihilating for a while. I rode up them all in my caterpillar low gear, but had to gasp out such an oxygen debt at the finish that it hardly seemed worth it. Dawn saw me as she was coming to work and said I looked cute. That is all I ask. This afternoon I’ve been keeping just ahead of the agonizing muscle cramps my body wants to descend into, stretching violently, drinking water when I feel the twinges begin to gather.
Have been painting well toward my show in September. Not only do I like the look of the pieces when they’re finished, but I have fun doing them, and if we can just get patrons to like them, some, the circle will be complete. Richmond says he likes the texture, but I don’t know if he likes anything else. When people pick out one element to admire, I assume they’re grasping at something favorable to say in the face of a mass of crap. He waits for an invitation to look, as if they were sacred or private, whereas I barge in on him without thinking twice. There’s an element in our imagination, Richmond’s and mine, that is very much alike, a sort of Baroque religious streak that in me emerges as complicated symbolism and in him as allegory. His figures are rough and muddy, but it is possible that’s part of the vision. Even I admit how strange my paintings can be, but I also think many of them are funny, and I count that as a kind of salvation. It amazes me still that I should be able to paint. I went thirty years without its ever crossing my mind to do so.
Mornings before the heat are unbelievably productive. Evenings after the heat are unbelievably productive. I should simply relinquish the middle, instead of fighting it, as I am doing now, sweating behind the keyboard, longing for a cocktail.
Elma Johnson is dead. I can see two of her sculptures from where I sit typing.
Talked with Richmond after his class. I mentioned how bubbly Jinx was the other day with his girl, and he said, "Yeah, he’s pretty bipolar."
A very young rabbit has taken up residence in my front garden. I shooed him the first time, but a few moments ago I watched from my window, and he seemed to be eating the clumps of clover I had not weeded out. I thought of what is in there, and decided only the lilies would tempt him very much, or maybe the nasturtiums, and the lilies are too big now for him to do much damage. He is very small. Hardly more than a bunny. As I watched, he was nibbling the weeds furiously. Perhaps he was aware of me and earnestly auditioning. Only the weeds, Mister. . I promise. . . Anyway, the bunny can stay. I’d always thought that the tangle of roses and honeysuckle that the front terrace has become would be ideal rabbit cover.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Crushing heat (again) and it’s only 9 AM. I think I’ve lost the window of opportunity when another bike ride was feasible.
Darren had a party last night, a very loud and prolonged one, probably for the opening of Antony and Cleopatra at Montford. I’m several doors away and pretty tolerant of such things, so I wonder if he got complaints from his nearer and tenderer neighbors. Cars were parked crooked all over the streets, including in front of my house, edging so far into the right-of-way I wonder why it wasn’t wiped out by traffic. Lying in bed listening to the din I was thinking complicated thoughts. I liked the sound. I had to push away the tatters of conventional response, which suggested I should have been indignant. I wasn’t invited, but would probably have been welcomed had I appeared. Did I want to appear? I actually wanted to be there and at a distance, listening, at the same time, and the strange liquidity of perception on a summer night almost allowed that. Individual voices were sometimes very clear over the din. I listened to tell who they were, but all voices shouting sound pretty much the same. Half in my dreams, I thought it sounded like an invading army, but a happy one, one to which you wouldn’t mind conceding the victory. Broken bottles glittered in the street when I walked to Mountain Java, the orange party lights looking peaked in the dawn. I wonder if before I die I’ll abandon myself so much at a party that I’ll have to sleep on the couch, or flopped on a bed with a brace or two of others in the same state? Time passes, and now such an outcome looks unlikely. . . . alas. . . .
Jinx was incredibly cute and giggly at the studio today, almost another, and lighter, person. Then I saw the beautiful girl he was with, and that explained it. She took almost her own age off his.
Encountered a colleague at the Fresh Market. His huge-eyed daughter Eva (about 4?) looked me up and down and said, "Where’s your mother?"
"Uhm. . . she’s in heaven."
"Why is she in heaven?
"She died. "
"How did she get died?"
"Well, she got sick, and–"
"You have COCA COLA!"
I finally realized where she was going. If my mother were here to watch over me, I wouldn’t be buying the nasty junk that was in my shopping cart.
A director in Atlanta requests a copy of Bathory after reading it in and preserving his notes from 1988. Have I really being laboring at this that long?
Scarlet lilies blooming in the back yard, in the afternoon shade or at evening so intensely red they look lit they’re artificially lit.
Tom Thompson sends a list of 31 classmates who are deceased, as part of the preparations for this summer’s reunion. I have a clear image in my head of thirty of them. Almost all I "knew" in some capacity deeper than being able to identify them across a room. Three were, at one time, relatively intimate friends. Three I had a crush on. A surprising seven of them were from a group one would at one time have called "hoods," and have assumed that early, perhaps violent, death would be but expected. Two of these were in the "crush" classification as well. With one, Cathy Casey-Billings, I feel a bond that is not only lingering, but mystical. We were separate from our classmates from kindergarten on up, and made a classification of our own, though neither of us talked much about it then. Or ever, but once, when she came to buy a book from me, and she was very ill, though she could not bring herself to say it.
Connie Bostic’s show at the Flood is well-painted and nobly imagined, though it shares with all topical art the peril of looming obsolescence. It is possible that the plight of black people fighting the aftermath of the hurricane in New Orleans will always "read," but it is possible also that it is a little too specific. Some of the images--without an immediate social context understood, at the moment, by all observers-- can look almost comical. Fat ladies pushing swollen suitcases through deep water could be "avarice" as well as "refugee" minus the moment’s common understanding. But in its moment, an important exhibition. Connie is one of those painters who refuses too great a technical refinement, lest it detract from a message which has nothing to do with refinement or belle artes. She paints subjects and not painting, which endears her to me.
Crushing heat. I rode my bike in the cool of the morning along Bent Creek, and was happy. I remembered a few things from long ago when I was, for a time, a serious biker, how to turn into a curve, how to handle gravel. The forest was empty and the forest roads heavy with perfume, mostly honeysuckle. White laurel studded the roadside and places higher on the slopes. Biking gives one a subtler sense of topography than walking. I was aware of having to pump the pedals the whole way out, but didn’t realize until the way back that it was because it was a very little bit uphill, which meant the return was a dizzying, breezeful, joyous glide. It is not yet noon and I have had my bike ride and finished a draft of the opera, which suits me just fine. Lets see how it suits FF. I think he’ll hate the title.
Dragged my bike out of the garage and had the guy down at the bike store– the guy with the amazing tan ropes of veins–get it in fighting trim, and I rode it for the first time in–what? A year? Two years? I picked the hottest day of the year, so I about had heatstroke, but it got me back in the saddle. It’s going to take some practice. Even a little hill annihilates me.
Went to the studio and painted. It was good. Afterward, when I parked in back I opened the door, and saw a big tick scuttling across the black pavement. It changed course when it sensed my foot and leg, and changed course again every time I moved, bearing toward the heat or the CO2 or whatever it is ticks target. Sometimes it would tumble over a pile of debris and spend sometime flailing its legs in the air, trying to right itself. I thought what labor. What labor it is for the little creature to negotiate the colossal world and get its little drop of blood. What did it do when I walked away? Did it blame some tick God for the sudden removal of what seemed to be a gigantic sack of dinner?
Thursday, June 5, 2008
I paid off a BP credit card which I will not use again.
I bought a lawnmower and mowed the lawn, for the first time since I don’t care to remember when. I loved my garden before, but I love it more now that it can be seen behind the wild grass, rather than substantially imagined.
Today, not having bitten my nails in two weeks, I will buy the first nail file I have ever owned in my life. I do not know what has brought on these changes.
My sister reports that dad is eating and drinking and wanted to join his new friends at supper. This is one of those times when it is impossible to know what to hope for, what to pray for.
My sister has her will rewritten, and gives custody of her children to Andy’s St. Louis brothers in the event of her untimely death. I say, "What about me?" She says, "Well, you’re out of the country all the time. " My next line was, "Well, I wouldn’t be if I had something else to do," but it seemed best to cut that exchange short. Here I am, the Covering Cherub, with almost never anything to cover.
Planted lavender verbena. The hollyhocks change from year to year. This time it is almost entirely the black ones. They’re black in the afternoon light, though at dawn, when the light blazes from the east into their cups, they are the richest blood red.
My father’s determination to die (or to have his own way in something, one might say) progressed so that my sister called Hospice to facilitate it. Now, Hospice is more amply funded by the government, and father will be spending a lot less, and yet he still refused everything the hospice people offered, assuming there were out to get his money. They are getting what they want nevertheless, for father gave my sister the power to make decisions for him, and she is. The hospice lady–who must have seen a great deal in her time–left her interview with dad saying, "that is one mean son-of-a-bitch." She also assumes he cannot die until he gets over his meanness, in which case we have a long wait.
All his present bitterness and misery arise from the issue of money. Throughout my life I assumed he was money-loving, and I assumed that to be sinful, but he, after a while, HAD money, and so prudence rather than miserliness was at least a possible interpretation. There’s nothing prudent in his present actions. He accuses us of stealing from him. He has been shown the money from the sale of the house in his account, but he still assumes that is a mirage and that the realtor has it. He accuses those who seek to make him more comfortable of merely wanting to sell him something. He claims to be afraid mainly of pain, and yet he will not visit the doctor to get the pain medicine because he feels the doctor is "only out to get my money." He doesn’t have that much that everybody’s eye should be on it. I do not think he is suffering dementia. I hope he is, but I think not. I think this is the dramatic–almost Ovidean– final transformation of a soul who always wanted money more than anything or anyone, and who assumed he himself had worth only insofar as he had it. It is pitiable state, but it is also, in the end, fully voluntary. Love or comfort is rejects because he fears it might cost him something. He is a figure out of a morality play. He is Avarice. I did not expect this. I did not expect it to be so horrible. I had a scenario in mind where a kindly old man would fade away in the presence of his grandsons. I did not imagine a serpent coiled around its cold treasure, hissing and spitting until the last moment.
If I had fears that I would end up like my father, they are gone.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Fought off sleep as I was driving from Virginia Beach this morning, but now I feel enough alertness in my for at least a few lines.
Returned home to a world still haunted by the din of cicadae, that alien sound now even louder than it was before, the great bodies of the insects themselves buzzing through the air and flopping clumsily from branches and bushes in ineffectual escape. Black hollyhocks and dark orange lilies have come into bloom.
I kept a handwritten journal at Virginia Beach, but perhaps I will try to reconstruct it from memory. The Sandbridge area, where Jack and his sister’s beach house is, is a long island or peninsula which manages a measure of wildness even though the upper part is entirely built over. DJ and I saw a deer hoofing through the sand one morning, and Stout the dog barked at a turtle in the yard, and people say they have seen wild horses. The lower end is a wildlife preserve with dramatic dunes and various kinds of pools containing various kinds of wildlife. An indigo racer shared the boardwalk long enough for me to touch him. At the same moment watersnake was swimming toward the largest slider I’ve ever seen, almost the size of a sea turtle, a great dome of light-snuffing black. Ospreys are numerous, and find buoys and pylons on the water to their liking as nest sites. I walked along the beach (always alone; the house wasn’t much for outdoor activities that were not sunbathing) and beachcomber picking were slim, though there were many shattered horseshoe crab shells and the alien-looking skeletons of rays. The beach was awash with mermaids’ purses. I walked to the big pier and talked with a couple of fisherman and rangers, who told me what could be seen if I had arrived at a luckier time. Black dolphins sported in the surf, which was plenty lucky, though a sight, it turned out, not to be repeated. One day we took the ferry across Carratuck Sound. It was a lovely trip, but part of the loveliness depended on one’s ignoring a truly unbelievable mass of floating trash. An osprey chick hawked at us from her perch on an island pylon.
The company was Jack and Leland and DJ and myself, with Leland’s two friends, Tom and Kevin, joining the party last night. Had only one night with them, and I’m sorry, for they seemed lively and imaginative and engaged with the world. The weekend was, actually, rather trying, though no blame is to be laid. For me, relaxation is to do different things than I usually do. For the rest of the group, it is to do nothing at all. Twice I heard "Oh, isn’t it great just to do nothing at all!" and my inner response was not only "no", but "hell no." This is a difference of perspective in which there is no possible harmony.
Did read Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Gripping, of course, but also the kind of book which could have been written in a week. That sort of writing is like composing in heroic couplets: once you get the form down, it goes like an avalanche. It’s harder to stop than to go on.
My sister keeps me up to date by cell phone on the latest dad drama. He forgets he has given himself an enema, and goes to bed, and wakes with the room covered in his own feces. She uses his credit card to buy Depends and more sheets, and is almost arrested at Wall Mart because the credit card is clearly not hers. Father is miserable and confused and hedged on all sides, he thinks, by enemies, and has begun to feel the cancer in his throat, and decides he doesn’t want to go on living. He divines that the quickest way is dehydration. Father was always one for surprising you with lightning–and often jaw-droppingly contextless-- decisions, but whatever one thinks of his choices now, he has a legal living will, and it is clear he must have foreseen and provided for this moment. Linda asks if I want to see him "before" and I say, "Not especially." No one but her heard me say that, but still I think I must explain. I’ve said before that I believe we all were a surprise to dad, and not a joyful one. He was happiest and best when he was alone, a wild child looking at the world from the fringes of a fairy kingdom of his own making. I see him in my mind’s eye now, peering from the brush on the banks of the Mongahela, squirrel-eyed and joyful as he would never be again. I think the sovereignty of dying should be yielded to him. I think he would be bewildered, distracted, disappointed to find himself amid a host in the last moments– a host which he would not necessarily identify as "loved ones." I don’t know this for sure. I know that at my death, however much I might want to be surrounded by loved ones, I would be surprised actually to be, and maybe worried that even in those last moments I might not fulfil expectations. Dad is five times more private and more secret than myself. I think I am doing what he wants. I am giving room to a man who never had enough room. I am giving the last illimitable imagining to a man whose imagination was always crashing into what people presented to him as reality. I know he will not be thinking of me in his last moments. I know that none of us will be able to imagine what he will be thinking. I believe it might be, in ways that might even be recognizable to me, beautiful.
Notice that Passport will be part of the Gone In 60 Seconds Festival, to be performed in a few days in Brooklyn.