Monday, June 29, 2009

June 29, 2009

Jeff’s funeral was dignified, due to Dede’s wise decision to follow the most formal Anglican rubric. Things were done that way back then for a reason. Brian gave a sermon that seemed brilliant to me, because he’d had so little personal knowledge of Jeff to work with. The children, especially the daughter, are beautiful, but seemed unmoved, or else I couldn’t read their faces well. I was disappointed in the attendance. There were no students, but it’s summer, and Jeff had been sick so long than only alumni would remember him. Merritt, Rick, Charles James, Peg, and Mike G were the other pallbearers. We went out to Riverside under the trees and among the ancient dead. My foot was still throbbing, and that worried me, but I found that when I was actually doing my duties I didn’t feel it, or didn’t notice it. The mind is miraculous. Every time Dede said, “He loved you so much,” it was like a dagger to my heart. I dedicated A Dream of Adonis to him, but hadn’t phoned in two years.

There was still light when I crashed into bed last night, and the light had already come ice blue when I woke.
June 28, 2009

Wondrous early in the morning. Just as I was typing “wondrous early,” the first robin began to sing.

Gout in the other big toe now, either a little less excruciating, or a little less surprising. But, more enduring. This is day two, and I think it is worse than yesterday, when I did manage to get around with an old man’s limp. Pain woke me moments ago. I try to tell myself I had enough sleep, and maybe that is true. The irony is that Dede Rackham asked me to serve as pallbearer this afternoon, which I will do whatever pain is in my toe, though I don’t want to detract by the limping and shrieking at every step which seems, at this hour, unavoidable. The putting on of shoes is all but unendurable.

I did manage a full day yesterday, mostly painting. The friendly traffic in the room is pretty much all for Jason. I returned to the studio early in the evening to follow up on an inspiration, and while I was there a troop streamed in, each one stopping, darting his eyes around the room, and saying of variation of, “Oh, I thought Jason might be here.” Part of it is that J is nicer than I am. Part of it is the remarkable depth of the drug culture in the building, which I stand outside of by virtue of long (if not particularly intentional) abstinence. I wouldn’t have thought it made so much difference, but it does.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June 24, 2009

Orgy of weeding early in the evening cleared a patch I despaired of being ever cleared. Green dragon, hen-and-chicks, violas, other gems revealed beneath the verdure. Tomatoes and squash free of encroachment.

Jeff Rackham died this morning at 4 AM. June is a bad month for fathers. The particulars are presently unknown, but must involve the advancing dementia that took him away from friends and family in the last six years. Jeff’s voice was the first from Asheville that I ever heard, phoning me in Hiram to ask me to interview for this job. He threw his weight behind my selection, and fostered me through the maze of my early years, easing me into early tenure and promotion. His faith in my talent and abilities was greater than my own. I ate Thanksgiving supper at his house the first year in Asheville. When I ran afoul of malevolent local powers, he defended me when I was too dazed to defend myself, and is almost certainly the reason that I kept my career. He was a presence of compassion and efficiency and vision (things which do not always go together) at the university. He was one of those people you do not ever expect will die, and yet he has. There is no repaying him for his diligence and kindness. One must simply find a way to pass it on.
June 23, 2009

Reread Forster’s A Passage to India for my Humanities class, reminded what a masterwork it is, but also how it adds cadenza after cadenza, undercutting the sense of an ending as it undercuts a host of other expectations. My fury at the English made it almost impossible to finish this time. I read out of the book I used as an undergraduate at Hiram, full of the most jejune notations. In better handwriting than I have now.

A student brings his disappointing exam to me and asks, “How can I do better next time?” I resist the temptation to say, “have the right answers.” Later I wondered if I should have resisted it. Maybe it’s wrong to let people think their shortcoming is a matter of style or “studying the wrong things,” when it is in fact fully of substance. High schools lead students astray by implying there is something to success in college more important than mastering the material. The endless, and to me quite infuriating, barrage of questions about style and length in assignments from people who have never asked a question about subject matter indicates that the conception exists, that if you can just fathom the professor’s stylistic prejudices, actual mastery of the matter is irrelevant.
June 21, 2009

Marigolds and bee-balm shimmer in the dim dawn light. The MacCauleys are lovelily married, and I did not screw up my little part. At the reception there was a basket full of seed packets which said, “Memories of Our Wedding.” I planted mine today. The seeds were either invisible or very few, but who knows what will arise?

Fathers’ Day. A year ago my father had one day left to live. I sat down to ponder the question of whether he was a good father, but I realize that the only reason to consider that now is to find a justification for my own shadows, or, if I make the other determination, to make myself miserable over the sin of ingratitude. By his own lights he did his best, and it may be well to pray that we are all at last judged by our own lights, by what we could see of ourselves, and what we did with that. I was certainly no better a son than he was a father.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 20, 2009

Linda writes, as the anniversary of dad’s death nears,

Tomorrow is the anniversary of dad's death. I am glad to be kayaking with the boys. I actually had the hardest time on the day of David's graduation. That was the last time that dad was out enjoying himself and he had a wonderful time. The parents still joke about dad eating every sweet on the table. He went back for seconds, thirds and fourths and everyone enjoyed him enjoying the time. He cried when David gave the graduation speech. He told me that when he gave his, Bill Stevenson had to help him up the stairs since there wasn't a handrail. I think he would turn over in his grave if he know that I had wasted the money from selling his van on a beautiful patio and hot tub which is half the fun of installing one. What is funny is that I of all people realize how difficult dad was. As the hospice nurse said, he was one mean son of a bitch especially at the end. For whatever reason, I loved him deeply and miss him terribly.

E-mail from Bailiwick in Chicago–not to me, but a general commercial. I was content to forego my contractual percentage of the house, to refrain from lambasting them for vandalism, so long as I thought they were defunct.

I worry at night what I should do to preserve, further, protect from shocks, protect alike from over-commitment and over-casualness, my evolving relationship with J. I ponder whether I’m laying it on too thick, spreading it too thin, sending the wrong signal, not receiving the right signal. If this were a movie I would think it was funny. I haven’t felt this way since I met TD more than twenty years ago. A friendship is almost as difficult as a love affair. No, it is much easier than that, which is, I suppose, why we have more of them. But still difficult. Still an art and a craft and not an automatic process at all, once you’re past sixteen.

When a fish in the tank dies, it is usually sucked up against the pump, where it fades and reduces until it is a faint paper image of itself.

Last night in the bathroom before bed I saw in the corner of my eye a large animal moving. I looked quick; it was a spider. The spider was alarmingly substantial, but I refrained from killing it, and spoke aloud into the room, “If you stay out of my line of sight, as you have done until this hour, we can both live here in peace.” The canny spider moved only when I looked away, and then half way across the room in what could not have been more than two seconds.

Late morning in the studio with J, then weeding in the garden, in the blazing sun which, unaccountably, failed to be uncomfortable. M and A’s wedding tonight. People wore gowns and suits to the rehearsal. I wasn’t ready for that.
June 17, 2009

Rolling thunder in the distance, random flickering of gold and green lightning. I saw that the lilac on the terrace had been buried under vines, so I crept out just before dark to rescue it. The rains that we’ve missed for several years now have turned the vegetation aggressive and predatory. There’s no way one man can keep ahead of it. I snipped and yanked and ripped, through sweetpea thick as a child’s arm, poison ivy, nightshade, greenbriar, poke, clematis, some berry-bearing thing I didn’t know. The apparent surface was four feet above the actual surface of the ground. I got my lilac excavated (it looked green and content, actually), but came away spent, drained, as though the vines had fought back with more than physical resistance.

Summer since the beginning of summer school has been, with some lapses, cardio at the Y around 6 AM, classes, weight at the Y after class, and then home to some of the deepest and most desperate napping I have known in my life, the sleep of the all-but-dead. I don’t know if it’s the increased exercise, sometimes very late in coming meals, or some enervation come with the weather. It is pleasant. It is not a problem. . . . unless it is a problem. This is how I felt last year at this time, when my dad was in the last week of his life.

Wrote a poem yesterday morning at Starbuck’s. Forgot about it until I opened the notebook this morning. I think there is a flood of work behind a dam, but I don’t know what the dam is made of–unless simple exhaustion, which is how it feels– and hence how to open it up.

Missed the River District arts party tonight by not even thinking of it until this moment.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 15, 2009

Thinking of the boys at Phil Mechanic, and the girls, varied and funny, each bristling with particularities. DA was a set designer in New York, and wants to work here, but wants to work for the $900 a week he claims he was getting there. A playwright, the founder of the entire enterprise, would die of shock if offered a sum like that. DA comes to our window to smoke and leaves a heap of butts on the sill. He sat in the hall and did charcoal portraits throughout the stroll. All the faces look like him, a little, but that’s all right, for he is beautiful. D told me of the chasm in the sea and the mermen he saw when he was living on the beach. Red Logan’s red mother climbs the stairs with cookies in her hands. Jolene is inexhaustible in her cordiality and ambition. The whole thing floats on her. I am exhaustible in so many ways I’ve stopped counting. J tells strangers the story of his paintings, the insect ninjas and squirting narcotic berries and all, without a stitch of self-consciousness. Jinx fires rubber chickens from his chicken-launcher with the lovely delight of a ten year old. “Special” Kevin runs to catch the chickens before they hit the ground. R, a student with whom I quarreled because he did not take his studies seriously, and dropped out, reappears with his photographs. The photos are, to put the best light on them, ordinary, but he claims them as milestones in his extraordinary life’s journey. I cannot stop being the teacher, and praise the photos for virtues they do not, but might someday, possess. Everyone calls me “doctor” or “the professor,” and I answer to it as though I understood it at all.

An English couple named Puttick jump to their deaths off a sea cliff, inconsolable with grief over th death of their son. The dead child’s body was with them in one rucksack, his toys in another. Tyler McMillan dies after his father ties him to a tree for 18 hours. A man named Angel Mendoza bit out his son’s eyes and then began hacking at his own legs with a hatchet. Covering Cherub. . . .

I was looking out the front window when the pink mallow over Jocasta’s grave began to shake. There was no wind. Neither the mallow plant next to it nor any other plant in the garden moved. It swayed and shook. There was no animal near it. I ran out in my bare feet. There was nothing visible, and yet the plant was swaying almost violently. I stamped the ground and shouted. I took hold of the plant. I felt a firmness that was stronger than the firmness of roots; something was pulling from the underside. I ran back to the porch for a spade. There were no holes where an animal might have tunneled in, and I know of no animal that approaches carrion from under ground like that. I stabbed the spade around the plant. I hit nothing, but the mallow stopped swaying. I hear myself thinking, “Surely if Jocasta revived she would cry out, and not just try to dig herself out.” Of course, it was no such thing. I don’t know what it was, except deeply disturbing. Tried to do some weeding, but the garden, for the moment, was too creepy.
June 14, 2009

Days of brilliant sun, and enough rain that the garden is an overabundant glory, at this point desperately in need of a solid day of weeding, which it is not immediately going to get.

First exam in summer Humanities. Evidently I may as well have been lecturing to the wall. No, it was worse than that. After reading all those masters–Kant and Galileo and Locke and Rousseau, who exhort thinking for oneself– they drew in their minds and tried to guess what the “right” answer might be, not thinking for themselves at all.

Lovely, detailed, and perhaps slightly depressing e-mail from Devin W, whom I have missed.

Last night’s Cantaria concert was quite good, the music varied and well-chosen, the crowd large enough, the singing several levels above what rehearsals could have led us to anticipate. Amanda sounded sensational in the Alto Rhapsody. Merry celebration at the Usual afterwards. I’d come fortified with syrups and lozenges, but in the event did not cough once. I heard frogs in the blessed trees of All Souls in the night while we were leaving. I long for frogs in my trees, or toads in my grass, or snakes in my piles of stones, any blessing from the quarter of creation.

The first day of this June’s River District Studio Stroll went well, too-- better, I think, than I remember it. This was partially because Jason and Denise and their friends kept away the feeling of isolation I’d had before, and while my other studios could be gloomy, ours now is a blaze of light, and on the corner of all river district activity. Even made some sales. The husband (or boyfriend) of one of Denise’s friends lingered with us, and became one of the select group of people whom I have hated instantly. Small and smelly and dredlocked past his waist, he possessed an of-all-other-things-oblivious self-regard for which I could find no conceivable justification. I painted steadily, and have three pieces I could complete today. The capoera dancers in the upstairs hall looked arthritic, or like me if I were doing it. We were spoiled by seeing capoera in Miami, where it was fluid as moonlight.

Late night. The orange lily on the back terrace is so vibrant in the twilight it looks like it’s electric, or afire.

Second day of gallery walk was successful, convivial, but so grueling I barely have energy to make it to bed. If I had to work a full eight hours of contact with the public, I would be lost. But it was by far the best of the studio strolls for me. None of my “group” bothered to show, a customary state of affairs, but one to which one never quite becomes accustomed. There is always a new friend, always a kindness from a stranger that skews for the better a skewed world.

From time to time one realizes that it is never going to be the way it is in movies; no one is lying awake in their bed thinking of you; no one weeps into the night over the mistake that separated them from you; no one is going to give up an afternoon nap or a Sunday potuck or a favorite TV show for you, let alone an hour or a day, or the safety of a safe life. No one is sick for missing you, or counting the hours until you return. People talk of friendship and loyalty, but they don’t really mean you, and if there is a test they will not so much as step up to take it, and they cannot be blamed. They will laugh or be mortified at your passion, and shrug off the accusation of indifference, indifferently. But one goes on, powered by that omnipotent word, “someday.” One goes on because, if you do not think of those things, the incidental joys of life are enough: the lily electric and afire in the twilight; J expounding on painting from behind his blue eyes; old acquaintances steeping into your studio, and some warmth, almost forgotten, is renewed, sweet and genuine for all its brevity, whole and good for all its strangeness. Unlike love, grace is random and impersonal, and one takes it with thanks.
June 10, 2009

An article in Mountain Xpress about somebody else mentions me as a “multi-talented professor with a literary bent.” One is always happy to be remembered. . . so why do I find the reference vaguely disappointing? I guess it’s that dilettantish word, “bent.”

After years of trying, I have my first acanthus blooms.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

June 9, 2009

Slamming down soy milk, which the only stuff I think might spoil while waiting for the new refrigerator. The rest is mostly alcohol.

Under the fridge lay about a hundred bottlecaps. The sight of them brought instantly back the sight of Theseus the cat merrily batting the caps around the house, until they would disappear somewhere, evidently largely under the fridge. He loved to do this, and I delighted to watch him. When someday I replace the stove, I hope for my lost friend to be in my mind again, evoked by dusty old toys.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June 8, 2009

First day of summer school. I rose in darkness and ran my mile. After class, I went to the gym and did weights. Tonight I plan to write. If I can keep this schedule up, all shall be most well indeed. What might interfere is that DJ and I are both getting new refrigerators tomorrow (it’s the first time I bought a refrigerator) and I’m trying to finish off miscellaneous liquids so they don’t have to be transferred to the new box. Very sweet wine now, going right to my head. I feel bad for my refrigerator. It is capricious, but I’m used to its caprices, and it still has life in it. OK, it’s ugly, but what if we were all done away with when we got ugly?

Final Cantara rehearsal last night prior to our concert. I made all the major mistakes, so maybe now it’s out of my system.
June 7, 2009

Deafening chorus of birdcalls, Dawn is skim-milk blue in one ribbon in the east. Left the lights on all night, but Jason never came “home.” He said he was going to be working at the studio hard and late, but it didn’t keep me from feeling like a wife abandoned on the second night of the honeymoon. Solitary life spares many hours of soul-searching.

I wonder if I was thrown together in the studio with J to teach me meticulousness. Or him dispatch. I think I am done with a painting when the image is realized clearly. He is after something else. He is after full brotherhood with Rembrandt and Vermeer. I can’t analyze whether my attitude is the same for writing, because my writing is so immediate and instinctive I really don’t know how it’s done.

Dream last night of writing my dissertation, with the professor passing through the room every now and then to judge the progress. I think that was the signal for me to get back to work on the new play, which I was doing before I paused to write this, and which I will do after.
June 6, 2009

Saturday morning. Jason fled his wife’s unloving friend to my house last night. He cooked gigantic steaks in the iron pan, the sky threatening to rain on any barbecue. We talked and watched arctic-themed horror movies. We stood under the beautiful moon in the deep shadow of the back yard, and talked. He believes insight into the soul is derived from whether you see a man or a rabbit in the moon. As for me, I had never seen such darkness as in the shadows between the matches of moonlight.

The night ended with the only hissing cat-fight we have had among the three feline remnants. Have no idea what the issue was.

Some psychological obstruction let loose yesterday, and I bought passage to Dublin, to bridge the time between Allison’s wedding and Saint Patrick’s Well in New York.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

June 4, 2009

Linda drove up from Atlanta for a visit. She makes me regard closely the ways my life would have been different had I had a family. I certainly would have had less time to brood on my own ends.

We went to NC Stage to see I Wrote This Play So You Would Love Me, an original piece by Anne Thibault, an actress I’d seen in their Proof. As a playwright, I tend to be hypercritical of other living playwrights’ works, but this play was well performed and very well written, funny and immediate. It has the air of a showcase (it’s hard to imagine anyone but Thibault herself doing it), but if I were a producer or a casting director watching it, I would be convinced. Hans was droll and touching as all the men in her life. The house was sparse, and the people on both sides of us left at intermission. They were old folks, so maybe the language was just too salty, or the discourse on rim jobs just too precise. Zambra’s for tapas afterward, where Matt Shepherd, looking very Mediterranean, took care of us.

We talked about how Linda’s children can be so good looking when none of us are.

Toured the Carl Sandburg in Flat Rock. I had been there with TD, but remembered only the goats. The goats are still there, playful and oblivious– they reminded me of giant cats. What I’ll remember most this time is the lone goose hunkered down in the grass by the pond, almost close enough to touch, but still wild. Where was her flock? Bought a CD of frog calls. Linda headed home and I headed to the studio, where I painted with J until a few minutes ago. He already has a sort of harem there, people streaming in for his advice on painting and, I think, sometimes just to bask in his warmth.
June 1, 2009

My parents’ anniversary.

Walked into the garden at dusk. Half a moon gleamed–gleams now-- at the zenith, pink clouds eastward, the rest the most perfect, flawless azure blue. The great mulleins–five of them–lift their ruffly pinnacles twice as high and thrice as thick as anything else, sturdy, masculine, assertive, the emerald yang of twilight. A heavy scent lies on everything, mostly honeysuckle, but mingled with rose and ghost white madonna lily, and the grass I weed-whacked into submission at the end of the morning. Everything is magic. If the garden stretched a hundred miles in every direction, just as it is, it would make a separate world, and men would lie down under the blossoms and dream dreams that themselves would becomes worlds. The lavish calling of a mockingbird from the telephone wire threw me back to the convent school on Green Spring Valley Road in Baltimore County– St Mary’s?–where thirty summers ago I walked at dusk amid the calling of mockingbirds. There was a constellation of fireflies then that is not matched here, perhaps is matched nowhere now in this diminished world. I remember distinctly watching the fireflies and hearing the mockingbirds and praying “Let me remember this moment forever.” And so I have, this portion of forever, anyway. I have been fortunate mostly to remember the things I longed in the moment to remember: the shell-pink moon rising over South Carolina as I drove to some lecture or reading; the red bat over the pool in the deepest part of the forest; my pugilist lover in the Sauna on Ormond Quay; T’s smell as he lay in my arms; the moon rising over the road to Tobar at the edge of the Burren; the gypsy singers on Temple Square; the light of morning in the tiny patch of wilderness, as it then was, at the edge of my father’s lawn. I must have longed for these things purely, for they, and a dozen more, perhaps, like them have stayed with me, and so far as I know, there is none in all the world that shares them with me. They go when I go. Perhaps I should say, they abide where I abide.

Reception at NC Stage to welcome the new season. Except for the actors, I knew very few of the people there, who were mostly (I suppose) rich and old. I’ve seen or been in all of them, so I’ll go for the nuance rather than the discovery.

Monday, June 1, 2009

May 31, 2009

I’ve loved the days since school was out, painting, gardening, working out, writing, going out in the evening or not. It is a rhythm of immense calm and productivity, the only anxiety being how to extend it as long as possible. I remember this feeling from my graduate school days, when I appreciated it less. I regret agreeing to teach summer school, though if I can ease that into the rhythm, all might be well. I have not bought my annual summer ticket to Europe, wanting nothing to interfere.

Personnel for The Beautiful Johanna are falling into place. Only Terence and Trudy remain to be cast.

The last Titanic survivor has died. That seems an age and more ago.

Night. End of a day of great beauty. I spent too much of it napping, but I felt the beauty of it wax and flow like a bank of wind-driven cloud.
May 28, 2009

Jocasta’s mallows are in bloom, and the tansy, and a tiny volunteer sunflower.
May 27, 2009

I broke the ten minute mile on the cross-trainer at the Y this morning: 9.57. Nothing for somebody else: big deal for me. Discovered the Woodfin Y. Got Jason to join.

Saw a squirrel hit by a police cruiser. The animal got into the middle of the street and was confused, rushing from one wheel to the other, finally leaping straight up and colliding with the car’s grill. But afterwards the squirrel zoomed to the side of the road, no longer conflicted, perhaps whole and hale. The cruiser kept moving, oblivious to the drama under its wheels.

Fasting fills the day with brief naps and the naps with fantastic dreams.

The Beautiful Johanna has been chosen for a Catalyst slot at the beginning of January.

Birthday party for DJ at the Usual. Three tables were full of almost everyone I had invited. He said it was only the 2nd birthday cake he had ever had. A success, I think.
May 26, 2009

Planting ferns and hostas in the backyard, I uncovered two 5' rebars, one of them bent. My property has a history I will never fully know, except that it was messy and required a lot of iron and flat stones.