Tuesday, September 29, 2009

September 29, 2009

When the water bill leapt from $97 to over $1300, I assumed it was a mistake, and called the utility company. Evidently, it was not a mistake. Somewhere is a leak which spills, they estimate, the equivalent of filling a bathtub endlessly. The charming variation is that though this happened in the past (on a smaller scale) there was always some evidence, a bubbling pool in the hedges, a rivulet in the street. Now, nothing at all. You’d think all that water would have to go somewhere. I woke this morning with that chill dread I’ve had in the past and hate almost more than anything, the dread of victimization by forces out of one’s control. Part of the dread is that they will have to dig a wide, deep trench, and what that will do to my garden cannot be thought of.

The sump pump in the basement died in the middle of the last rains. No basement disaster, but the pump needs to be replaced. $350.

Just after I wrote the above, I read online of a little boy whose skull was fractured by a line drive at a minor league game in Ohio. The boy is fighting for his life (in Akron Children’s Hospital, where I spent so much time). The Lord reveals something like that when I’m feeling sorry for myself, to yank the words “I haven’t got it so bad” from my throat. I think it’s a lousy tactic.

Perfumaria was up 22.92% yesterday. I’d never seen such a thing. I don’t know why. They sell other people’s perfumes a little cheaper. It’s pretty much all voodoo.

Searching for the leak in the pipes, I discover that the cyclamen is in full lovely bloom. The asters are a purple cloud, which I mention most poignantly because they may be gone tomorrow when Steve the Plumber and his crew drive a new water pipe up from the meter, assuming the old one to be faulty and superannuated past help. I’ve already had them move the route once, for the original route went right through Jocasta’s final resting place. One’s search for stasis and immutability is hopeless. Steve the Plumber went through long explanations of apparatus and supplies and types of pipes. I was impressed by the myriad of things to be known. One couldn’t know a fraction of a fraction. Some things, like pipes and fittings, one, alas, never thinks about at all.

Lorena cut herself on a filing cabinet, and I drove her to the emergency ward. She was practically the only patient, and still the time was gobbled up. Would hate to see it on a bad night.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

September 27, 2009

Unusual faithfulness to meetings at the university. In part, this is like indulging a taste for horror films, for much effort goes into giving a straight path meanders and pitfalls. Over all the good intentions of the workers in the fields lies the pall of an administration, some of whom still carry around the illusion that a university works the same way as an investment bank, some of whom harbor the illusion that it’s their work which is important, rather than that of teachers and students. Everyone talks about assessment, though the model of assessment imposed has little to do with what happens at a university. I think this is intentional. The modern university administration seeks to make academia embarrassed with itself, so it will deliver itself unquestioningly into their hands. Someone suggests that we tell what actually goes on and hold ourselves to standards which actually matter, but the response is, “L would never accept that,” or. “We tried that, but L fired it right back.” No doubt L sees herself as a paramount of rigor and exactness amid a swamp of fuzzy-headed Ph.d’s, but perhaps L would be happier in a job where her efforts would be less delayed and harassed by actualities. For one to have say in the university process who is not directly involved in the teaching and learning process is always counterproductive. It doesn’t seem to matter if the counter-producers once were involved; some germ of arrogance, some virus of delight in top-down arbitrariness infects them the instant they step over into Administration.

One notices that people who lecture most about “the real world” and “reality” are inevitably selling some grand illusion of their own.

Memorial service for Jeff Rackham. It was well enough attended, and the moments of embarrassment were so clearly well-intentioned that they must not have mattered. I think Jeff would be happy with what was said. He was, among other things, that rare amalgam of kindness and efficiency, that we could use so sorely today. Considering that he helped me professionally more than any other person in my life–by whole levels of magnitude-- I had to stop and consider why I remained so lighthearted about his passing. Not indifferent, lighthearted. I think because he is a continuing presence in my consciousness, and that in life he allowed nothing morbid or backward-glancing.

SZ, a long-time-ago student, talked to me after the service a long time about how a Southern Lit class we had together– twenty years ago?– changed and continues to inform her life. THAT is assessment.

AH talked to me a long time on the sidewalk outside about his harrowing last few years. It was good. I forget sometimes what good friends you can be with someone to talk to, maybe, five times a year.

Chall generously offered tickets to last night’s Bravo concert, and DJ and I went to hear Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Anne-Marie McDermott. They were perfection. The hall, of course, was not. That music was meant for my living room, not for that great hollow barn, into which this and the next ten houses on the street could fit– thirty if you stacked them up. But I am not so musical that this bothered me very much. The Debussy G minor and the Frank A major were on the bill, and I was glad, for they were both cerebral and contemplative, but in ways so various and unrelated to each other that it was delightful to hear the expanse achievable between two human minds one would have imagined emerging from a very similar milieu. That I fell asleep during the Frank is a reflection on nothing but the gift of great peace. Zambra’s afterward with Charles and Virginia. Good talk. Excellent vodka. I got to cuddle all the handsome waiters, knowing them from class or stage.

Ingrid is back in town, working at Malaprop’s.

Driving home, we watched a rat scurry across Lakeshore, looking miserable in the rain and the intrusion of headlights.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Total Commitment, Absolute Resolve

September 24, 2009

It surprised me to be going to a seminar called “When the Shooting Starts,” put on by Human Resources and Public Safety to educate people on what to do if gunmen attack campus, as they did at Virginia Tech. But there I was. I was the only faculty member. The room was full of people I didn’t know, except when I introduced myself to the woman beside me she said, “Oh, you’re the one who wrote that beautiful piece about choosing your friends from those who watch the geese fly overhead.” The DVD wouldn’t play, and nothing was said that wasn’t common sense, but I was interested in it, and glad I went. The campus police chief summarized what the DVD would have said to us, which was, basically, if you hear shots:

Assess the situation.
Devise a plan of action
Carry out the plan of action.

He noted that though running and hiding are the preferred solutions, there will be times when you can’t run and you can’t hide, and you’re face to face with an armed maniac. What do you do then? You take him out. But in order to do so, you must have “total commitment, absolute resolve.”

Total commitment. Absolute resolve.

In the next hour I was teaching Buddhism to my Humanities class, and it dawned on me walking back to my office through the sunlight that this was a description not only of a campus crisis situation, but of Buddhism, of any religion. You’re miserable. All the firearms of the world are pointed at your head. Fear and Illusion are staring down the barrels at your heart. What do you do? You assess the situation. This is the Four Passing Sights. You devise a plan of action. This is the Four Noble Truths. You carry out the plan of action. This is the Eightfold Path. And what does it take to stay on the Path? Total Commitment. Absolute Resolve. Most of us are too reasonable for total commitment, absolute resolve. This is why we fail.

I am more capable of it than has yet been put to the test.
September 22, 2009

No rain today. One reopens the windows. One walks fearlessly up the walk that was a brook the day before. One hangs the blaring yellow slicker back up in the closet.

Went late to the Y, where I was in time for a class called “Core Crunch”– or something-- which was actually the old balls-out high-impact aerobics I remember from the Spa in the 80's. I can still do it. I don’t think I’m any more annihilated now than I would have been back then. Knees no worse. Possibly less winded. When I tripped up it was because I was running Hamlet lines in my head.
September 20, 2009

Deep night rain.

I woke convinced the roof was leaking. Of course it was not.

I think today was a sea of turbulence under a calm surface. I’m not even sure of that. Spikes of anger punched periodically out of a calm that I must consider, after all, laborious or artificial. It was as if my skull housed two minds and one was chugging calmly along in harmony with the incidents of the day, while the other was like that monster in Disney’s Night on Bald Mountain, hurling dark lightning to the left and right.

Two new singers in Cantaria, young, funny, like opening a window onto a garden. If we could get rid of some of the dead wood, most of it in my section, the air would be fresher, the garden greener.

Friday, September 18, 2009

September 18, 2009

Silent dark of the morning.

Loaded Yeats, Whitman, and the New York Times on my Kindle.

Went last night to see Josh B’s new company, Bat and Horse, open at NC Stage with a play called Nerve. The production was lovingly done and the acting was skillful. Afterwards, I was standing by my car, with the door open, when I finally determined not to go right home like a good boy, but to haunt some of the old haunts. I haunted exactly two, but that was better than scurrying home to plop down in front of a DVD. At Smokey’s I heard the tale of an exotic dancer whose hand had been paralyzed by a bee. I am an amateur, but I think he had real worries– one finger was cold and purple. I wondered about the man’s life. He was beautiful, in a way, but also attenuated and drawn, as if this pain were but the latest of many. He said, “I’m not from here, you know. I’m from Indianapolis.” He meant that to explain a lot, and, somehow, it did. Uberfag Chiropractor, who has been there at least every time I have, announced, “I am a doctor” and swept him away. Scully’s was livelier, and no one had any obvious complaints, but I was given a nasty drink, and I couldn’t fathom the cause of its nastiness, so turned I homeward. Where I watched a DVD anyhow.

Calm evening after a good day. Sucking Southern Comfort and diet coke directly out of the coke bottle. Excellent weight round and aerobics at the downtown Y in the morning, then in the afternoon I took my Kindle to the cross-trainer and did three miles before I even looked at the gauges, engrossed in reading Paradise Lost. In between I was unsuccessful in finding something I wanted to write. In between I went to the studio. J was in need of bucking up, having received his first graduate school critique, which was devastating, but which he took with an open mind. Hovering in the shadows was DM, who loves J, and who had been cultivating a friendship with him until the day J turned on him, for reasons which bespeak honesty and integrity on J’s part, but which are, I admit, too harsh for me to understand fully. D slouches into the room, makes a few comments, which J furiously ignores, and then he creeps out again, abashed and heartbroken. I respect J’s conviction in the matter, but it’s sad to see DM ghosting about like a whipped puppy. I’m sure he doesn’t understand what has happened. I’m sure he doesn’t–as I wouldn’t– understand why whatever happened bore such a consequence. The Flood is a soap opera. I’m there too little–and when I am there, too oblivious–to inform much of the story line.

One of the readers of my blog is, apparently, a former panelist for the NC Arts Council grants, who appended a brief, anonymous note saying that grants are never made to people already on the state payroll. I don’t believe that’s true. I know of one recipient from this year who is undoubtedly a state employee, and I was sure I knew of others in the past, though, when I put myself to the test, I really couldn’t think of any. But the deeper point is that this issue has weighed on my heart for twenty years, the fact that I applied, by my account twenty-one times, and was refused each time, while some I knew to be frauds or half-wits walked away with fat checks in their hands. The honoring of frauds and half-wits is not helped by this revelation, but, if true, if the consideration of State employment is even in the decision-making mix, it reveals me standing in the midst of twenty-one years of folly and misapprehension. It may in fact be the single worst case of folly, misapprehension, and wasted anguish in a life unusually rich in those things. Perhaps I can add it to the list of things to shut up about.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

September 16, 2009

Frank Ferko’s choral piece that includes my “When Sally Plays the Spoons” is being published by Schirmer. I signed the papers yesterday.

When I was having a massage with MM this afternoon, I was lying on my back, and experienced a severe flood of reflux acid. This evening at choir rehearsal, I noticed that it had temporarily damaged my voice. We are given all these hints of what may eventually kill us, little dings on the skin, brain-staggers, stabs from the inside. Though likely it will be a berserk cop or a pitcher of margaritas falling from a balcony.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 15, 2009

Still night.

My mornings have been ornamented by elaborate dreams. They are vivid and convincing, and the only clue that they are dreams is that I wake and am able to compare them to reality.

Have been taking my classes to new territory, or perhaps following them there. It is not like it was, or as it is for most. I see no reason to open my mouth unless what I say might change their lives. What do they think? Some of them long to ask, “will this be on the test?” Some of them watch me as a squirrel watches an owl in the near tree, trying to decide if it’s hungry, trying to decide if it’s dark enough for it to take flight.
September 14, 2009

While I was hacking underbrush, a flight of crows squawked by over my head, one of them low enough that his passage ruffled my hair, and I could hear the hiss of feathers. When I looked, the crows all looked deep blue, maybe a sort of color doppler.

Mole dead at the mouth of South Mt. Vernon Alley.
September 13, 2009

LeBron James, the basketball player, was on the radio. Though otherwise our experiences are as different as can be imagined, we are both Akron boys, and much of what he said, and how he said it, rang a bell for me. He seemed an unusually upstanding and virtuous man, and I waited in the car after I’d reached my destination, to hear the end of the interview. I was proud of the homeboy.

The weekend was swallowed up by church choir retreat at Lake Logan. I went early, thinking that wandering around in the stony riverbed a while would make me feel better about an event that I normally find trying and wasteful. I was right. Peace sat over the Pigeon River like a blue dome, the fish nearly still in the stream, the primroses a blaze of gold on the banks. For a moment I saw things as the valley would, the open places and the campgrounds a momentary deviation from the still, vast darkness of the forests. Wherever I was, was in the midst of the great wilderness I have wandered since coming to this place. Between rehearsals I read MacLiammoir’s All for Hecuba, sketched in my little sketchbook (mostly the abundant fungus), and studied Hamlet, though I did not fully escape the conviction of trial and waste. Driving home was an odd and unexpected experience– I was unfathomably sad about something, and though I could put it into words, the words do not now have the power they did when I was a white streak between the farms and utility poles. Loss. . .loss. . . loss. . .I am still exhausted from the passion of those moments.

Home, I napped and, without planning it, made more headway against the thicket at the northeast corner than I had in any day before.
September 10, 2009

Night of almost miraculous peace.

KM is was awarded an artist’s grant from the North Carolina Arts Council on her first try. I applied twenty-one times without success. I told her this, and she was gracious enough to observe, “We are where we are. I’m probably the only person of color to apply.” One grits one’s teeth; one smiles, but there are some things almost impossible to bear.

Joe Youngblood was killed in a plane crash today. After the shock of seeing a familiar name coupled with the verb “killed,” the first thing I thought was, “I wish I had known him better.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

September 9, 2009


Peaceful night after torrents of rain.

Finished my six week introductory course in Iyengar yoga, and began a three week one in pranayama yoga. The fact is, I don’t like yoga much. It’s boring and uncomfortable. I hurt for a day or so afterward. Perhaps there is some of the advertised relaxation under the hurt. The question now is whether to continue, because it is good for me, or try to find something with similar benefits that is not so boring. MM says to try the yoga that is done in a steambath. Maybe I will. Last night, “graduation” night, the women in the class (all were women but me) thanked me for putting up with “a bunch of women.” I had thought of apologizing for invading their goddess sanctum. But I was really very meek and quiet, and teacher commented on how I never complained.

Phone call from J, saying that our studio flooded again in the downpour.

I never eat hot peppers, but was fooled by their resemblance to the mild banana peppers that I like into cutting up three big hot ones and putting them in the pot of chili I made today. It burned in interesting places. The actual eating wasn’t so bad, but twice, once after each bowl I ate, the toe knuckles on my perpetually swollen left foot burned and turned red, as though stung by something. Maybe the bad circulation causes the pepper fire to gather there, or maybe the tissue is always a little damaged and vulnerable. Mild sensation of burning throughout the left leg. Unusual heat in the bowels. But I had a vague feeling that the pepper was medicinal, and would do me good. A kind of purgation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 7, 2009

Reading a little obsessively about Robert Manwill, an 8 year old in Boise beaten to death, slowly, with the intent to cause extended harm and pain, by his mother’s live-in boyfriend, with her either abetting or looking on. The body was dumped in a canal. The boy was not even a permanent problem for them, but in the custody of his father and just visiting for a while. The photos shows a regular little boy with half a crooked smile. One tries to fathom what he could have done to cause such offense. One tries to imagine his being subjected to that fate without offense at all. A life gone, swallowed up by horror and pain. Some are born to sweet delight/ Some are born to endless night. To note this truth is not to excuse it.

I want to be the Covering Cherub.

A convict in Oregon, named Cassidy, an anarchist serving an eight year term for, he says, shoplifting a pair of socks, sent in July a letter to Urthona Press asking for books for the prison library. Only tonight I am complying. The lag was, truly, so I would do it right, and something in the air tonight seemed right. There’s not that much actually from Urthona Press, but into the box went erstwhile treasures from my own shelves. I used to think I wanted as many books as I could afford, and house. Lately I’ve thought that I want as few as I can get away with.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

September 5, 2009

Minutes after midnight. The full moon blasts blue-white high in the southern windows.

Spent the evening with J. We drank good sangria at the reception for a pretty bad art show– sloppy and amateurish, decorative in the silly sense, hardly more than doodles–then went to laugh ourselves silly at the Usual. The waitress, remembering what had been written in icing on my birthday cake, said, “I wished I had friends like that.”

Watched tennis, the US Open, with DJ last night, the first time ever I have seen a match. It was exciting-- blinding speed, inhuman volleys, torrents of sweat. I could become addicted.

Noticing at yoga and working out at the Y that I don’t have much tolerance for pain. When something gets physically painful, I lose interest. Emotion can push me past that point, but reason keeps asking, “Why?” If there had ever been a chance for me to be an athlete, professional or otherwise, it is that which I would have had to conquer. The conviction that avoidance of pain is, pretty much, paramount, would be hard to set aside.

Mysterious phone call from Japan. The voice sounded like somebody imitating a Japanese man speaking English, but the number left on caller ID was legitimate.

Morning. Midnight chili leftovers made me sick, and when I was on the porch getting rid of that, I was surrounded by a pale blue ocean of moonlight. The light was so bright the yellows and oranges of the garden were yellow and orange.

Coffee with Tom after dawn at Starbucks. Stephanie came sleep walking by, between bouts of building the Macbeth set. She likes my beard.

Evening. Women chanting on the CD. What a long day this has been, when I think back to writing, and then vomiting into the most radiant moonlight, last night. Painted some, finishing a strange image of masked and winged colossi. Waited for J, but he never came. Driving home from the studio, I stopped, meaning only to waste a little time, at the antiques warehouse by the tracks and the river. When I was a child my imagination was keenly animistic– everything was alive to me. Moths against the window screen brought me news of the night. The toys in my room spoke to me, and at bedtime I would choose one to start the before-sleep revery that would put us to sleep, and whatever was actually happening, what I remember is that they did. Sometimes in a store I had to hide, because the toys or other things shaped like people or animals seemed so sad to me, so many sad voices, like orphans longing for a home. It could, at times, be agony. I’d stop to explain to them how I was a child and powerless to help. I remember one time very clearly. We were visiting grandma in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, and all downtown in a 5 &10 cent store. A white toy bunny sat on the shelf, calling to me with such piteous and heartbreaking fervor that I asked my mother if I could take it home. I remember, with the most amazed and enduring gratitude, that she said yes. Maybe she had been the same in her childhood. In any case, that emotion, the sharp conviction of the very hour and occasion poured in upon me in the antiques store. All came alive around me. It was powerful, grievous. I began to weep spontaneously and could not stop. I knew what I was looking for. Something I saw had reminded me of home long ago. I thought that if I could find something in the store that once belonged to me, or mother, when I was a child, or something that looked convincingly enough alike, or perhaps if I could go back in time and save some object from a shelf or drawer and hold it to me, then I could build from this side a life that never quite formed from the other. The warehouse is very big, and I could find places to hide until I slunk with my purchases out the door and into the car, where I could sit and howl unseen. I have not recovered. The objects in this room still seem alive–though, as they are “home,” not desperate or sad. Sadness is exhausting, and through parts of the day I could barely move. But, let me say, I did go to the Y and did a weights round. Something in my melancholy, in my almost out-of-the-body detachment, allowed me to do multiple reps of weights I had not dared before. One wonder succeeds another.

The day after I got the fuzzy bunny from the store, we went to grandma’s church. She made me keep it away from her, because it shed white hair on everything. She said, “You’re too old for that sort of thing.” I suppose I was, though age did not seem to me to be part of the occasion at all. The shedding bunny soon “disappeared.” I think they thought I wouldn’t notice. Where? How? It would have been too sad even to ask.

Maud the cat sleeps on my feet. Minutes before midnight.

September 4, 2009

Chili dinner and production meeting for The Beautiful Johanna. I had run aground over the issue of a budget, but Steve created one in minutes. Crawford’s set looked great, I suppose, though I confess myself unable to visualize such things properly before they exist. I am not the right person to produce anything. I should write, act, attend, maybe nothing else. Of all Virgos I am the least interested in detail.

Friday, September 4, 2009

September 2, 2009

Great scarlet star of the swamp hibiscus presides seven feet above the ground.

A small, happy group gathered at the Usual last night for drinks and cake. I made the group as eclectic as I could, knowing that J was wary of the daunting “procession of gays.”

Tried to go to the yoga class at the Woodfin Y this morning. I was there in plenty of time, but the procession of very thin women with very grim and determined expressions on their faces shied me off. They had hardened and sharpened themselves to by gawd get to that class, which is a contradiction, but not one I was willing to sink into the midst of just today. There may have been room for one more mat on the wooden floor, but I think I need more combative energy and more cheekbone to earn a place.

Liriope a purple gleam in the backyard shade.
September 1, 2009

Bright moon sailing with Jupiter.

Poland remembers 1939.

Because of Facebook, I suppose, I received scores of birthday greetings. It was sweet. My nephew Jonathan sends a card of a man posing for a photo with two pet squirrels. Jon writes, “ This card is wonderful for so many reason. First, I don’t understand it.”