Be a Stranger to Death: Know his Work

A first funeral for me was in our church. I was too young and didn’t know him. But I cried—it was so sad. Others did too. My family all asked me why I cried. A man I didn’t know had died. They took me to his funeral, and I cried because I felt so sad. Why did they ask me why? It was a funeral. I saw others cry. But I felt sad for his friends and family, and for him. My family seemed to be telling me that I should not cry or feel sad. They were telling me how I should feel.

It was my first taste of ultimate reality and sadness at a level I had not yet known. Six decades later I still recall their questions and the implication that I should not be sad because some man had died. And since I did not know him, I should not care about his death.

They knew him. But none of my family cried. I was confused by their lack of sadness. How could they not feel it? I didn’t wonder then why we went to the funeral, but I do now.

I should not feel emotion or act out my feelings if I do. I did not understand why others didn’t feel as I did. Too young, but already being told not to feel too deeply—to not be a sensitive man boy (later a man). Stoicism was and is associated with strength and manliness. Strong silence.

Years later I attended an emotional funeral for two young children of a workmate (auto accident). Later, another workmate criticised the people who cried at that funeral. I wonder more about former than the latter. How could he not cry and why criticize those who did?

Now, I am sometimes spoken of as a sensitive man by some; as one who reflects sensitivity back upon people. They say so because they read my writings. Not because of how I behave.

But not always. I suffer fools poorly and bullies with quite limited tolerance. I am sensitive to violence toward others, but I can do what it takes to be just and fair.

I cannot ask why they tried to teach me not to cry, or not to feel, or to be not sensitive about those who died. And they cannot answer. I doubt any would understand why. I went to their funerals and I cried because they had died and I loved them.

I cried when each of them died. Nobody asked me why. But I still hid my tears. I cried when I was alone. They had taught me well, but they never changed me. Show them only the face they wish to see. Be the strong, stoic, liar.

I remain an emotional little boy society calls sensitive (or weak or worse). They, in their curiously socialized hearts and minds will never understand me—nor will I, them.

Why cry? Must you ask?

Look both ways and deeply into the abyss of human emotions.
Mind the gaps but be consistent. Be yourself.

Fandango’s Provacative Question (FPQ) #35

Fandango’s Question: Do you believe public figures (e.g., politicians, celebrities, athletes, authors) — or anyone, actually — should be judged by today’s standards for their words or actions from decades earlier? Why or why not?

In the Summertime was written by Ray Dorset, of the group Mungo Jerry, in 1970. Some of the lyrics can be questioned for time and morals, but also for culture and interpretation. The song also says, Life’s for living yeah, that’s our philosophy, which I like. A few other questionable verses make the song neither sexist nor racist, in my view. Dorset is a Brit, about four months my senior, and an active Freemason thrice married with six kids and some grands. He wrote the song in ten minutes. (For what it’s worth.)

The more I think about this good person/bad person in light of the times topic, the more it gets wrapped in the philosophical tentacles of my own confusing need for a balanced, fair, and just (maybe perfect) world. Do I have any right or business judging anyone? What shall I make of people like Jefferson Davis? He was wrong as hell in my book, but not in his. He remains a hero to many.

I mentioned this kind of issue in a recent blog where I discussed the artist Jonas Gerard. Comments indicated that we can separate people’s behavior from their art, but in Gerard’s case, there is a petition to remove his art from city property. And it’s not decades old.

Can we separate the good from the bad, or does a tarnished reputation make all the good suddenly bad? Do I declare a song such as Dorset’s or Baby It’s Cold Outside to be evil because of someone’s PC interpretation? Do I get to declare someone’s art, writing, or music null and void after I learn of their human condition, religion, or political views? It happens a lot.

Charles Lindbergh fell from grace following a pro-Nazi Germany speech. A sample of many more: Cosby, O.J., Armstrong, Burr, Nixon, Haggard, Dixie Chicks, and (oops) another one bites the dust. Yesterday, I was reading about Philip Larkin and how his past may have tarnished his work. Does it? Should it?

I like the book/story about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because it reminds me that we all have a dark side: that Jekyll was a good man, but Hyde was not, yet they were entities of the same person.

The answer to Fandango’s question is yes; but I’m sorry to say, also no. Yes, because by today’s standards (whatever those are culturally, interpretatively, or historically) are what we use to judge people today (not that we should, but we do). However, can we manage to form an opinion within the context of times past or some other mitigating circumstance?

Looking back on my life, I’m grateful that no nearby microphones were switched on when I said stupid shit; that no tapes or cameras were rolling when I did equally dumb stuff. While I don’t care or worry much about being judged, I prefer my lowest and worst moments be seen for what they were—not my standard, whatever that is or was.

I like learning that past heroes had weaknesses; dark sides mixed in with talent, wisdom, and intelligence. I have no time for idealistic nonsense. Right is right and wrong is wrong, but there are hundreds of grayish shades between. I’m not religious, but approve the idiom let he who is without sin cast the first stone. BTW, the song also advocates drinking and driving, or it seems to. It shouldn’t. So what?

Look both ways.
Beware not to place heroes too high on a pillar, nor allow your imperfect self
the hypocritical luxury of being the Judge, Jury, Executioner for others;
as so many fools before us have done.
Closely mind the gaps that contain closeted skeletons and dark secrets.

***

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Birthday Essay

Today I am supposed to celebrate surviving three years into my seventh decade. I am glad to be alive. But such luck is a banal accomplishment, since each day when I wake up not dead (yet), I know I did nothing to deserve the pleasure of such a long and mostly good life. I may have stopped smoking 20 years ago, but I didn’t for the 30 before that. I spent thousands of hours throwing my body along faster than any bird can fly. I never crashed. Many did. I was lucky.

Today I meet the threshold of my end times. Will I survive one more year like my father? Four more like Mom? Less, like my sister, cousin, grandfathers, or grandmums? Today I will stop counting up and start counting down. Ten more? Twenty? And my health? Status quo would be a wonderful thing – but it will get worse – it’s a reality everyone dislikes (including me).

Ten years ago, I ran 20 miles of 26.2-mile marathons (walked the other six). Five years ago, I walked briskly for 13 miles on Saturday mornings until one day my body said, we need to rest. I sat on a bench and I wondered what it was – it was my now well-stented heart.

Nowadays, because low blood flow reduces needed oxygen and other stuff in blood from my leg muscles, I manage a quarter mile without a bench or a tree trunk or wall to sit on. A two and a half to three-mile walk is a big day, and I find tired and sore invades me as my body recovers.

It’s morning. I’m here and you are too. Now what? Wanna go for a walk?

Look both ways with contemplative wonder for life and its privileges.
Mind the gaps but live in the moment.

Poetry: Death by T-Rex

Come to me. Closer.
Stand before me, your naked
judgmental ass, as I hold
in my hand
this fine blood red wine,
and my 45 (or is it 9mm?)

And you tell me what?
I am old, too old?

When I pull this trigger
and the bullet leaves
the holey end of this
pistolla headed for
your ugly mug,

Will it matter
that you will never
see and never be
as old as I—better
not to been born at all.

And you will have died
(not that anyone will
give a fuck)
at the hand of an old
washed-up and worthless
poet fuck who, after
you cried and fell dead,

Turned and wrote a poem
about cappin’ your
nasty smelly ass—
arrogant mother fucker!
How dare you,
Call me a dinosaur?

Look both ways before calling the firing line clear.
Mind the gaps and old farts who write poems.

How I want to write poetry. And how I don’t.

I can’t always do it. I would never be openly showy or make any form of art before an audience. I don’t think I could. Challenges or prompts during writing group meetings and a few online are the most I can do in social settings where people know me. Other than that, my writing is a solitary effort, although I’m not exactly the poster boy of the garret-imprisoned scribe. I do write in coffee shops, libraries, parks, waiting or dining rooms, and even during my morning walks. But usually I write at this desk on this laptop.

Yet, I have times of emotional outburst writing. At least one reader seems to know or recognize exactly when that happens. I love the experience, and I find satisfaction when I read my scribble after the excitement has passed. If I can let go of something within me, an inner editor, judge, or critic, I like what happens. I feel so free. It’s about emotionally letting go of something.

I don’t listen to music when I read or write. I can only tolerate classical type without being distracted. I am not sure how it would work. I may try it sometime.

In order to give you an example for what I have in mind, I did some research on a well-known artist who I am familiar with. Well, I thought I was. Nothing about the art is independent of the artist—not the form, method, appeal, depth, or reputation.

Jonas Gerard of Ashville, TN, puts on an impressive show. The personal emotion he displays in making his art is the poster for explaining how I sometimes want to write, especially poetry. I have been to his studio, I have talked to him and several of his assistants, and I bought some of his work.

The youtube video below is an example of what I mean (he did a number of these). The vision of personal emotion (fake or real) is inspiring. But, artist or not, apparently old Jonas (he’s 78 or so) has had issues with untoward behavior (sexual harassment, maybe assault) in his past. I never put this guy on a pedestal or thought of him as anything more than a cool modern artist. Yet, I’m disappointed, angry, and confused. Because of what I learned, I considered not writing this piece or posting it.

But this is about me and I agree with what he says in the video about fear.

I want to write with emotional vigor displayed by Jonas Gerard when he paints. I want to let go, as he mentions. I love it when I can let go. It’s the temporary feeling and process I enjoy. The product, like all writing, will outlive the writer.

Look both ways. Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.
Mind the gaps but dismiss excuses.