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Dog & I Prepare for Winter

My backyard maple tree in October 2007, as published in the Chicago Tribune.

The weather’s been a bit unstable here lately in Northwest Indiana; we’ve had some cold days and some warm ones, and the clash between them gave us a tornado watch last night. Indiana is #2 in auto manufacturing, corn production and tornadoes, but Luke and I got through the night okay.

Football is giving way to basketball; Purdue football is gone with the wind after season-ending injuries to the starting quarterback, the #1 wide receiver and the leading running back. I expect we’ll beat That Other School though and win the Old Oaken Bucket.

The men’s basketball team is doing great, even after the devastating loss of star forward Robbie Hummell, who blew out his right knee again in pre-season practice. Purdue was rated a Final Four team before Hummell went down for the year, and analysts everywhere downgraded the team’s stock to second-rate, despite the presence of NBA prospects JaJuan Johnson and Etwaun Moore. So what’s happened? The bench has stepped up mightily, led by John Hart, D.J. Byrd and Terone Johnson. Purdue has climbed in the polls to #8 in the nation; those kids are getting better and better at defense, and last year’s wildly inconsistent freshmen are turning into sophomores who can score.

Where I come from all this matters; you may not care for sports, but these are Indiana kids by and large, playing for and studying at the university our ancestors built.

On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band will lead off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York; 9 a.m. Eastern on NBC.

Now the trees are showing off their nakedness and Turkey Day is almost here.

I’ve been raking and cleaning out the gardens on the warmer days, while my dog’s been taking advantage of what warmth there still is.

This year I have not been a diligent raker; I’ve maybe put out 10 huge bags of leaves, not 50. I deal with leaves the old-fashioned way, by hand; and yes, I do get tired of it and quit early. Maybe I should buy a $70 leaf-blower, but I just can’t bring myself to shell out even that modest amount of money for a power tool I’d use only two days a year. My neighbors have leaf-blowers and nice clean yards; I suppose I’m too rigid. But there’s something character-building about raking your own damn leaves, and I don’t mind doing it as long as it’s warm out.

The good gardeners on my block have long since cleaned out their gardens; I’m still working at it. The strawberries of course stay in the ground; I’ve cleaned out the peppers, broccoli and cabbages. The tomatoes are so gigantic and overgrown in this black loam that I’ll have to take clippers to the vines.

Tonight I indulged once again in a summer ritual. I saved several green tomatoes before the frost, and all have ripened now, so I ate one over the sink with a salt shaker in hand; delicious. I happen to think home-grown tomatoes are the world’s most perfect food; not milk, not bananas, Indiana tomatoes. Ones I grew!

But the wind does blow colder and it’s time for things to change. The biggest impact isn’t on me, but on my dog.

In warm weather I keep Luke outdoors on a lead for most of the day while I mostly work indoors. He loves sunshine and running around on his own, making his presence known to the neighborhood dogs and getting into whatever innocent mischief he can find. When it’s hot out I take him water or let him lick an ice cube in my hand; on the hottest days I bring him back indoors to the air conditioning. But today was cool enough that after two hours he wanted back inside.

He’s a little 11-pound rat/fox terrier mix, no fat on him, all energy, and I can’t tell that he grows more coat in the winter. I don’t want him too hot or too cold.

Now is that transitional time of year when he doesn’t want to be outside all day, so I decided it was time for us to go into winter mode as far as our routines. One thing I’ve learned from having this guy, he is all about the routines.

I got Luke a year ago last month, a rescue dog from the Humane Society of Indianapolis; he’d just turned 3, and we think he grew up on the streets until one day he got run over by a car, which led him to the vets and other kind people at HSI, who fixed him right up. He wasn’t house-trained and didn’t know much when I brought him home, though I could tell he was hugely affectionate. He still doesn’t know how to play ball or chew on a balled-up sock.

We’ve spent a year learning about each other; I think we’ve finally got the toilet-training thing down, as it’s been months since he had a so-called “accident.” He’s quite good at learning, as long as I can make him understand the rules. Indeed he’s so scrupulous about pleasing me that sometimes he misinterprets my confusing directions; in other words his guardian’s not that competent. My bad.

But he’s learned a trick or two and we’re doing just fine.

Since it was already cold weather when I got him, we established a winter routine last year; he spends his days in the office with me, except for mealtimes. After he gets food he spends 15-20 minutes outdoors on his lead for the poop-and-pee routine, then he comes back inside. Until this spring, that was what he knew. He learned to jump up in my office chair, where I’d pet him and spin him around. When he got tired he’d lie down in a sunbeam streaming through the windows.

Then last spring I changed things on him and put him outside all day.

Now it’s November, and today I decided to remind him about coming upstairs to the office so we can hang out together. He happily remembered, and I happily spun him around clockwise, then counter-clockwise, and when we came to rest he licked my hand.

So we’re back to winter mode, and I’m glad. I still shut my office door on us because I want to keep an eye on him, don’t entirely trust him in the P&P department, but he’s doing good.

The great thing about him is how much he makes me laugh. That’s sure worth a 59¢ can of dog food that lasts three days.

I like that he remembers “winter mode” from last year. He knows that summer mode has come to an end. As the days grow darker earlier, he tries to manipulate me into feeding him earlier, but I don’t do it. He’s a fascinating study in human relations.

I hate winter, but I love going into winter mode with my dog. He’s glad for his chow on a regular schedule, for being indoors when it’s cold, for hanging out with me and whirling around in my swivel chair. He licks my hand more in the wintertime, and when he’s sleepy he finds a sunbeam to snooze in.

I love my dog; taking care of him is just like posting tomorrow’s Daily Office, a spiritual discipline which I do whether I feel like it or not. Often (the work is mostly formatting, and ever-changing) I do not feel like keeping my promises.

But I have an audience, I have a dog, so I do what I said I’d do.

That’s how to get closer to God, by adopting a routine. When we have someone else we’re responsible for, we learn to conform our habits, no matter what our transient emotions. Most people don’t want to say the same “Magnificat” every day of their lives, but when we go ahead and do it, life becomes magnificent.++

Beta dog. Ice cube lover. Prettyboy. Sweet as cotton candy.

Vassily Primakov, Anne Harrigan at the Symphony Tonight!

The coverboy from June 2009.

(Update below: Dick Jaeger’s review in the local paper.)

I’m just back from another outstanding concert by the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra tonight, “All Tchaikovsky” starring the brilliant young pianist Vassily Primakov performing Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor. What a wonderful night!

I’ve looked forward to it for days, the way excitement starts to build up for important events. All week I’ve reminded myself, “It’s Saturday, don’t be late.” This morning when I woke up I thought, “It’s symphony day. Buy gas.” This on the same day the Purdue Boilermakers had a football date with the Michigan State Spartans. Usually on Saturdays in autumn I think, “This is game day.” But no, this was music night.

I carefully calculated the two hours it takes for me to get from home to the Long Center, an hour for driving and an hour for the time zone change. I made it just fine, an aisle seat on the main floor, a near-capacity crowd. Then I remembered the other thing that excited me and made me wonder about tonight, the return of Anne Harrigan, the former LSO conductor who’s now music director of the Billings Symphony in Montana and Battle Creek in Michigan. She was well-liked here, and though I never heard her concerts, I thought there might be an extra buzz in the air, and there was.

She was the LSO’s maestro from 1994-2005, nationally known for her innovative, multi-disciplinary programming – but I had a humbler reason for wanting to see her; the first time I’ve ever seen a woman conductor in person.

Of course I know that women are becoming more prominent in this formerly “man’s field,” with the likes of Sarah Caldwell and others – and since my mother was a bit of a pioneer in her previously-male profession, I’m all for women breaking every ceiling there is. Women priests? Yes, ma’am – which isn’t to say I didn’t experience a minute of shock a few years ago the first time I heard a woman chanting the Mass on Christmas Eve in my home parish. (She sang better than Fr. Ed does, clear and on pitch, but ohmygod she’s a soprano! I was plucked there for a minute, despite all my high-falutin’ principles.)

So what would it be like to see a woman with the baton? Ms. Harrigan was only slated to lead the opening “Cossack Dance” from Tchaikovsky’s 1883 opera “Mazzepa,” four minutes at the most; then the current music director Dr. Nicholas Palmer would take over for the rest of the program, including the composer’s Symphony No. 1 and the later piano concerto. So I was really curious, not only about how Ms. Harrigan would do, but how the players and audience would react to her, and how I would. I mean, how did they even get her to come back for such a brief appearance?

The “Cossack Dance” is a lovely little piece, pure Tchaikovsky, and on she came. I watched her; the musicians stood for her, but they do for every conductor, and what was going through their minds? She’d been on this stage many times before. What were longtime subscribers in the audience thinking?

She lifted her baton and free hand; gave the downbeat with authority; and a half-minute later I thought, “Women belong on the podium!”

I loved every second of it.

She probably knows the piece like the back of her hand, and of course she knows most of these musicians. But I found it delightful to see her in charge of the whole shebang. Her cues are clear, she’s very expressive with her body without drawing attention to herself – she just fits in that role. So I sat back and let Pyotr T. take care of me, paint me a perfect picture.

A few minutes later, end of cameo appearance; she received a bouquet and left the stage. I found myself wishing I could hear a whole concert she conducted. The company sounded great, crisp and clear and balanced. I’m no music critic but these people are well-prepared professionals.

Anne Harrigan, music director of Battle Creek and Billings.

The appetizer was great; I could have noshed all night just on that. Then Nick Palmer arrived to serve the entrée.

I suppose I watched him a bit, comparing the woman and the man, but I soon lost interest in that; he controls and directs his band more or less the same as she did, and after a minute I stopped watching him and started listening more deeply. There are skills involved in conducting, and both he and she are careful to do it well. Gender doesn’t matter, musicianship does; management of 100 egotistical/insecure people does, so they all work together as a team.

Dr. Nick introduced the 1st Symphony before they began to play, and I got the sense that this is a warm and personable guy with a winning personality, which is doubtless important in a small market like this one, where even after 60 seasons the conductor’s extra job is to make friends. Indeed, one of the attractions of a small-city orchestra is the close connection between the audience, the donors, the players and the staff. There’s no pretension or grandeur anywhere; we’re all there to love the music and the people who make it.

The Long Center seats 1500, and we all think we own a piece of these folks. We’re never surprised if we find a gaggle of cellists at the brewpub around the corner after the concert; where else would they go, the Hyatt? There isn’t one. Come, rub shoulders, it’s time to relax.

Again, I’m no musicologist, but I found the performance crisp and clear, well-controlled, with excellent balance. In short, these people are an ensemble. They know what they’re doing, they have an identity and a sound. That’s surely a tribute to all the musicians and conductors who’ve come before; the Guild and board members and administrators who have, for six decades, molded an organization that dedicates itself to excellence, even if most people have barely heard of their hometown.

How often is this replicated across the United States and across the world? They may not be Lenny’s Philharmonic, but they’re damn good, committed to their craft and their art.

Which is what I came to see and hear, people committed to their art. Because people like that, who practice and strive to improve every day, to take on new challenges, to learn new work, provide the rest of us who can’t do what they do with an example that applies directly to our own lives.

Me, I write; I try to do it as well as I possibly can. My friend Leonardo makes incredibly decorated pieces of furniture among his many media. My spiritual director Marcia had an amazing and versatile gallery opening last week. My friend Peter found his niche in the fashion world, where craftsmanship, daring ideas and practicality come together so our bodies are pleasingly presented. Some compose, some sew, some sketch, some paint, others perform, but we’re all in the business of lifting ourselves and our neighbors to a higher plane of existence. For heaven’s sake that’s worth a $35 ticket.

Dr. Nicholas Palmer, music director of the Lafayette Symphony.

After intermission came one of the highlights of the night, the dedication of a newly-acquired Bechstein concert grand piano. The last time Mr. Primakov, the pianist, appeared with the Lafayette Symphony, he played this instrument, rented from a fine piano dealer in suburban Indianapolis. One of the LSO musicians, Everett Klontz, who just retired after 50 years as a violinist with the orchestra, heard him and thought, “We ought to buy that piano.” But Bechsteins are costly, and small orchestras don’t have 80 G’s lying around gathering dust.

That retired musician, Dr. Klontz, is also a retired professor of physics at Purdue University; this is where the story really gets good, in that now-elderly man who is both scientist and musician. He heard Primakov playing it three years ago and said, “We have to.”

So, it took three years. Then on came Primakov, who’s all of 30, to dedicate the piano to the aged professor-musician by playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

The audience broke out in applause four times for that professor as he appeared onstage, the one who made it happen.

(The LSO doesn’t always do a great job of introducing its insiders to the audience; some board chairman type who never did give his name handled this segment. I guess we’re all supposed to know who he is already. But that’s how it happens in a small town. He gave the professor’s name and I will fill it in as soon as Dick Jaeger’s concert review is published in the Journal and Courier. I have no doubt it will be a rave; if it isn’t, I’ll call the editor and complain that it ought to be a rave.)

Here was this stooped old man, who dedicated decades of his life to physics, to his students and to fine music, now walking with a cane onstage to celebrate the arrival of a fine instrument, and to listen to it put to roof-rattling use by one of the most passionate interpreters of his generation.

Then Prof. Klontz walked off to take his seat in the audience, to listen to the exciting Vassily Primakov.

Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano concerto is one of the most famous compositions in the world; even if you’ve never set foot in a concert hall you’d recognize its opening notes. I sat back in my seat, shut my eyes and let the beauty wash over me.

That’s another reason we buy tickets; to experience sheer beauty. There are artists and philosophers who denigrate beauty these days as if it’s somehow banal (because they can’t reproduce or outdo it themselves, so they’d rather sell you conflict and clash, it’s more modern). But you have to take Tchaikovsky on his own terms, in his own era and place. He wrote lots of musical/mathematical conflict, as one section of the band takes up arms against the other, but plenty of harmony too in the broadest sense. He was moved by beauty (he was Russian!), and created as much as he could.

Concertos tend to be showpieces, and Primakov was entirely ready for his thousand arpeggios, hunched over his piano like a character from Victor Hugo; but he is subtle too. I sat there, watched and listened as this young man tried to show me how to hear the cries and joys of Russia and of art. When the third movement started I had to face the pain, realizing this live experience would soon come to an end.

And it did, with a big bombastic ending that follows, but changes, the conventional form of classical music; no one’s ever been able to improve on the basic idea of ending on a “high note.” Nearly every composer and performer has sought to send the audience out riding clouds. The finale should be a climax; give the paying public a climax.

Then occurred something I’m coming to recognize as unique to smalltown audience reaction; people feeling free to yell and scream as if this were a rock concert.

They don’t necessarily do that in big cities where a symphony concert is a high-society affair you’re supposed to show up at whether you like music or not. In big cities with high-prestige orchestras, audience members act with decorum, not enthusiasm, because half the time they’re more concerned with each other than the musicians onstage.

Not in Lafayette. When they hear great music – and we did tonight – they stomp and shout.

They’re grateful; Vassily Primakov came to Lafayette, because he knows Nick Palmer and had a good time here before.

We want him to come back! So we let loose and show our appreciation for all the musicians. That orchestra played so well tonight. Ms. Harrigan and Dr. Palmer could make me eat out of their hands.

Lafayette, Indiana is a “small town with big city entertainment.” I’m thinking of selling my house and moving back. I don’t want to miss nights like this; I don’t want fog or time zones getting in my way.

This band is just too good not to listen to every chance I get. Bravo!++

UPDATE: “LSO Shines in Tchaikovsky Show on Saturday,” by Dick Jaeger, Lafayette Journal and Courier

The large audience at Long Center for the Performing Arts saw a near phenomenon on Saturday evening when the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra and guest piano soloist Vassily Primakov mesmerized the audience in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor.”

The word I believe fits best is transfixion. The deep silence that permeated those gathered to hear this remarkable young pianist was immediately followed by cheers, shouts of “bravo” and prolonged applause.

My Clothes Are Depressing Me

Although my life is going fairly well, a few days ago I found myself starting to feel down for some unknown reason. The next day it happened again. And I started to realize it’s because I was wearing an old ugly shirt.

When I changed my shirt I felt better, and had a more productive day.

This set me to thinking about the whole complex set of feelings people have about what we wear. We all feel better when we look good, however we define what looking good means to us.

Most people have some clothes that make us feel special; others that we wear to work; everyday clothes for bumming around the house, and stuff in the back of the closet we should have thrown out years ago.

Somehow I’ve allowed the back of the closet to dominate my whole wardrobe. It’s not that I don’t have lots of nice things, but I’m hanging onto way too much junk for no good reason.

When that starts to affect my everyday functioning, it’s time for a change.

See if any of this applies to you. Our tastes in clothing are idiosyncratic, very personal, yet they’re also affected by what other people wear, what’s in style; “fashion” is very complicated, always changing, and styles change a lot faster than our minds do.

One reason I now find myself with a bunch of ugly shirts I don’t like goes back to a decision I made when I was 14. I liked clothes then, but I also made a decision that “fashion” would never rule my life, because it makes a person materialistic, as well as subject to the whims of other people.

When you’re 14 you want to be your own person, not your parents’, not even your friends’. I didn’t want to be subject to someone else’s desire to sell me something, especially if I didn’t need it.

There I was, walking in front of the county courthouse, deciding I would not be materialistic or motivated by money. After all, fashion-mongers are as greedy for you to buy a pair of shoes as McDonald’s is to sell you a Bic Mac.

I now think of that teenage decision as a kind of declaration of voluntary poverty. I would be a social worker, a servant of others, a Christian even; poverty, chastity, obedience and all that. (The only one I’ve ever managed was the poverty part.)

I’m still happy all these decades later for the anti-materialist, pro-service, willful poverty aspect of my decision, but I also recognize that my 14-year-old mind saw the world in black and white, either-or, rich or poor.

It was the 1960s, I was headed straight for hippiedom, and maybe it’s taken me all this time to re-evaluate.

I guess most people my age have long since sold out and joined the Corporation; I never did and never will (who would have me?), but I’m not sure this makes me morally superior. Hairshirts fell out of fashion centuries ago.

But there I was a few days ago, wearing these ugly togs and thinking, “Get rid of it!”

My rule has always been, when it falls apart, trash it. But don’t be spending money if it hasn’t fallen apart. The money I saved could and did go to the poor, to GLBT rights, to progressive causes, which are a lot more important than my old shirt.

However, all these decades later I now find myself with a closetful of junk and a need to shop! How did I get here?

Sometimes it’s because I tend to hoard things with memories attached; I still have and still wear two sweaters my mother bought me that year, a navy blue V-neck and a yellow mohair. They still fit, though the elbows betray their age. (Does anyone alive still know what mohair is?) I loved those sweaters, which I had to grow into at that age, turning up the cuffs; I loved them for themselves, as nice things to wear that kept me warm, and I loved that she bought them for me, a complete surprise. We never had much growing up, but there I was with two nice sweaters. So I’ve kept them this whole time and never outgrew them. She couldn’t have picked better sweaters; in her later years we used to trade the blue one back and forth. She’d visit me in Ohio where I was living and I’d lend her my navy blue, which she’d wear home to Indiana, and a year later I’d be at her house and say, “Hey, where’s my sweater?”

Both the blue and yellow are “Mom” things, and I don’t care if you can’t even picture a yellow mohair sweater.

There have been many other presents over the years; people have always felt a need to buy clothes for me, perhaps because they knew I wouldn’t buy them myself, or because they knew at Christmastime, For Josh, Buy Warm. They were absolutely right in that department, I’ve got 25-year-old longjohns I climb into every winter. I get cold easily, not enough bodyfat just like my Mom, and winter clothes were always thoughtful gifts, even if they were sometimes ugly.

I have T-shirts from every Gay rights gathering I ever went to. They’re museum pieces, without a museum; Marches on Washington, Gay Games 1990, Pride Days in Cincinnati and Columbus, plus two years ago in New York. I’ve got sweats and tees from when the Reds won the World Series in 1990 and lots of old Purdue stuff. How can I send those memories to the landfill?

I have the golf shirt I was wearing when Dick married Linda outdoors on the hilltop in Colorado; it has holes in it now, so it’s hanging in my basement. I can’t give that one up without trashing the Bro I’ve always loved.

However, the problem with accepting any gift that comes along, and thinking you have to keep it because NN gave it to you, is that their idea of pretty is usually my idea of crappy. Late husband Jack’s Uncle Kenny always used to buy me the cheapest possible polyester shirts from Wal-Mart, invariably brown. I’d wear them, but I always felt like s—, which is also brown. I hate the colors sold to men in fall and winter. I want bright colors when it’s cold out, not olive and brown. Kenny once did give me a bright red fake flannel that I loved, but it was cheap and fell apart quickly. I’ve never found any shirt in the same bright red these past 20 years. Autumn is depressing enough; why would I want to look like autumn?

This morning I looked for a long-sleeved shirt, and picked out an old one I hate, knowing I’d be writing this post and throwing this shirt away when I go to bed tonight. This shirt also was a gift that doesn’t fit into any of the above emotional categories; I barely knew the guy. But he did succeed in providing me a piece of cloth to keep alive his memory these decades later; he was so strange, that whole episode with him was weird. Let’s call him Mr. Trick.

(Okay, I ain’t proud of it, but remember what I said about mastering poverty, chastity and obedience.)

He already had a lover, and another friend who was a member of the household, but he somehow fixated on me and insisted on giving me the shirt I’m wearing right now, that I picked out this morning so I could write this post.

There was also a cheap ring involved, which for some reason I accepted and wore for five days, even though I was with Jack and told him about it. Then Mr. Trick showed up at our store and asked for his ring back, said he’d made a big mistake, so I took it off and gave it back. He walked out and I’ve never seen him since.

I guess I got some egotistical charge out of the whole thing, that a stranger would be enthralled with me. Then he came to his senses, went back to his boyfriend, and here I am wearing the most god-awful shirt you’ve ever seen.

Why have I kept this? It’s going in the trash tonight.

I do have a tendency to hoard things, but I have never for one minute liked this shirt; why hang onto it, except for that childish decision I made so long ago outside the courthouse?

Ya know, a shirt’s a shirt, or somethin’.

It’s a Western shirt, as in Country and Western music. It’s black with cheap but extensive white embroidery from the neck to the top of the chest. The buttons are snaps, which I rather liked in my younger years; it used to be fun to pull apart my shirt in one dramatic move when I was ready to move on some guy and get naked. In the clone days we’d all heard of the Marlboro Man.

But the Midwest, where I’m from, isn’t cowboy country; until I was 45 I hated country music. I still wouldn’t give you 10¢ for George Jones or Patsy Cline. I hate the twang – though I’ve since come to love Reba McIntyre, the Oklahoma girl and Broadway star. I didn’t grow up with this music or this look. Why do I own this shirt?

The Midwest raises hundreds of thousands of cattle, but we never needed cowboys to drive the herd hundreds of miles to the next waterhole, because unlike the West, we’ve got water everywhere you look. So that whole cowboy thing is not, never has been, my culture.

But here I sit, typing out the story of how one young Gay guy went nuts one night, and I let him. Told him the truth but wore his ring till he came back to fetch it.

I’ve never seen a person go crazy in love like that before; that’s why I kept his shirt. If he’d asked for it back I’d have gladly handed it over.

Then again, maybe I kept his shirt so I could one day tell you this story. Writers are whores, I freely admit it. Hand me a story and it will get published eventually.

Still, the joke’s on me. I’ve got Geoffrey Beane, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and others hanging on my shirt rack, all of whom I wear in a fairly strict rotation. (Designer clothes are worth the extra money, not because of the name, pricetag or snob appeal, if you can see and feel the difference in quality, fabric and workmanship.)

So far none of my label shirts have led to a story anything like Mr. Trick’s. It was nice, at a time when Jack had no sexual interest in me, to be wanted by a decent guy who lost his head for a little while, though I was relieved when he ended it.

Meanwhile it’s really stupid for me to keep old stuff I hate because someone I truly loved gave me some offhand thing decades ago; Bro and wife once gave me some hand-me-downs he didn’t want, which I didn’t like at the time but kept anyway. Why?

Well, you know why. When you don’t have the loved one near you, a used shirt will do.

Gay shirts, Purdue shirts from old glory days; sweaters my mother surprised me with in my freshman year in high school. Those may be worth saving, because they don’t depress me. But anything that does has got to go.

I still wear a bright red Columbia University sweatshirt I bought in the winter of 1984 in graduate school, to get me through a horrible New York winter while I worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. That hoodie’s lost its strings, and the front pockets are fraying off. It hangs lower in the front than it does in the back. It’s the only thing I have left from those days of running support groups for PWAs, tramping about from hospital to hospital on Christmas Eve, running workshops to sign guys up for SSI and SSD. The truth is I hated the Columbia School of Social Work and it hated me, but I did love those guys.

It’s good to hang onto the memories, but it’s not good to wear a worn-out sweatshirt to the grocery store in 2010. It’s time to give it up and go shopping.++

Silence=Death, but so does hanging onto the past. (Keith Haring)

One Small Neurological Episode; One Giant Leap for My Mind

I don’t want to hype this, cause you to worry or make it melodramatic. It was pretty unusual but it only lasted a couple of minutes and now I’m fine. I can prove how well I am by typing this with all ten fingers.

Wednesday just before noon I had a small neurological event. Two minutes tops. I feel great; within an hour I experienced a fairly amazing spiritual discovery for which I’m very grateful to God. S/he is with me, and I’ve got more work to do, so I don’t expect to keel over anytime soon, especially if I change my life and start to minimize the damage.

Still, at age 59 I began to see that my body is absolutely mortal. I got the first definitive preview; in X amount of time I’ll start to rot.

The strange thing happened;when it faded away I went out to get the phone number of my nurse-practitioner and pat the dog, I left my nurse a message, and then I wrote this so I could read it back to her efficiently. I typed it with all my fingers and named the computer file Paralysis.

I’ve just had a weird experience – a transient paralysis in the middle finger of my left hand – and I realize I’ve gone through this several times before, though not so dramatically.

It began with a small sudden pain, which quickly grew into something so sharp it drew me out of my chair. Then I noticed that once again, that finger was stuck straight out. The pain began to stabilize and I tested my hand for movement. That finger could move down, but not up beyond a certain point.

This continued for over a minute before ebbing away. Previous episodes, maybe four of five of them, have always been over in 15 seconds.

I walked gingerly downstairs to get my nurse practitioner’s name and number from my car, then back upstairs to the phone, where I called V— (my nurse) and left a message. As a strange new symptom, I want her to know.

I typed this note normally with both hands.

November 10, 2010

Around 5 p.m. the triage nurse at the clinic called back. I described the experience as objectively as I could, reading her the above, answering her questions, including my recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in the knee; she consulted V—, then promptly phoned back. I need to see a neurologist as soon as possible.

About five years ago I saw a neurologist after another strange experience, which was later termed a transient ischemic attack – a mini-stroke. I was at work in the psych ER in Merrillville, 2nd shift, when all of a sudden electricity passed through my brain, zzzt! It didn’t last longer than that, two seconds. Some TIAs go on much longer.

It left me a bit dazed, and certainly knowing that this never happened before. I called a nurse on our inpatient unit, went upstairs and described it to her, and she said to get to the closest general hospital ASAP. A social work co-worker, working late, offered to drive me; thank you always, Tina.

The hospital in Crown Point ran a test or two, referred me to a neurologist, Tina drove me back to work, I finished my shift and drove myself an hour home once my relief worker came.

The neurologist ordered a couple more tests, put me on aspirin to thin my blood, and shortly discharged me with orders to call him if this ever happened again.

It hasn’t, for five years. But there have been these few episodes of the middle finger of my left hand losing contact with reality and suddenly listening to Glenn Beck.

Wednesday’s episode was only slightly more dramatic, but I knew to call V—. Was something wrong with my finger joints, like rheumatoid arthritis? Or was something wrong with my brain and my blood, that my finger (just one finger, not the whole left side of my body) went suddenly haywire?

The triage nurse will make an appointment for me today with a neurologist in Lafayette. And if this gets complicated, with thousand dollar tests, I will probably have to sign up for Medicaid, because I have no income or insurance.

(The supervisor of that great job I excelled at in Merrillville made keeping the job impossible. First shift, second shift, third shift, two shifts back to back, it was ridiculous. I could never get a sleep pattern; she didn’t care. She favored her cronies, not her best workers. The whole work schedule was designed to protect a terrible moonlighting teacher from a failed inner-city school in Hammond, who never admitted anyone to the hospital because that was actual work, but the entire agency’s bottom line depended on admitting the seriously ill to the hospital.)

I have avoided taking anything approaching “welfare” my whole life. Paid off my student loans, went hungry a time or two, supported a desperately ill lover all by myself (and signed him up for the Medicare he had earned), but I’ve never accepted a dime from taxpayers. Where I come from, that just isn’t done.

Still, for a couple of minutes that middle finger on my left hand simply didn’t work, and this could get expensive. I don’t want to lose my house over it, anymore than I want to have a stroke.

God only knows how long the waiting list is for Medicaid in this Republican state. If the neurologist wants a thousand-dollar CAT scan, what will I say? “Not till I know I can pay for it.”

But now that I realize I’ve seen the first glimpse into my own death – now that I know I need to make some serious lifestyle changes, stop smoking and drinking – and now that I’m going through the first few hours of mourning, regret, self-justification, confession and faith, I’m feeling pretty good. That finger works just fine.

On a QWERTY keyboard the left middle finger rests on D. So here are some D’s to prove it, each one typed rapidfire, not just holding down the key to repeat itself: DDDDDDD!

I don’t mind dying; I haven’t minded it for years, though some while ago I did get shocked into realizing this actually applies to me. I want to get to heaven, I want to be immortal. I want to meet Jesus, Lincoln and Martin Luther King. Jane Austen, LBJ, Harvey Milk, Mozart, Bach, Schubert; Howard, Brooke, beloved Ervin, Bishop Craine and you better believe it, Fr. Ben. He may have stayed too long at the fair, but my God, what a good priest he was. Not the best administrator, the best priest.

How I loved being his go-to acolyte for every wedding, funeral and unscheduled thing. He was a master of priestcraft; I’ll never forget my first confession, face to face in his office, when he offered to turn his back so I didn’t suffer the embarrassment of seeing his face as I admitted my puny adolescent sins. I don’t remember what my transgressions might have been; I remember his sensitivity, if I’d rather talk to his back than his face. No, Ben, I can tell you eye-to-eye; he gave me two Hail Marys and an Our Father and that was that, scot-free. I skipped out of there like a fox terrier, hyper and jumping for joy.

Most of all I want to see my mother again; I want to see my bro. I want to hug my Grandmas; I had the best Grandmas any kid ever did. They were very different but equally kind. I want to offer them my little triumphs and tell them, they showed me how, just from hanging out in the kitchen. Kids watch; kids notice everything.

I’d like to shake hands with my grandfathers.

Still, I’m not ready to give up anybody’s ghost, especially when in that same hour, I got a new assignment. It concerns adding music to the Daily Office website (over a million page-views), with Anglican chant so that Evening Prayer becomes Evensong online.

Having chant for all the psalms and canticles will make the Office a much more spiritual experience for site visitors; singing with a congregation is so much better than reading a website.

That’s what God wants me to do, to find a way to add all the psalms and canticles in song, with text so people can follow along, to approximate the experience of singing the night prayers in a monastic community, a seminary or a great cathedral.

The work may be difficult; I’ve contacted a faculty member at General Seminary about the possibility of podcasting the chants, but so far no word. It’s apparently never occurred to them to record Psalms 23 and 27 in the chapel and sell it on YouTube for 99¢ a download.

I know my congregation would love to hear our seminarians opening up the Magnificat. With text-blocks I could preserve that sound forever.

Anglican chant is distinctive. It’s not Gregorian, it’s Anglican, and I’d like to get American voices singing modern psalm texts for world audiences, not just reproducing the beautiful but outdated English cathedral sound of the 1662 Prayer Book. It’s lovely but I want contemporary Americans singing in their own tongue, a modern translation, because Anglican chant has to be a living language to survive.

So I’ve got work to do.

Today I got a warning; my time here is not unlimited. I mean, paralysis does get my attention.

But I still have work to do before I turn these fantastically successful websites over to someone else.

Here was my spiritual experience, within an hour of my mini-stroke if that’s what it was.

I made this fast recovery from a finger that quit working (I’m still typing on all ten fingers, my left middle finger on DDDDD) and started posting Thursday’s Offices, which involve plugging in new Psalms, Lessons and Collect of the Day into a pre-existing template. I have about 10,000 files which include most of the Bible; psalm, Old Testament, New Testament, prayer; psalm, Gospel lesson, repeat the prayer. It isn’t clockwork, I constantly have to reformat my files as technology changes, but it isn’t that tough. I often get aggravated over the extra work, but humans like to complain and God doesn’t mind listening with half an ear.

Then I got this idea; why should we read the Magnificat when there are people singing it in community every day? Why not be able to listen and read simultaneously?

Not just the Magnificat and the Nunc, but all the psalms in their liturgical pairings; all the chants a visitor would hear at General Seminary or Holy Cross Monastery?

I can’t afford six weeks of hanging out at the seminary in New York to make a podcast a day; could I interest a seminarian in recording young Americans singing the psalms in community? Should I pay a student an honorarium to make such recordings? What techno already exists, since the seminary already podcasts sermons from the pulpit?

That’s when it happened, less than an hour after my neurological episode, when all ten fingers were working again. God visited me.

I didn’t hear a voice, I didn’t see a spectre; God doesn’t go for melodrama either, unless we’re too dip—- stupid to get it any other way. God’s preferred method of communicating, at least for me, is a loving, gentle, warm sensation in my body, a thrill down the back.

God’s usual way to show me s/he’s here is a little tingle somewhere; distinctive but no big thing. I suppose s/he talks back according to the quality of what we’re saying, our openness as we say it and pray it.

Well… not this time. What I got was one big top-to-bottom thrill-ride, which I took to mean “Yes, Anglican chant on the site, Evensong every day, not just reading. I reach people through art, through song, not just words.”

That was certainly impressive, at least as much as a wayward finger. But then it happened again, even stronger, bodylong. Which gave it a kind of command aspect; “Do this.”

There were very few times Jesus ever spoke in the imperative voice. He reserved it for the few times he gave orders. Very often he taught and gave advice, but seldom did he command and say, “Do this.”

He said it loud and clear at the Last Supper; the Eucharist, the Mass, the Holy Communion. Christians understand, when Jesus said do it, he meant it in no uncertain terms.

And here I was, getting something close to a command.

Jesus likes Anglican chant as much as I do!

Since I can’t take six weeks (the psalm cycle) in New York to make podcasts at the seminary, I’m exploring alternative ways to accomplish the same thing. I really don’t want Oxbridge videos from YouTube. They’re wonderful artistic and spiritual expressions, but they use archaic language when I’m an evangelist in 2010 USA.

(They also invariably say, “We’re high-class Brits and you’re not,” and that stuff bores me. If you want to see faith at work, go to Guatemala or New Orleans or Baghdad.)

So I’ve been given a clear sign of my mortality; a reprieve, an idea, an assignment. I don’t know what’s going to come next, though I know a lot will depend on my response to the call and confrontation.

I’m very grateful for the forgiveness accompanying the thrill, so soon after the quiet fright of paralysis.

A crossroads is before me. My job is to stay on the Way and keep working, not to succumb to the domestic violence, bullying, suicidalness and self-destruction I was programmed with long ago, just because I liked Julie Andrews, “My Fair Lady” and that sexy, untouchable high school quarterback.

This isn’t going to be easy, I will have to pray night and day to get over my addictions; but the Way is well-lighted if we look.++

Places I’ve Never Been

The Space Needle is nice, but I'd like to get to know the street scene in Seattle.

As I approach 60 years of age, I sometimes think about places in the U.S. I’ve never been to. I suppose it’s a self-indulgent fantasy; I can’t afford to travel much anymore. The poorhouse is one place I’ve never been to, but I just might move in one day.

I offer this partly to ask you, What are the places you’ve never seen, but want to get to? I bet we all have a list; here’s mine.

• The Pacific Northwest. I hear it rains all the time, and seldom gets what I’d consider warm. But Seattle sounds like an interesting place, and a good friend of mine is a native Oregonian who loves that state.

Also, I think a person should visit every part of the country if they can, to see what’s unique and distinctive there, so someday I’d like to go to the Northwest.

Trinity Church, Milton, Connecticut

• New England. I took a train from New York to Boston once for a memorable weekend with Avon “Pete” Gillespie, but we didn’t see much of the city. He was a music educator, one of the premier proponents of the Orff method, and what I most remember about the trip – well, besides what happened in the hotel – was his conducting, and my participating in, a workshop he held at a Catholic church. He taught me how to dance; he could teach music and movement to anybody. That weekend I saw what a star he was in his business. I miss him.

Besides Boston I’d like to go to the small towns. Recently a friend sent me his Beacon Guide to the Churches of New England, which I’ve always wanted to visit. The Episcopal Church, which I belong to, was given birth and nurtured after the Revolutionary War by the Diocese of Connecticut; I’d like to see Bishop Gene Robinson’s New Hampshire and meet all the Lesbians in Vermont. I’d like to taste real maple syrup for once; I’ve never had it. I’d like to get up to Maine and go to Acadia National Park. My first real mentor in life was married to a Cajun girl from Louziana, but the Acadian story starts in that area between Maine and Quebec.

• The Grand Canyon, which is on everybody’s list. I’d like to go through it rafting on the Colorado River, as well as see it from up top.

Recently the government build some kind of projecting observation point, which I’m really dubious about, but maybe I’d like it.

The sainted Queen Emma of Hawai'i

• Hawai’i. If there’s a paradise on earth and I know where it is, why do I not go there?

I’d like to visit places associated with King Kamehameha and Queen Emma, less because they were royals than because they were saints. I’d want to honor the Native Hawai’ians; every American should know and appreciate our Aboriginal peoples.

• The Gulf Coast. I’ve been to Central and South Florida several times, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Gainesville, Orlando, Daytona, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but I’ve never been on Florida’s west coast. Never been to Key West, for that matter. I was in Tallahassee once, taking a Greyhound after a visit to my father, and saw a Colored Only waiting room. I couldn’t wait for that bus to come to get me out of there.

Totally out of order. (Life Magazine)

Now I have a standing invitation from Calvary Church, Indian Rocks Beach in Southwest Florida, and I hope to get there. I’d like to visit Savannah and Mobile, too, maybe on my way to New Orleans and Lafayette.

• I haven’t really seen California very well. I’ve never been particularly attracted to Los Angeles with all its smog, but I’d like to see the redwoods and giant sequoias, so immense that they make a person feel very, very small and think about God.

I’ve been to San Francisco and Sacramento, but everyone ought to drive Highway 1. Big Sur would be nice, and there are lots of Gay visitors to Russian River, but I think the big attractions are the trees and the Pacific.

• Maryland and Delaware. I spent a night in Baltimore once, but it’s changed a lot since then. I think I’d like to visit Annapolis and eat my way through all the seafood shacks.

• U.S. Virgin Islands. I’m sending my fictional characters Jamie and Kent there on vacation, but all I know about the place is what I’ve gleaned online. Did you know that St. Croix has a national park with a snorkeling trail? It’s just a few miles from where Christopher Columbus first made land.

Snorkeling at Buck Island, USVI

Finally, one place in the United States that I have no intention of going to: Alaska. I don’t care that it’s big and beautiful and has a wonderful Native culture and all the other great resources in the state. It’s freakin’ cold up there and I ain’t goin’, not even in July. The whole idea of Alaska turns me off, and I haven’t even mentioned Half-Gov. Sarah Palin yet. A body like mine does not do Alaska, I would be miserable there. My skin would itch all the time. Give me heat and humidity, which Alaska ain’t got.

Did I mention that on St. Croix it’s always 83º? THAT’s my kind of place.

Where do you want to go?++

When Peter visited from Amsterdam, I took him to Abraham Lincoln State Park. Abe was elected president 150 years ago today.

What Would Jesus Do about the Corporate Takeover?

Battered and fried cheese.

I would love to pontificate about the midterm elections, but Rachel Maddow has already done it so well the world doesn’t need to hear it from me. She got it 98% right, and you can’t ask more than that.

(You might ask me about the other 2%, but that ends up being a discussion of fried cheese in Wisconsin. I’m from Indiana. I pray God we don’t fry cheese here, but we doubtless do.)

Big business oligarchs are taking over our country. Why would they not, after 60 years of corporate propaganda from “Leave It to Beaver” to Rachel Maddow? Here’s a Lesbian commentator paid for by Astra Zenica, whose pill for “erectILE” dysfunction, not erect-ILL, might kill you if you don’t pay attention.

Ms. Maddow is a great truth-teller, brought to you by insurance companies, e-traders and Big Pharma. If your erection lasts longer than X hours, do call 911.

The oligarchy is now in charge. Corporations now own the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives. Hidden corporate money financed most of the successful political campaigns. The corporate oligarchy is oh so close.

What would Jesus do? I think he’d overthrow their kiosks and condemn TV.

But for 60 years we’ve been willing to trade free, crummy sitcoms (which we now pay for on cable) for corporate propaganda; behold that gorgeous cheap Big Mac.

We sold our souls a long time ago; who now can be surprised that Sharron Angle said Hispanic students looked like Asians, or that Christine O’Donnell is not a witch?

Snap, crackle and pop; Americans are hooked on advertising and motivated by fear, while the Current Occupant has no idea how to say no. What can we do when a studly president insists on castrating himself?

I’m glad for his accomplishments, but totally unimpressed that he cannot defend them. Two years in, Barack Obama looks totally inept.

I was his county coordinator.++

Obama in Nairobi; the cheers have stopped in Indianapolis.