Sunday, October 31, 2010

today's service

I work in words. I'm comfortable there since it's been my method for dealing with reality since the drugs wore off. as a preacher I've scripted out nearly every word I've said, even down to side comments and asides.

so I was really taken aback when my computer ate the sermon I'd been working on friday night and the other sermons in the same file.

oh, I ranted and raved, if primarily inwardly. one of the great effects prozac has had on me is to mute much of my ranting and raving and keeping the lightning indoors. but my wife, who was good enough to help me try to recover the lost files, had a headache and the beginning of a sinus infection, and heard a tone in my voice suggesting I blamed her for the loss. that of course was not good or right. even I couldn't see how I could blame her but I apologized anyway since I'd rather be happy than right.

after I calmed I realized I'd been offered a gift. (I'm hesitant to put it that way since a gift implies a giver as well as a recipient, but leave that: being offered a gift sounds like the right wording.) I had the opportunity to create, from whole or nearly whole cloth, a new ceremony. my text had been about el dia de los muertos, the day of the dead, and its significance. I talked about the recent suicides of gay teens and the nasty words of clint mccance and the proximity of the day to yom kippur, all soul's and all saint's days, samhain, halloween, and thanksgiving, and was in the process of tying those spirtitual conversations and forgiveness together. there were observations about the saw and halloween movies and the george romero day of the dead and even a shoutout to tonight's premiere of amc's the walking dead series. it was shaping up nicely and who knows, maybe I'll still find it and resurrect it.

but my opportunity was to do something I've been loathe to do. to speak extemporaneously, from notes or an outline. I teach that way, but I've got the time and the space to do that in a classroom, where a written lecture seems out of place to me (and dull to my class). and for a moment I reflected that maybe such a thing is out of place and dull in church too.

THAT is an overwhelming thought. I haven't dared explore it any further, but I have totted up a series of bulleted doings for a new ceremony for the dead which include music, candles and herbs, constructing a tiny altar, and a guided meditation and room for response. will this work? I haven't a clue.

Performed at Dakota UU, Burnsville, MN
October 31, 2010

• Music (“L’Autunno” by Vivaldi)
• Light herbs
• Introduction to Dia de los Muertos
o Halloween
o All Saint’s Day
o All Soul’s Day
o Yom Kippur
o Thanksgiving
• Introduction to altars
o Rich
o “I have no altars”
• My experiences with Santarians
• Introduction to altar objects
o My mother
o My animals
o Who I was
• Poem (“My November Guest” by Robert Frost)
• Guided meditation
• Responses/Sharing

the introductions and meditation are all intended for extemporaneous speech. I've a rough idea what I'll say for each. the whole thing ought to last 20 minutes and I'll have to watch my clock assiduously since I'm only guessing. one or 2 elements can be dumped at the last moment, and I'm comfortable with that. we'll see how she goes.

Friday, October 29, 2010

friday night reading

"we are on that holy day [yom kippur] like the dry bones of ezekiel, knowing that we are frail, knowing that we are finite. it is as if we were given a reprieve. we may be dying, but we are not dead yet! in that sense, the philosopher hans jonas teaches that mortality is the gift the living give to the future. the wonder of life, awesome and terrible, is that it renews itself constantly by sloughing off the old and by embracing the new. just as we thrill that infants and children refuse to do things the way they have always been done, bringing a relentless energy to their lives and to ours, so too do we know that what is old breaks down and gives way before the young. life is this cascading process of endless renewal splashing across the millenia toward greater diversity, greater experience, greater relationship, and greater connection."

--from "ever dying, never dead--that's life!" by rabbi bradley shavit artson in the september/october tikkun

Monday, October 25, 2010

my book collection

Some Fiction

in the case of fiction I often have to fudge the years I collect since it often took years either for a novel to be embraced by the counterculture or for a member of the counterculture to get it together enough to write a novel. one of the novels I'm especially sorry to have lost over the years is applegather by john bart gerald, not because it's now so rare and relatively costly, but because it was probably the first novel to give me the idea it would be worthwhile to collect these books.

  • Jean Genet. Our Lady of the Flowers. Bantam. 1964. (first bantam paperback; no ISBN or lib of congress number; I bought it at manny's, given the distinctive penned price)

  • Gino Sky. Appaloosa Rising: The Legend of the Cowboy Buddha. Doubleday. 1980. ISBN 0385153872. (spent a few years cooped up in one of those milk crates in the back of the bloodmobile, hence its sorry state)

  • Walter M. Miller, Jr. A Canticle for Leibowitz. Lippincott. 1959. First edition. Lib of congress number 605735.

  • John Kennedy Toole. A Confederacy of Dunces. Louisiana State University Press. 1980. Third printing. ISBN 0807106577. (another library copy)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

johnny thunders died for your sins!

I'm tempted to write something like "it's a month of deaths," but it's always a month of deaths, isn't it? some months are just longer or shorter than others. ari up died last thursday, and while her name won't be known well to modern punks, her group ought to be. of the slits and their initial offering, "a boring life," greil marcus famously wrote

"Nothing could keep up with it. Shouting and shrieking, out of guitar flailings the group finds a beat, makes a rhythm, begins to shape it; the rhythm gets away and they chase it down, overtake it, and keep going. Squeaks, squeals, snarls, and whines--unmediated female noises never before heard as pop music--course through the air as the Slits march hand in hand through a storm they themselves have created. It's a performance of joy and revenge, an armed playground chant; every musical chance is taken, and for these women playing the simplest chord was taking a chance: their amateurism was not enlightened."

we tend to overbow much to the god of professionalism and I'm as guilty of doing that as anyone, and in my professional (irony intended) life as a teacher I may even be guiltier than most--but as I've tried to argue here there is much to be said for enthusiasm and the sheer gutsiness of doing something you've never tried and don't know how to do and making a message with it. that's the essence of both punk and of spirituality: few of us are professional singers but we sing hymns every sunday or when the spirit moves us. arianna forster at 14 was a prime and cogent example of the drive of that, even before johnny rotten became her stepdad. “You cannot be a female artist on the wild side, very passionate and self-expressive, without being formed at least in part by Ari,” [Vivien] Goldman said. “In her feral 14-year-old way, she did represent a new archetype of womanhood.”

requiescat in pace, ari up. now let's get happy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

inaugurating "not worth my time"

for the second time in 11 years I have tried to read lee seigel's love in a dead language, and for the second time I have been thrust unceremoniously out of the dream by the pedantic and officious dead language of the book. I really want to like the book, and at least this time I made it through the foreward and to the end of the third chapter, but even that was only page 18. peeking ahead I find no change in the silly language that is too redolent of love poetry written by 60-somethings about 20-somethings, all "her thighs, her lips, her breasts, the way she says 'fuck'". there is something to be said for the veracity I suppose that siegel brings to this novel of a one-sided love affair and its results, but the something I would say is that it is too much about too little. at least this time I enjoyed the time given over to wordplay, such as the following:

"while roth certainly knew how to type, and he did use a computer for correspondence, university documents, academic papers, and other projects, he undertook the composition of the present manuscript in longhand, using a koh-i-noor fountain pen. 'you'll understand, saighal,' he grinned almost demonically shortly before his death, 'it's one of those charades that we've talked about: penis--pen is.' 'a pen is required to write' equals 'a penis required to write.' paper is womb, ink indelible sperm, and the charade proves it--'ink is semen: drip erotic all mankind!' equals 'in kiss, emend ripe rot: I call man "kind."'"

clever, but too clever by several degrees, and it's in the form of a footnote. feh. for the loss of an hour of my life I'll never get back and an expenditure of my wee bear brain in useless travesty, I award lee siegel's novel a zappa.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

embracing my nerditude

in keeping with my previous "what if" posts in which I consider how various religions might respond to proof of alien life, here is a wonderful list. one of my intentions this year is to be more forthright about my nerditude, to embrace my geekiness, all that sort of thing, and as a result I am reading up on more sf websites, including topless robot. it doesn't claim a whole lot of relevence or brainspace and usually has at least one laugh a day for me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

franconia notch

in this dream I was homeless again and a group of us had been taken in by the young owner of a store--it might have been a pet store--and given blankets and pillows and allowed to sleep on the floor. it was actually pretty nice, a feeling like a big teen sleepover, although it got confusing when the place opened up and customers started walking around.

one girl settled down next to me on the floor and we shared a blanket and talked about our travels. she was from a town near the franconia notch in new hampshire and I have some fond memories of hiking there. that was really all this dream was about, was sharing some happy memories with another person about a place I liked in a relaxed, if somewhat outre, atmosphere.

(and speaking of atmosphere, I was also aware in my dream of eyedea's death over the weekend and somehow that had an impact on me. this then is as good a place as any to say goodbye to him.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

watching him

it was a meeting like most meetings I've attended: long, dull, and nothing to do with me. I was there in my capacity as intern to observe church process and administration and it was a typical church board meeting. until things were running late and some attempts to quicken the pace led to extra work being pressed on a congregant volunteer whose suggestions that the board get acquainted with new social media before determining a social media policy had been met with barely concealed contempt both for that media and people who participate in it. the visitor stomped out in a huff, someone chided the chair, "that was very rude and humiliating," and the meeting, rather than wrapping up in 5 minutes, went on another half hour.

I don't regret the meeting. I left tired and just wanting to be home and in bed with my family. I called my wife a couple times on the drive--one of our dogs, the one with picophilia aggravated by allergies, had been eating carpet fiber again and had a belly full of it and she had driven him to the animal emergency clinic in oakdale for surgery. he was an older dog, 13, and hadn't come out of surgery well, but over the hours had been progressing to the point he was resting more comfortably. she called back after checking in with the vets again: he had spiked at 100+ temperature but was cooling down and, while groggy, was responding to them and wagging his tail. it looked like he'd sleep the night and recover in the morning.

I'd nearly reached the wisconsin border 5 minutes later when she called back. "the clinic just called. merlin's in arrest, his temperture has gone up to 109, and they're doing cpr. can you get there?"

I said of course I could. my wife was crying, sniffing and bawling. we knew he was dying and she wanted someone with him. she couldn't make it. I turned around at the bridge and headed back on 94 at 85, keeping the line open so she and I could be together while I drove. I don't remember half the things either of us said, I just remember saying, "I'm at manning now;" "I'm on the ramp now;" "I'm on 10;" "I see the sign."

the clinic called on the house phone to say he wasn't responding to cpr and asking if she wanted them to discontinue. she said, "he's almost there." I rounded the corners and pulled into the lot, told her, "I'm here, I'll call you in a minute," and rushed inside. a girl met me at the door to let me in and take me in back.

his little white body was on his side, his belly shaved white and stapled, and a woman standing next to him, rhythmically pressing down on his chest while another inflated and deflated a bag whose tube was shoved in his throat. when I reached the table I touched him and I swear I felt his leg shiver the way he did when he was asleep and I gently touched him to wake him. the doctor was saying things to me that she needed to say, but all I caught was the drift that there was some more surgical things they could do but she didn't think he would survive those. I asked if I could be at his head and they moved around to accomadate me.

his eyes were focused on something directly ahead of him. his heart was still beating. I said, "hi, buddy, it's okay, it's all okay," and let my hand settle on his head in the space between his ears where his fur was soft and his head warm the way he liked me to do. I said, "you can discontinue now, it's okay," and they immediately stopped. I have seen many animals die in my life, and a lot of them animals I loved, and his eyes dimmed and blackened the way that animals' eyes do. I told him repeatedly he was a good dog and he was loved and it was all all right.

the doctor asked if I wanted to spend time alone with him and I cried. I cried like I hadn't cried for my mother when she died or for my older dog who'd been with me nearly 17 years. they wrapped him in a blanket and took me to a room with couches and soft lights and laid him on my lap. I kept stroking him. I called my wife, said, "merlin's dead," and cried some more. "he's still warm," I kept saying while I patted him and held him and we cried together. his fur was still so soft and silky, the sheen of polar bear fur, and I couldn't get enough of touching it.

I was on the phone with her I don't know how long before the vet came back, asking if I wanted more time. I said no, I felt I was finished, and asked if she'd take a photo of me holding him. she said of course, and we prepared him. I asked if we could have his ashes in a specific metal urn like we have other pets' ashes in and she said one of the vet techs would show me the book where I could order it. I asked too if we could have a paw print in baked clay like we had with other pets and she said of course.

the vet kept saying, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." I told her, "it's all right, I understand, it's okay." my wife would tell me later that the vet had been certain he was on the rebound when she'd spoken with her, and the vet tech would tell me the vet had decided at the last minute to take one more glance at him before she retired for the night. it all happened so fast. when I arrived, everyone was crying, the techs and the vet, the women surrounding him. everyone was caught flatfooted. I found myself in a familiar position, that of counseling the counselors around me, telling them it was all right, I knew it was a surprise and everything would be okay, I was fine.

we did paperwork and I paced in the lobby a lot, just working off energy. I called my wife again in the lobby and again when I left. I had his print in clay, his collar, and a tuft of fur I'd asked for. the drive home was long and I hit the scan button on the radio and just let sound wash over me. I dreaded pulling into the driveway because I knew it meant it had all happened and getting home meant it had been real.

my wife with wide red eyes sat on the couch surrounded by dogs and cats. we wept and held one another. then I put my shoes back on and went out to take the garbage bins to the road because it was garbage night and the truck that came every 2 weeks would be by in the morning.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

my book collection

one of my favorites of my collection is the 1970 the alternative, a supposed sociological study of communes that just aches with the whistfulness that hippies and the young had for the transformative power that seemed to lie before them.

primarily a photobook, it focuses on several rural and urban communes including new buffalo, lorien, messiah's world crusade, the hog farm, the lama foundation, drop city, and koinonia farm--some of which continue, most of which don't--as well as abortive attempts at new institutions like shasta free high school and elder statesentities like the l.a. free clinic.

like much of my collection, the alternative traveled around the country in one of several milk crates and I remember thumbing through it sitting beside small fires or parked under some parking lot's lights, imaging what could be. I still pull it down and flip through it. it's a mini-woodstock with all that term suggests.
william hedgepeth and dennis stock. the alternative: communal life in new america. collier books. 1970. first edition.

Monday, October 11, 2010

johnny thunders died for your sins! (3)

X See How We Are
Uploaded by Celtiemama. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

jesus christ, what a great song. I let my class out early this afternoon and on the drive home I was thinking about the way the golden light played across the fields in the distance and a memory of dancing in the twilight to this song came back to me. remembering the song reminded me of the following which was written a few years back when I was the commissioned lay leader for the menomonie uniterian universalist congregation further out on the rim. part of my duties included writing a paper pulpit for the local newspaper 2ce a year and I think this was the last one I did before they ended that practice. I suspect mine was the only one to have quite this message. what's left out of it, of course, because of space constraints is the dancing alone in the twilight with my car as a partner, buying the tape for $14 when the cost of cassette tapes was hard on a guy sleeping in his car, trying to duplicate in my journal the welling-up that happened in my chest when I listened to x and how that translated into actions like picking up hitchhikers and giving people my money when they looked like they needed it more than I did.

By Bob Bledsoe, Commissioned Lay Leader
Unitarian Society of Menomonie

Twenty years ago when I was living in my car I had a religious conversion. This wasn’t the normal type of conversion you might generally hear of: it wasn’t to Christianity or Judaism or Krishna Consciousness, all of which I’d experimented with. It was a conversion to both a music and a view of life. I was converted to punk.

Punk as a musical form had come and gone a decade before in response to the lush excesses of Fleetwood Mac and late-era Beatles, but it was enjoying a second wave, focused primarily on loudness and speed. I had a 78 Dodge Aspen station wagon with an AM/FM radio and an old boom box on the front seat whose tape player was held shut with duct tape. I had a batch of tapes—The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Talking Heads—I listened to during those long stretches between radio signals. But the tape I listened to over and over was See How We Are by the Los Angeles group X. I admit it: I was sort of in love with chunky poet Exene Cervenka and her long, multicolored proto-dreads and her weirdly throaty vocals.

I’d bought the tape for the uplifting tune “Fourth of July,” but I kept getting drawn back to the title track. John Doe’s lyrics like, “Now there are seven kinds of Coke / 500 kinds of cigarettes / This freedom of choice in the USA drives everybody crazy / But in Acapulco / Well they don't give a damn / About kids selling Chiclets with no shoes on their feet,” meant more to me, and meant more in a more immediate way, than any number of verses I’d read from the Bible or any of the Sutras I’d committed to memory or any lessons from the Bhagavad-Gita. They spoke to me of a consumer-oriented society whose War on Poverty had already tipped over into a War on the Poor, where I’d been taught that living a life that was hard or where I had less was commensurate with living a less important life.

If there is one lesson to punk it is “make-do.” Do it yourself. Don’t like what’s on the radio? Make your own music. Don’t like your home life? Make a new family. Got holes in your shoes? Wrap them with duct tape or go barefoot until you can find another pair. What I heard in punk and especially in the music of X was that, while I had a hard life, I didn’t need to live like a bum. Early in my travels I’d met a guy who’d been on the road more years than I would and who explained that the difference between a bum and a vagabond was that “a bum doesn’t brush his teeth.” The vagabond made his own changes was more in control of his life than the bum, to whom things just “happened.” The vagabond recognized his reliance on others and cared for himself so not to offend before introductions had even been made.

Thereafter, no matter where I was, no matter how little water I had access to, I brushed my teeth every morning. It was a matter of my pride. I would be a vagabond instead of a bum. The lesson I took from punk was that to live a hard life doesn’t mean I had to live an undignified life. Punk was like Judaism and Islam: a hard life conferred on you extra responsibility to live a more dignified life.

We read in scriptures of the changes that holy persons made in the religions they proposed and the care they took about taking others into account, and it’s in exactly this way that Krishna, the Buddha, Bahá'u'lláh, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and any number of other holy people up to and including Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are punks. This is the kernel of punk spirituality: recognition that others have as much right to the world as you do yourself and that right is non-negotiable. See how we are and accept us.

I am nearing fifty and it’s been more than a decade since I’ve ventured into a mosh pit. Chunky myself now, between my long hair and my ties, people are more likely to think “aging English professor” than “aging punk.” That’s all right. The cleft between groups is often more accentuated by outsiders than by members of the groups. I looked any number of years for a religion that reflected this, for a way to connect with my larger community more completely than when I was a skinny punk cleaning out bars. Religion is where our communities plunge deepest, and Christianity and Judaism and Sufism all had things to commend them, as did Buddhism and Taoism, but I found the most welcoming of my punk mindset is Unitarian Universalist. It’s often denigrated as a cafeteria religion, but with its focus on the law’s effects on the people rather than the Law, on the spirit of the people rather than the Spirit, and its willingness to embrace both people and change, it gave me the best opportunity to combine my love for what’s inside with what’s out. For further information about the aims and beliefs of the Unitarian Society of Menomonie, please visit our website at For more information on Unitarian Universalism, please visit

Saturday, October 9, 2010

my book collection

in honor of john lennon's 70th birthday I've published the picture to the right. the book to which it's the cover--photographs annie leibovitz 1970-1990--isn't a part of my collection, although the copy I own is a first edition. back in the 70s I had a copy of this book which I am certain was not the first paperback edition. I'd probably picked it up at a flea market or garage sale, read it, been confused by it, and given it away.

the two books below are, in contrast to my last post, early acquisitions. note the hard wear and tear: both made the trip with me during my car-living years, shoved into a milk crate in haphazard fashion, just so they fit. I'm fairly certain I got both of them at manny's art supply in new paltz: that was where I got a lot of books in the early 80s.

annie leibovitz. photographs 1970-1990. harpercollins. 1991. ISBN 0060166088. first edition (I've still got the tissue paper dust jacket, tho it has wrinkles and several tears).

frederick s. perls, m.d., ph.d. in and out the garbage pail. real people press. lib of cong number 7096895. 1969. first paperback edition.

stephen gaskin. volume one: sunday morning services at the farm. the book publishing company. ISBN 913990086. undated (probably 1978 since the last sermon noted is from march 1977). first edition.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

my book collection

for the last few years I've collected books on and about and by the counterculture published between 1967 and 1975. most of them are 1st editions but a lot are not. much of my collection is gathered from library sales and castoffs and occasionally dollar bins at used bookstores. the books themselves will never be worth much--many of them still have library call numbers attached as well as other scratches and dents and stains--but I collect them because I think there ought to be a collection from this period.

here are my 5 most recent acquisitions, all culled free from inver hills library's recent purge:
  • dick gregory. editor james mcgraw. the shadow that scares me. doubleday. lib of cong card number 68-10561. 1968. first edition.
  • don l. lee. from plan to planet. broadside press. lib of cong card number 72-94350. 1974. second edition.
  • albert b. cleage, jr. the black messiah. search books, sheed and ward. lib of cong card number 68-9370. 1969. first paperback edition.
  • vine deloria, jr. we talk, you listen: new tribes, new turf. macmillan. lib of cong card number 72-126508. 1970. second edition.
  • amiri baraka (leroi jones). raise race rays raze: essays since 1965. random house. ISBN 039446222X. 1971. first edition. (note that this one was obviously shelved in a sunny area: the spine is so faded as to be unreadable.)

woodstock altar

in the late 80s I lived in my car while working at sunflower health food store in woodstock (yes, that woodstock), but I went inside when winter came. I took up an offer by my friend rich to live in the upstairs rooms he never used of the house he rented about 4 miles out of town, from which I'd commute by riding my bike or walking.

rich was tall and gawky, skinny as the most stereotypical vegan, with long, frizzy hair that trailed midway down his back in a single solid braid. he wore thick glasses and spoke in a thin falsetto that sounded fake when you first heard it, but soon you'd realize that really was his speaking voice. he'd lived for a years alone on the first floor of an old farmhouse located at the end of a short road on which the only other house was that of his landlord, a retired bachelor farmer who'd built his own home there himself over the course of decades. when I was eventually asked to leave 6 months later--at this period of my life I never chose to leave someplace, I was always asked--it was because the farmer observed that since I'd moved in there'd been a decided pickup of people visiting and driving that lonely road that had only known his own and rich's cars. (this was true: many people came to visit me there, but generally only one at a time. rachayl my orthodox sabra actually lived with me in those rooms for about 2 months, although she didn't have her own car).

rich had created what probably began as a small memorial but had grown over the years into a huge shrine to a woman he had dated for a short time before she died from leukemia. it was on the first floor: the whole floor was one large room and where he slept (and where the shrine was located) was adjacent to the entrance to the kitchen, so it wasn't unusual to pass the shrine 3 or 4 times a day. rich had darkened the whole first floor by tacking blankets over the doors and windows and the shrine was lit by candles and little electric lights. it was kind of creepy: there were pictures of the 2 of them together, of course, and her journal and books that had been important to her; there were locks of her hair which is somewhat cresting the creepy zone; but there were also things like unused tampax that had been in her purse when she was ill and a dirty fork from the last meal they ate out together (everything was labeled [!]). when I saw rich last about 12 years ago he had married and moved. I did not ask if his wife had allowed the shrine to travel with them.

for years I've taken rich's obsession as unusual and unhealthy, but it may be that with age comes wisdom or it may be that with distance comes acceptance of some kind, but I think I have found in my reading of woodruff some way to touch on rich's shrine in a respectful way. woodruff quotes approvingly of oliver wendell holmes' poem "the chambered nautilus" in relation to reverence and the home and says of it:

"a shellfish hangs no pictures on its walls, and we cannot imagine a mollusk standing in reverent awe of the wholeness that families seek when they make a home. still, the image of the nautilus is powerful. the chambers grow smoothly, each out of the smaller one that is left behind, and the whole history of the animal is carried in the shining spiral of its home. the things we do to make a home out of a shelter may form a linked succession as we outgrow our old quarters and stretch into new ones. in this image, there is nothing confining about home; it is not a prison or a cage...home is a place to expand, or to expand in, and to expand smoothly..."

rich was alone, at least partly by choice, and I suspect that even married he has remained in some senses alone. to hear him talk of this woman was to hear him talk as if she'd been his soul mate, cruelly taken from him, and maybe that's the way he sees it. but I think in constructing that ever-accumulating shrine he was trying to build a shelter for the way he thought he should navigate the world: connected, a mixture of the profound and the trivial, encompassing every act of life and unafraid of proclaiming the personal as, if not political, then public.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


"to forget that you are only human, to think you can act like a god--this is the opposite of reverence. ancient greeks thought that tyranny was the height of irreverence, and they gave the famous name of hubris to the crimes of tyrants. an irreverent soul is arrogant and shameless, unable to feel awe in the face of things higher than itself. as a result, an irreverent soul is unable to feel respect for people it sees as lower than itself--ordinary people, prisoners, children. the two failures go together, in both greek and chinese traditions. if an emperor has a sense of awe, this will remind him that heaven is his superior--that he is, as they said in ancient china, the son of heaven. and any of us is better for remembering that there is someone, or Someone, to whom we are children; in this frame of mind we are more likely to treat all children with respect. and vice versa: if you cannot bring yourself to respect children, you are probably deficient in the ability to feel that anyone or anything is higher than you."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

on price charlson

I was thinking earlier this week about the short time I claimed to be a philosophy student--this was in between the years I was a secondary education student and a dance student--and was wondering whatever had happened to price charlson, one of my professors at suny new paltz. I looked him up, but he seems to have vanished. google notes a lot of his publications, the most recent of which is 1980, a few years before I studied with him.

after that his existence seems to simply peter out. he's not listed as either a professor or an emeritus on the current suny-new paltz philosophy department's website, and there are no other listings for him, whether he's teaching at another school--doubtful, since I think he's upwards of his late 80s by now--or his death. there is a letter to his alma mater's magazine posted in 2007, but on further examination it was originally published in 1964. it's as if he has become an unperson.

I don't think that should happen to anybody. and in the event anyone else googles his name to find him, I'd like there to be some reflection of him available. to that event I've been recalling as much as I can of charlson.

  • he was a short, squat man with a perpetual slump who looked like he should have shuffled but took deliberate steps like he was always walking across ice floes;

  • he seemed to be always drunk, and he might have been because every time I got near him he smelled like alcohol; but for all I know he was diabetic and his blood sugar was perpetually low. I did see him most evenings for at least a little while at bacchus in new paltz, where he comandered a table near the front windows and sat by himself for hours, even during the most raucous nights when it seemed like everyone in town was there, sipping a glass of red wine. people would mill around his seat, as if silently demanding by their presence that he give up his table. I'm not aware that he ever did. he left each evening at around 9 or 10:00 and wouldn't budge before then;

  • the rumor had it that he took in young men new to the college and rented a room to them in his large house for less than most places, in exchange for sexual favors. I never heard that from anyone who claimed to have been one of those young men;

  • I studied with him in 4 classes and the one I remember best was about existentialism. it was a small seminar of 4 of us and we read the first two-thirds of heidegger's being and time. on the first day of class he walked in and switched off the lights, saying, "by all rights we should study this book at 5:00 on a cold morning when there's no heat and in dim light." he made a point of switching off the lights each time we held class no matter how cloudy it was (and I think that class was in fall so there were lots of rainy, cloudy days).

  • the last time I saw him was in the early 90s on the street in new paltz. he was dressed the way he had always been--dark suit and tie, brown oxfords, dark overcoat--and carrying his briefcase that swung almost jauntily in contrast to the way he walked. I didn't see where he might have gone to but since it was late afternoon I suspect it was to bacchus to start his night.

(the photo of course is not of price charlson--I can't find any--but is of jean-paul sartre who, except for the wayward eye and a twist of dark hair across his brow, charlson resembled.)