Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A Brief Introduction to an Old Friend



Some of us didn't die. That's obvious now, but it wasn't at the time. Far too many people -- a generation -- did die as a result of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: friends, family, lovers, strangers, artists, innocent babies and villains like Roy Cohen. People still do die of it, but for gay men of our generation, there was an agonizingly long stretch when it felt like we all would sooner than later. Then a lucky few lived long enough to just survive. New medicines, new hope. New lives? Well, sorta. Pleasantly surprised doesn't do it justice, but calling it a miracle still sounds unseemly when we think of all those for whom it came too late. As Browning said, “how sad and bad and mad it was - but then, how it was sweet.” 

Brian Bouldrey's novel is that rarest of fictions that tells the ever-after. I can't really think of another in this context. There were tragedies of course, tributes, valedictories, memorials, memoirs, politics, yards and yards of poetry, and fiction long and short. Much of it was good, all of it was necessary and some of it should last. But who tells us the story after the surprise party, the days, weeks, and years after the happy ending? And who on earth would read it?

Well, not nearly enough did. By the time The Boom Economy, Scenes from Clerical Life was originally published in 2003, the fashion had changed, the news had cycled on, and the market for gay fiction was not what it had been, or so we were being told all the damned time. And this story? 

It's 1999, in Vancouver, BC, and three unlikely friends, Isabelle, Jimmy, and Dennis are sitting in a most unlikely bar, and no-one is having a very good time, except us:

"They studied the menus, full of too many choices that tried to span the cuisines: chop suey, burritos, spaghetti, hamburgers. Dennis felt queasy around such icky heterodoxies, common along the Pacific Rim. In San Francisco there were at least four shops called 'Chinese Food and Donuts,' and other stores sold Indian Food and Pizza,' 'Deli, Ice, Bait, and Liquor.' Was there nothing pure left in the world? Sex and food, both nice ideas, but not together. Even if he were his old self, unvested."

Come on. That's delicious because nothing sounds good together except those sentences. And did you catch that last word? Sneaky.

Our hero Dennis Bacchus has not died and neither has his best friend, Jimmy but that is not the story, though it would seem to be the point. Seem. Dennis has decided to become a priest. Of all things. The world is new. And yet, old friends and old habits -- made with every expectation of mortality -- carry on. And maybe that's the point? Remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the ride is starting again, so hang on. Bouldrey is a traveler of the best kind; excitable, brave, peripatetic and genuinely good company even when or specially when things are not altogether as they should be. Life happens in his fiction and as in life, real life, some of its pretty ghastly but even the worst of it can be entertaining and the best of it quite moving when it is written this well. Even the simplest thing can be beautiful and funny, as when we first meet dear Isabelle, very French, on a train six years earlier: 

"Out on the platform, he saw a girl get on, maybe twenty years old at most, in a short skirt that was pink with white polka dots. She had no hat, but she should have had one, to match her little brown suitcase. She was not sacking Europe."

As George Eliot says, "Nice distinctions are troublesome." I would just add that here is another writer who knows how to make the most of trouble. Dennis, our hero, the survivor and would-be priest, is trouble -- also troubled, troubling, and distinctly unsuited for either sainthood or Hell. Asceticism seems to suit him, but then so did being a bit of a sybarite, back in the day.

"He'd been trying to get away from all his stuff for years now, the things, the friends, the sex, the freedom burdens all. But oh, the pleasures (...) Dennis loved the pleasure and its attending pain: the bee's sting that is the price of honeycomb, tickling, the rose and its thorns, attempting to tell a joke to Isabelle in French, buttfucking, a productive cough, horror films, cracking walnuts to get their meat, the goofy, funny last words of a dying friend, the spectacular crash to the floor of an ornate dish."

Perhaps that's another reason this particular novel was denied a proper audience back in the day. Perhaps we were all still a bit too tender? Maybe we weren't quite ready yet to have our assumptions about romance and death and the nobility of our poetic cliches mixed quite so barbarously and brilliantly up and dropped like a sack of angry cats on our doorstep?

Why we should want to read it or reread it now. The spiritual journey of a man redeemed from death would be about as interesting as it sounds. It happens. Meh. But this isn't that novel. Yes, it's about a man in search of all sorts, from assignations to abjuration, from God to guide-books. And yes, Dennis is in flight from his past, from the jokes and the friends and fun that may not have been (poor Jimmy), but that isn't the point of reading it now. It's the voice. That's the point of it now. There hadn't frankly been anything quite like it then and there hasn't really been since, alas. 

And the times described, and the characters met, can now be read without the burden of our aching self importance then. Sad but true. Surely the world would note? But, no. There were very few writers of Bouldrey's generation who entirely escaped that rather formal, almost Cornelian hauteur and nobility of profile in the face of you know what. For all his generosity of heart, and the accuracy of his time-keeping, Brian Bouldrey takes everything so seriously that he can't help but occasionally laugh. It is redeeming. Poor, dear, benighted Dennis! Perhaps if he got a decent haircut? 

"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." So said the very lamentably long late Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship. I wouldn't know. Theology is not my subject. Maybe Brian could explain that to me, though I wouldn't dream of asking. Questions are better than answers anyway, particularly and perhaps peculiarly in novels. For me, having read my friend's novel again after nearly twenty years, the question he asks is better than the theologian's mystery because the paradox makes me smile. What happens when a man is called to live? No less profound, I should think.  The answer, if there is one, is up to you, dear reader, to find or not herein.

I can't think of better company on the way.



 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

My Dear Clerihew


ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

Sherlock requiring a foil,
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Slots in Watson --
To tie knots in.


Daily Dose


From The Portable Rabelais, selected and translated by Samuel Putnam

YOU SAY

"I'm a creator, you say, and of what? Why, look at all those nice little creditors!"

From Book Third: Pantagruel, Panurge Praises Debtors and Borrowers

Friday, July 10, 2020

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann

WOW

“I've got a library copy of Gone with the Wind, a quart of milk and all these cookies. Wow! What an orgy!” 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Help Me Now


I'm not going to lie, I don't know that I have a damned thing to say. And I can't help but feel, it's not my place to talk.

I'll try to explain.

I'm listening to Mavis Staples. Have been for I don't know how long. Years of course, but tonight? At least an hour now. Longer. Listening to her sing with an Irish boy named Hozier, on a great song called, "Nina Cried Power." Then her most recent album, We Get By, with Ben Harper. Then all those  otherworldly, immortal recordings of The Staple Singers. I listen to "Great Day" and just her father's opening guitar is enough to make me cry.

"Who shall be able to stand?"

Nobody needs me to say this is hard, that these are hard times, that times continue hard for more than not. I'm pretty sure I don't need to tell you. I have no right to tell anyone's hard times back to them as if I was there, or did a thing about it much worth doing, or as if their hard times were mine.

Come to that, this music from which I draw inspiration and strength and catharsis, this music isn't mine. I've no right to it. I can only accept it as a great gift, an act of unearned generosity. Hell, I don't even share the faith from which so much of this music came. And to say that this music is art, great art -- which it is -- does not entitle me to any share in it. I am no part of such a dispensation and can only be grateful to have found a quiet place to listen to what I frankly may not and may never deserve.

All I can be is humble. Do you understand?

I wish I did. I wish I knew. I wish I knew what to do and what to do next and what to do after that. I won't say that I wish I could help. (Was there ever a more meaningless contribution to any conversation than that?) I can't do nothing, so I don't, but what have I done to change myself, and my country, and the world that I might not have done anyway, when so much more is required, even if I don't know what all that might be?

Lately, one thing I've felt the need to do more of was shut the fuck up. (I told that to somebody recently and they smiled and said, "that's harsh", but they didn't tell me I was wrong. I'm not.) I still remember the first time somebody told me how important my silence as a white man could be. It was my first time ever in a Women's Studies class. First day, there were about four men. By the second session, there was just me and one other fellow and he either had the sense to not, or a general disinclination to speak up. Not me. About the third time that class met, we had a guest speaker. It was an evening class, and because it didn't meet as often as a day class we stayed longer and had a break after the first hour. When the break came, the speaker came up to me and took me aside in the hall. Ever so gently she burned me right down to the ground. She asked me to look at all the women in that class, and specifically at the women of color and see if I could remember any of their names. Did I remember any of them asking a question, as I did so often? Had I listened to any one of them as I seemed to expect the teacher and all of them to listen to me? She explained to me that women, even grown, better educated, far more intelligent women might defer to me, as a man, even a boy, might let me talk over them as I had, and she could not have that happen again. However good my intentions in taking that class, I brought who I was with me. Time I looked at that before I spoke again. That woman never raised her voice to me and when she saw I was shaken by the things she'd said, she took my arm to comfort me -- me -- and said she wasn't going to call on me again, but if I had any questions she'd stay after class and answer them if she could and did I understand why? And I began to, right there and then.

This is not such a different place we are in now. Makes me sad to say it, but it isn't. Not for women, not for African Americans, not for me. Am I different? Are we?

Nobody needs me to count the ways we are and are not and yet might be.

Another time I remember tonight. I had just started dating the man with whom I would come to spend my life, hadn't even moved in with him yet. I was getting a ride from a friend and like any fool in love I must have talked a blue streak about how wonderful he was and how handsome he was and how lucky I was and on and on I went and my friend? My friend was genuinely excited for me. Neither one of us might have foreseen my good luck, frankly. My friend was a dancer and cute as could be: with thick, natural curls -- it was the eighties -- and long, black lashes with which he could paint a barn, and he was adorable. Were we going to a party? Coming home from a movie? I don't remember. I just remember that when we got where we were going, my lover was there and I got to introduce him to my friend. Nice. Again, someone took me aside then, this time it was my friend and he was furious with me. Why hadn't I told him my boyfriend was black?! Again, I did not understand.  It had never occurred to me to mention that I guess, just as it had never occurred to me that my friend, that a gay man my own age, could have a problem with this. And then he couldn't admit that he did. "It was just such a shock," was what he said.

And again, not just from that instance but probably starting there, I had to learn that being gay did not  of itself make any of us not racist. It sounds stupid to even say this now, but somehow I had thought one thing led naturally to the next, that our oppression made us sympathetic if nothing else to the oppression of others. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn't. The point being that it wasn't enough to change us, any of us, of itself, that sympathy when it was even there. My sympathy didn't change me, didn't lift me anywhere out of who I was, where I lived, what I did. If I changed at all it was because I had to and to the extent that I have, I have had to do that work and still have work to do.

So am I to be congratulated? Do I deserve praise for contributing less than I might have done to the hard times of others? Am I now, unbelievably expecting to be thanked for perhaps taking slightly less advantage than I otherwise might have consciously done as a man? As a white man? Now as an adult man?

Or ought I to sit down? Is that what I should do now?

I am inside my own house and glad to be here. I am with someone I love and that is lucky. I believe in that luck because I know as you can't how many times I might have lost it. I am glad not to go out unless I have to and to try not to bring anything home with me that might kill my husband whose health is even less certain than my own. With this at least I am certain of the right thing.

What else though?

Black lives matter, but how much do they matter to me? Other than the people to whom I am now related, to the people I know and love, to my friends, what do I owe to all the others? To the people who are being murdered by the police, what do I owe them? To the men and women who are marching, what do I owe them? To the people who have made my life possible, to the artists who have made my life better, to the people who may be killed tomorrow, what do I owe them?

And to the people I still know who do not understand even the little that I do of our history and who deny the moment we are in, what do I owe them? To the people I may know who still would deny the humanity of George Floyd, what do I owe them? To the people who will not so much as wear a mask at the grocery store, what do I owe them? To the people who continue to support a criminal administration, who would preserve the symbols and the systems of racism and colonialism and economic injustice, what do I owe them?

"If you're ready, yeah
Come on go with me"

That's from another great song from the Staples Singers. I'm listening to it now, again. Well, am I ready?

Mavis Staples has been quoted as saying that she sings these songs, her songs, her family's songs, to inspire us, to keep us going, to lift us up. Am I part of that or am I not? Have I earned that gift or might I yet?

I can't tell anyone what to do now. I can't speak for anybody and right now I wouldn't if I could. I am not enough for this moment. My life is not over, but neither has it been enough. Sitting safe here in my house, knowing what I have, knowing I am loved, all I can say is that mine is not the voice we need. It just isn't. All I can do is ask everyone to listen to voices better than my own, as I must do. Listen. I've talked enough.

I will do what I can, I will try to do more, but I've talked enough.

Now I'm listening.

"I know a place..."

Daily Dose


From Wife of His Youth and Other Stories, by Charles W. Chesnutt

SHE SPOKE

"She spoke to them of the hopeful progress they had made, and praised them for their eager desire to learn. She told them of the serious duties of life, and of the use they should make of their acquirements.  With a prophetic finger she pointed them to the upward way which they must climb with patient feet to raise themselves out of the depths.

Then, an unusual thing with her, she spoke of herself."

From Cicely's Dream

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 2, by Edward Gibbon

AND

"... and, if we are more deeply affected by the ruin of a palace than by the conflagration of a cottage, our humanity must have formed a very erroneous estimate of the miseries of human life."

From Chapter XXIV

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 2, by Edward Gibbon

PRESS

"Those who press the literal narrative of the death of Arius (his bowels suddenly burst out in a privy) must make their option between poison and miracle."

From Footnote 83, Chapter XXI

Monday, July 6, 2020

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From In the Miro District & Other Stories, by Peter Taylor

DESCRIBED

"She described what she had seen so graphically I have ever afterward imagined that I actually did look into the room with her. As she opened the door she beheld Lila stark naked except for her hat and shoes and just picking herself up -- herself and her handbag -- from where she had fallen, in the center of her large room. She had plainly been preparing to go downstairs and then go out on the streets of Nashville just as she was."

From The Captain's Son

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Chapter 11, from The Grapes of Wrath

Daily Dose


From The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

THERE IS

"There is a crime that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is failure here that topples all our success."

From Chapter 25

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The People Will Live On

Daily Dose


From The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg

THE HAMMER

I have seen 
The old gods go 
And the new gods come. 

Day by day 
And year by year 
The idols fall 
And the idols rise. 

Today 
I worship the hammer. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Unchanging Attitudes

Daily Dose


From Resident Alien: The New York Diaries, by Quentin Crisp

WHILE

"While I was typing the last words of the above, an unknown woman telephoned to ask me for eighteen dollars and fifty cents. I told her to come to the front door, where I handed her a twenty-dollar bill. She thanked me and departed. As I walked back upstairs to my room, I wondered if I should hear from her again in a month or two. I misjudged her. Within two hours, an operator was asking me if I would pay for a call. I said, 'No.' A few minutes later, the unknown woman was telephoning me with another incomprehensible saga of misfortune. I refused to give her any more money. I hated myself for this, but I hated her even more. Since I came to America, she is the first person to drive me beyond the bounds of politeness."

From 1991 * Winter

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Things Adults Don't Have to Finish Once They've Started:


(A Short List)

Unpleasant jams and jellies
Dinner
Bad but well reviewed novels
Scandinavian detective shows with too many suspects
Weak drinks
Dinner salads
Writing exercises
Cigars
Folding laundry
The National Anthem
Epic poems
Organizing photos, recipes, etc.
Work-outs
Marie Kondo
Online romance
Salad dressings
Podcasts
Scrapbooks
Song lyrics
Shopping lists
Old New Yorker magazines
Earnest documentaries
Christmas letters
Left-overs
Sentences

Planning a Prayer Meeting

Daily Dose


From Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, by James Baldwin

IT HAD

"It had cost them something: and they would never let me see the bill."

From Book Three, Black Christopher

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Principalities of June

Daily Dose


From Firebird: A Memoir, by Mark Doty

I AM

"I am amphetamine bright and glittering on the inside, too, possessed by my song. I am a Judy, right down to the prescriptions, in tight black stockings, the tuxedo jacket slicing across her thighs just below the waist, eyes huge with the force pouring out of her gaze now into the music."

From Chapter 6, Seventy-Six Trombones

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Draft Physical

Daily Dose

From Feasting the Heart: Fifty-Two Commentaries for the Air, by Reynolds Price

YOU MIGHT

"You might help an unheralded young person who'll live to become a benefactor of the Earth. And the elderly may reward you equally with nothing more than that spark of thanks which is still the most welcome gift of our species."

From Lucky Catches

Monday, June 29, 2020

Maugham on Literary Fame

Daily Dose


From Mr. Maugham Himself, by William Somerset Maugham

BY WAY OF

"It was by way of being a literary party and Henry James was of course the lion of the occasion. He said a few polite words to me, but I received the impression yjat they meant very little."

From Some Novelists I Have Known, II

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Since

Daily Dose


From W. H. Auden Collected Poems, edited by Edward Mendelsom

SOMEBODY

"Somebody shouted, I read: We are ALL of us marvelously gifted!
  Sorry, my love, but I am: You, though, have proved that You ain't."

From Shorts II

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Spending His Allowance

Daily Dose


From Henry James Letters, Volume I, edited by Leon Edel

LONG

"I have long meant to answer your last letter, but somehow the pen wouldn't move. At last I push it along, but I know not what will come of it."

From a letter to Thomas Sergeant Perry, dated Cambridge, March 27, 1868

Friday, June 26, 2020

Child and Poet

Daily Dose


From If Men, Then: Poems, by Eliza Griswold

RUINS

A spring day oozes through Trastevere.
A nun in turquoise sneakers contemplates the stairs.
Ragazzi everywhere, the pus in their pimples
pushing up like paperwhites in the midday sun.

Every hard bulb stirs.

The fossilized egg in my chest
cracks open against my will.

I was so proud not to feel my heart.
Waking means being angry.

The dead man on the Congo road
was missing an ear,
which had either been eaten
or someone was wearing it
around his neck.

The dead man looked like this. No, that.

Here's a flock of tourists
in matching canvas hats.
This year will take from me
the hardened person
who I longed to be.
I am healing by mistake.
Rome is also built on ruins.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Summum Bonum

Daily Dose

From Why Writing Matters, by Nicholas Delbanco

RARE

“Time now to write of that rare thing, originality -- the opposite of imitation and its outlier, plagiarism. It’s the pearl among white peas.” 

From Chapter 6, Originality

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Unabashed


As an atheist I have to ask, why are we invariably "unabashed"? Seriously, ought I not to be? Surely the implication of calling anyone an "unabashed atheist" is to suggest that I, as someone who does not believe, either ought to or at the very least should have the good grace to be ashamed that I don't.

Need I say I am not?

A friend on social media posted a link today to an essay online (-- and for anyone interested, I put it here.) The title, "Is There a Better Way for the Left to Talk About American Christianity?" told me straight away I had some work to do. It seems "people are talkin', talkin' 'bout people," as Bonnie Raitt so wonderfully sang in another context altogether, and once again it seems, "we laugh just a little too loud," etc. Well, let's give 'em something to talk about.

I am less interested here in the author Marie Mutsuki Mockett's well-intentioned if imperfectly made argument in this essay for civility, than I am in who she thinks needs the talking to. I bet you can guess. If you can't, let me just point out some clues; like the opening quote being from the brilliant novelist and unabashed Calvinist Marilynne Robinson, and the inevitable resort to the unabashedly "loud" evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins. See where this is going? Now, the "unabashed atheist," to whom she refers specifically in the essay turns out to be Ta-Nehsi Coates, but I feel pretty safe in assuming I'm also somewhere to her Left, maybe right there behind that other unabashed fellow, Colson Whitehead. She's talking to me. My question is, why?

It seems we -- the Left with the capital "L" and specifically we "unabashed atheists" thereof -- are not trying, or at least not nearly hard enough to not only talk respectfully about American Christianity, but more importantly as it develops in the piece, we aren't trying to talk with American Christians. 

Problem, or rather the first problem, as clearly I'm going to have more. To assume an organized, let alone a uniform response, to anything from "the Left" in America is to already be walking a chimera onto the stage. As my Dad might have said had he ever heard of the beast, that fire-breathing female monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail won't hunt. Organization above the community level, and uniformity of any kind, ain't really our thing. Whatever one might think of the most recent innovations of a younger generation, and I wish them nothing but well, experience has taught me it will always be easier to open a discussion on the left -- little "l" -- than it is, for example to close a bridge or keep a protest moving in the same direction. (Goddess help you if you think you are going to keep to the agreed speakers-list or a time-table. Good luck with that. It's all about process, people.)

But that's not the assumption I resent. I'm just old enough that the idea of "the Left" is still thrilling, if unrealized. Again, why me? And just who do you think I am?


Marie Mutsuki Mockett's essay also put me immediately in mind of Toni Morrison's question regarding Ralph Ellison's classic novel; "Invisible to whom? Not to me." Can anyone assume that I don't know Christians? Have Christian friends? Talk to people not entirely of like-mind? Where is this place the author seems to think I live? This wholly secular Left? I mean, I live in Seattle, people. Seattle, and I've never been to the place her essay assumes. I lived in San Francisco for a dozen years and you know what? Nope. not there either. (And to assume that that is the Utopia to which all we "unabashed atheists" aspire is to again a WAY bigger assumption than any I may make about the generalized Christians to whom the essayist seems to think I need to learn to talk.) In my case at least, disbelief is something I came to, arrived at, stopped worrying about. I wasn't raised in it, and in contemporary culture it is still nonsense to say we live in a wholly, or even majority secular society. At least according to regular polling and pearl-clutching in the media, while church attendance in most of America continues to decline, the number of people who describe themselves as Christian still constitute a majority. And just as I am constantly being reminded, sometimes by my friends, that that majority is far from monolithic and that communion made up of very diverse beliefs and values, so I have grown more than a little tired of being told that I really need to learn not how to talk to my friends and neighbors, but rather to my actual enemies.

Nope. Not my job.

Because that's who I'm being asked to understand. I personally don't need to be told not to call someone stupid for not thinking the way I do, or not, in short, being me. I wasn't raised by monsters, thank you very much. But it isn't really my manners that are ultimately in question here, however the essayist has framed the discussion so that it might seem so. No one raised in a society where that old cudgel "hate the sin, but love the sinner" has left a mark can seriously be expected to not recognize that as a dodge when it comes directly after a blow. I know what it is to have and to be a friend. I understand respect, earned and offered and withheld. I have learned to recognize hate as well, however and from wherever it comes at me. Don't tell me it's because I don't try hard enough to understand the language with which my oppression is expressed.

It's very like being LGBTQ when someone other assumes we somehow sprang from the earth like so many gloriously variegated tulips. Not how that works. We come almost exclusively from straight people, even now. Nature. To be in any significant way other, to be of a minority by birth, is not to be unaware of who else there is in the world. Quite the opposite. To be in a minority is sadly first and foremost to learn the hard lesson that I am required more than most to accommodate if not accept the potentially violent rejection of the majority, in whatever ironic or seemingly well meant way it may be initially expressed. (It is with a heavy heart that I must admit that being of any minority does not automatically or necessarily extend our sympathies or commit any of us to understanding or supporting any other in their struggle. We all have work to do. Heavy lifting, even now. It didn't end when I came out. I still need to do more than I have and that will not end because I say so here.)

So, Christians.

Faith may indeed be a perfectly natural, perfectly beautiful, perfectly human response to existence. I personally do not accept that its only function in human history has been to explain the natural world before science took up that task with better tools. That's a straw man you will meet again in the essay that has set me off, that as an unabashed atheist that is my only thought on the subject. I don't dismiss that explanation, and I don't think anyone ought to, as there's truth in it, but it isn't the only thought I've ever had on the subject of faith. Lord knows people keep telling me I have to think about faith more than I might if left entirely to myself. I will say that faith may even be enviable when seen from outside, without being required in my personal understanding of the world. But let me reassure the reader, even or especially any reader of faith, it is not something I seek to overcome or escape or out of which I now feel the need to argue anyone. (If I once did, I can only say my reaction was to my own isolation and estrangement from the people of faith I then knew. Yes, I remember the long and ugly rhetorically florid jive I once preached to some harmless high school classmates late one night, after play-practice, when we were sitting at Mr. Donut. My apologies. Far from their fault.  I was trying to survive the place in which we were raised, and yes, maybe to hurt them if I'm being honest, but then I had been hurt first, if not by those kids. Doesn't entirely excuse the behavior, but it might go some considerable way to explain my motivation, don't you think?) Faith has indeed made art, great art. Christianity specifically has framed and taught me much of my own sense of morality -- how could it not have done growing up where and when I did? 

The Christians I know now are not the Christians I knew then, most of them. More importantly, my friends are not the Christians I am now being asked to understand better or to whom I am told I need to learn how to talk. I don't have to try not to confuse the two as they are nothing alike. No. I am being told yet again (and again and again) that what I, as an unabashed atheist need to do is, first, to mind my Ps and Qs, -- and I think I've covered that  -- and secondly, to study war no more and take up again with those who would, in my experience, all too happily tell me to my face that I am not simply in error, but damned.

And, again, why is this my responsibility?

Well, it seems we unabashed types have hurt their feelings, if not actively or aggressively, then simply you know, by ignoring them. It seems, according to one who went among them and studied their ways, my opinions and by extension my very existence has yet again left that population of believers feeling very much put upon. Mind now, it isn't that the religious reactionaries here described feel they have done anything wrong or purposefully injured or impaired my liberties. No, I am the one who has deliberately misunderstood their good intentions and abiding concern for the state of my soul, if not my body, well-being, or rights as a citizen. I owe them a more thoughtful and considerate hearing it seems, and scoffing at this is frankly part of my damned problem.  I've got a chip on my shoulder, a beam in my eye, and I need to see to this before I am invited back to the welcome table.

Recently reading Edward Gibbon's massy work, I was reminded of the foundational problem of the majority, any majority, religious or secular; namely that every majority was inevitably made from something less than complete unanimity of purpose, as almost every majority invariably lacks just that, until they don't. Gotta start somewhere. Where that somewhere always is and from what majorities are made are disparate, quarrelsome, and often as not disgruntled groups. What happens when such find common ground and form coalitions is the bedrock of Republican democracy for instance, no? But I was also reminded that having achieved a majority, any majority, human beings can't help but remember what it was to have not been in power, and to resent the forces that resisted them. Christianity in the body of the historical church has preserved its minority in the record of the saints and martyrs who died defending a new and often unpopular faith. My own experience of Christianity, before and after I was saved at the age of eleven or twelve, has been that the suffering of the church's minority is kept fresh in a constant insistence that the enemies of the faith are ever busy, not just in the theological abstract of temptation from the path, etc., but in the secular, not to say demonic mission to undo the good word and destroy the church. It is never enough to join the elect, as we are reminded there will always be someone shaking the ladder behind us. 

I am not in a position, or of an inclination to argue with the faithful as to any of this, and if my paraphrase is unjust, I admit it as no better than my own. Won't argue, in part because it isn't something to which I am willing to give much more energy.  And that is my point, come to it.

I don't feel the need to engage with Christians, friends or foes, on the level of the truth or history of their faith because it is now, as far as I am concerned, none of my business unless they choose to make it so. Honest. I'll talk about this if you want me to, my friends, but we needn't if you don't. Don't see the good of it myself, this conversation, for either of us, but my offer stands. Don't be shy, but then I am of this, a little. Like I said, not really how I was raised.

But then some well intentioned soul will unavoidably rise up yet again to tell me that as a progressive and an unabashed atheist the fault is mine for seeing a foe in any person of faith, as such, that our disagreement is the result of me not listening to what they say or understanding they way they say it, and I have to tell you, I don't accept that anymore. I think that is just bullshit. Listen to them? How can one not? Where can one go to not hear them constantly and what they think of Black Lives Matter, and the LGTBQ community, of a woman's right to control her own reproductive destiny, of religious and ethnic diversity, of atheism, of the president, of global warming, of every and any damned thing they care to shout and moan and piss endlessly on about, even as they insist that the only legitimate hurt is theirs, as the rest of us will insist on being so very rude in suggesting that they might be wrong, and or not the majority, or ridiculous, or if not evil -- as that's their favorite word, not mine -- then at very least a HUGE part of the fucking problem?

I'm sorry, but I think it is not me who should be abashed in this moment. I have already claimed my shame, as we used to say back in the day. Stop telling me to listen harder. How about you tell your new friends to stop talking for a minute about things they choose not to understand? How 'bout that? Then maybe we'll talk. 

Or maybe not.

Daily Dose

From Where Joy Resides: A Christopher Isherwood Reader, edited by Don Bachardy and James P. White

NEVER

"I never sent a copy of All the Conspirators to Mr. Lancaster, of course. But I wrote him a thank-you letter -- one of those thankless, heartless documents I had been trained since childhood to compose. He didn't answer it."

From Down There On a Visit

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

When You Are Old

Daily Dose

From Here For It, Or, How to Save Your Soul in America: Essays, by R. Eric Thomas

ASH

"The Ash Wednesday service debut had gone over just fine; when offered ash I simply replied, 'No thanks, I'm trying to quit.'"

From The Preacher's Husband

Monday, June 22, 2020

In the States

Daily Dose

From Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why: Essays, by Alexandra Petri

IT IS

"It is with difficulty that I shamble into the company of people every day."

From Sorry, I Obey the Billy Graham Rule

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Father's Day Reading For Grown-ups by Brad Craft

Daily Dose


From Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why: Essays, by Alexandra Petri

WHEN

"When the American people voted unanimously to declare Donald Trump a genius (this is what it means to be elected president on your first try) at first, he did not feel any different."

From The Day Donald Trump First Became a Stable Genius

Saturday, June 20, 2020

England and America, 1863

Daily Dose

From Braised Pork, by An Yu

SKETCHING

"She was sketching the fins of a fish when a loud thump came from behind her, and a man cursed."

From  Chapter 11

Friday, June 19, 2020

Self-Dependence

Daily Dose

From Sigh, Gone: A Misfit's Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In, by Phuc Tran

MADAME BOVARY'S LANDSCAPE

"I longed for power and acceptance and sex just as much as Emma did. I loathed a cultural landscape that had only a narrow, slant-eyed space for me. and in loathing, I couldn't see changing that landscape."

From October 1984

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Lucifer

Daily Dose

From When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

I DO

"I do know that in my heart, the heart dedicated to Black liberation, I love people. Period. I love complicated, imperfect, beautiful people. People, I suppose, like me."

From Chapter 9, No Ordinary Love

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

These Faithful Verses

Daily Dose

From The Mountains Sing, by Nguyen Pan Que Mai

KNOW

"I know now that true love is rare and once we find our true love, we must hold on to it."

From The Land Reform, Nghe An, 1955

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Another Time

Daily Dose

From I Live In the Slums, by Can Xue, translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping

HELP

"'Help!' I heard myself shout."

From Shadow People

Monday, June 15, 2020

Lincoln on The Rights of Labor

Daily Dose

From Radical Wordsworth: The poet Who Changed the World, by Jonathan Bate

FAREWELL

"Wordsworth cranked out a ponderous sonnet 'On the Departure of Sir Walter Scott from Abbotsford, for Naples'. The great Scotsman died the next year."

From Chapter 20, The Lost Leader

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Rebuking a Tyrant

Daily Dose

From The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century, by John Burnside

RECOGNIZE

"We recognize, of course, that human order is artificial (as a house or a coat or, for that matter, a name is), but that does not make it any less real, or any less needful."

From An Old Chaos of the Sun

Saturday, June 13, 2020

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

Daily Dose

From A Children's Bible, by Lydia Millet

BEFORE

"Before we left we carved our initials into the waterlogged posts of the Ark. I felt melancholy saying goodbye to the house: it was flooded, cold and dark and boarded up, but once it had been the site of splendid parties."

From Chapter 4

Friday, June 12, 2020

Those Winter Sundays

Daily Dose

From The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

THE MEMORY

"The memory hits her like a blow, and she presses her fist to her heart."

From Chapter 25

Thursday, June 11, 2020

A Blessing

Daily Dose

From Redhead by the Side of the Road, by Anne Tyler

SO

"So, straight ahead to floor-mopping day. 'Zee dreaded mop-pink,' he says aloud. But he makes no move to fetch the mop and bucket."

From Chapter 8

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Aware, by Denise LEVERTOV

Daily Dose

From Valentine, by Elizabeth Wetmore

MY STORY

"My story? No. This is not my story."

From Glory

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Modesty, by Mary Oliver

Daily Dose


From Primeval and Other Times, by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

GOD

"God comes to know Himself through the passage of time, because only that which is elusive and changeable is most similar to God."

From The Time of the Game

Monday, June 8, 2020

Reading, by Mary Oliver

Daily Dose


From Stephen Sondheim Lyrics, edited by Peter Gethers

BOUND

"I'm bound to be chilly
And feel a buffoon,
But nightshirts are silly
In mid-afternoon..."

From A Little Night Music

Sunday, June 7, 2020

English Idea of Education

Daily Dose

From The Fate of the Earth, by Jonathan Schell

THE QUESTION

"The question now before the human species, therefore, is whether life or death will prevail on the earth. This is not metaphorical language but a literal description of the present state of affairs."

From Chapter II, The Second Death

Saturday, June 6, 2020

In Westminster Abbey

Daily Dose


From Alaric the Goth: An Outsider's History of the Fall of Rome, by Douglas Boin

BOYS

"Boys who grew up around the Danube, though, suddenly had a role model."

From Chapter Two, The Trailblazer

Friday, June 5, 2020

Odysseus to Telemachus

Daily Dose

From Figure It Out: Essays, by Wayne Koestenbaum

MAKE

"Make a mark on someone else's pad."

From Making Marks

Thursday, June 4, 2020

From the Iliad, Book VI

Daily Dose

From Places I've Taken My Body: Essays, by Molly McCully Brown

JUST

"There's a certain low thrum of hurt I don't notice; it's just the frequency at the bottom of everything, my version of the ground."

From The Broken Country: On Disability and Desire

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Clerihew for GGM


GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ

Thinking of what Karl Marx says,
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gave to all of those who read
Each according to his need.

Daily Dose


From The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon

FEAR

"Fear has been the original parent of superstition, and every new calamity urges trembling mortals to deprecate the wrath of their invisible enemies."

From Book One, Chapter XI

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Evening Primrose

Daily Dose


From The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon

FOOTNOTE

"See the triumph of Aurelian, described by Vopiscus. He relates the particulars with his usual minuteness; and on this occasion they happen to be interesting. Hist. August. 220 [xxvi. 33]."

From Volume One, Chapter XI