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Perversion

My cat is an essay in perversion. It’s not all my fault. I had help raising him. It was my Collie, Maggie, who nursed and nurtured him in everything maternal but milk. Maggie and I share a tendency toward bountiful hair. She, born to romp the icy plain of Prince Edward Island, rolling in the many names of snow that define that bleak coastal expanse, and I, who thanks to some wild wooly gene, grow hair fast as a naughty weed. She and her siblings brought life to that frozen Canadian shore as sure as she brought life to me a good bit farther south.  When she arrived in her air transport crate at the relatively tropical latitude of Roanoke, Virginia, her undercoat was so thick it couldn’t be parted to reveal skin. She looked like the promise of some arctic sled puppy waiting to grow into her harness and head for Nome.

Soon the intelligence of her physiology arranged a molt, and she dropped an amazing excess of that glorious load. Even in the most challenging of Roanoke Valley winters, she never regained her puppy coat grandeur. But it was more than enough to satisfy the psychic longings of the five week old rescue kitten I acquired one spring, having spent a long dark winter needing someone, something, some living anything soft and cuddly to love.

I named him Espresso after his rich black glossy full-bodied coat and his whole-bodied, whole-psyche willingness to give himself up to his yearnings. Maggie sniffed and goosed his little round exit sphincter with her cold intelligent nose and straightaway recognized a baby in need of mothering, while Espresso, recognizing a good thing when he found it, dug in and began a long frustrating search for milk and Mom. Finding instead a delicious warmth amid a lush jungle of dog hair, he accepted a warm, full belly, compliments of a plain old standard cat bowl, and settled for the love of a Collie-dog nanny.

Of course with all that canine mothering he thought he was a dog. He went for walks with the family, the two humans, the Collie and the Bichon Frize. We presented a strange assortment of animalia to the natural fauna of the Roanoke countryside. Maggie, ever mother, stood patiently while Espresso wound in and out about her legs, spinning a happy abstraction of good will.

In the course of things, Maggie went away, her absence mourned by cat and human alike. Espresso and I, truly an odd couple, grew even closer, making of an old friendship, a newly awakened need, a raging mutual desire for comfort and solace. Dog gone, now it was the cat that usurped that “doggone” cold place in the bed, making of it a warm island of happiness, small but mighty.

Snuggling the feline body against the isolation of a cold winter night, clever mechanical thermostat adjusted down to stretch resources  in favor of eggs and peanut butter, milk and bread, gasoline and medicine, a new feeling makes an entrance on little cat feet. A living creature pressed against tautness of breast and body speaks of givingness as need. Memory of milk, long dry, lets down as virtual hormonal angst, wanting__wanting to be given. Glands activate. Oxitocin pours into streams of coursing blood. Brain tastes and translates primal need. Memory wakens, recalling nights of hard young bodies twined in silent satisfaction, floating islands of fulfillment on an ocean of animal intent. Now I know why spinsters and little old ladies keep cats.

All this is unremarkable until Espresso equates my thick messy head of hair with his memories of Maggie. He buries his happy nose into the graying blonde tangle and kneads bread lustily while his thoughts drift back to being a kitten at Maggie’s hairy teat. He becomes relentless in his expression of adoration and need. It demonstrates how strange and wonderful is this world of living, loving creatures. My cat is most assuredly a pervert, but he loves me. I might as well relax and enjoy it.

2012 Glee

2012 Glee

I can thank my mother, Mary Opal, for teaching me to love music. She demonstrated for me the possibility of spirit as a vehicle of expression. I saw her as a living goddess of music, of beauty, of art, of everything filled with light and life.

When I was still a toddler, she began directing a community chorus called the Glad Girls Glee Club.  It was a gaggle of neighborhood urchins who agreed to meet at our house, learn to sing as a harmonious group, and perform at public venues throughout the Ft. Worth, Texas area. The girls experienced the excitement of choral art, doing the hard work of learning, practicing, and disciplining their little-girl selves into a veritable choir.

They learned the fun of authentic formal dress-up, wearing “little ladies” white gloves and pearls to set off their long gowns. The whole endeavor was a celebration of spirit, and Mary’s personality breathed it into life. It was an authentic example of 1940’s post depression glee. At that time, I had passed birthday number two and was full of myself as I headed for number three. Mother installed me as Official Mascot for the group. I was handed from lap to lap, soaking up more than my fair share of the happiness. Every group photo shows me in matching dress and hair-ribbons, situated in one of the many singer’s arms.

That was the start of my career as amateur musician, and it continued without pause until 2005 when the last curtain fell, ending a lifetime of song; A cervical fusion, accessed from the front, stopped the melody. Suddenly when I opened my mouth, all I could do was croak.  For sixty-plus years I had sung for the pure joy of it, confident that God created me for song in praise of creation. At five I had been plunked onto a Sunday school platform and told to “sing it like you feel it”. I did, loving the attention earned by belting out a solo that told the world how happy I was to be a cool kid, all dressed up with bows and pigtails and a voice to match.

I joined every school chorus, every church choir, even New York All-State High School Choir. In high school, I cleaned houses to pay for voice lessons.  I was a high lyric soprano with big plans for playing at coloratura and someday singing the “Queen of the Night’s Aria”, but  as an adult, I had to get real.  The anxiety of a pubescent perfectionistic streak kept me from being solo material, and I settled instead into the steady pull of a workhorse chorister. I reveled in community light opera, civic choruses, university choral groups, and then in Virginia for nine wonderful years, with the Roanoke Choral Society, St. Andrews Cathedral Chancel Choir, and Roanoke Symphony Chorus. Truthfully, one big reason that I left Virginia was because after the surgery I couldn’t bear to live there and not sing with the Symphony. I kept running into choir buddies in Kroger and making up excuses for not showing up at rehearsal.

Two auditions with directors familiar with my previous work were pitiful attempts, netting me only referrals to remedial vocal coaches whom I couldn’t afford. Finally it was Cincinnati’s Dr. Catherine Roma who let me sing in her St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church Choir as a provisional Alto hoping I might progress from sounding like a frog. Her face said that I must be a very strange person to not know when to give up, but bless her, she let me try. Singing Alto made my throat hurt, but it got the vocal apparratus moving again. Soon I progressed to 2nd Soprano where my squawks were gracefully endured by other better singers. Finally the top notes began to come, first as a pianissimo whisper, then full-throated, as I practiced under Bishop Todd O’Neil with the Martin Luther King Chorale at College Hill’s House of Joy. The free and open style of their Black women singers were role models for my attempt to free up my larynx and vocal cords. Soon I was singing 1st Soprano with a vengeance, getting occasional quizzical looks from my sister singers, but insisting on not giving up.

Well, I’m back to singing, not well, but valiantly. Dr. Roma, who is dedicated to excellence in vocal production, will forever be my hero for putting up with my seemingly weird antics in the choir room, as I bounced from seat to seat trying to make peace with my surgically traumatized and aging voice. I had to make the most of my assets, an ability to sight sing and a near-insane willingness to pay attention. While other less motivated singers chattered and lollygagged, my attention never wavered, following Dr. Roma’s every gesture, tuned to her every word and grimace.

I really do have faith that when God closes a door He opens a window. For me that window has been Catherine Roma, her welcoming St. John’s Choir, and Cincinnati’s Martin Luther King Coalition Chorale. This week MLK is competing in the Cincinnati 2012 Choir Games, and I am singing 1st Soprano, not perfectly, but gamely and gleefully. When in your life a door closes, think of me and remember the glorious possibility of windows.

                     __Dorothy Jeanette Martin, July 7, 2012
                  

Note: The MLK Chorale took gold twice in the 2012 Choir Games and was invited to sing as a demonstration choir in the 2014 Games in Latvia!

A recent much advertized experiment answered the ancient question, “What is beautiful”?  A statistically significant number of women’s faces were superimposed, thanks to the cleverness of computer graphics, and mathematically averaged to a single image.  The result?  The image was identical to the ideal female face.  Human brains naturally and subliminally average the many perceptions of real women into the goddess-like proportions of the feminine ideal.  Lots of luck gals.  None of us will ever satisfy that delusional lust for perfection.  We are our own unique separate selves__nobody’s ideal.

If our brains are so adept at averaging concepts of visual beauty, why should we not take on other even more complex algorithms?  I assert that we do.  We are purposefully acculturated from our first breath to become the average ideal.  We are compared to long dead progenitors, to high-performing or misbehaving parents, to every which-way acting-out siblings, to Hollywood Stars, to comic-book heroes, to saints, to villains, even to the Devil Incarnate.  In between being told that “our tongue will stick to it” and that “our eyes will freeze that way”, we are evaluated vis-à-vis all manner of others, with the intent of titrating our expression of humanness toward an innocuous golden
mean.

But, most of us are imperfect.  We are the offspring of imperfect parents and parenting.  Some of us suffer a growing up in the south, where fodder for anguished prosody hangs dripping from the trees.

Only a favored few grow up whole and hearty, with nothing to prove to self or others, no chip firmly attached to shoulder already twisted to the weighted shape of culture gone a-skew, no guilt gripped gonads clutched in incestuous embrace, no memories of Medusa mothering, snakes coiled and crazed with

(Head by rickveitch.com)

fright, too horrified to petrify as stone.  Ever compliant, we comply.  We would do anything to be loved by the mother who bore us, by the father who inspired us to Self.  We become what we must, given what we see in others comparing and accusing eyes.

And what of the rest of us who do achieve average perfection?  Boring average eyes set in the skulls of boring average parents, see some of us as average, well-balanced, boring children.  We become average, steadfast, and predictable.  How could we be driven to the passion necessary to produce art?  Where would we mine the rage, disembowel the lust?  What merely intelligent words could soar to poetic heights without riding the wide wings of feeling?

We imperfect persons know our betters.  We do our best to get along.  We limp.  We overachieve.  We embellish our triumphs just trying to keep up.  So far from being perfect, being average is an impossible ambition.  No-drama Obama has made a name for himself as devoid of emotion.  A lie.

The rage of passion’s embers smolders in his gut.  It must.  A displaced person, exceptional, neither black nor white, he loved and lived with a mother dying of cancer, knowing that a more compassionate system would have saved her.  His tormented genius father walked away, leaving a heritage of not good enough for a son to internalize and embody.  A more prosaic childhood would have made a different child, more smug, more perfect, and to be sure, more average.

As living beings of the human variety, I suggest we would do well to circumvent statistical concepts when trying to embody the who we are and the whom we may become.  If we are to fully inhabit our divine potential, we must feel what we feel, hate what we hate, and love what we love.  That’s a recipe for a lived life and fodder for true expression of  art and of joy.

Leon Theremin performing a trio for theremin, ...

Leon Theremin performing a trio for theremin, voice and piano, c. 1924. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My senior high school science project was a big deal.  If I could do well in the competition, there was every chance it would help me get into a good engineering school, so there was a lot riding on choice of projects.  It had to be something that really captured my imagination, something that could combine both, not just one, of my life’s passions.  How could I choose between science and music?  Ever since sophomore year, I had been fascinated by  the mysteries of wave propagation of energy.  I had an intuitive understanding that the secrets of the universe would be discovered by learning about the interplay of wave and particulate energy.

I wanted the project to challenge me__ be something I could learn from, something that would be unique enough to capture the attention of the judges, some amazement that could demonstrate capability of intellect but also express the musical fluidity of a distinctly woman’s soul.   Given all of that, only one project would do: I must build and demonstrate a Theremin.

Knowing how to play such an abstruse instrument at fifteen was an odd attainment.  It was something that I simply fell into, a bit of serendipity.  My Dad was trying extra hard during my sophomore year, when I went to live with him and his second family, after his having been “in hiding” since I was nine.  Fathers do that sometimes.  They just vanish, leaving little girls to wonder why.  I wished I had been a boy; then he might have stayed.  But suddenly he was back in my life, albeit with step-children and a step-mother right out of Cinderella.  I anticipated the worst, but Betty turned out to be a better mother than my real one, who had been a disappointment of multiple dimensions.  Betty had been willing to split the family for a short time so I could get a good start for sophomore year in my new school in Connecticut.  Our home was in East Northport on Long Island, but Daddy was building us a new house in Wilton, located in affluent Fairfield County.  Too cool!  I was delirious with happiness.  After having been essentially an orphan, living on the beneficence of my mother’s sister Judy, being reunited with my father was almost too wonderful to believe.  Surely something would happen to ruin everything.

Daddy and I were to go on ahead and stay with a benefactor of his who lived in a Boston Post Road mansion close to my new school.  She had two daughters near my age, and offered to put us up for spring semester of my sophomore year, while the new house in Wilton was completed.  My favorite room at the Widow Shaw’s was the living room.  It spread across the entire width of the structure, a beautiful reconstruction of an ancient barn.  The room was windowed first floor to second floor ceiling on three sides with a balcony overlook opening to the second floor bedrooms.  A sweeping staircase connected the upper level with the living room, its wood burning fireplace, and music area, graced by two black Steinway grand pianos.  You don’t like a room like that; you love it, and you love the princely father who made it possible for a shy, gangly, near-orphaned girl-child to feel at home in such a place.  I spent more time in that room than the true children who belonged there by right of ownership.  I practiced my piano lessons on my favorite of the two pianos; my voice teacher giving me my weekly lesson accompanied by the same magnificent instrument.  This girl-child had surely arrived.

But there was something even more amazing, more mysterious, more accommodating to my imaginative fascination than even the twin pianofortes.   In between them, stood a podium with Chippendale feet, black as the two keyed instruments it matched.  It supported a rectangular electronic box that sprouted two radio-antennae, one vertical, one horizontal.  I learned to stand facing the three instruments, addressing the Theremin with upraised hands.  The right hand produced melody, making texture and richness with its sensual vibration.  The left was less difficult; it merely controlled the volume of the sonorous output from the right frequency-controlling vertical antenna.  The only limitation to artistic expression was the ability of my mind to imagine and my hands to create and control the flow of the musical output.  The Theremin could sound like just about anything analog.  It could howl like a wolf, shriek like a banshee, or mimic a ghost.  It could even convincingly imitate a passionate violin, viola, or cello.

When the spring semester was over, and our entire family made the big move to our finally completed house, the glorious instruments had to be left behind.  I saved baby-sitting money to buy an old upright to use in my room for voice and piano practice, but  Betty couldn’t bear to listen to me sing opera, and she drove me out of the house to practice at a nearby reservoir.  There all my annoying vocalises and operatic arpeggios would only disturb the fishes and seagulls making inland sorties.

When the time came for my Senior Physics Project, my choice was a no-brainer.  I would build a Theremin.  Daddy had long ago explained to me how it worked; now I wanted to know how it was made.  His lessons were easy to understand, just like they had always been ever since I could remember.  He never told me anything I couldn’t fathom, given his uncanny knack for explaining things at precisely the level of his questioner.  If he could explain it to a sixteen-year-old, I could build it.  It never occurred to me to doubt the satisfactory outcome of the endeavor.

He sketched an electrical diagram that made sense.  No problem.  I had worked the previous summer at Automatic Signal Company, a division of Eastern Industries, soldering electronic assemblies.  Since I had pestered my dad to teach me to solder long before, the assembly line was a piece of cake.  I would finish my station, then finish the women’s ahead of me, then finish the woman’s ahead of her.  It was when I tried to complete the second station ahead of her that all Hell broke loose.  I had thought all those nice ladies would be so happy that I was helping them with their work.  It didn’t turn out that way though.  One day the head lady lost her composure and started yelling at me.  There was some problem about the bosses finding out that the work could be done a lot faster.  The women knew about that, but the bosses weren’t supposed to find out.  That brought to mind a comment my step-grandmother once made to me: “How can a girl as smart as you be so God-damn dumb?”  I didn’t know how to answer, part of being dumb I guess.

I made a formal drawing of the electrical schematic.  I had watched daddy do that so many times, it was part of me.  Then we made a parts list.  There was an aluminum enclosure in the basement just the right size, and I placed a mail order for the four electron tubes we needed.  It took a while for the tubes, sockets, and speakers to arrive.  In the mean time, Daddy showed me how to pierce the enclosure with the right size holes for the tube sockets.  When the parts arrived, it was easy to mount the sockets in the enclosure.  We drilled the holes for the on/off switch, lights, and the antennae.  I installed the switch and the power cord, making beautiful solder connections to assure solid power continuity.  We bent antenna wire into the correct shapes for the volume and pitch antennae.  The movement of the right hand with respect to the vertical antenna would change the capacitance of a tuned circuit that would adjust the pitch of the output.  “Near” was high; “away” was low.  The same system would work on the left to control output volume.

It was time to run the fine wire that tied everything together.  We didn’t have the option of using printed circuit boards.  The circuitry for each tube was available to consult in the catalogue I had used to order the parts, but it was getting complicated.  I didn’t understand how to combine the schematic we had made with the individual tube circuits, and Daddy was away on business.  The time for turning in the finished project was fast approaching.  I had chosen a song of beautiful sensitivity and poignancy to demonstrate cooperation between instrument and artist to good advantage.  I set up my phonograph and played the piece over and over again, using my hands pretend-playing my remembered Theremin in Mrs. Shaw’s living room.  Still Daddy didn’t come.  I begged Betty to call him.  I needed him.  Finally, the day before the deadline, he appeared.  I was hysterical.  “Whatever will I do?” I moaned.  “There’s not enough time now for me to learn enough to finish it myself.”

“It’s easy”, Daddy assured me. “We’ll do it tonight after dinner.”  I was not mollified.  It looked to me like just too big a job, even with both of us working together.

Dinner was served, and snappily dispatched.  Daddy sauntered downstairs, picking his teeth.  I was still worried, but if Daddy wasn’t, maybe I shouldn’t be either.  I helped him dig out all the colors of wire we would need.  He explained how the amount of electrical current that must flow through each wire determined how large, or gauge, of wire it required.  Certain colors of wire were used for different parts of the circuit depending on what they were supposed to do.  There was so much to learn. Too much.  I felt like I should just start in and begin attaching wires, but which wires, where?  Daddy seemed to be waiting for me.  Then he must have realized I wasn’t sure what to do next.  I had done everything I knew to do, given my understanding of the job.  Daddy picked up the pliers and wire-strippers.  He took a reel of black wire, snipped off a length, stripped and twisted both ends and attached one end to the on/off switch.  That made sense.  I looked it up on the schematic.  Now where to put the other end?  OK.  It went to T1-4, the first tube, fourth contact.  I followed along, learning as we went.  I wished he would tell me where the next wire was to go and then let me solder it, but he seemed to be in a hurry all of a sudden, perhaps realizing that this was a bigger job than he had counted on.  The work went smoothly with him cutting, stripping, and soldering, and me looking on and passing tools to him as required.

Finally it was finished.  All the lines on the drawing were represented by wires in place  inside the enclosure.  “Can I plug it in?” I asked.  He told me to wait a bit.  He found his Volt-Ohm Meter (VOM) and began to test the continuity of sections of the completed circuit.  He shook his head and reaching in, cut one of the wires.  The soldering iron melted the connections of that wire, and he replaced it with a longer wire that went to a different termination.  More VOM checks.  Another wire had to be replaced.  Haste obviously had made waste.  Oh my!  Finally he told me to plug in the power cord, which I did.  No sparks flew.  He poked in and around the innards of our finished instrument and pursed his lips.  In his basement shop there were hundreds of different electronic components.  He began opening tiny drawers and selecting resistors, capacitors, and diodes of varying values, each identified by the bands of color encircling each tiny body.  I wanted to help, but it was way, way beyond me now.  As I watched him flounder about even in his electronic genius, I began to doubt him, and as it follows, to doubt myself.  I should never have tried to do such a demanding project.

The clock ticked.  The hours went by, and I finally began to nod, my forehead thumping to the table, only to awaken and try again to stay alert and at least keep him company.  Finally he told me to go upstairs and get some sleep.  I protested, but he insisted.  As I turned away, I glimpsed the upturned instrument.  The wiring had become a tangle of components streaming out of the box, soldered into a dizzying network, each minutely adjusting the overall balance and intelligence of the circuit.  It was then that I understood something basic at gut level: he knew more than I dared ever hope to know.  He had so carefully kept that secret by adjusting his answers to my questions so precisely to my level of understanding.  I finally headed for bed, grateful for what now was more important even than finishing my project.  I was still a kid and I had to sleep, even if it meant doing it standing up.

Daddy woke me early, even before my alarm.  “Come look,” he said.  I followed him down to the basement, and there it was.  It was upright, tubes plugged in and glowing.  The “on” light shone red.  I turned on the phonograph, already set up to play Ravel’s, “Pavane Pour Un Enfant Mourir”.  I raised my hands and began to play.  The haunting melody poured a blessing over my scene of doubt and disappointment, triumph and hope.

Suddenly everything was possible.  Daddy had come through for me.  Sure enough, It was important enough for him to stay awake all night to finish what I could not.  I was all smiles and hugs, and took off for school in Betty’s car.  No bus today.  I needed a ride into school with all my project paraphernalia.

*  *  *

The Theremin was a big hit at school and won the local Science Fair with me playing Ravel.  Then it was time to go to Regional in Hartford.  It was the Geeks turn, only in 1956 there wasn’t a name for Geek. We just didn’t get to go on dates or frequent football games, but that didn’t bother me.  I never knew what the rest of them saw in following that silly pigskin around the hockey practice field.  I had tried out for cheer-leading in the 8th grade, but soon learned that my arms and my legs didn’t seem to connect to the same brain.

Our group loaded our gear and took off to Regional in Hartford,  When we arrived we set up as instructed.  The next day we hovered over our projects showing off for parents and teachers and other students who happened by.  One of our guys whispered in my ear that the head judge was moving our way.  I switched on Ravel and began playing the lovely melody.  The coterie of judges approached and waited for me to finish the song before they began to ask questions.  It was no problem answering.  I knew my stuff, even if it had taken Daddy to save the day.

Later that afternoon, all of us were tired and out of sorts after the tension of the competition and standing up the whole day except for noon break, when we paused to eat our sack lunches.   Suddenly my High School Physics teacher came trotting up grinning.  He told us that the judges had finished their meeting and that it looked like I would take the grand prize.

“No!” I gasped.  It hadn’t occurred to me that I might actually win Regional.  I felt suddenly light-headed and must have visibly paled.  “Where are they”, I asked.  I took off  down the hall where he pointed.  The judges were coming out of the meeting room in a very good mood.   There were smiles all around, back-slaps, and handshakes.  Whatever it was, they were in agreement.

I didn’t even hesitate, but planted myself right in front of the head judge.  “I can’t win”,  I told him.  When he demanded to know why, I explained that my father had helped me, doing the final wiring and fine tuning of the circuitry and that I didn’t deserve to win against anyone who had been able to complete their entire project alone.  It would have been unconscionable to have taken that prize, and I would have carried that shame  forever.   He explained that it was common for students to get help from parents or teachers when making things new to their understanding.  I wasn’t to be deterred, however, and felt compelled to reject any prize at such a competitive level.  He said that he was sorry I felt that way, since I had a good chance to win, even at National.  I shook my head and walked away.

We had started too late.  I was used to Daddy letting me down, but even so, I couldn’t bear to disappoint him, which I would have done had I taken credit for his work.  He promised to attend my high school graduation, where I won several science awards and scholarships, but he didn’t show up.   I forgave him; we were used to disappointing each other__the tenor of our relationship.

Even fifty-six years later, I am so very glad that I came clean with that judge.  Knowing and accepting the truth of ourselves is all we really have.  Each of us will die, but what we are of Truth will live forever.                                                                            

Recent studies show it is men who benefit from marriage, increasing length of life and overall happiness, while marriage limits a woman’s personal potential. Alliance with the male leverages her power, extrapolating her man’s and appropriating it as vaguely her own; at firm ground, she understands that arrangement for the fraud that it is. Cultural mores worldwide legitimize this delusion, so there is little pressure for a woman to acknowledge the insight even if she should stumble over it in a moment of unguarded clarity.

In a past amicable but passionless marriage, my husband and I often agreed, “What we need is a wife!” As the distaff in that partnership, I resented always being the one to dispense caring. Why was I denied the blessings of eternal childhood while my Peter Pan husband got to fly about sprinkling pixie-dust? Everyone knows that creativity requires the freedom of play, but somebody’s got to wash the dishes. We’ll leave them for the maid, I fantasized, as we turned out the light and headed for bed and some productive cuddling.

I love my kitchen, incarnation of the maternal, hub of family life, source of warmth and tantalizing odors. It is the negation of its power that I reject. A man who enters my center of female alchemy faces a challenge. Do his limbs get all gooey as he dramatizes his affected ineptitude, or does he grab a gingham apron, detailed with rick-rack and ruffles, strap it on, and start looking for a recipe for corn chowder? It takes a big man to be alive in the kitchen. Nothing is sexier than a man in an apron. His limbs get hairier. His torso takes on a more studly aspect. His confidence radiates as he personifies phallic imperative.

Now the question arises: Is this about the bull loose in the china shop or about my own perceptions of manliness? This is a serious question deserving a serious response. I don’t do serious well. It’s difficult to write in a grim sterility that dismisses all vestiges of self from the product. I have spent a lifetime trying and always fail. Even the most rigidly technical effort succumbs to a pirouette of whimsy, and it’s all over. When you write poetry, write poetry; when you write prose, for Heaven’s sake write prose. I know that. I just find it hard to live up to the admonition. Some things are harder than others. (Pun intended.) Sometimes it seems I am a walking, talking, embodiment of the Freudian slip. Sigmund, his dirty old man fixation inclusive, had it right.  The ladies have it figured: Manhood is wonderful. Gay or Straight, Guys are great! Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em.

Well, I lived through my surgery, but I am a changed person.   Nothing is more likely to put a person in touch with their mortality than  spinal fusion.  You think you are in charge.  You’ve got it handled.  Then there you are, stripped of power symbols, just another aging patient, bared bottom,  waiting for the big cut that embodies your submission to the inevitable.

Now the healing is as much psychological as physical.  What works for me is ruminating on my own truth, turning it over and over in an attitude of prayer.

Meditation on Psalm 139

The thoughts belong to the Psalmist, but the words are mine.

Lord, you have touched me,
And you have known me.
You are there when I sleep,
Still there when I rise.
You understand my thoughts.
You light the turnings of my path
And speak meaning to my days.

No word slips from my tongue
That you have not first tasted.
You challenge me on every side.
Your hand is laid upon me.
Such intimacy confounds.
It is more than I can bear.

Where can I hide from your spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I scale the vault of Heaven,
You are waiting for me there.
If I turn spitted over coals in Sheol,
Your blessing cools
And soothes my brow.

If I soar pink and purple
On gilded wings of dawn
Or sink with groans and bubbles
To the very bottom of the sea,
Even there your hand reaches for me
And draws me to your way.

If I drown in darkness,
You fill me with the light
That darkness cannot hide.
Night shines as though it were day.
Your darkness and your light
Are both the yin and the yang
Of my soul’s complex desire.

You called my soul to life
As I floated in the womb.
Thank you for this my form,
So exquisitely wrought.
My bones and my flesh,
My blood, all are yours,
Though made in mystery
And knit in pulse and blood.

You trace my geometry of form,
The secret alchemy it hides.
My formulae were writ upon your mind,
Coded there before I ever was.
It was your dream that made me, God;
Can I be aught but good?

You who dare to ply such skill
To create this miracle of me,
Can you not arrest the grip of rage?
Silence voices taut with pain?
Heal the leper, blind and lame?
Guide the crazed back to their mind?
Declare the Brotherhood of Man?

No?

Of course.  You’ve done your part.
The rest is yours and mine.
What shall we say to those
Who offer up your name in praise
But wander from your way,
Who chant your song from choir loft
But chase the beggar from the gate?

Look deep into my heart, O God.
Is selfishness my game,
Or is my promise really yours?
These hands you made for me,
This mind that toys with rhyme,
Can they ever learn to do your work,
Or are they only meant for mine?

             

Hunger

Life is so much better now that I have embraced the reality of poverty.  My struggle to survive gives my days meaning.  When I had more than enough money, I typically felt maudlin.  It was such a nuisance to have to find an even newer and more exciting place to go for dinner each night.  Kenneth, my dear and ever predictable husband didn’t care where we ate.  He just wanted to please me, but his lack of personal preference only infuriated me.  He didn’t understand the energy of desire.  When you can have anything you want, nothing has value. You are permanently unsatisfied in a hell of your own making.  Bankruptcy and divorce solved that quandary.  Now I feel rich because the little that I have has worth and actually gives me pleasure.

In the world of food, yo-yo dieting has taught me a lot about differentiating brain hunger and belly hunger.  Real belly hunger sharpens appreciation of food, while eating when you aren’t really hungry is the hollowness that no amount of food can fill.   I thought a lot about this and decided to experiment with cookies.

Keebler Pecan Sandies presented themselves as the perfect medium for my study.  Curling up with a good book or in front of the television set with a virgin package of Keeblers portended the yearned for satisfaction of earthly desire. It’s odd how I needed the anesthetic of book or Television to make this cameo replete.  Conversely, eating with awareness, i.e. addressing my full attention to incising, masticating, savoring, and swallowing the cookies one after the other, made me nervous and derailed the engine of self delusion.  Having to face the truth of my mindless eating spoiled the effect.

So, I modified the protocol, titrating my intake and observing the result.  Four cookies on a saucer is an ample but marginally realistic dosage of Pecan Sandie for a grown woman.  More is ridiculous.  Trying to eat slowly, I worked to enjoy each bite, the satisfying crunch, the grinding of jaws that chew, not only the pastry but the slippery nut of repressed rage.  Equally enjoyable but less orally athletic was the subtle sweetness neither overpowered by  runaway gratification of chocolate or caramel, nor the lush emolument of fat, the prize ingredient that makes shortbread short and food stand in for love.  Better than sex?  Well, that’s another question, titillation for another day’s conjecture.

My human brain, so easily distracted, allowed me to slip into a reverie of evaluation, observing rather than enjoying the ingestion of my kuchen.  Before I knew what had happened, three of the four were gone.  One remained but did not appeal.  I reached for it but stopped.  Why eat what I don’t want?  I put it back in the bag.

I had really started something when I began to observe my cookie addiction at work and at play.  Every bite was different depending on order of ingestion.  The first bite was glorious, taste buds snapping to full attention, nerves that activate the sphincters controlling salivary gland outflow struck by the lightning of bio-electric discharge.  The second one was gratifying, mostly because of the chewing and grinding.  The third one spoke to the “mine all mine” reflex but had little of taste to recommend it.

I remember the arousal called forth by the shiny colorful pristine bag, the attractive association of interesting cookie shapes with past gustatory delight, the triumph of the conquering bite, the satisfying rumination of chewing, the final denouement of the swallow.  All those I recall, but I can’t summon nor even begin to recreate the divine joy, anticipated, acknowledged,  then gone in less than an instant.

Mindless eating promises only a Pyrrhic victory over existential angst.  It’s not worth the blubber left behind as testament to gluttony.  We must eat mindfully and with joy, in the manner that we gracefully partake of every wonderful thing.  Indeed, must every moment be lived mindfully in order to enjoy the full measure of its happiness?