Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Orleans 24.9.1990: Elephant Ears and Rotting Sheds

I’m sitting outside in the afternoon sun, a clump of elephant ears beside me, a congeries of exceedingly tall canna lilies at a little distance, next to a white althea we transplanted a year ago, and which now thrives and blossoms. All are in soil we worked up and added manure and compost to. I have a rocker from the house and am beneath the remnants of a shed we’ve begun to tear down. There are only rotting rafters above my head, and the afternoon sun is at its most intense. Steve has perched an umbrella on one rafter, but this parasol only barely keeps the sun off.

I’m reading Richard Rorty’s Consequences of Pragmatism, and thinking many thoughts. These thoughts aren’t necessarily sparked by the book. I’m thinking of some of the prevailing metaphors of my life now—of depths, subterranean currents, the choir of my dream last night, sunbursts of color. This feels like a time in which something creative and new is on the horizon, about to break through.

Yet I write this over and over, and nothing comes. Am I deluding myself, whistling (as we all do, all the time) in the face of death?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lincoln, Nebraska 29-31 March 1990: Duds 'N Suds and Sweet, Sweet Salad Dressings

I’m at an ethics conference in Nebraska. The building and people I’m meeting are very like a dream I had some time ago, though I don’t find I’ve written it down. I seem to have more and more bits of these prescient dreams lately. How bizarre that experience is . . . .

+ + + + +

Just turned 40 yesterday. Yesterday and today I walked in Lincoln. A dismal place. The weather is heavily overcast and coldish. Ground soggy—that dreary, interminable not quite winter, not yet spring, period I remember each year from Toronto. The houses are many of them unkempt, the shops either closed or depleted of wares worth buying. I’ve seen what seem to be 800 pizza parlors, 700 auto dealers, 100 thrift shops, and little else except 2 laundromats with those cutesy names Midwesterners seem to like for their establishments: Duds ‘N Suds, and LaunDRY Palace. Of course, I believe New Orleans has a Splish Splash Washerteria.

The food is appalling. Salads are dressed with the most cloyingly sweet viscous stuff I’ve ever encountered—too sweet even for a dessert. Other food is tasteless, unseasoned, ill-prepared. The only decent restaurant I’ve found is a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese place, where I had lunch and dinner.

Friday, June 26, 2009

San Francisco 9.6.1990: Running the Gauntlet and Nurturing Hope

Flying back from San Francisco to New Orleans. Attending academic conferences always stirs up a terrible mix of feelings . . . .

Seeing classmates, some of them cool, others risen far on little merit (these often synonymous with the cool), a few genuinely warm and interested. The Catholic Theology Society of America itself is so stultifying. Everything must be couched in a way that makes sense to the aging clerics who are still the 2/3 majority of the group. Their dead hand clutches hard. I feel tired, so out of sorts, so dispirited at the end of it all . . . .

How to nurture the flame of hope inside? How even bring it to life, when all conspires, breathes together, to blow it out? I feel as I’ve always thought, written, spoken against the threat and counterweight of forces that now are simply too much for me.

I heard little at CTSA that inspired me. Except this: in her presidential address today, Anne Patrick cited a book by Elizabeth Fox Keller re: gender in science. She spoke of the apparent maleness of the notion that nature has laws, and the way in which this notion militates against reflectivity. I think this is a profoundly useful insight to critique the idea of natural law, particularly as it impacts on homosexuality.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

(Enroute to) San Francisco 6.6.1990: Great Meteor Craters and Theological Gabfests

Writing enroute to San Francisco, having just crossed over what the pilot tells us is the “great meteor crater” on the New Mexico-Arizona border. I’m going to the Catholic Theology Society of America meeting to be on a panel discussing the bicentennial history of American Catholicism series.

The College Theology Society meeting just occurred in New Orleans. Bulletin—we’re approaching a rim of the Grand Canyon. CTS: I gave my paper on public theology as civil discourse. It was well-received—almost too much so. Audience packed with friends, including Stephen and Hilary S., her sister Rebecca C., and John M.

Speaking of whom: we all spent Sunday evening together, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, it was a very up experience. Sitting at Café du Monde and drinking coffee and talking, talking. About Bush, politics, church, theology, Stephen’s father. I felt a real sense of shared struggle, of community, that I often don’t feel with my American colleagues. Canadians are just more well-read (on the whole) and more tolerant in a genial, worldly-wise way—particularly re: homosexuality.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Orleans 24.6.1990: Old China and Peeling Paint

It was one of those derelict houses found only in the once-good districts of New Orleans, still inhabited by stoop-sitters. These houses are neither neglected nor deliberately unpainted. They age and weather because something about moist, hot New Orleans air demands a soft patina of aging in the architecture. And the exterior of houses is ignored in New Orleans because the citizens of the city that care forgot are intensely private, inward-looking individuals.

They would be surprised to hear themselves described this way. New Orleanians pride themselves on their ability to throw a party, to dance at dawn in the streets, to cram patios and galleries with drunken, jovial people talking in those high-pitched nasal voices considered cultivated in the city.

But this self-image belies an intense inwardness. More than in any other American city, in New Orleans “society” is a series of concentric circles. One is born into a circle—that of Garden District old families or black Creole bourgeoisie; one does not enter a circle by marriage or purchase.

Consequently, life in New Orleans is lived inside. Take this house. Imagine a zoom-lens camera. It scans the peeling exterior, the slate-gray roof and falling lines of the windows and arches. It moves to the bedraggled ferns and worn wicker of the porch. It breeches the door.

Inside: sumptuously furnished hallway, muted glitter of chandelier, old silver and crystal, jewel-lie tones of Turkey carpets. And the inner sanctum: a dark, well-appointed dining room. Around the 1840s mahogany table, a family eating. At the head of the table, Beau Armistead. Opposite him his wife Ninette Caldesoux Armistead. Flanking these, Trevigne Armistead, heir apparent, and his wife, Betsy Flood. Across the table, Catherine, daughter of the family.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mepkin Abbey, Moncks Corner, South Carolina 14.3.92: Silver Water, Twisted Oaks

Today is the anniversary of Simpson’s death, 5 P.M., 1991. I picked the violet folded into the journal at this page at Mepkin Abbey today, partly in remembrance of him, partly as a token of my prayer to find a way for myself. The two intents intersect: I trust Simpson prays for me, and I ask that he do so, to find a way through the selva oscura in which I find myself now at Belmont Abbey.

+ + + + +

Lawrence Kushner, The River of Light: Spirituality, Judaism, Consciousness (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1990):

“The commandments concerning relationships between one human being and another always take precedence over spiritual awareness. Not because one is more important than the other, but because people are the only path we have” (p. 37).

+ + + + +

Day’s end at Mepkin. Lazy thing that I am, I won’t go to compline; Steve will. Vespers just ended. A glorious sunset as we left the church. Night falls fast here. I wonder why? The vicinity of the coast? But over the river beneath the monastery, light lingers on, silvers the water. And above the silver, rose, salmon, faint yellow, amber gray as the sun goes down. All this made more weirdly beautiful by the tortured trees. Hugo played havoc—an expression that trivializes what the storm did—with the trees around here. The live oaks just butchered. The tall trunks denuded of branches, bent, twisted, look like nothing so much as trees in Texas as you go west of San Antonio. They’ve lost the grace of Southern sub-tropical trees, have that hard-bitten look of trees that must fight the desert wind.

Against all this backdrop, I try very ineffectually to recollect myself, pray, think. . . . I don’t know what it all means, but circles in circles in circles. I had just ordered (ILL at the college library) a biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and am reading it now with great delight. This morning, Steve gave me a volume of Hopkins’ poems as a memento of the anniversary of Simpson’s death. And this evening, Abbot Anthony gave Steve and me a letter in which Hopkins’s poem re: the Virgin Mary is included.

More circles: Anthony recalls our visit in 1974. The novice master Aelred was a novice with Placid at Belmont. So Belmont links to our past and our religious journey. Somehow it’s all tied together, and Simpson is in there as one who suffered incredibly and could not help himself, who delights to help now in a way he felt he couldn’t in life. But I see little of what all this means, not as I see the bar in my life so clearly.

It has to do with my vocation as a theologian, with being gay, a poet, one who tries to speak in solidarity with the poor. But I don’t see a burning bush, no clouds open and voices speak from heaven, no thunderclaps. I feel bereft in this sense: I feel commissioned, gifted with a place in which to live that commission, but barred from doing so—by the church itself. This leads to paralysis and hopelessness. Where is an angel or some spiritual guide to help me see my way through the woods?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Washington, D.C. and Richmond 3.1.92: Ethiopian Inculturation and the Moon Before the War

John Ash, “World’s End”:

“The issue is exile, how far we have come and will go/in a spirit of inquiry and despair . . . (in The Burnt Pages [NY: Random House, 1991], p. 90).

+ + + + +

Mr. M., who escorted us around Washington on New Year’s day, spoke incessantly, punctuating his sentences with dry laughs that were more like musical accompaniment to his words than like sounds of mirth. He spoke of Islam, which he called the “first reformed Christian church.” Of its manifold ways of praising God, of its saying that Allah is karum. He wailed these Arabic prayers in the close, ill-appointed Ethiopian restaurant, as young Ethiopians with appraising American eyes swung sidelong glances at him. Were they glances of disgust? Was he playing the buffoon for the white men? Were his tie and his formalities and his indefinable sense of command politically incorrect, proclamations of his 1950s confidence that a bit of jovial tinkering with the economies of developing nations would produce an economic “take-off”?

But did they know a better truth, these Ethiopian youths who have imbibed American culture as the sponge drinks water, who flaunt fashionable hostilities and send subtle waves of unwelcome to the white visitors in their restaurants?

Who, after all, knows any truth, any truth untarnished by human appropriation?

+ + + + +

Now back in Charlotte. The 2nd, Steve and I spent at the Phillips, then went to an 18th Street restaurant, Le Saigonnais. The owner-proprietor was excessively nice, giving us cha gio we had not ordered. His niceness made me uncomfortable—a fear I couldn’t respond sufficiently in kind, an abashed worry that he had some commercial end in his mind. Perhaps I felt as I did simply because there was something Hollywood about his bright smile and confident cadences. I prefer my courtesies less brittle, more in tones of blue and green, Oriental style, or Southern style.

Nice, on the other hand, to feel my relationship with Steve can be not off-putting, but recognizable and affirmable.

After lunch, some desultory shopping, then back to the hotel to get the car. We headed for Richmond, stopping at the Herb Cottage, a chi-chi gift shop near the National Cathedral, before we left D.C.

The Cathedral itself technically stunning, but somehow disturbingly aseptic. The bevy of what-you-call-them, docents?—the women who show you around—with absurd purple hats with crosses on top, were like movie extras, there for the effect. Some 15 of them, and only 3 or 4 tourists to see the church, so they sat talking in bright pseudo-English tones at the front of the church as we strolled around. Among them one or two men, very feminine, who seemed at home and much liked. How nice to spend one’s days removing dried leaves from poinsettias, needle-pointing altar appointments, and chatting about the stunning peasant earrings of one’s hostess of the previous evening. What a civilized way to live.

In the Cathedral, an altar to/for the poor, and photos of homeless people taken by a D.C. photographer, who befriends the homeless and asks to photograph them in ways that show their dignity. I was moved to tears by these. I wonder if Mr. Bush ever comes to see these pictures in the church of his own denomination?

In the Herb Cottage, four women of that instantly recognizable Anglican type—cropped hair, hearty voices, no make-up, sensible shoes and sensible stride. I bent down in the shop to pick up something and the seat of my pants ripped wildly and loudly. A French woman nearby must have heard, but showed no signs of having done so.

To Richmond, where Steve and I quarreled because I honked at a man who crossed in front of us—at night, against the light, insolently and on a main street. But was that (is it) why we quarreled? I was tired, and being homeward bound elicits all my deepest fears somehow—the horror of the ordinary.

So tired we went to bed at 9:30, got up at 6:30, spent the day in the State Library, and then drove home in the dark and rain.

Richmond unremarkable—a detestable Republican newspaper with a silly, venal editorial attributing the “peace” of El Salvador to Reagan and American arms sent to the country. But as the Southern Belle told Mr. Oscar Wilde when he admired the moon in Alabama, “Oh, Mr. Wilde, you should have seen it before the war!”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Washington, D.C. 2.1.92: Artists' Eyes and La Comédie Humaine

Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940): domestic scenes with a slight touch of humor underneath the depiction of the ordinary—the very ordinariness of late 19th-century bourgeois life made slightly ridiculous—or shown to be, as it actually is, ridiculous. Verges on comic-strip technique—small distortions of head size, exaggerations of obesity of women depicted in muumuus.

Pierre Bonnard, “The Open Window”: fascinating painting. I’d like to have a print of it.

Random notes at the Phillips Collection . . . .

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Washington, D.C. 1.1.92: New Year Frolic and Groaning Tables

More chronicle: yesterday, Steve and I went back to the National Archives. I discovered two ancestors on the mortality censuses—Samuel Kerr Green and James Birdwell. Steve found more on his Kuld family.

Then we returned to the hotel, got the car, and drove up to Adams Morgan at 18th and Columbia. We had lunch at a Salvadoran restaurant, El Tazumal—rather heavy, but interesting, food. I had a “tipico” plate—a pupusa, a tortilla, a pastelito (a surprise: I had thought it would be sweet, but it was a fried meat pastry, a sort of cigar-shaped empanada), fried yucca (potato-like, but less interesting and with a very slight bitter undertone), frijoles, a salad, and fried plantains—not the patacones of our Colombian friends nor the tostones of the Puerto Ricans, but fried whole and not crisp. Heavy, starchy, fatty—good in the mouth, troubling to my poor stomach.

Then we walked around in that interesting area of the city—a used bookstore run by a macho replica of the previous bookstore owner I mention supra; an antiques shop with a young Jewish owner who tried to badger and insult us into buying; and a wonderful new bookstore, Bick’s, with an extensive poetry section, a gay-lesbian section adjacent one on spirituality, next to theology and philosophy, and near a post-structuralism section. Spent over $100 on books about Bakhtin and by G. Bachelard.

Afterwards, we returned and I so tired I slept awhile, then to dinner at a Touch of Lemon Grass on 18th—bun bo (chicken marinated and grilled, over rice noodles, with cilantro and nuoc mam), and a fried noodle dish with broccoli, bean sprouts, onion, carrots, and shrimp, chicken, and beef. Glorious.

Then to an evening of frolicking at Tracks, a huge gay disco in the southeast sector but near the capitol. As always, I was excessively nervous. My nervousness produces paranoia, so I was afraid even to get out of the car when we arrived, magnifying the threat of the neighborhood (which is marginal) and the age difference between us and the young glitterati arriving at the disco.

Consequently, up to midnight, we stood in the wings watching others dance, and I waiting and not having courage to enter the dance floor. At midnight, everyone had glasses of free, abominable champagne, and toasted. Steve went to get another glass and I held onto mine, and a kind man about my age walked by and clinked glasses with me, looking me in the eye. A turning point: I threw caution to the winds and began the new year dancing.

There’s a primeval thing that makes us greet the new year with merriment—that barely sensed relief that we have, despite all, lived on; the hope that springs eternal; the elation that sun does not die at the solstice. The Latinos around us ululated in Arabic fashion and kissed one another passionately as the clock struck the new year—and then danced with abandon.

I felt all these primeval impulses, even knotted in my Anglo knots, and determined that this year will be one of hope for me. At the same time, I felt a deep sadness welling up, that Simpson did not live to see this new year in. In the midst of life, we are in death: life is nothing but dying, rising, dying, rising. Even as we live, we die, and yet each death brings new life in some way. (Do I really want to say—and do I really believe—this?)

Anyway, wonderful to dance and cavort and see the beautiful beings all around. And to celebrate being gay in a healthy, open, unapologetic way. And wonderful to see the way straight couples, single people accompanied by no one, transvestites—anyone, everyone—danced together amidst gay ones without interference or rejection of anyone.

Then, today, we breakfasted with Stanislaw C.’s Ethiopian friend Abate M., a charming man of 60 who took us to an Ethiopian dinner at Sheba Café—injeera, curried chicken, fried fish, curried peas, collards, cabbage, salad, and bulghur. We ate with our fingers and talked and talked, drank Ethiopian mead, and then Abate M. drove us around the city.

It was charming to see the Lincoln Memorial and the Einstein statue and the National Cathedral at night, in the starkness of winter. Other hearty souls were about, and one heard snatches of conversation much more interesting than one hears in the day, among tourists.

The Vietnam memorial was an experience—my first time to see it. Of course, reading had prepared me, so the actual experience was something of a let-down. Even so—so many lives, and think what remains. And not a single statement of repentance, or a vow not to let this happen again . . . .

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Washington, D.C. 30.12.01: Urban Decay and Hope Amidst the Ruins

I feel I always write tripe when I travel. Partly the result of never sitting down to write until I’m too exhausted to think. Also because I fall into chronicle format.

To wit: today we spent most all day in the National Archives. Steve had great success doing research: found the ship’s list of his immigrant ancestor Anton Kuld. I was happy to be able to help him. I had less success myself—mainly because I prepared too little for this visit.

After that, we returned to our hotel. We read last night in a local paper that the Radisson at Rhode Island on McPherson Square has a $59/night special for the holidays, so we moved to that hotel, as that is the same price we were paying at our sleazy hotel in Chinatown.

Then we went to Dupont Circle, a few blocks away, and did some desultory book shopping, and afterwards walked up 18th St., where we had noticed (in the phonebook) there are many restaurants. We ate at a Malay restaurant partly because it looked good (and was), and partly because, not knowing the neighborhood and it growing dark, we became a little apprehensive about walking around without any clear destination.

Always in the back of my mind is the alarming homicide rate of the city. Men panhandling everywhere, some minatory as they ask for money. Across from where we ate was a liquor store lot full of men waiting, lounging, talking. More and more our cities are like some third-world country inhabited by a few epicene wealthy, their camp followers, and the destitute. We camp followers look out the cozy windows of our cozy restaurants at the strange world of the poor—as if we’re watching reels of a slow-motion revolutionary documentary.

Steve said during dinner that’s it’s a shame our cities are decaying. I’m not so sure. For one thing, there are also signs of vitality amidst the decay—the confluence of ethnic groups and the gay community, for instance, new artistic movements, a healthy sensuality expressed in concern for food and for the aesthetic.

Maybe urban vitality has to find its away around heterosexist males and their death grip on everything. “Real men” continue to feel nothing. They relegate feeling to women or “inferior” races or children. Consequently, they don’t take in much happening around them. The senses themselves make us receptors, and thus feminine, in the minds of “real men.” Men control, and so bypass and choke feeling.

I see hope that a patriarchal society is gradually, slowly disintegrating, and the new visibility of gay people speaks to me of this hope. We drove after supper to 18th and Columbia, where all sorts of new restaurants and boutiques have sprung up, and it all seemed not tawdry or self-indulgent, but alive in an interesting and promising way.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Washington, D.C. 29.12.91: Country Churches and Urban Decay

Writing this in D.C. On Friday, Steve and I drove to Raleigh and spent a night with his cousins. Then on Saturday we drove to the Eastern Shore of Virginia and spent the night at Nassawadox. Drove today to D.C.

The weather foul—i.e., drizzly, or as they say in Newfoundland, mizzling. Foul i.e. for driving, but oddly beautiful otherwise. It’s warm—up near 60◦—and everything on the Eastern Shore was fog-enshrouded.

When we arrived last p.m., it was already turning dark at 4 P.M. But we had time to see Christ Church Episcopal church in Eastville, an 1832 (?) church of the original Hungars Parish. Cemetery full of Nottinghams. The Eastville courthouse dates from 1731 (?), and court has been held in the county from the 1670s, I believe. All is built around a commons—old, small, red-brick buildings with nice glass windows (in churches as well) and a small green in the middle.

After Eastville, we drove down the Wilsonia Neck road, where the Monks and Nottinghams lived, south of the road, between Hungars and Deep Creek. Saw the little 17th-century house called Pear Valley that appears in Whitelaw’s book on the Eastern Shore. Several of the large houses nearby—including, apparently, the one owning the P.V. cottage—are for sale.

In the morning, we returned, going via the older Hungars Parish church north of Eastville, which is strange to see. An Episcopal church out in the country, fields and pine trees all around, pick-up trucks in the churchyard—for all the world, the same feel as a Baptist church in north Louisiana.

I wanted to putter about in the cemetery, but church was going on and I felt abashed to be seen tripping and tipping over Wilkins and Mapp graves, as service sent on. The church itself as plain as any evangelical one, telling a lot about the variety of plain, non-sacramental Anglicanism my forefathers brought to Virginia. Of whitewashed brick, square, plain glass windows. I felt very keenly at home, especially in the silence of the surrounding fields, broken only by a whush of birds in the grass verges now and then. Very, very like the area of Cashie Neck where Nottingham Monk settled. . . .

D.C. is a shambles—homeless people everywhere, 480+ people murdered this year, urban decay that boggles the mind. Yet in it all, I sense hope in the open and alive presence of gay people around Dupont Circle, in the movement away from the dead and forward to the new and living in reappraisal of gender roles, increasing frankness re: the monstrous stupidity of the Reagan era, multiculturalism, artistic revisioning. I’m babbling—tired and feeling a bit hopeless myself.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Kansas City 26.11.1991: Sleeping Dogs and Kinetic Murals

Random observations, Nelson Art Museum, Kansas City: at an exhibit of photographs by Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo, a picture of a dog asleep on its side beneath a window, with an inscription, Los sueños han de creerse. The commentary plaque says Alvarez Bravo often photographed sleeping dogs because of their obliviousness and imperviousness to human interference.

A painting, “Scenes from the Life of St. Nicholas,” by the Master of the St. Lucy Legend, fl. Ca. 1482-99, has clerics (young men) unclad in bed together. The legend is that they were killed by the landlord in a robbery, as they slept, and St. Nicholas raised them from the dead.

A Painting, “The Illness of Pierrot,” by Thomas Couture, shows a stupid doctor unable to figure out how to diagnose the illness of Pierrot, who lies in a stupor, with lobster shells and empty wine bottles about his bed. A Harlequin clad in bright-patched costume weeps, his back turned to the scene, face to the wall. An inscription in the upper right-hand corner reads, La science fait voir à ce docteur ce qui n’est pas et l’empêche de voir à ce que tout le monde devine.

Who is Harlequin? Does he appear in early 19th-century paintings as a protest vs. Enlightenment rationally, a vestige of that covert subterranean knowledge of an agrarian world suppressed by that rationality?

And Pierrot? Isn’t he the same figure who’s in the Rouault paintings that bowled me over in the Phillips Museum in D.C.? Are these stock figures? When do they appear?

Rose Ducreux, 1761-1802, an exquisite portraitist, but for long her paintings were attributed to Jacques Louis David or one of his (male) disciples.

Beautiful small paintings of a Seville scene by Emilio Sanchez-Perrier, 19th-century Spanish painter—who did both Seville and Paris scenes. I’d like to know more about him.

What strikes me in the Thomas Hart Benton murals is the twisted energy, not of the paintings themselves, but of the people. All in a kinetic choreography, but it’s not flowing and free—bodies are contorted with malevolent energy. This seems to be Benton’s commentary on American life—scenes of savage slaughter of native Americans, enslavement of blacks, retribution of the native Americans—as though the energy we represent as a nation has from its outset been twisted in a destructive direction, with religion as a prop for this perversion (in a panel of the founding of the country, colonial settlers pray after killing the native Americans, and then are slaughtered in revenge).

And a theme of the enactment of violence vs. women: it’s a mother and child the native peoples kill in this scene, and a powerful mural of Hollywood has a Jean Harloweish figure scantily clad in the middle, the technological energy all around (machines, tinsel) iconizing her even as they bleed her of life. Violence vs. nature (mother) spatially extended by technology. This is reminiscent of the Diego Rivera mural in the Bellas Artes museum in Mexico City.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Charlottesville, Virginia 6.10.93: Human Comedy Amidst Gorgeous Buildings

From Wythe Co., we drove to Charlottesville for the night. Wanted to see Monticello on Thomas Jefferson’s 250th birthday year. A horrible Vietnamese meal in Charlottesville.

Next morning, we walked on the campus to see the Rotunda, the residences it behind it facing one another across the lawn. Students live in some of these as an honor, and most black-painted doors with brass nameplates had various posters, announcements, and newspaper clippings on them. One had a sticker saying something like, “Republicans Still Have the Answer.” Next to it had a sticker with the word “visible,” the V being a pink triangle. There were other openly gay things on the door. What a story in the juxtaposition of the two, and in the very existence of the latter in this staid environment.

Then to Monticello. The drive itself, in morning mist on the hills, was lovely, but the place was infested with visitors. A college-student tour guide was barely articulate—made about eight subject-verb agreement errors, used the word “basically” constantly and meretriciously, and seemed to have absolutely no feel for the place and its history. I felt very grumpy, out of sorts, scrutinized.

After Monticello, back to Charlottesville for lunch. We walked and then ate in the old downtown. It was very pleasant—another lovely fall day—but something about the place disturbs me. It’s as if the people are all playing a role, an Anglo role, of forced politeness and formality. Very few seem to be native Virginians, but they all seem to have adopted the air (an air of superiority) of Virginians. But don’t they realize that the English culture of Virginia is something much different from a Masterpiece Theater staging of Brideshead Revisited? It’s earthy, 16th-century, Shakespearean in its roots.

People dress in Charlotteville—dress the part. Lots of preppy college boys in short hair, ironed Oxford-cloth shirts, loafers, lots of preppy college girls with clean bobbed hair and fresh faces. Older people very formally dressed, even for a shopping foray.

Then home via highway 29, with gorgeous scenery in Albemarle and a bit of Nelson Co., but flattening as one approaches Campbell and Amherst, becoming very unattractive in Pittsylvania.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wytheville, Virginia 16.10.93: Log Cabins and Shot Towers

Back today from our trip to the Blue Ridge and Virginia. After our overnight stay on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we went to Wythe Co. to look up Brooks and Whitlock roots.

Wytheville itself was a surprise—a pretty little mountain town, surprisingly . . . well, sophisticated seeming.

At the courthouse, I copied the will of Thomas Brooks, what few estate papers there were, and deed records for Brookses and Whitlocks. Then we had lunch at a place called Umberger’s, famous for hot dogs. There seem to be a lot of Germans in and around Wytheville, though the corner of the county where the Brooks and Whitlocks apparently lived, the southeast, seems to have more English and Scottish names, even today.

From lunch we went to the library, where I found something saying the land Thomas Whitlock sold in 1805 to the Harbert/Herbert family, on both sides of Little Reed Island Creek, became the site of a forge called High Rock Forge, and eventually became the Patterson post office.

From deeds, it seems to me Thomas and Hannah Whitlock sold their Wythe Co. land in 1804 and moved to Kentucky. My recollection is that Thomas Brooks had to have been in Kentucky by 1797 in order to claim land, but I believe his daughter Jane was born in Wythe Co. in 1798, and he appears on the tax list up to 1804. I think he must have settled the Kentucky land in 1797, and the family moved with him ca. 1798, though he kept Wythe Co. land up to 1804.

From Wytheville we drove out to Poplar Camp, to the old Shot Tower, one of only three such places still standing in the U.S. It was a gorgeous fall day, clear and windy, and from the tower (i.e., the base of it, since it’s not open for inspection) one can see quite a ways. In a little dell at its feet is an old farm still operating, with a log cabin and lots of old farm buildings. Behind the tower runs New River—a pretty, rocky, shallow river.

Then to Patterson, a poor aggregation of buildings with people who seem hard-bitten living around it. We stopped and talked to an elderly woman gathering black walnuts with a young man. She had a brown and white gingham apron, gray hair up in plaits, a fierce, hawkish-looking face with stern brown eyes. We asked where Little Reed Creek is, and they said they’d never heard of it—there’s a Reed Creek, they said. I believe Little Reed Creek doesn’t flow into New River nowadays, though it did in the late 18th century. When we thanked the old lady, she bowed very gravely and majestically.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Doughton State Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina 13.10.93: Aster and Fall Leaves

On Blue Ridge Parkway, staying the night at a lodge in Doughton State Park. The leaves not at their peak, but still resplendent, especially at higher elevations. I’ve not seen aster in bloom near Belmont, but it’s blooming all along the roadsides in the mountains. The picture on the opposite page is my inexpert attempt to capture an impression of it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Belmont, North Carolina 12.10.93: Leaves and Falling Creation

Sitting now on a bright fall day on the back porch—except that the leaves are still mostly green, if tinged yellow and red, and so block the sun, making it cool down here.

I think of that marvelous passage in Walden in which Thoreau speaks of leaves. He notes the etymological link between “leaf,” lapsus, “lobe.” In creativity, in creation, all falls to something else. The body and its organs, as he notes, its lobes, are leaves—lapses—as the matter runs into what it must become to support this kind of life.

This links us so intimately to all created matter that it calls for utter compassion for all created things. Yet I thought this morning as I meditated how hard it is for me to have compassion for myself.

What I can forgive and understand in others, I cannot in myself—that so much of my tortured and defensive and self- and other-crucifying behavior is the suppressed cry of a much abused small child with alcoholic, immature, flawed parents. That I go through life sucking at its tit for love and feeling unsatisfied.

And I wonder, consequently, how much I truly love others, have compassion for them. Until we love and accept (and forgive) ourselves, can we love anyone else?

What made me think all this was looking at a dead and leafless branch of the redbud tree. How exactly like a skeletal arm and hand upraised it appears. How sad it makes me feel to see the tree die. As if a part of me is dying . . . .

Monday, June 8, 2009

Belmont, North Carolina 8.10.93: Blue Herons and Cane Thickets

A few days ago, Steve and I walked down to try to catch a glimpse of the blue heron, which seems to have returned from it summering place. Steve had seen it on its stick in the slough off South Fork river, which (the slough) people call a lake. Hence the name of our community, Lakewood.

It wasn’t on the stick where it often perches, so we went across the bridge to look on the other side, where a number of sandhill cranes live among the cattails and other vegetation on what’s the marshier side of the bridge.

As we walked down to the cane thicket, we heard an ark-ark—loud—that we’d never heard before. Steve then said he saw the heron fly off to the top of a tree; it was he (she) who had made the noise. It must nest (with young?) on that side, and sit on the other to fish during the daytime.

Friday, June 5, 2009

New Orleans 28.3.93: Mockingbirds at Sundown, Fragrant Cedars.

A cool evening, after an afternoon of heating showers. I’m sitting on the patio listening to the mockingbirds. Towards sundown they love to sit atop trees and sing. I have been watching one as its throat catches the now horizontal rays of light. I can smell the cedars around the patio . . . .

Yesterday I went to town and shopped. The French Quarter is even tawdrier on a Saturday . . . . I went to town to shop because the thrift stores have only polyester clothes. In this climate, wearing spun plastic seems absurd. Yet in the heart of one of the richest cotton-growing areas in the world, we wear petroleum-based clothes, and cotton is priced out of sight. In the height of Louisiana strawberry season, I could buy only jumbo, tasteless, California berries. Why? Profit, market.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rochester, New York 12.4.84: Seminarians and Head-Splitting Laughter

Tonight I’m at Colgate Seminary in Rochester. Am doing research for the dissertation. Tomorrow I see Dr. Kenneth S. As with all seminaries, there is the usual seminarian habit of acting en masse: here, what they do en masse is laugh raucously. My ears are ringing and my head splitting after a day here. Poor old Walter Rauschenbusch seems ill-remembered. The card file in the library has only two or three references under the heading “Social Gospel.”

Of course, all small, intense groups are characterized by habitual mimicry of one another within the group. I suppose what makes this so disconcerting in a seminary is that it seems to exhibit such small-minded shallowness: and such self-satisfied introversion in a world which ought to demand so much attention. The Kingdom vision of the church is always in danger of being eclipsed by ecclesiasticism—the church serving its own ends. God preserve us from the future small-minded folks (of every ilk) are preparing for us. The ecclesiastical avant-garde walks lockstep with whoever has most power today.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Doughton State Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina 13.10.94: Webs of Rain, Calling Crows

Writing this in the mountains, at Bluff’s Lodge in Doughton State Park, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, where Steve and I drove yesterday afternoon. We’ll stay till Sunday morning.

Outside, fine misty rain driving in luminous webs across the hilltops. A crow calling in the distance, but hidden by the rain, which is at times so dense one can see only shadows of shrubbery through it.

I love such mystic landscapes. They speak to some need deep in my soul for cold, for rain, for high places and cozy fires. Perhaps I am at heart the Celt who grew fond of those fringes of Northern Europe to which he was pushed by waves of dispossession.

All this sounds so blithe and bonny. But I’m not—not in my heart of hearts. Far from it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pittsburgh 14.6.1992: Catholics Playing Games and Scholars Marketing Themselves

CTSA: feeling, as always, what a despised outsider I am. Not feeling: knowing. My seminar group made a grant application, and Margaret O., who knew me in my graduate-school years in Toronto but persisted in calling me Hal Lindsey at this CTSA meeting, raked me over the coals re: the application. She said I had to have a set of papers ready for consideration in hand, not—as the application form clearly says—an idea to call for papers.

Then on the last day of the conference, it was announced that a grant was given to Robert S. for, well, a project in which he was calling for papers! In addition, Lisa C. told me our seminar group cannot become a permanent seminar, and she made me feel as if, in asking, I were pushing for unearned preference.

But worst of all are the little innuendoes, the sly little cuts and cold shoulders, of former classmates—Christoph P., Lou M., Mary Anne H., all laced with homophobia and the implication that I’m hypocritical, fair of face but foul of heart—that is, precisely what they are to me.

I tried to discuss the deeply inbred homophobia of CTSA with Gregory B., who of course pooh-poohed it all. In the past, I’ve always been angered and motivated to fight against the glib reduction of the insights of those unjustly excluded to psychoaberrant musings—well, they’re just paranoid, aren’t they, etc.? Now, I’m too tired.

This all sounds banal, petty, jealous. Maybe. My heart is a heart of darkness, I am quite sure. But I also anguish—at a religious level—at the injustice, at the exclusion, at the contradiction of core Catholic values. I also anguish at the thought that, in Catholic theology, it’s not scholarship or serious thought that counts. It’s ability to package oneself and appear to conform. It’s too easy to ignore the glaring reality at the bottom of it all, in these Catholic theological gatherings: gay people are expected to remain hidden, silent, to play the game of collaboration. We do not exist and will not officially exist, here.

I will not attend this meeting again. No point. Why go into a setting designed to humiliate and exclude? And all in the name of Christ?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pittsburgh 13.6.92: Impressionists and Romantics Together

Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh: late 15th-century Spanish portrait, King Hezekiah, with a furling banner of words around his head. In medieval art, language struts across the scene; all is redolent of meaning.

Gustave Doré’s “Forest at Twilight”: nature poised and posed for us; romanticism purports to give us nature in the raw, but it creates nature for us. As nature is emptied of all inner significance, we make it a player on our human stage.

From medieval art to Flemish early modern art to Impressionists: a loss of community. Impressionist landscapes curiously uninhabited, in contrast to Brueghel, etc. When people are shown by Impressionists, it’s usually inside, in communities cut off from any larger or more encompassing one.

Romantic portraits of women: women become “natural.” They become nature itself. I.e., at the same time that they are released from various confining social bonds, they are captive to a more insidious bond—that of being as disposable, as instrumentalizable, as nature itself.