Friday, October 31, 2014

Mayor Menino: A Remembrance

With the news in recent days sounding grim, it was perhaps not altogether unexpected that former Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino would soon be leaving us, and indeed, he was summoned away from earthly cares at a few minutes after nine o'clock Thursday morning. I had gone with my mom to a mid-morning doctor's appointment, and when we got back to her place and turned on the television, it was all eulogy and remembrance. As well it might be. The affable, down-to-earth Mayor Menino did much during his two-decade tenure to give the city of Boston a luster, a vigor, a prominence on the world stage, and a great degree of civic health. He was as much at home in Roxbury as in Southie, and once winsomely boasted, "I've got everybody from Jimmy Kelly [a somewhat parochial city councillor] to the gays and lesbians supporting me!" He certainly did. Even his most recent mayoral opponent, Michael Flaherty, eulogized him on Thursday in the most laudatory terms.

I lived in Boston for three, perhaps four, elections in which Mayor Menino was a candidate. I voted for him once--in 2001, I believe. Or maybe it was 2005. During his first run for the mayoralty in 1993, I backed his opponent Jim Brett because Brett was (at least nominally) pro-life. There isn't a whole lot that a mayor can do about such things; still, a candidate's expressed stance on that issue can be useful as an index of political fortitude, especially in the bracingly progressive purlieux of Boston and vicinity.

I met Mayor Menino once: in July 1995, I think it was, at the Mount Carmel church fair in East Boston. There was a bar set up in the basement of the church, and who was tending bar but the Mayor! "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr Mayor!" I said, almost jauntily; "I'd like a beer!" The mayor, looking skeptically at my fresh-faced 26-year-old self, responded, "Gotta see some ID." I obligingly produced my license, and he turned to an aide, asking if I was acceptably old enough. "June of '69? He all right?" After the Mayor received the nod confirming what he likely already knew, I got my Budweiser, or whatever it was.

On that occasion, my mom was by my side, and made bold to ask the mayor, "Can I make a suggestion about the school committee?" The good-natured laughter was boisterous and general, none laughing harder than the Mayor.

Rest in peace, Mr Mayor. Well done.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A deep breath

Morning. Almost five. Drinking the last cup of coffee, which has gone from warm to tepid, as I have sat here for nearly an hour and a half revising recently-written poems.

Yesterday was The Anniversary. The centennial of Dylan Thomas. As stated in the post immediately below, blame him for the fact that I occasionally imagine myself to be a poet! The Welsh actor Matthew Rhys recently noted, "Dylan Thomas introduced me to the English language. Not in a literal sense. But he introduced me to what the English language could be, above and beyond a means of communication." This is exactly how I feel.

And I must admit to feeling a certain solidarity with Dylan the working-class kid, high-school dropout, gifted but feckless about practical matters; nonethless, mulishly stubborn and workaholic when it came to the art of making verse. I find myself wishing quite often that I still had the zeal of the sixteen-year-old apprentice poet, writing turgid impenetrable sonnets, testing alliteration, assonance, consonance, slant rhyme, iambs, trochees, spondees. Nowadays, I fear I am culpably lazy, too easily contented with a flawed first draft (perhaps because I am so grateful that I can write anything at all!).

Dylan Thomas's language was consciously, painstakingly crafted. Carved, almost. Hewn, or sculpted. His language is a solid thing. Opaque, obscure, occasionally gross. But to me, at sixteen, absolutely and vitally necessary.

*

I was supposed to have had a stress test last Wednesday, as a precautionary postlude to my chest pains of October 12. But by sunrise of last Wednesday, I was sick as a dog, and quite stupid with lacksleep. So, a postponement was needful.

*

I really should "disconnect," at this point. Take a deep breath. A hiatus, a retreat, a pause in cyberspatial occupations.

The morning orisons await.

I shall return!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Happy 100th birthday, Dylan Thomas

He made the English language crash, seethe, bubble, and brawl; and he made me burn to write.





Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Return of the Prodigal Son

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of my return to the sacramental life of the Church after having been truant from ages 14 to 22.

During those eight years, I recall only two instances of doing something Catholic. In August 1983, at age 14, I climbed the holy staircase (kneeling, as is the custom) in the shrine of Ste Anne de Beaupré just north of Quebec City. I wasn't sure if I "believed in it," but I figured, it couldn't hurt, and Mom was doing it, too. Keep her company!

Then, in the winter of '85-86, maybe Lent '86, age 16, I did go to Confession one night at my parish in East Boston. I remember the priest remarking, "You've made a mature confession for sixteen." Don't know how my age came up, but it did. I think I was remarkably candid in this confession, saying that I didn't quite assent to all the Christian mysteries, but had a keen awareness of my sinfulness.

Oh, just before going into college, I had a flicker of Catholic homesickness, because I remember writing to the UMass Amherst Newman Center for information about what they were all about. I received a genial response from a Sr Millie. I never did anything in the Newman Center except have lunch in their basement cafeteria a number of times. (They had cigarette vending machines back in '89!)

Then, during my few semesters of college, my reading inadvertently became theistic, or had theistic moments. Marianne Moore's prose, luminous and (at times) deeply Christian. And then there was that tidbit in the E E Cummings biography where, one day, exhausted with care and worry, he took himself to his rooftop, lay in the sun, closed his eyes, and facing unseeingly heavenward, prayed the Our Father.

When I was kicked out of college, my need for God became markedly more evident. I wanted to go to church, but Catholicism was still out of the question. A poet-acquaintance attended a Unitarian church, and it seemed to be doing wonders for him: a nicer soul you couldn't hope to meet. So, knowing nothing about Unitarianism, I decided to attend one Sunday. How bracingly amorphous their credenda! I lasted three months as a UU. (Progressivism seemed to be the unifying principle of UUism, and I was turning gradually, but certainly, to the right.)

Well, one July afternoon in '91, I was browsing the Boston University Bookstore in Kenmore Square. Something led me into the religion section. I saw the name Thomas Merton, and recalled that my high-school English teacher Mr W------ was working on a book about him!

The volume New Seeds of Contemplation attracted me most. I bought it, read it, adored it, and three months later, in October 1991, I found myself in the confessional of Saint Francis Chapel, Prudential Center, confessing my sins to (as I would later learn) Fr Bob.

Sagely, Fr Bob counselled me to get a Catholic catechism. The "new" catechism was as yet unavailable, so Fr Bob steered me toward a catechism edited by Bishop (as he was then) Donald Wuerl -- Fr Bob even helpfully spelled the surname!

And the rest is history?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Huevos revueltos

A dozen jumbo eggs on my face!

I fired off an e-mail to the editor of a poetry magazine a few days back, complaining of two lines having been cut from a poem of mine that they were kind enough to publish. Oops! I myself cut those lines! And my files prove it. Yikes!

Backpedal, backpedal, profound embarrassment, abject apology!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Death of Reticence

Someone needs to write an essay on the death of reticence, that forgotten virtue that assumes others have a right to privacy. I don't mean "right to privacy" in the debased current way that phrase is used, as a code word for extirpating incipient life. I do mean the right not to "friend" someone on Facebook ten minutes after meeting them in a pub, the right not to become someone's best bud because you and he happen to be followers of the same weblog, or enthusiasts for the same poet, or what have you. I mean the right to have a wee bit of distance between oneself and the possibly benign strangers who enter one's life as a matter of daily course.

I mean to praise shyness. I mean to praise introversion. I mean to praise hesitancy and doubt and nervousness. I mean to deplore the mentality that must "get to the bottom of" another person's mystery, if you will.

The friends I have met in cyberspace have been by and large a blessing. But I worry about those who mistake a cyberspatial bonhomie with an invitation to insist upon meeting in real time, because of the most tenuous of commonly held interests, or because of geographical proximity, or any other flimsy pretext.

I lack the energy to explore this topic in depth. But someone, please, provide me with a ringing defense of reticence!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday jottings: October 19

Good morning, all, and happy Sunday!

I awoke at 2 this morning to a temperature of 55 degrees, heading downward before dawn. I'm hoping this means that the August-like muggies of the past week have dissipated entirely, have vanished quite!

I attended the poetry workshop this past Wednesday night and brought a small poem called "Chasing the Waves." I was immensely gratified that the participants of the workshop seemed to think well of it. It was also gladdening to hear everyone else's poems: vivid, adventurous, creative, alert.

Last Sunday I took myself to the emergency room for nagging chest discomfort. All the heart tests (EKGs, chest x-rays, and the like) were normal. So I was sent home after a few hours. But this week, Wednesday and Thursday, as a precaution, I am undergoing a bipartite nuclear stress test at the hospital in Cambridge.

Today I'm attending a coffee hour, a get-together for all the lectors and extraordinary ministers at my parish. (I am a lector, and have been since June of last year.) It starts at nine this morning. By that time, I will have already had more than a litre of coffee! But it will be nice to meet the other folks.

This year, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will be electing a new governor, and neighbouring New Hampshire a United States senator. The Boston TV stations are, of course, saturated (one is tempted to say, infested) with political advertisements. The tiresome quality of most of these ads reinforces me in my tendency to watch little besides PBS and Boston's CatholicTV.

*

I wish I had something to say about the Synod of Bishops in Rome.

There has been much cause for concern in some circles. Will Pope Francis "cave to the progressives," Cardinals Kasper and Marx? Will he attempt to wrench Catholic teaching out of shape in order to placate a clamant minority within the Church?

I have to confess, I have been fretful of late. But then I recalled two vitally important things.

1. Papa Francesco loves Our Lady.
2. Our Lady loves Papa Francesco.

Recalling these two truths, I am serenely hopeful, secure in the knowledge that the Church -- even more so than drivers insured by Allstate -- is in good hands.

*

Recently, someone on the social media accused me -- the verb is correct -- of coming from a privileged background. I am, it would seem, rich and aloof from the concerns of common folk.

The fellow leapt to this egregiously mistaken conclusion, I believe, on the basis of two things: (1) my conservative, sporadically libertarian, politics; (2) my facility with the English language. In fact, when I jokingly retorted, "Oh, I am just awash in privilege!", the fellow groused, "Sure sounds like it."

Sounds like it? Do I sound privileged because of my politics? Because of my vocabulary? Perplexing! And silly!

I cautioned the fellow, "Make no assumptions, sir, about someone you don't know."

Privilege! From ages six to eighteen, I lived in an unassuming triple-decker on a small side street in East Boston. I didn't know the names of birds or beasts or flowers. I had fire hydrants for scenery, and airplanes overhead from nearby Logan International. My family was often impecunious, but we did the best we could.

But I am astonished by the assumption that a poor person cannot learn to use language at a level appreciably above functional literacy. If I pepper my obiter dicta in a comment thread with phrases like -- oh, I don't know -- "summum bonum," -- or for that matter, "obiter dicta" -- if I am prone, somewhat vaingloriously, to a Buckleyite flourish of rhetoric every now and again, does this bespeak "privilege"?

In a way, I suppose it does. The privilege of a solid high-school education, still obtainable by any Boston student capable of passing the exam that gets you into the Boston Latin School. No tuition. But lots of hard work. (At least, in my day, that's what you could expect!)

I am privileged inasmuch as I had many excellent teachers of English, of modern European languages, and of Latin, who helped foster and fortify my burgeoning love of the word.

But to assume that because I argue a conservative position at times, or because I do so using words and expressions that are a tad recherché, I must be financially privileged, or I must have no knowledge of what working-class folks go through -- a consummate absurdity!

*

Thanks for listening, dear Dark Speechers!