Halooooo Mr ThyAye matee, 'twer a fair piece of words...and well received. A game, ye say Mr. Thy. Right then, twelve it be! I'll let ye know when the deed is done, so's we can do the exchaingin' at the same time. Yer lets me know too, me hearty. (See, you shouldn't get me off on that pirate talk...I have a friend I sail with that when the weather gets nasty and the seas get big and rough, we calm ourselves with grog and pirate talk...and trust that 'thems what made this fine vessel, knew their craft'...and our only requirement is to sail her to safety.)
I don't know if I mentioned two fine little wood sloops, made in Holland. I have a Vandestadt designed 24 footer named "Nimbus" that has taken me through more than I wanted to be in. And, a Vandestadt 36 footer "Sian" (center cockpit, with aft cabin) made for affluent Dutch familys to sail from Holland to South Africa. Right now both are out of water. Sian (made 1959) is rebuilt and waiting for yours truly to finish putting in the new engine and reassembly for this summer's cruising. She's a beauty, and fast!
I think this little exercise might help clarify where each of us is coming from, and perhaps to where we would like to go. What say ye, Brother George?GT
Anyway, about collecting 12 faves...OK, We may not have the same meanings for the same words, but it would fun anyway.
I am afraid of the wordLord. I never use it. Slavery and its modern counterpart, racial self-consciousness, has tainted the word with roaring poisonous fumes for now in my southern-poxed vocabulary. Lording over anybody as celebrity or bankrolled sophisticate as a concept drives my fear of success.GT
You would not "lord" it over anyone, without the knowledge that you had become what you feared, and have to change it. You see, you are a success...it's too late to fear. Were Divinci, or Sartre less important during their poverty and obsqurity, just because they were under published? No man, it's a 'right place, at right time' world. The only way to miss now, is to keep your talent to yourself, never share it, or show it to anyone, and then all you will do is delay the enevitable, and become known posthumasly!
Lord, simply means, provider of the bread. You are certainly right in saying time and events have eschewed the meaning and message of words. My job, for me is to "filter" race conciousness, and preconcieved notion, out and collect essences. Unfodder the language that has been screwed up since "the tower of Babbel."
Anyway, more later, must turn attention to other matters for the moment. Blessings to you and yours, buck up, everything's gonna be allright!
By Georgeyou’ve probably grown weary beyond all decency of what motives I have in telling you all this after I’d promised in the opening paragraphs this letter would not degenerate into a stale polemic or rationalization of failed potential. I threaten daily to cease this letter and let pass a relationship which might only serve to irritate rather than uplift. But there are other times I still hope that you will find at least my articulation of a life lived, more helpful than the bone silence of an empty past, that if you can not share my current faith, then you might perhaps share the humility granted to me in a strong sense of failure and unfulfilled promise, a pale writer without an unequivocal cause within which to write. When I speak of failure and unfulfilled promise, I speak of my own, of course. My temple of flesh and sinew is a wreck, but I stagger immutable among the soaring pressures amidst the love of Jesus. Why should I not? If he is still Jewish, perhaps I still have a shot at likeability. I have read this, and I have heard this so many times uttered by so many with far greater tragedy to overcome, I would be a most princely fool not to believe it for myself as well. Thundering in the well-worn, much treasured Ferrar Fenton you gave me, John 7:63 quotes Christ as saying, “The Spirit is the Life-Giver; the body is worth nothing.”
You and I both know the body psychologically influences and instructs the mind and hence the spirit, but I traverse among those who have long despised and mocked the body in order to elevate or at least test the spirit, to allow oneself to be exposed to the same ridicule that others less fortunate or less inspired fall prey to, a costly assault to common sense so that I might more closely understand the struggles of the negro, the corpulent, the drunk, the jobless, the ignorant, the young, the illiterate, the fiendish, the mutterer. True, the preceding is probably the most blatantly transparent rationalizing statement you’ve ever seen in print, but did not Christ become flesh for quite similar reasons?
Jesus is quoted in Matthew 12:32 as saying, “And if one gives expression to a thought against the Son of Man, he may be forgiven; but if one shall speak insultingly of the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither at the present time, nor in the future. Assume the tree to be good, when its fruit is good; or assume that the tree is worthless when its fruit is worthless, for the tree is known by its fruit. You venomous breed! how can you preach purity, when you are yourselves depraved? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart! The beneficent man draws from his treasury of purity, goodness; and the depraved man can produce only depravity, from his stores of depravity! I tell you, however, that every vile idea that men give expression to, they shall render a reason for it in the Day of Judgment. For by your thoughts you will be acquitted, and by your thoughts you will be convicted.”
She has tried with some minor success to understand the character of my apocalyptic rantings. Raised as a standard Sunday best southern Methodist, she is rather unlearned and disinterested in all things biblical, but I can tell you with exact reasoning without stutter or frosting that ten indubitable years of marriage has marked my wife Sue as the most charitable, unpretentious and giving person I have ever known, quite in line with St.Paul’s own description of that term.
Down to brass tacks, sir. I feel and have very nearly always felt since my introduction to christianity that I am the most depraved creature patrolling the face of planet earth. Just plain, unremarkable dirt, filthy pilfered rags when compared to so many offering so much. My self-loathing tricks my brain and ribs my body into its own condemnation. I do not, dare not, can not envy others simply because I recognize no other way of being anyone or anything but that person I already am. I exist and attempt righteousness but whimper and stutter or stomp and bellow only among the truly impoverished who despite a galloping pride seem to lack a healthy provision of bean and worm, creeping along a daily bread route with very few values at all but next next drink or the next morsel. But these are my boyz—a useless lot—and I seem to be their keeper.
When I try to raise myself to a leveled station I quickly fall sick with false pridethe code of the road in most circles of squanderunable to sustain myself in any sophistried prison of spiritual or corporeal relief, thus forfeiting any sort of normalcy my wife, bless her heart, with long suffering patience in every matter still seeks to encourage. While certainly not one to disparage the American middle class existence, I tamper with its ideals, tending to become a spur in the easy cheer of the self-possessed, suggesting chaos to the measured chaste if they use it like a weapon, while mandating order among the sluggards and tragic pit crew whose awkward desperation disgusts me into those rare moments of feeling justified in waving my own benevolence to and fro like a victory flag in an unwinnable war.
Yet now I’m weary of that shallow casting of loafers and unappreciative usurpers. And so I hurl myself even lower into the whirling bowels of self-justified exile, blustering agoraphobia, and noisy withdrawl from all things human but language, and its manipulation, or usage, if this latter word better fits your notions of what I am supposed to say to he who is trying so hard to be a man of biblical times, if not biblical proportions. But I seemed be more more supernaturally drawn to embrace a style of antibravissimo, for the rain knows not its own exemplary moves. Random events add up to a lifetime. Now that can be a lifetime of random events, or perhaps these events mean something. You thought our meeting was not a random event, but an ordained one. Either it is all ordained, or nothing is. Otherwise, it's all just a big stupid guessing game. Why rest one's fate on a guessing game? Either God pulled us together, or you just randomly hired on to the same company for which I was setting elevations on hubs in the ground so the grade operator could load and scrape the figure 8, so that one fine day in the roaring 1980s, designated Houston Metropolitan Police Academy cadets could practice their turns on what would be a concrete or macadam track when we were done. You know, I could load this page up with scripture, but suffice it to say, I have chosen the never a chance meeting approach. All is ordained!
I needed no mollifying label like automatic writing or any such creative writing jargon to prompt me in this venture. But I keep forgetting. You found all creative writing except to the newspapers and surveyor's notes full of spiritual traps and avenues for self-glorification. But I finally rejected all that non-sense. I was choosing my world, and it wasn't yours. Many who have sat at a white sheet of paper in the typewriter stares in a daze, even those who craft their self-importance with writing to the editor.
Sure beats randomness, and it sure as hell beats this on again off again presence of God so many people offer. Have you ever noticed how God is always spoken about in the third person by prayerful folks on the street, at the pulpit, in a sermon, on TV, in a book, almost everywhere except in prayer, when these same prayerful folks seemingly get to talk to Him person to person, gets to carry on long cozy face to face conversations in which God gets to tells them things, helps his praying folk with the higher math of consequential everyday life, offering much-acclaimed advice to these people. Yes. I've always found this a bit odd about how people talk about God behind His back, nope there He is, Pastor Harper is about to pray, he's a knocking, there He is, hey God's here, and now we can have a good chat, ain't that right, Father? Then when I say amen, you'll go back to tending Your Own Business, and I'll get back to tending my, I mean, your sheep. Was fun talking, though, while I had you on the line.
As you might imagine, these rages of antibravissimo against self and society in general grind harshly against the softer wisdoms of my wife. She has tried with some minor success to understand the character of my apocalyptic rantings. Raised as a standard Sunday best southern Methodist, she is rather unlearned and disinterested in all things biblical, but I can tell you with exact reasoning without stutter or frosting that ten indubitable years of marriage has marked my wife Suzette as the most charitable, unpretentious and giving person I have ever known, quite in line with St.Paul’s own description of that term. Her hard work outside the home and her generosity inside the home plus my own passion for canon and understanding make for an odd couple but as those who know us both seem called upon to declarewe seem made for each other, a condition I realize you still believe about your estranged Ann and yourself.
But I am getting ahead of the story. The year is 1982. It is November. I am living in an agreeable efficiency apartment on Peachtree Street across from the famous Fox Theatre in Midtown Atlanta. I am firing off an unsung poem entitled The White Crow. I finish the first draft of the poem in half an hour or so with little realization of what I had written. A simple word purge.
This was quite common at the time, as I would set myself in front of the typewriter and empty page, trancelike (without drugs or alcoholGeorge, despite your strong counsel, but weak presumptions, and tedious accusations, I couldn't write, drive, or dance while stoned because my mind couldn't sit still when writing, I lost lost directional and memory, thus, motor skills when driving, and preferred to organize or do manual work I couldn't ordinarily find the motivation to do when someone asked me to dance, so I would oblige myself a couple of hits instead if available), allowing random words and phrases to filtrate through my subconscious and write themselves down without regard to formula or preconception. I needed no mollifying label like automatic writing or any such creative writing jargon to prompt me in this venture. But I keep forgetting. You found all creative writing except to the newspapers and surveyor's notes full of spiritual traps and avenues for self-glorification. But I finally rejected all that non-sense. I was choosing my world, and it wasn't yours. Many who have sat at a white sheet of paper in the typewriter have stared for long periods in a white daze, even those who craft their self-importance with writing to the editor. Technique was merely how I emptied my mind of current data thresholds, broken phraseology or whatever recently overheard soundbytes and floating images my mind grabbed randomly from the newspaper or street, occasioning no mystery or cult behavior, simply the jotting down of environmental biases and random momentary influences, going with the flow, accepting at first draft what the synapses bred.
Three days later on November 13, 1982, I was rereading the page and a half I had written without thinking too much about the piece at the time. There in the bottom third of the front page were the ordaining wordsAnd I took the name Gabriel Thy!
Stop short I must. Because despite my zeal to write them, speak them to you, I realize my words appear to effect an attack on all things you apparently still hold dear, using examples of verbal exchange that you may not even remember given our difference in ages which may have been the measurement of what sanctioned our friendship in the first place. Young and impressionable minds of a certain stature soak up much that a mature busier mind tosses off in a fleeting moment as general knowledge perhaps unaware of the intensity with which the uninitiated might be paying attention. Couple that with the genuine urge to teach which was your passion, and we have an immediate imbalance. I may have been a fool, but I am nobody's fool. With each passing year I am still astonished by others as they recall something I have apparently said to them, invariably almost in passing, and yet the impact on their lives is alive and vital to their own surviving calculus.
Fortunately, we have the madcap antics of Christ and his disciples to clear us of any whims we might have of linguistic perfection. The needling paradox of Christ as I see it now, is that however plain it might be to us that Jesus Christ is the Word, words almost never suffice in explaining one’s faith in God to others, to oneself, or especially to rogue fictional character pushing for an importance that not for the taking. Perhaps here I might insert a poem I wrote in Corpus in 1982 as I struggled among various underpinnings of faith in religion, in myth, or in anything available to mind and intuition proved only by mass acceptance and repetition. A favorite definitive effort:
DIED IN MY MOUTH
A silent tongue unravels the strangling noose,
Its path, unheralded by truce.
Odd scratched and scribbled graffitti,
Peacemaking my splintered head,
Ballets in dizzy nymph
Arousing the needy.
A parlor hunger, birds unfed.
My mind, a blank page.
My head leaps as a small frog,
There is no comfort.
The nothingness crowd is quoted no more,
Altared but undevoted they pay by nod.
My mind, a cluttered page.
My head sleeps as a burnt ephemeral log,
There is no comfort.
(Yet told around gracious Sin Avenue
camp fires spotting downtown Machinery Row
to the lilies laughing over a fine glass
of the best Napolean brandy
noonday dollars never doubt
where sheer distance is divided by
voteless cog, the mist of democracy
is seen reflecting upon our names
an appointed fog grazing upon
the tracks of method....)
And the saint thus
Spoke scantily to the prophet:
"He who demoralizes another
"Can claim no morality for himself."
To this the prophet said nothing, but
He knew in part the saint
For a shanty fool.
(And the unfed,
Left to perish among
The unwelcome, left to ravish
The beauty of beast, and the beast
Of beauty, established
Many fine logics.)
I fell blank at such a formula—
Asses built on caged numbers observed,
Deserved and dirty word reserved
For quaint molecules and family,
Where my occupation is a gift to anyone
Stroking along fishy fables,
Mentality tables, cradled
Images, daisies, nightsies,
I am the yellow sheep
I can’t earn my keep
Proving the fallibility of this text
World without maps
World without worldliness
My mind, an accurate page.
My head keeps to its own symbol,
There is no comfort.
I wonder what proof died in my mouth.
In Corpus Christi I lived in a tiny garage apartment measuring eight feet wide by twenty feet deep. Painted a heavy pink like the main house, it was comfortable and private. My landlord lived with his elderly mother up front in the rather small big house. Don Allard Gottselig was first generation German American. His parents, both career telephone company employees, had immigrated to Corpus to escape Adolf Hitler in the 1930s although his father had been deceased for several years before I arrived on the scene. Over the course of a very complicated year, Gottselig became my third and final mentor on the basis on his admitted inability to pigeonhole me, or figure me out, as he said he prided himself on just such a spirit of discernment. His early quip that at age 25 I was going through a premature mid-life crisis, immediately caught my attention.
Just an observation, apparently a much-needed observation since your beautiful and adoring wife Ann burst into tears and immediately kneeled at my legs, grasping my hand, exclaiming great thanks when I told you how difficult you make it for people to open up to you, standing right there in the kitchen in hers and the boys' presence just as I was leaving my wonderful three day stay at your Sharpstown home to hit the road back to Corpus, never to see you again.
I basked in the shimmering focus of the enigmatic. I was continuing my studies, now adept at the library frolic, frisky along the glimmering prisms of eclectic titles. Although still very much a slow learner standing at the edge of the woods I was beginning to move past my own age of innocence into something more worm-eaten, something more grounded in the works of men who had asked similar questions to mine. I would press Gottselig with tough questions and odd banter. He said he admired my knack for dismissing the banal and getting to the heart of what he was the first in my life to resolutely sum up as the eternal questions. Of course, I've heard that phrase many times, now, but it goes without saying an autodidact will always be surprised how how much he doesn't know, while the four year scholar will often seem content and proud that four years ago long and away, he once studied at Colombia, got his degree, and is now smarter than anyone when he returns home to his hick hometown among friends and family. As autodidacts, you and I, we seemed to have veered at a certain point when you realized I wasn't just another bright, but blank white canvas, and would resist overbearance. I know it must pain you that your wife has now left you. Yes, I remember. You insisted over the phone that she will always be your wife, beautiful, intelligent Ann, never some other man's. Did she leave you before or after your stroke? I don't think you made that clear to me. But like me, everything is a test from God, and you weather your trials and tribulations. If she left you after your stroke, that makes me particularly sad, even angry. Adultery is common, and understandable for a woman, especially for a sensual robust woman like Ann, to feel thwarted by persistent and pernicious forces she cannot understand, no matter how much she tries. It was you who introduced to me the whirling concept of sexual anthropology. But cruelty after the fact? To walk away as you succumb to weakness? That seems to step into another circle perhaps Dante has already been privy. I do not know. I found Dante rather boring. Just an observation, apparently a much-needed observation since your beautiful and adoring wife Ann burst into tears and immediately kneeled at my legs, grasping my hand, exclaiming great thanks when I told you how difficult you make it for people to open up to you, standing right there in the kitchen in hers and the boys' presence just as I was leaving my wonderful three day stay at your Sharpstown home to hit the road back to Corpus, never to see you again.
When I was a tyke, I used to tell everyone that I knew how to swim because I'd seen it on TV. Later, when I was twelve, still never in enough water to test those skills I'd seen on the screen, I nearly drowned when a teammate on my Little League baseball team named Stan Googe and I went swimming in the pool at his parent's motel in Darien. The Googe grabbed me as I went down for the third time. I remember fearing the worst because I'd also heard about the three times rule. I got as much out of those dinner parties as I gave, and no George, there was no sex, at least not as long as I was around.
Gottselig. A well-educated man in his early forties, he was a social worker for the Corpus Christi office of the Red Cross. He was also a practicing homosexual. And although it was several months before our formal landlord-tenant relationship melted away into a welcomed friendship we immediately shared a mutual respect based on our differences, and there were never any designs to infect the other with our distinct behavioral memes. I have not talked to him either since those days, but on a visit there during the Thanksgiving holiday in 1992, my brother whose ex-wife still lived in the area, and I drove by the Indiana Street house just for old times sake. I was dismayed to see the shrubbery had overgrown and the paint was peeling badly off the little pink house. However the same automobile he had bought new the year I rented there was still parked in the driveway, a tan 1980 Chevy Chevette, twelve years later, and I assumed that his mother had since passed away and he was aging if not ill, the elements of time and a fixed income probably consuming more energies than he could serenely apply to such matters. It made the sad, and I wish I had the nerve to knock on the door. I had and still am visited at night with many dreams that distort that period, that house, Don. None of them to do with sex, but of friendship to an old friend perhaps in need, or perhaps fully recovered to his own high standards where he and his friends at some point invited me to join their silver and crystal dinner parties, carefully planned and executed. Then I would return to my cottage in the rear. Surely I was being used as a prop for their liberalism and lust, but they commented on how sophisticatedly I fit right in. I would always grin, thinking not all long-hairs are drug-addled bums off the street, but actually have watched a little TV too. That's a joke. When I was a tyke, I used to tell everyone that I knew how to swim because I'd seen it on TV. Later, when I was twelve, still never in enough water to test those skills I'd seen on the screen, I nearly drowned when a teammate on my Little League baseball team named Stan Googe and I went swimming in the pool at his parent's motel in Darien. The Googe grabbed me as I went down for the third time. I remember fearing the worst because I'd also heard about the three times rule. I got as much out of those dinner parties as I gave, and no George, there was no sex, at least not as long as I was around.
During those gritty twenty months of wandering through Corpus Christi on an unrehearsed cavort to crack the code reinforcing heaven on earth it was indeed my sound pleasure to learn that not only do lean rigorous Nazarene theologians, boorish Appalachian coal miners, big city unreformed lawyers, zealous vegetarians on the supper take, millionaire ballplayers mopping up life on a single talent, culinary specialists with an eye for the spices, steel-hardened biker broad roughnecks laboring on an icy rig out in the Gulf of Mexico, top shelf economists stuck on desk duty, foul-mouthed construction workers, brainscorched rock & roll lemmings, dinosaur poets in search of the perfect metaphor, early shore race-threatening Connecticut yankees, Alabama rednecks, 20th century negroes in search of the lost dynasty, and let’s not forget the well-defended forts of snowdrop women of all cuts and reward, and children of every coinage from sea to shining sea, all speak in their own peculiar jargon, genre-busting the human identity, each group ceding a language built and maintained for the esoteric control of the situation at hand to its own groomed members, so yes it can be stated simply and securely that not only do all of the abovebut alasalso goeth the homosexual underworld into a language of their own making. And I do not find that amazing in the least.
It was about this time I began sensing God’s signature was to be written on me, whoever I am in the eyes of the world. The tortured buzzing of sectarian flies had never synthesized me into accepting a comfortable slot in the security machine, neither when I was younger, nor even now, as I approach forty years old. This in itself proves nothing, but then what does? short of the resurrection?
In my middle 20s and remarkably naîve as I evidently behaved at the time, but is often a behaviorial mask I use to illicit what may come from whomever I encounter as a possible source of color, anecdote, knowledge, rumor, legend, myth, filthy lie off the assembly line, this somewhat lateblooming recognition of widespread babelism did not exactly alarm me, but neither did it convince me that any of these track thinkers with their tuning forks of self-serving tongues possessed a thimbleful more spiritual aim or aptitude than I had already intuited lived within me. After a while second-guessing gets old, and Father Time commands a muster, a stand, a strength to live out the consequences of that faith, even if that means waxing poetic on the breath-taking landscape portion of our fiction. Resourceful and convinced of my mark, I knew only the God who dwelled within me, knew of my genetics and my blood, my habits nasty, gnarly, and nuanced, pleasing, well-prepared, and productive, and this God spoke of historical things.
This knowledge of God however chiseled deep gorges of restraint into my very being and I found myself unable to preach, unpersuaded that I might be right about anything great or small, and I suddenly knew myself to be a relativist, a solipsist, a sightseer thwarted in my desire to point fingers and lay blame on the state of things in conflict. All arguments could be justified, and who was I to state emphatically my own special warping of facts filtered through the prism of eternity’s pulp? But on the upside of things, from within this mix of spiritual release and mortal confusion, after five convulsive years of great visceral strife I was finally able to shake off the yoke of textbook fear that the Jehovah Witnesses had been so successful in grafting onto me. That fear was truer than feathers on a chicken. My journey into the claims of God versus the claims of Man was not ended but had barely begun as my true nature under God became linked with the testament of my contemporary times.
My own sense of well-being was instantly corrupted when two or three interpreters, straight from the urging of the spirit, such as it was, had to remind the holy there gathered that "outward appearance was not what was important but that which was on the inside, and that one should overlook..."
Failing to meet the standards of one assembly after another, I was beginning to feel ready to invade the smoldering world of rock and roll in the first person singular, ready to spin forth gracefully or not, a perfumed insult to the carefully separated, sound against sound, word against word, hairstyle against hairstyle. It would be vanity on trial. And I would make my way into that world delirium confident in my own words, words I had tested time and time again in what had always in the back of my head seemed like a preposterous hoax of coincidence and wishful thinking, but on faith transformed into the living breathing word and will of God, the voice and path of one thin soldier ready to swing along the pendulum of foul play, God’s buffoon, if you may, in unshunned step with what I had perceived as Jehovah’s masterplan mapped onto our own hypermanufactured age. It was about this time I began sensing God’s signature was to be written on me, whoever I am in the eyes of the world. The tortured buzzing of sectarian flies had never synthesized me into accepting a comfortable slot in the security machine, neither when I was younger, nor even now, as I approach forty years old. This in itself proves nothing, but then what does? short of the resurrection?
In this light I am reminded of my last visit to Houston some evening when you took me to a businessman Christian's meeting, an odd appellation I thought, but I was there with you to give them a shot. Gathered in a fine house full of genuine, nice-looking, smiles a mile folk offering gracious hors d’oeuvres, an ecclesiastic folksinger on acoustic guitar and an opening prayer conducted in these same warbling unfamiliar tongues I had also witnessed at Oral Roberts, and despite all my research, I considered mere syllabic automation, basically, a hoax. My own sense of well-being was instantly corrupted when two or three interpreters, straight from the urging of the spirit, such as it was, had to remind the holy there gathered that "outward appearance was not what was important but that which was on the inside, and that one should overlook..."
Instead of presuming flattery or favor that I was being "accepted" I felt chafed and slandered. Hearing that mature born again christians still had to pray themselves conscious of such a fundamental principle as hair length on a male was preposterous to me. That folk-singer on stage surely didn't arrive by way of the Gregorian chanters or the John Wesleyan devotional hymn school of praising the lord in song. No, he stole the style from long-hairs and colored folks, but cut his hair short to meet his Maker's will, or something like that. And the colored church music I sat outside an old shack Baptist church in Darien to hear, not unlike Jerry Lee and Jimmy, was not exactly what I call devotional. It was ecstatic. George, you prepared me to understand that these people were no ordinary life-long churchgoing frontrow hypocrites the stereotype depicts, but rather, seasoned lambs of Christ girded in faith, bubbling with joy, repackaged shakers and movers, apostles of self-confidence, full of zest in their relationship with the Lord and oh so financially successful according to their firebrand challenge to the sowing and reaping doctrine, and oops—perhaps this is where spiritual blindness was allowed to seep in. A doctrine based on financial success leaves little room for the sheepskin and sackcloth crowd. This cash cow for believers concept however, is an Americanized doctrine, yet somehow, it does not really seem to cure what ails us, but certainly seems to open up huge languishing holes for watershed grievances to take root.
It is often used in connection with the Government Survey System. Yes, as you said of me in 1978, I am a born surveyor, but did God create me to take a job at some engineering or construction firm measuring distances from sticks to stones, from pipes to wood, with chains and transits, knuckleheads and time clocks? I think not. What's a mere job to God the Messenger?
Don't get me wrong. I am a proud believer that the American system is serving God’s purpose, but so have the many others which preceded it, and frankly, experience has ranked me lower than a crass amateur in the fluttering ways of money, so in seeking a level perspective my only interest is one of a universal nature. Each man trapped within a system must posture himself and others in whatever resources are available to him. God will polish the coin according to his own plans, not ours. Does this explain petty thieves and robber barons throughout the ages, no, but life goes on its dizzy way, and each trespasser must figure each barbed wire fence out for himself, until the final trumpet is blown.
There is much to explore here but I would rather treat fiscal matters later when the chronology permits. I just didn’t want to leave out such an important event, a veritable public enzyme supercharging the reaction of my spiritual molecule, so to speak. Fully aware that any and all of these fleeting moments in time I describe, can be reslated and proposed as something entirely benevolent and thus mean just about anything anyone wants it to mean, I am not placing blame on anyone. The fact that I reacted in a certain homeopathic way is telling of my own nature, and of the rise and fall effects that are peculiar to the individual and usually can not be thwarted without the pressures of an effective discipline administered in the freedom of individual choice or enforced from outside with any power available, which is of course, the complete opposite of the freedom of choice, except to the contrarian who knows his metes and boundsthe boundary lines of the hand and mind, with their terminal points and angles, describing the hand and mind by listing as many compass directions and distances of the boundaries that the surveyor can muster. It is often used in connection with the Government Survey System. Yes, as you said of me in 1978, I am a born surveyor, but did God create me to take a job at some engineering or construction firm measuring distances from sticks to stones, from pipes to wood, with chains and transits, knuckleheads and time clocks? I think not. What's a mere job to God the Messenger?
But years later, here from Washington, I sent Robert Tilton a hundred dollars. His ministry only cashed one of the two fifty dollar checks I sent, that being the one stapled to the front page of a 24 page letter. The second check was stapled to page nineteen, and never made it back to my bank. Several months later, news reporter Diane Sawyer broke nationally the story of Tilton’s ministry fraud, highlighting his tossing into dumpsters outside the studio thousands of personal prayer requests and letters with little regard for his flock.
But it's not the only high stakes example I have of such lightning coincidences. In fact, there are many. Too many to neglect. We are just getting started. I saw God written in black magic market upon a pink bathroom wall one day. My hand had pushed the marker, but who on God's green earth pushed the conspicuous message through the electrical cables snaking inside my head? It read simply, "Do not neglect thy holy memory."
You see, I had worked one day for a political action group that did exactly the same thing. The shaky handwriting of the elderly who would send in a dollar to help the fight for lower taxes was another watershed moment for me. Not that I did not already tie religion to politics, but that I had an example. My job that day was to peel off the money, dump the rest. The questionnaire was nothing but a prop, the handwritten notes that found their way onto the margins of that questionnaire or a ripped out piece of paper as useless to the action group as the length of my haiR.
All monies went to pay for modest office overhead and the salary of one person, Jules, his palatial, and I do mean P-A-L-A-T-I-A-L home on Lake Barcroft in Fairfax County, suburban DC. A very prestigious zip code for very prestigious people. In other words, a scam, plain and simple so that this one man could live high. Oh sure, he talked to a few people on the Hill every once in a while. I mean, what's better than that? A prestigious job among prestigious people, and a wonderful glam palace to bring his women to visit. I forgot. There was a modest salary for my wife the accountant, one of those women before I'd met her, who'd gotten permission to bring me in for a day to help in the backlog of mail. How much did Jules accomplish to lower taxes in the Reagan years? None, I suspect. He was not on the Reagan team. He wasn't needed. Reagan came into power on those words of lowering taxes. In short, his job appeared to be nothing but a typical political sham in fleecing mostly Depression Era and WWII seniors who took their seats at the table in Washington somewhat seriously, a lot more seriously than the rest of us.
Tall tale short, I used what I learned from this one day at the political action office to spot that eye-fluttering televangelist a regal opportunity. That a famous TV personality took him down a few weeks later, I can take no credit, not even as an anointed instigator of the Most High. But it's not the only high stakes example I have of such lightning coincidences. In fact, there are many. Too many to neglect. We are just getting started. I saw God written in black magic market upon a pink bathroom wall one day. My hand had pushed the marker, but who on God's green earth pushed the conspicuous message through the electrical cables snaking inside my head? It read simply, "Do not neglect thy holy memory."
In June, 1979, a few months before landing the chicken farm post I sopped up my best spiritual pride with the breads of change and proceeded to pry into affairs of the heart and its seating arrangements. I tried unsuccessfully to merge the two longstanding Episcopal church congregations in my historical hometown of Darien, Georgia, population 1600, county seat, but neither faction was ready to give up what they considered their own exclusive holy sanctuary. The Negroes wanted to remain segregated, didn't want to give up their smaller, less ornate, but exquisitely located St. Cyprian'sthe little church on the lookout bluff high above the Darien River marsh. The Crackers (for lack of a better word, although Scottish aristocracy might fit), my own blood relatives, proud, high church office, the same. The unpleasantly conspicuous fact that a single priest, a white man, a robust dignified septagenarian, the Reverend Chambliss, whose wife had taught me sixth grade, presided in both houses staggered an hour of time each Sunday seemed only to concern me, a naîve do-gooder who'd merely been christened and confirmed in this very church built in the eighteenth century, the White Church, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.
As an young adolescent I’d served God and Darien in royal acolyte robes in awe of this beautiful ornate high-ceilinged building knuckled with long corridors of dark mahogany pews and grand stained glass windows, blood red carpets and a crimson front door of knightly proportions. My great-grandfather Joseph Woodward, the local parish priest there some fifty years earlier had murdered the diocese bishop sitting sixty miles north in Savannah, before turning the gun on himself after the bishop refused to promote him after Grandfather had sold all his equitable land holdings in Atlanta and given the money to the poor blacks of the county, leaving his own family near penniless, or so the legend goes. Later I heard it was because Joseph suspected the Bishop of an affair with my great-grandmother. GeorgeI only learned the gruesome details of the tragedy a couple of years ago. As a child, of this event, I had only snatched mere whisperings of sandgnat-infested air breezing along the salt marshes of McIntosh County, or any facts of Joseph Woodward's suicide, even the idea of suicide was shrouded in mystery. In fact, all discussion of Granddaddy's father had been expressly forbidden by family elders, but I chanced to see his name was still engraved on the tasteful brass plaque tacked near the entrance to the churchlisting the long succession of parish priests who had served the whites and presumably, the colored folks, of our county in what were basically the rites inherited from the Episcopalean Church of England from the 1700s forward.
Nevertheless, the deacons of St. Andrew's, relations of mine all, were adamantly against merging with St. Cyprian's. The pearl oyster tabbied cinderblock church overlooking the marshes of the muddy Darien River where the colored folks, now African Americans I suppose, met in peaceful droves on Sunday an hour later than the white folks two blocks away, would remain strictly as it was before I had returned to reinvent the wheel. I was not overly dismayed, accepted it as a lesson in humility and false modesty of ordinary human spirituality. Turns out that Negro segregationism is on the rise again everywhere, from churches to college campuses, just as radicalism in all forms is growing in vigor and violence.
Still I sample the turbulences but never feel quite properly configured to glide easily upon the winds of these questions without registering some sort of personal expression on this mess, and yet I shuffle my energies back and forth in fruitless activities, self-restrained, psychologically drained, hesitant, unimpressed, unsure of myself, but busy flagging the line Of sight between each P.I. like any surveyor worth a brass plumb bob would…
As I recall it, you weren’t much of a filmgoer back in the Seventies but another hushed fact of hometown intrigue was only exposed to me while my wife and I were watching a 1990 film on cable, a film called Glory. Nominated for a host of Academy Awards, and starring Denzel Washington, Glory is an historical account of the first black Civil War regiment commanded by a young Lt. Colonel Robert Shaw from Massachusetts. I’d known since old enough to read the patina and gold historical landmark signs sprinkled around town that it was almost completely burned down during the Civil War, but it seems that Darien was the very first attack mission of the war for this Negro regiment. All this time I had wrongly assumed Sherman had personally led the raid on quaint mossy-eyed Darien near the end of the war. The key point I believe I’m trying to make here is that I had never been raised by my parents to blame black people collectively for anything or everything under the sun, and I am proud of that fact. But now my intelligence is daily teased and taunted. I live chastised in a hard-edged city and country energized by a mythology of past and ongoing white oppression on the one extreme and a sinister mythology of racial superiority whether that be black or white, on the other. Criticism of these spectacular myths or witnessing for a more honest awareness borne out of the mouth of babes is not tolerated these days. Scuttlings of the fire and brimstone sort rag the peaceful just as banality and gangsterismintent to prove its own resurgent bigotry as gospelseep into every utterance placed in the service of honesty, duty, and liberty.
Semantics of inverse proportion to truth rule the roost as twisted histories are written into reality by mass appeal. No more is an eye an eye, or a tooth a tooth. No longer are we all guilty of original sin, but it appears that only selected race offerings must bear that cross, alone, without justification, without counsel, without judicial restraint.
This retrofixation on transitory blame is America's greatest test to date. But who is being groomed to rebuke the grabbers and the agitators with the truth of God’s finger on the pulse of man? Who is left who can respect the message of Job or the eternal symmetry of God’s stratagem with his own prized possession? Am I tricking myself into a dullard's ache when I feign hopelessness but listen to the scores of sentiment muscled by greed with ears sharpened for durable goods in an age where nothing will last longer than the fickle roar of the crowds? Am I digging my own ditch when I read with confederate eyes bloodshot and pickled to resemble the incandescent sky cracked open by the splendor of dawn’s earliest light the words of the filthy but well-fitted over the ages to include my own generation? Perhaps. Still I sample the turbulences but never feel quite properly configured to glide easily upon the winds of these questions without registering some sort of personal expression on this mess, and yet I shuffle my energies back and forth in fruitless activities, self-restrained, psychologically drained, hesitant, unimpressed, unsure of myself, but busy flagging the line Of sight between each P.I. like any surveyor worth a brass plumb bob would...
Thursday, April 21
True, like blood, I've got time on my hands, but as the saying goes, I know I must wash myself clean of this time, not because I have accused Lucifer of being the author of time, but because legend says that time leaves terrible stains on the skin. Do you remember? You suggested that if I wanted to be a writer, I should write to the op-ed pages in the local newspapers. I have done just that many times, and have yet to be published there, but that’s far ahead of the story.
I'm telling you all this, George, not to dodder precipitously or to solicit stale emotional feedback, nor to spoon you through the wretched tautologies of my own mental soup, but merely to mark the peculiar emphasis my own spiritual journey has lead me to place on things seemingly coded within or onto the strands of my own life, strands of overlapping discordant meaning, juggling some manifest pecking order of questions suggested by feverish explorations of my own near and distant histories, amalgamated in such a way as to somehow force myself to accept the discipline I have been asking for all along. I write because I need to write. I'm no Hemingway. That's for sure. Nothing mat ever get read, and I suppose, as a man who values communication, I want those readers to explore my thoughts to help excavate their own. I don't necessarily consider this a healing project, but an entertainment, a joyous exposure of the hidden, a walk in the park among friends not addled by the latest, but the earliest, not the surface outline of the sculpture but original rock that was willing to be shaped by the hands of destiny, asking little from this destiny, demanding it all, standing by idly as the flood sweeps through the camp, picking through every pile of junk after the flood has receded to recover a single lost treasure.
Saint Paul’s admonition to disregard genealogies aside, it seems to me that I am being ordered through this gateway of presence in order to help resolve some of these issues on a larger social scale than my meager credentials might imply. The crux of my dilemma however, is not an urge to write, which I’ve always possessed, but rather, the freedom to write. I tend to allow everything else associated with my life to interfere with this calling to write the damned equations in a fashionable way. I am not alone, but I have a self I did not know at birth. By this I mean to say that I have insisted on unambiguous mental signs to guide every endeavor with a keen emphasis on a pre-determined consciousness, ultimately feeling compelled by "obedience to spirit" to give credence to the ragged details of life, to believe with all my energies that these details are important symbolic syzygy set in motion and remembrance by God’s own purposes for global regeneration, and are not mere byproducts of a solo life lived without focus. Ulterior latencies ripen, motives are granted, and details made ready for a seasonal harvesting.
I've always felt this way, a small child, lost baseball, praying behind a large oak, instant recovery, and the longer I live and the stronger I appeal against this sort of self-important interpretation of a petty life, the more I am exploited by configurations of faith which ultimately force me to see myself as a writer of purpose organized by the very hand of Christ, if by Christ, we mean destiny, while my good sense is forced to wait in line, on point, until its elevation. Your own curt dismissal of my earliest intimations at literary ambition have infiltrated and stymied the necessary confidence to brave the stroke of God's name just in the nick of time, time after time, which is to argue that the mathematics of success may actually be beyond my reach. True, like blood, I've got time on my hands, but as the saying goes, I know I must wash myself clean of this time, not because I have accused Lucifer of being the author of time, but because legend says that time leaves terrible stains on the skin. Do you remember? You suggested that if I wanted to be a writer, I should write to the op-ed pages in the local newspapers. I have done just that many times, and have yet to be published there, but that’s far ahead of the story.
NoI am not blaming you for any particular frailty of my own nature to cut the pattern of my own cloth with a firm resolve. But I hope that having digested this somewhat stilted effort due to the silent passage of years between us, you might yet discover a mutual benefit in blessing this lifelong urge of mine to make manifest the word God has given me to reveal to a generation of readers perhaps less prepared and no longer believing in His Living Breaththe space constrictions of this letter obviously will not allow me explore every theological nook and cranny I can advance otherwise in more appropriate forums, but I do wish to impact the doubt which had fogged our last meeting late in 1981 when I visited your home near Sugarland for several days after hitchhiking from Corpus Christi.
For change outwardly has stripped away our ability to remember without nostalgia, fable, and yearning on the one hand, and forgetfulness, dogma, and disgust on the other. When I last shook your bold hand and waved goodbye in departure, the highway was my future, and you knew me as Richard Spalding Nix, the name I'd inherited from my parents. But even that simple factor of human tradition has been altered.
There is so much I remember about our times together, sharing a six pack after work, an occasional dinner and good cheer received with your family on perhaps a crisp autumn evening, the hallelujah trek to ORU, sponging our shared observations and queries with the fresh air of another turn of the page, or the virtual nebulae of speculation and mystery with yet another. But the fact remains...
It was never easy communicating with you George.
We were both strong, opinionated thinkers sometimes crippled by a foreboding sense of failure, our greatest fear being a cowering dread of obscurity. I sense you recognize this now in ways you could never understand then. Or perhaps you knew, but shared notions of leadership similar to my own, and that could never have worked in the long term. My own earnest intellectual and spiritual respect for you, however, was never and will never be in doubt. You once noted that I reminded you of yourself when you were young; I now believe that we were and remain more alike than either of us will ever fathom due to discretion and compartmentalization, and although our paths once and now again have crossed, our struggle to find the light that never darkens has taken us to nearly opposite poles striking the tent where the cult of perfection gathers by grace.
Barbed wire negligence separated us then, and none of it was merely "generational." The terms of our faith in God and each other were far more precious than teleology or theology by force of argument. I was young and had hardly begun my education. You were a mature family man who had traveled globally and had studied the classics to your own satisfaction. But rather than warp further an already compressed friendship with blustery platitudes, rationalizations, and laws of thermodynamics, we were content to play out our nearly forgotten roles to the best of our respective visions.
I'd admit I didn’t know why I was saying something as odd as that, the extra words about some future name change and all, and that I really had no clue as to what it all really meant, but after the first couple of times, it became my standard overture.
And now I come before you, hiding behind the mask of chlorinated time and closed door circumstances, neither of us quite sure we are truly observing the other. For change outwardly has stripped away our ability to remember without nostalgia, fable, and yearning on the one hand, and forgetfulness, dogma, and disgust on the other. When I last shook your bold hand and waved goodbye in departure, the highway was my future, and you knew me as Richard Spalding Nix, the name I'd inherited from my parents. But even that simple factor of human tradition has been altered. Sometime toward the beginning of my twenty month hitch in Corpus Christi, I suddenly and without forethought took it into my head to introduce myself in those situations which called for an introduction in what can only be described as a quite strange manner. I would thrust out my handshake and state in all seriousness
"My name is Richard Spalding Nix, but I’m in the process of a name-change operation." There would be no rise and fall in audible pitch, but the tone of my voice would evince emphatic if somewhat flat notes, each word in the sentence as evasive and as crucial as the next. No attempts at irony or wit were made. It was up to the stranger to hear what had been said and react according to his or her own impressions. That became my test. I’d admit I didn’t know why I was saying something as odd as that, the extra words about some future name change and all, and that I really had no clue as to what it all really meant, but after the first couple of times, it became my standard overture.
I was corruptible not by passing events but by my own flaming desires to transcend humanity and its unsolvable matrices of pettiness, when the check came due one iconoclasm at a time.
In Corpus Christi, I lived in what was a quaint and as it turned out, a quite homosexual neighborhood, including my landlord, Don Allard Gottselig, who was to become my third and final mentor. It was my contention then, after prayer and contemplation of this somewhat dubious reference to a name change operation that I was feigning innuendo off the sex-change operation language then making news in the story of a high profile male to female tennis player, whose name I now forgetnopejust remembered, Renée Richards, or something like that. Anyhow, I kept repeating that phrase to strangers, unsure of its implications or its abrupt fruition, for over a year until November 13, 1982, several months after I had returned to Atlanta.
There was nothing facetious or mocking about my declaration. After leaving my brother’s roofing company after four months, I drove a taxicab, the only Anglo in an all-hispanic company for four months, was unemployed for four, and worked at a sign shop for four, and finished off my stint with four more months with my brother again. I was studying the bible and reading classical literature. I had begun writing poetry back in 1980 at the chicken farm. I was lonely. I was corruptible not by passing events but by my own flaming desires to transcend humanity and its unsolvable matrices of pettiness, when the check came due one iconoclasm at a time. A natural skill. Meanwhile I was doing nothing but turning the other cheek, nested in my hermitage, a tiny garage apartment, unable to drag myself outside to daylight in order to confront the spasms of the happy or the maxims of the healthy. I was poor in pocket and in spirit. Yet I liked it that way and resisted efforts to mainstream my life with money, cars, or women. And I was still going through a name-change operation, whatever that was.