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!
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.
A form of rural perfection, Avondale Estates, Georgia, hitching a ride to meet Ginsberg, the Big Apple gizzard, it's a scorcher, my balls sweaty, hair down to my chin blondie, no Avondale mistakes, no women to crack my halo or burn their bras, hugging, sucking, tucking rugged red clay construction sites bare to eyes without scruples, New Worship cornerstone erections in latter days, oh thanking nine heavens for seven elevens and the beliefs of Hippocrates, and a beveled glass art-factory, original, vaginal, marginal cool Georgia State Highway Patrol office, town of Avondale protected from itself by gunpowder deterrents, thanking God of Billions, the courtyard sports manger silver lining flagpole, vacant of colored cloth, yet commands slaves of the Texaco Star, guts holding down the fort, stocks and bonds and spies, oh thanking the Amoco Boyour unwilted concern while I beg to swallow cold fountain water kept safe in your keepingheard on the radio, the Heat God killed eight suffering unair-conditioned zekes in the state of the Cracker last week. Then I left the road one more time before setting sail with my nearer to thee Life Scout thumb. Left to get a Big Mac and dry fish sandwich. Left me with fifteen cents and only 873 miles to the scales of Manhattan where I hoped to share my book of dead poems with a famous asshole named Allen.
[1983, Atlanta, GA ]
"Ignorance and virtue suck on the same straw. Souls grow on bones, but die beneath bankers' hours.""