My sentiments to share -
Grant me, O Lord, a sunny mind -
Thy windy will to bear!
-- Emily Dickinson, "Besides the Autumn Poets Sing"
My northeast New Jerusalem is becoming tropical, and we've waited far too long this year for the change. A week ago I was sweating in short sleeves, but now at last comes the weather that brings me life. No snow yet, but I've had to climb into my long coat, rediscover its obscure fastenings, find my gloves.
My friend thinks I am morbid. Snap out of it! he says.
But I'm not sad. Winds are in my face, and that makes me strong. The fertile half of the year is before me.
Son of a preacher and spouse of another, an academic for the larger part of my adulthood, I was formed not on the calendar year but on church and school year. In those measures Autumn is the time of when things begin, the big bang of inspiration. The cold wind, and the now rare but longed for blast of snow in my face, wake me to productivity and efficiency. The loss of light does not oppress but thrills me. My seasonal affective disorder comes not now but sometimes in the spring with too much light, and with the end of things I had begun.
So this is my November song, drawing perhaps, as good songs do, tears out of joy, or joy out of tears. Isn't that the darnedest thing? that our happy songs can make us cry, and our saddest songs can make us happy? Singing is our rescue from mortality, a rescue of self but also of the moment. The song is the thing that we make of it, the thing that stands outside, might live longer than the moment on which it was drawn. I lash these words together in order not to be morbid.
So I am one of those weird brothers who thrives in winter, traveling in fantasy not to sun-drenched beaches but to sea-thrashed cloudy islands where, above a cliff in bulky sweater and a hut of stone, I sip my smoky single-malt and battle rapturously with words, words words of others and my own in descant. Some may ask why I am so sour, but I am not sour -- this is the location of my peaty sweetness.
It's not the first time I have been misread. I see now for instance, with almost two decades of remove, that the years I worked in theatre were years of misplacement. I was with the wrong people, and they frequently misread my silences as discontent. Sometimes they were right, but often not.
Now, as my friend points out, I have a lot on my plate; or rather, something on my plate that was not there earlier; or rather, someone who looks over my shoulder in the mirror. For two years -- this is how I like to say it -- I have known the name of my angel, and in the last year I've spoken about it to others, and I've also spoken about how things look in the presence of the visitor. One personality scale designates me an Intuitive Introvert, intense on both dimensions. I process inwardly, and I don't know what to say until I'm done; but when I'm done I speak. And these last two years are the best, so far, of my life.
So I may seem to brood, and perhaps this behavior is what the word means, though I am surprised to live under it. High on my windy cliff I'm having a good time getting ready, Mr. DeMille, for my aria. And different observers may have different impressions of the figure I cut as I wait. So you don't have to worry. Well, worry a little, but not too much, and enjoy the whiskey.
There is for instance Altagracia, whom we are in danger of misreading. She overwhelmed me, when I went to see her, with her lamentation. She's lost a toe already, and large parts of her feet may have to be removed in order to "save" her, a recommendation that she loudly refuses, as she charges about her apartment and the neighborhood. She'd rather die, she says, refusing to live "that way," on such humiliating terms, and she indicts God: "Why should I suffer so? what did I ever do?" She tells us the stories of five attempts to end her life, and the stories with retelling become less tragic, more darkly comical, and she laughs with me. I've done this work a while, but her lamentation a first overwhelmed me; I provided audience, but couldn't see the strategy, until I took her "case" to a group of my peers.
They said, don't get trapped in the clinical psychology, the "issues" of denial, shame and control. Listen to the song of her spirit. She is still alive, and on her terms, She challenges us, and refuses to be dead. Learn from her courage and from the strength of her will, and from her powerful projection of lament. She will die some day, but has not yet been reduced. There is trouble ahead, but also beauty here.
Altagracia and I are very different people, and her situation is different. She has much less time before her than I. But in my present mode I am a fellow traveler with all my clients. They narrate a thousand nights: there is always another tale to tell the angel, and I can mistake the tone and the substance as well as anyone.
Don't worry too much, and enjoy the whiskey.
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