Wildflower at the Cabin, Lowman
As I regard it, my professional life started for me in kindergarten (by the way, that's one of my favorite germanic words: children's garden): reading, school, and nap time. In Idaho then there was no public kindergarten, and so I went to Mrs. Bevington's house, about three blocks from my home--five-year-old me, I would walk there, something unthinkable, or nearly unthinkable these days. And so, this week, another start to the school year.
Last week were all the pre-school year meetings, with the college-wide meeting introducing faculty and some song and dance routines by the provost and dean (my dean, by the way, she rocks). Then the departmental meetings: so much about assessment practices and strategic reviews, filling out various state-mandated data forms that some poor soul, some auditor, must review--what a wretched job that must be. Yes, demonstrations on how to teach large classes, with promise of development money for the summer to design your own large class. Easy to become cynical with it all.
So begins the new year for me. The teaching part of my job, which includes a reduced load for administrative duties, is a joy, and this time of the year is fun, seeing the return of favorite students, seeing the fresh and alert new faces of first-year students (that look lasts about six weeks). It's also a time of professional appraisal, discussing with colleagues how much "work" we got done over the summer. Also talk of summer trips abroad, of children and grandchildren, of home renovations.
And so it's Sunday, too, with NPR on, and another day of me not observing the Sabbath, or observing it with our usual Sunday morning routines: drinking coffee, watching Gerri do her morning stretches, tending the birds, listening to Tony Bennett, reading the on-line NYTimes, figuring which nature outing we do today (comical how we conform so rigidly to David Brooks' sociological divisions in his funny On Paradise Drive). But I carry with me all the stuff of my very good Presbyterian upbringing, too.
I'm so down with the idea of Sabbath, of a day of rest and doing nothing--after all, that's the only way we get Walt Whitman or Cole Porter (telling that I pick two gay artists here, but queerness is about trangression, isn't it?). Anyway, there's no praising God if there isn't rest from the business and busyness of commercial life, of trading and huckstering, of buying and selling. I'm so accustomed with my life of Sabbaths, of taking time (I get about four months in all a year, not counting my weekends), this amazing and selfish luxury, and it's all about god-stuff between the recreation and personal upkeep. And so often, I think of the Jesus and God of my childhood, which probably explains the quirky religiosity that is in so much of my poetry.
For the record, I'm deeply an agnostic--what I like to tell people is that I believe everyone else is absolutely right in their spiritual beliefs, and I'll be happy to live with the repercussions. I'm destined for their hells, annihilations, purgatories, other worlds, regressive reincarnations, and nothingness, which is as it should be: I didn't buy the ticket to their heaven, and so I should be excluded, no matter my good deeds and honesty and kindnesses in this world. Fundamentalists of all stripes bore me, but I do generally like individuals who are genuinely devout and love-full in their religion, even if I can't share it with them, and even when I see it pains them slightly when I turn down their gentle-spirited overtures, whether it's the Buddhist or the Mormon. Besides, the religions I tend to prefer are definitely old school varieties, that just are not available any longer. Please don't construe that statement as an overture to Pagans to invite me along; 21st-century manifestations of those old-timey religions and rites are a little sad to me.
Anyway, the practice of religion is what impresses me, the quiet discipline of it (again, I'm really not talking about the fundamentalists and their fanatical fetishizing of religious practices--there's a disorder to that, not a clarification) that really is close to what we talk about with the artist's life. That part I do get, and I admire it when I see it in others: a healthy balance.
Carson, Not Thrilled on the Deer Trail, Stanley
Which leads me to my own relation to my son, Carson. To respect his privacy, I won't go into his spirituality, other than to say that he is an open-hearted and open-minded Christian. I don't think he worries about my own fall from grace, at least not in our talks, but sees that I have my own path. I also think I must be something of curiosity to him, which is a compliment enough, which might be my real purpose, as a father, teacher, and poet: a sign of God's humor, perhaps, for me to be the spiritual equivalent of the platypus.