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Number of posts: 183
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Posts by David Evans:
a tender mercy
My heart like wax is melted. –Psalm 22:14
When I first met Allie and Ida, my wife Jody’s uncle and aunt, back in the late 1990s, Allie looked across the table at me and asked in his quiet and gentle way, “Are you a farmer, too?” I appreciated quickly that it would have been an honor to have been anything that Allie was. Ida was a treat, too, and became an e-mail buddy even before Jody and I were married.
collateral damage of war
“Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.
“’Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.”
Don’t even touch anything close to me. Help me get out of my chair but don’t let my toe pass by anything except the air it moves in. It hurts worse than anything you’ve ever told me about childbirth.
“It might hurt, but it’s nothing like childbirth,” my wife Jody corrected me after I howled in pain when my big toe barely brushed lightly against the sheets. I didn’t know what was happening to me, or rather, what was happening to my right foot’s big toe that was red and swollen and soon to resemble too much sausage squeezed into an undersized casing.
1933 – 2015
We all know by now that the neurologist and author Oliver Sacks died recently (30 August 2015) at the age of 82.
In the New York Times obituary (31 August), his long-time personal assistant Kate Edgar, who described herself as his “collaborator, friend, researcher and editor” as well, wrote just before his death: “He is still writing with great clarity. We are pretty sure he will go with fountain pen in hand.”
I was reading an amusing description the other day of John Betjeman, a man who became poet laureate of England in 1972. He must have been a fun guy to have been around judging from how a journalist once described him as a man who looked “like a highly intelligent muffin–a small, plump, rumpled man with luminous soft eyes, a chubby face topped with wisps of white hair and imparting a distinct air of absentmindedness.” Although I am not chubby or overly rumpled, I would be delighted for anyone to portray me in such an endearing way.
with heavy hearts
“Well, then, ask me your questions. I won’t be around forever.”
That’s what Floyd told me a few years ago when I said that just when we get old enough to ask the right questions of our parents and grandparents, they’re all gone. Floyd was true to his word and did not last forever. He is now gone, six months short of his one-hundredth birthday. I was assured he died without pain and without lingering more than just a few days.
e. l. doctorow
“There was nothing more to be said on the subject of the future and their different destinies, for those words, uttered with complete calm and conviction, had done what every inspired melody does: condense a welter of emotions into an unconflicted clarity that one can instantly recall and call upon. Like a hierogram.”—Kris Saknussemm, Enigmatic Pilot
As I anticipate this year’s upcoming Virginia Writers Symposium in Charlottesville, I was stopped the other day when I read of the passing of E. L. Doctorow, to me a sacred symbol of a writer who had mastered his craft and had so much to teach all the rest of us who marveled at his creativity and innovative ways…
we could do worse
We’ve been down to two cats now, Sophie and Dolly, for over two years. The last two lads, Tucker and Sneezer, took their leave a couple of summers ago, one otherwise healthy gentleman on the operating table to have his teeth cleaned and the other a poor devil who had suffered far too long from a debilitating disease. Now we have two aging dowagers who think they’re still debutantes. They barely tolerate one another, however, and share a porch space during the day as though they’re on opposite sides negotiating a treaty with Iran. Feline peace is not easy to maintain.
its love of life
As I continue to read through James Joyce’s collection of short stories called “Dubliners,” I look at various old black and white photos of the city as it was published well over a century ago. I’ve also been guided by Mark O’Connell who wrote an article for “Slate” magazine in May 2014 entitled, “Have I Ever Left It?” to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of its publication.
I’ve never been to Dublin, but look forward one day soon to walking about, taking in the city that Joyce described.
face the music
Joyce has the most luminous blue eyes imaginable. Betty smiles and is quiet. Annie cannot break eye contact. And Don excuses himself to go to the bathroom and never returns. They are all part of my friend Ed’s drum-therapy group that meets weekly for an hour in the lobby of their retirement and assisted living center. Ed, who is a professor emeritus of Graduate Psychology, learned to lead the drum circle from his younger sister…
secret to great sax
I lost my self-confidence in singing and playing a musical instrument early in life. I can still hear Mrs Greeley in fifth grade telling my pal Byron and me that we would not be singing in the Christmas pageant that year, since neither of us could carry a tune worth a damn. A few years later I dropped out of High School Band because I continued to carry the Greeley curse and didn’t think I was worth a damn. It was a bleak beginning for anyone who fancied music.
Many years later, though, my friend John coaxed me to join the New Horizons Band at James Madison University. I am forever indebted to Will, our band director, for welcoming me aboard in his enthusiastic and warm manner…
male pattern blindness
“In this intimate body of work, she uses mixed media, collage and painting to explore the demands of motherhood, preservation of memory, and repetitious patterns of thought and behavior.”
I recently received this invitation and quickly decided it was probably something I don’t want to even be seen near, let alone attend.
grief and fear
The Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote many years ago in The Second Coming that,
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
mystery of joy
As the ruffian used force to carry her out of the convent because her family needed her for an arranged marriage that would increase their fortune, this thirteenth-century nun and member of (St.) Clare’s Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano saved herself and preserved her vows by suddenly and miraculously growing heavier and heavier. In the end, her assailant had to put her down and abandon the abduction. As he said, it was as though she had been eating stones.
in need of soothing words
The forsythia has grown so tall and thick with age that it almost obscures the roofline of the gazebo tucked behind it. The key word, of course, is “almost,” since you can still see the wooden shingles from the driveway. Despite the obscuring foliage, you know the gazebo is still in there. And that’s the way it is with my friend who’s still “in there,” although she’s deep into her own self with an illness that is relentless in taking her further and further into a silent and separate world.
his blunt directness
After watching the evening news coverage of warfare in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, I turn to other wars to try to understand what is perhaps beyond one’s ability to make sense of conflict. The why and wherefore of all these years of perpetual war for perpetual peace, whatever that means, seems to be getting more vague to me as time goes by. An on-line class I’m currently enrolled in is examining the poetry that came out of our own Civil War. Although not a keen enthusiast of Walt Whitman, I have come to appreciate what he was trying to do when he chose to be “embedded” with Union forces marching into battle early on in the fighting.
the here and now
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” William Faulkner had a big-time influence on me as an adolescent as did my father who never met a funeral he didn’t like, especially if it took him back to the hill country of Appalachian Ohio where he had been raised. Even now I remember as a boy following a group of men carrying the casket of a man my father had known when he was a boy. The memory is still clear of them slipping and sliding along the dry creek bed en route to a spot in the woods…
the case for god
Religious “faith” is not an idea I subscribe to. I was asked recently if I would describe myself as an atheist. My response was no, but not in the sense that we usually think of the word. Like the former nun and author Karen Armstrong, I am also conscious of the mystery that is life and that there are many questions beyond my comprehension. I am grateful for being alive and for being able to add my own little contribution toward making this a better world for all of us. But I don’t feel any need to wrap myself up in any organized religion or wind my way on any particular day of the week to a church to “worship.”
pursuit of ambiguity
No, no, not that kind of ED, which always seems to feature one of those slightly discomforting situations where you see the happy afterglow of couples strolling hand in hand and smiling lovingly, presumably after the little blue pill has worked its magic. The kind of ED I’m talking about is entirely different. This ED is the nineteenth-century Belle of Amherst, the reclusive poet in white named Emily, and her ties with a fellow writer named Henry.
The great satirist, song writer and pianist Tom Lehrer had me wondering about and laughing at his songs even as an adolescent just beginning to appreciate the sardonic view of life. Who could hear and ever forget his black humor in “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park”?
Although separated by time, he and I both served in the Army as “enlisted scum” and both achieved the rank of “Specialist Four,” which he described as “a corporal without portfolio.” He held onto his identity as a sartorial dandy even draped in his wrinkled and ill-fitting uniform, describing his olive drab duds, “If it was good enough for Robin Hood, it’s good enough for me.”
tooting my alto
When I first heard the music of Bob Marley years ago, the Jamaican reggae singer-songwriter, guitarist and philosopher, I found myself moving to the music. Somewhat to my surprise, I seemed to be responding automatically to his enlightened suggestion to “lively up yo’self.”
Music has always been a challenge to me. I guess part of the difficulty has been my insistence on wanting to know how it works rather than just sitting back and letting it work on me. Too much left- and not enough right-brain dominance.
most beautiful words
As a young boy doing my homework while staying over with a favorite aunt, I was puzzled by a word and asked her where her dictionary was. She looked at me with befuddlement and finally said she didn’t have one. I thought that odd, but continued to ponder away at the word “sundry” which I also thought odd, and just assumed in my youthful innocence that it was simply a misspelling for “Sunday.”
I’ve always had lots of dictionaries lying about, even foreign ones since my late wife was a professional translator.
He was not at all like, as Jane Kenyon would say, “a wine glass, weary of holding wine.” During our recent time together, he was at one point on his hands and knees retrieving his confounded new hearing aid that still let him down. As he sat ajar at the table so that his one good ear was pointed my way, he told me that Mildred had said, “Don’t tell anyone.” His dear wife was forgetting too many things and was frightened of what was to come, although she didn’t want to talk about it.
listen to the words
“I was wearing an orange bathrobe. She was leaning over me in a white men’s T-shirt and tiny white panties, shaking me by the shoulder. Her slender body seemed fragile, secure, childlike, with no sign of last night’s Italian excesses. Outside was not yet dawn.”
As I wind down Haruki Murakami’s novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World, I am deliberately slowing down my pace to savor the language and to listen to its tempo. The music is playing in the words.
value of liberal arts
When I read Frank Bruni’s column recently in The New York Times about the value of a liberal arts education, I was pleased at how he had honored a professor at Chapel Hill whose Shakespeare classes had been the most transformative educational experiences of his life. She had read the column and had written him, the first contact they had had since the mid-1980s, to talk more about the state of higher education in this country today.
As I squirmed over their exchange on how so many politicians want to value education according to what kind of high paying job it can bring, I can still hear the concerns over half a century ago of my father…
the winter metaphor
Brushing up on my Wordsworth recently during a particularly paralyzing cold spell, I found The Solitary Reaper and settled into trying to understand the brutality that we know make up the day’s news, the savagery that burns through the TV screen, the “old, unhappy, far-off things and battles long ago.” It’s hard to read about or listen to the news when there’s so much everyday gloom brought about by war, epidemics, violent deracination from family village to refugee camp, and train wrecks that take the lives of innocent commuters en route home.
I read recently that “serendipity” is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering the farmer’s daughter.
It would truly be a lucky boy who would find such a treasure in a haystack when he was just looking for his car keys. That’s the way I felt this morning after awakening from a delightful dream in which I had finally been awarded my PhD in ancient languages. The rub was that I have never sought such a distinction…
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
Talk about coincidence, I was thinking just the other day how popular song lyrics have changed over the years – and not for the better, I fear – when I stumbled into an odd kind of research online that supported my suspicion and set me to thinking about language in general. The research. Believe it or not, somebody has gone to the trouble – brace yourself – to count the words that have shown up most often in popular songs in every decade since the 1890s! And if you thought song lyrics were getting cleaner and classier, move to the rear of the Read on →
Sooner or later you have to face your fears. You have to confront Goliath,’ the thing that’s always loomed large over your existence – the dead of night dark… the soaring heights… the closed-in spaces… flying … or circus clowns. Goliath bullies you, taunts you and then talks about your Mama. Mainly Goliath means to have his way with you, to beat you up, take your lunch money --- and whatever esteem you have left. The idea of ‘dealing with’ Goliath, of course, is that you’re supposed to mount all your courage, tap this deep, hidden well-spring of testosterone that allows your 'inner- Casper Milquetoast', to rise Read on →
I once worked for an abusive boss, a man who proved impossible to please. Congenitally mean, and though he wore no eye-patch, he had all of the charm, charisma and management style of your average, garden-variety Bond villain. After three days on the new job, I knew I'd made a mistake. A year on the job, my misery factor was so high, I prayed (I was a church-goer in those days) one of us would either get a better job and move on -- or that one of us would die, though preferably not me! About two years in, when nothing developed either wa Read on →
My eyes are super-sensitive, as I discovered fifty years ago when, walking on a gusty day on an unfamiliar city street, a piece of grit flew into my eye. I was in instant agony: blinking, holding the eyelid, eye watering and conscious of time changing. Seconds became nanoseconds of excruciation. I looked around with the good eye for help. In one of the most fortuitous coincidences of my life I was passing an optician’s shop. I opened the door, stood on the threshold blinking, eye streaming uncontrollably. The optician guided me to a chair. His chosen instrument, the corner of a Read on →