Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Importance of Being Decorative

I have a cat named Sasha, but I never call her anything but Kitty--perhaps because she is so haughty that, like YHWH himself, she seems to require generic nomenclature.

Because I spend long hours alone in the house with Kitty, I find that I talk to her a lot and, when she invariably fails to respond, I tend to furnish her side of the dialogue as well.

Sometimes we talk about how much we are alike. For one thing--like me--Kitty is getting on in years (though her exact age is something of a mystery, since she came to us full-grown, having spent her youth locked up in a meth head's laundry room). Secondly, also like me, Kitty is a biological dead end: she has been "fixed" by the vet and I have been "fixed" by nature--so neither of us is going to make any contributions (useful or otherwise) to the genetic pool. Finally, both Kitty and I are completely defenseless: her claws have been removed and I am a Democrat. It would appear, then, that my cat and I have absolutely no redeeming social value. We are both apparently useless.

And yet, it often occurs to me that this ridiculous cat might indeed be a "good thing" (and I admit to sloppy subjectivity here): Kitty is decorative! She embellishes the couch, the living room, the foot of the bed. When she feels like it, she nestles in the crook of my arm and purrs. She makes me feel better about things--even as she makes my arm feel worse and worse until, finally, it falls asleep and I have to wriggle out of her embrace. Is being decorative a legitimate reason for living?

If so, perhaps I can learn a lesson from my cat. I confess that, neither before nor since retirement, have I worked very hard at being decorative. I just don't embellish the world. Someone who does--someone who does a wonderful job of adorning, enhancing and beautifying the lives of others--is my friend Brian.

Brian, like Kitty, is a "good thing"--much sought after by people all over the world who badly need the enrichment he brings to their couches and living rooms (I'm not sure about the foots/feet of their beds). Like some grand Puss in Boots, Brian moves about the world--Wisconsin, Texas, New Hampshire, France, Morocco, Germany, Thailand--being, like Kitty, entirely useless (in the Darwinian sense)...and yet, and yet, so very funny, so very kind, so very articulate, so very outrageous, so very fulfilling of that empty crook in one's arm of life. He has found a way to give meaning to retirement--by focusing on others more than on himself.  I'm very much looking forward to the next time he comes to visit me. Maybe he can teach me to spend less time brooding and more time, well, purring.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Does God need me?

My friend Wally just sent me this picture, taken somewhere in New Hampshire. It reminds me of countless church bulletin boards all across the country, some sillier than others, but all intended to encapsulate a message seen as "important" by the particular clergyman/woman in charge of PR for that parish.

It's mildly amusing that the God who wants to be a lover has chosen to post his appeal on the Body of Christ billboard.

But what concerns me, much more seriously, is the nature of this God. The "god" question haunts me for a number of reasons: a) because I'm old, approaching the end of my life and would like to know something, if possible, about "ultimate" reality; b) because I was raised by devout (albeit very tolerant and liberal) parents for whom the existence of God was an unquestioned given and whose memory I wish to honor, if I can; c) because God and his/her priests, ministers, imams and shamans so often provide the justifications for unforgivably hateful words, unspeakably cruel behavior, incredibly ludicrous thinking.

This particular photo seems to reveal a kind of pathetic, lovelorn God who's out there trolling for warm bodies. Ok, ok. I know that it's probably the parish PR guy who fits this description. Still, I've always wondered why God was so petty that he/she somehow "needed" to be believed in by me. Why does God need all this affection and admiration and respect? It seems to me that he/she is severely lacking in self-esteem.

And I wonder. If I don't give him the love/praise/obedience he requires, is he going to slap me around? If one listens to the televangelists, it would appear that God is indeed that kind of a bully.

I have couched my concern in a rather light-hearted way. But I truly would like to make some sense of this. For most of my life I have "faithfully" attended religious services, of various denominations (ranging from Presbyterian to Catholic to Episcopalian). But nowhere have I found anything but this anthropomorphic God. If he needs me so badly, why do I need him?

old age sticks

old age sticks
up Keep

youth yanks them
down (old
cries No

youth laughs
old age

scolds Forbid
den Stop
n't Don't

&)youth goes
right on
owing old

I've always liked this tour de force by e e cummings, and I'm especially fond of the GR in "growing old." GRRR. Of course, I don't suppose anyone is really happy about growing old, but some of my friends seem to be enjoying retirement a whole lot more than I am. Why is that? I guess I was prompted to start a blog mostly because I wanted to write about this odd new status that I'm experiencing: you know--decline. Yeah, I'm aware of the old truism that we start to decline as soon as we're born. But the experience of that deterioration is, in fact, pretty new to me.

So I'm going to use these pages to chronicle that experience. Actually, this could be rather fun, in a perverse way. Retirement has given me something that I find both painful and rewarding: time to reflect about stuff. When I was working 12 hours a day, correcting essays, writing lesson plans, trying desperately to dupe kids, colleagues, administrators and the state of California into believing that I knew what I was talking about--well, in those days, I rarely found myself alone in a room with nothing to do but think about anything I wanted to think about. Now, I can do that--if I can stand to do it.

If I can stand to get past the GRRRR, maybe I can put up some Keep Off signs for--well, I don't know for whom, really. Some of my former students, maybe, if they choose to read me. If not, perhaps just for me, and the even older person that I hope I might still become. KK.